LIVE REPORT: Glastonbury 2024, Day One

Patrick Clarke reports from Worthy Farm following superb sets from LCD Soundsystem, PJ Harvey, Decius and more

Photo by Jim Dyson

tQ’s Friday at Glastonbury starts slowly, mainly thanks to a prior night spent in the company of Decius, who play deep into the early hours of the morning. Entering Assembly, a small club constructed of shipping containers, three quarters of the band – Paranoid London’s Quinn Whalley, and Trashmouth Records’ Luke and Liam May – can be seen in the booth, bathed in red light. Their vocalist, Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi, however, is nowhere to be seen. He can be heard, babbling and crooning in falsetto to the other three’s sordid, sleazy, sweaty beats, but where exactly his voice is coming from is initially unclear.

By tracking the craning necks of the crowd, it becomes apparent that he’s somewhere on the ground, writhing around, one imagines. Then, during ‘Show Me No Tears’, a shimmer of glitter from the dark catches the eye, and we turn to see Maggie The Cat descend slowly, luxuriantly down a stairwell as she sings her hypnotic guest vocals. She disappears into the mass of bodies as quickly as she arrived, and heads snap back again in search of Saoudi. Only when the set ends and the lights go up does he become visible, wearing underpants and a waistcoat, dazed for a moment by the brightness, before he attempts a solo rendition of the Irish protest song ‘The Men Behind The Wire’. His mic is swiftly cut, and he scurries away like a malevolent sprite. With the Fat Whites playing on Saturday, one imagines he’ll be popping up again soon.

The following lunchtime, it’s up to Squid (or “Foals for the heads”, as a friend describes them) to blow away the cobwebs. Judging by prior years, playing this slot on the large, outdoor West Holts stage to a bleary early-afternoon crowd, can be a challenging one, but the band’s ability to settle into a big, incisive groove cuts sharply through the fug. A final, motorik one-two of early single ‘Houseplants’ and 2021’s ‘Narrator’ ends on a high, as one fan, dressed as a cephalopod in tribute, flings his tentacles around the mosh pit in ecstasy.

It’s a long walk uphill to see Dundalk’s The Mary Wallopers at The Park, who draw a massive crowd for a set of joyous, raucous folk that’s tempered only, for those of us at the back, by significant sound bleed from a DJ set in an opposite bar, then a long walk back down again – via an enjoyable detour to see Irish rapper Kojaque in Silver Hayes – to the Pyramid. At the front of the crowd, several Palestinian flags are being waved as the performance artist Marina Abramović conducts a piece in which she invites the crowd to join her in seven minutes of silence in which to consider the possibility of peace, while she, dressed as a peace sign, stands perfectly still. Aside from one man who decides to chant ‘West Ham are massive’ throughout, it’s well observed and effective.

PJ Harvey, photo by Jim Dyson

PJ Harvey however, who directly follows Abramović, proves that sometimes subtlety can be more effective still. It feels telling how much the first half of her set rests on material from 2011’s Let England Shake, her profound meditation on war that delved deep into the stark human tragedy at its core. She performs with slow and precise gestures, her white dress decorated with black lines that resemble the branches of long-dead trees. It hardly needs explaining that the power of such songs has intensified a hundredfold in the thirteen years since she released them, and it’s striking how effectively Harvey is able to re-inhabit them after all this time. The sorrow here feels bodily; elemental, rather than didactic. She shifts gear for the second half of the set, her energy suddenly becoming open as she and her band power through an intense run of hits from across their career, ending with a deliciously moody ‘To Bring You My Love’.

It’s easy, from a distance, to be a bit cynical about Glastonbury in 2024. The unrelenting hype with which some major outlets cover the build-up can border on cultish. The disconnect between the festival’s inclusive politics and ticket prices that have raised almost a hundred pounds in five years remains stark. Legitimate questions have been raised in recent weeks about the lower-than-average pay (or sometimes lack whatsoever) that most artists receive. Nadine Shah made headlines recently when she pointed out that because the set she was offered wouldn’t be televised, she couldn’t justify the costs when weighing them against the exposure she’d gain.

 LCD Soundsystem, however, demonstrate that at its best, a Glastonbury performance can still offer something genuinely unique. Clichéd though it is, as the band take to the Pyramid, the sunlight dipping into the golden hour, it’s hard not to get swept up as the opening keys of ‘Oh Baby’ are dappled across the crowd. The melody from Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer Love’ then segues into ‘I Can Change’ and the set kicks properly into gear. The band are on magical form, flitting between detachment and deep emotion, walking the tightrope of tension between the two without a step out of place, and the sound is remarkably crisp in such a wide open space. They reach the crest of their wave with a pummelling ‘Losing My Edge’ that incorporates riffs from Suicide, Daft Punk and Yaz, then crash majestically back down with a final run of ‘Home’, ‘Someone Great’, ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ and ‘All My Friends,’ each more emotive than the last.

After a brief trip to the Greenpeace stage for the opening salvos of Confidence Man’s ‘Feel It’ takeover, where Cormac and I. JORDAN deliver unadulterated bliss, the queue at Charli XCX’s takeover of the Levels club is, predictably, too enormous to tackle. Instead, we head back to Assembly where it all began.

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