Home Away From Home: Green Man 2023

One night of torrential rain can't dampen Julian Marszalek's spirits as he has a hoot at Green Man 2023, taking in sets by the likes of Devo, Jockstrap, Spiritualized, Bob Vylan, Billy Nomates, Nuha Ruby Ra, Lankum and his festival highlight Mandy, Indiana

Oliver Chapman

“Nice one, you two!” exclaims one soaked fellow as he points to your correspondent and his partner, who are just as drenched in the torrential rain that shows absolutely no sign of abating. “I’ve been watching you dance and you went all the way through the set. Nice one!” And with that, he wipes the rain from his eyes and tramps on through the mud with all the determination of an elephant swimming in a tar pit. We can take a compliment but to be fair, when new wave pioneers Devo – headlining the Mountain Stage on Friday night – are on such incredible form, it would be a churl who’d stand under an umbrella and sulk in the face of a salvo that includes ‘Whip It’, ‘Jocko Homo’ and ‘Secret Agent Man’.

But let’s not get ahead of our selves. Green Man, now in its twenty-first year, is continuing its growth and evolution into one of Europe’s most unique, intriguing and rewarding festivals. This annual gathering of music, science, theatre, comedy, thirst-quenching ale and sustainability in the breathtaking of location of Bannau Brycheiniog in South Wales is characterised by an identity that isn’t aimed at any one particular demographic. Just take a look around to see a multi-generational, pan-sexual audience spread across increasingly blurred gender lines and already there’s an achievement rarely seen elsewhere. And with a music policy that gives as much credence to emerging acts as it does those that have already done the heavy lifting and the artists flexing their cultural muscles now, the audience benefits as much the performers. Little wonder it feels like a home away from home.

As ever with the kind of downpours that cruelly expose the essential difference between waterproof and water-resistant clothing, the acts playing the Far Out Stage benefit from the ever-increasing headcount taking shelter. Well, almost all. Warmduscher’s sleazy hooliganism lifts the mood by some considerable degree thanks to ‘Fatso’ and ‘Disco Peanuts’’ instant accessibility, and Jockstrap’s warped pop wins over a number of new converts. Sadly, Sorry’s arch performance of tuneless cut’n’paste ideas plops into the mud like a dropped falafel.

Straddling the Far Out on the either side of the deluge are Spiritualized and Goat. Given the former’s pedigree and the latter’s idiosyncratic mutant funk, it can become perhaps a little too easy to take both groups for granted but, as evidenced by both performances, it would be a fool’s errand to do so. Having bounced back with two glorious albums in the shape of And Nothing Hurt and Everything Was Beautiful, Spiritualized’s fusion of rock & roll, soul, country, gospel and psychedelia is a bit like having your own record collection played back at you through a kaleidoscopic haze by selector Jason Pierce – and that’s a beautiful thing. With a set that emphasises as much new material (‘Here It Comes (The Road)) as it does established favourites (‘So Long You Pretty Thing’), Spiritualized still have plenty of gas in the tank. Likewise Goat, whose monstrous grooves, chants, masks and costumes coalesce into a miasma of tranced and unabashed dancing that leaves one new fan reeling: “Why have I not seen this band before? I have to see them again!”

The overdue appearance of the sun feels like Dorothy’s arrival in Oz as the grey bleakness of the previous day gives way to colour and warmth. Similarly, the shift in music policy adds a light and shade that might not have been thought imaginable a few years back, but the pay off is huge. Amyl And The Sniffers’ taking of the Mountain Stage at dusk on Sunday is a riot of three chords, relentless energy and a deservedly won victory that sees them bring snarling punk to a near full house. Their barbed grenades – see ‘Freaks To The Front’, ‘Gacked On Anger’ – are lobbed into a moshpit that’s already exploded into a mass of crowdsurfers and the shockwaves reverberate around the arena. Similarly Bob Vylan – that’s the dreadlocked and tattoo’d figure of frontman Bobby and drummer Bobbie who triggers pre-recorded guitars, bass and keys – whose wonderfully volatile mix of punk and grime is infused with a righteous fury to win over a whole new cohort of disciples in The Far Out tent as racism, bigotry and nationalism are taken apart (I Heard You Want Your Country Back).

Bob Vylan by Nice Eberl

There are those that’ll forever bemoan performers and bands with backing music as somehow being inauthentic, whatever “authenticity” is supposed to mean. Emerging from the primal swamp, these are the same deluded fools who piled into Billy Nomates with a barrage of sexist and misogynistic abuse in light of her performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Taking no shit, her Sunday afternoon set at the Far Out stage is as much a ‘fuck you’ to her detractors, as it is a display of love from the audience. Over at the Walled Garden, Nuha Ruby Ra is just as happy to smash convention with a set of uncompromising imagery and sonic disturbance. Again, eschewing a full band set up in favour of processed beats and fucked up sounds that are processed and heralded by a keyboardist/guitarist, a sense of dread is palpable throughout, most notably when she intones, “I’ve grown to hate guitars and every prick that holds one” on the stifling ‘6 In The Morning’.

Remaining in the sun-drenched environs of The Walled Garden, Indian-born New York-based Arushi Jain – AKA The Modular Princess – dives deep into the influence of minimalist Terry Riley and traditional ragas to create beautiful music for the here and now. Using her 2021 album Under The Lilac Sky as her launch pad, she creates an hour long piece of music that pumps undulating drones, repetitive motifs and delayed vocals that work beautifully as an incentive to meditation. The result is an aural bubblebath that comes highly recommended.

Mandy, Indiana by Parri Thomas

For this writer, the festival’s highlight belongs to Mandy, Indiana on the Rising Stage on Saturday night. With debut album I’ve seen a way proving to be one of 2023’s key releases, their live incarnation ramps up the claustrophobia and intensity with a focus on industrial beats, techno throbs and Valentine Caulfield’s polemics. With just a half hour at their disposal, their focussed delivery is bathed in infernal red lights that add to the sense of urgency. With the bass hitting hard in all the right places, the notion of standing still soon becomes an utter impossibility.

And yet that original spirit of Green Man is palpable and easy to find. It’s there in Horace Andy’s magnificent Sunday night set on the Mountain Stage, an hour of righteous consciousness music that includes ‘Money Money’, the evergreen ‘Skylarking’ and ‘Spying Glass’. It’s also to be found in Lankum’s set 24 hours previously in the same location. Though ostensibly an Irish roots band propelled by guitars, fiddles, a harmonium, uileann pipes and hand organs, an element of psychedelia is present through as mighty drones sweep from the stage to send waves across the amphitheatre before it. ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’ sees guitarist Daragh Lynch drawing a bow across his acoustic strings before the song transforms into a bowel quaking drone that’s healing despite its incredible force.

Headliners First Aid Kit are a little too polished and one paced to convince, but as country’s answer to ABBA, they work well for tired feet.

And so, just at the point we’re all settling into outdoor living and cocking a snook at the unpredictable weather, Green Man comes to an end with embers that flow into the sky with the embers of the effigy burning to the ground.

Both an endurance test and an utter pleasure, Green Man 2023 was a true vintage. Let’s keep that dance going.

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