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Glastonbury - one month (and a bit) later

Rory Foster finally gets round to talking about this year's Glastonbury festival.

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Over and above most things I've written about, 'reviewing' this year's Glastonbury festival has provided me with an abundance of stress, confusion and indifference. When someone gave Glasto a bit of a dressing down earlier this year, my response flew out like I was defending a part of my own body, despite only ever having been once before. Perhaps it was the then-alternative of writing academic essays rather than my present activities of sunbathing and being unemployed that made being vaguely creative seem more attractive, but other than being fashionably late, I've been running out of excuses for the tardiness of this review.

My self-diagnosis is that I don't feel like I can do Glastonbury justice in a few silly words. Rather than your typical album or gig review - where your opinion can differ but the experience, or piece of music itself, remains identical to everyone else's - at Glastonbury someone could see a set of bands comprised entirely of artists I've never even heard of let alone went to see, or could frequent stages I didn't even find (the acoustic stage). Bar the heavier spectrum of rock, pretty much every genre of music is covered in some shape or form, which leads to a lot of choice, for better and for worse. I have to say I think my spin of the line-up wheel of fortune this year came up a little worse than my last visit in 2010. Nevertheless I am here to try and tell you about Glasto 2013 - or at least how Glastonbury just does it that little bit better than everywhere else.


What is immediately evident is that Glasto's an extremely well-organised festival. From the complete re-arranging of the roads to and from the farm, to the army of both genuine helpers and free ticket spongers, the sheer scale of the job makes me worry for the sanity of the people making sure everything runs smoothly, and perhaps that's why we occasionally hear internal calls for Glastonbury's closure. But it keeps going because people work at Glastonbury work for less (or for free in a lot of cases) and artists playing at Glastonbury play for less. It's a combined effort to keep Glasto what it is.

But for a festival so critically and ethically bulletproof Glastonbury needs reminding of her weaknesses, which largely occur from its significant diseconomies of scale. Much like going to a decent restaurant, it really is agonising picking what you want to go for and even worse if you realise you chose badly. At Glasto you have to pick a few dozen bands out of hundreds. Sometimes you make bad decisions yourself (why I decided to see Tyler the Creator over the Smashing Pumpkins can only be blamed on a cocktail of Malibu and sunstroke) but at other times it seems like Glasto forces you to weep all over their programme. Do you think people who like Phoenix might also like The XX, Mumford and Sons or Bobby Womack? Well TOO BAD, they played ALL AT ONCE.


Whatever you try and do, without a hipster version of Hermione's time-turner you are going to miss a lot of shit at Worthy Farm. Unfortunately, many of the bands I did decide to go for were rather disappointing. Haim, Alt-J, Mount Kimbie and The Arctic Monkeys all fell into this category. None I could really describe as actively bad - The Arctic Monkeys in particular had people hopping all over the place - but they seemed to miss some extra Glasto oomph (especially considering their esteemed slot as Friday headliners). Alt-J as well are very good at performing their songs live... but that's it. The lack of any extra showmanship or witty banter on top was dearly missed. This did mean that every time I a band had a half-decent frontman, it really stood out. Dizraeli and the Small Gods put on a fantastically enthusiastic set in the Leftfield tent whilst The Heavy's early Sunday set on the Other Stage surpassed both the band's and the crowd's expectations.

Whilst some were getting positive surprises turnout-wise, other bands suffered the reverse. Due to the shear volume, acts that at most events would top the bill can get much smaller crowds at Glasto. Phoenix, headlining the mighty Coachella back in April, played a superb but disappointingly short 50 minutes on the John Peel stage Sunday evening. Anyone who had the misfortune to clash with the Rolling Stones also suffered: Nas, Everything Everything and Public Enemy were all struggling to fill their stages, whilst the Pyramid stage was effectively one in one out for the old rockers (who were predictably average as far as my thirty minutes standing near the back could tell). The only act I saw to successfully hold a decent crowd at the same time as the old folks was Chase and Status, largely down to their niche 16 year-old male market knowing even less Stones material than myself.

But when it comes down to how much I really enjoyed Glasto, none of this really matters a great deal. Highlights at festivals come in the most bizarre shapes and sizes rather than whoever happens to be the big three headliners; the end result tends to be a rather haphazard combination of how many good acts you saw, how much you drank and what bizarre or wondrous accidental events occurred over the long weekend. Glastonbury more than represents this trend in UK festivals to be somewhat cooky - it started it, and festivals all over the UK put on weird stuff to try and recreate the spontaneity that Glasto curates. Most burnt into my current memory is dancing like I'd been tasered outside the nightlife-centred Shangri-la Hell Stage. Constructed as if a pantomime had tried to recreate Mordor, the stage's ambiance was only slightly tarred by the significant daylight at around half 5 on the Thursday afternoon. Nevertheless, the mixture of dancehall, jungle and pouring rain made for a surreal experience before retreating to a nearby cafe where I was able to claim a free poorly-made cappuccino in a test of reactions. Ace.

hell stage guerilla science

From an untarnished perspective, this memory probably doesn't sound that great. But what really unites people at festivals, no less the regularly half-flooded Glastonbury, is the absolute insistence of everyone on having a good time regardless of apocalyptic weather or shit bands. Although not particularly well-understood by Wiley, this phenomenon is half of the success behind the whole UK festival engine. But when it comes down to the gritty details, the shear obscurity of specific events - especially in the huge world that Glastonbury festival represents for a week - is the kinda thing that you'll take with you on the journey home. Never mind the Stones, the constant Daft Punk and Bowie rumours and the large quantity of money spent, that one memory remains unique to our small troop and a select few soaked GlastonBros most likely lost or so drugged beyond reach that location had lost all relevance. Glastonbury does the boring stuff - the organisation, the variety, the planning - better than anyone else. What this means is the rest of the experience can look after itself, and somehow this self-fulfilling prophecy of a festival is both the engine and the fuel to its own success. Roll on next year.

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