Green Man 2017 review

We sent Kristian Birch-Hurst down to the scenic Welsh festival to witness the spectacle for himself.

Amelia Ward

Last updated: 1st Sep 2017.
Originally published: 30th Aug 2017

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, Green Man once again proves its idiosyncratic reputation as one of the UK’s leading festival experiences. Size really doesn’t matter, remaining as intimately dynamic - and wholly Welsh - since its inception many years ago; Managing Director Fiona Stewart has ensured the spirit of Green Man continues to live on through intelligently curated bookings, attendee caps and an enduring grassroots mentality.   

Set amongst the awe-inspiring landscape of the Welsh Brecon Beacons - a vast beyond of towering mountain tops, deep valleys and puzzling rock formations - the festival site and central arena made impeccable use of the space. Winding through old-stone buildings, ancient trees and naturally occurring water features, everything felt deeply ethereal.

While the standard festival takes place over four days, hardcore campers can choose to stay an additional pre-week with the purchase of a ‘Settlers Pass’. Surprise band appearances, active workshops and the usual food & drink niceties are all provided during this warm up.

Originating as a folk-centric festival, Green Man has now developed into a Jekyll and Hyde style arrangement; a family friendly environment by day with smoother, more relaxed festival vibes and shopping stalls, with more debauched offerings at night including X-rated movie screenings, trippy site-wide visuals and banging early-hours DJ sets.

The permanently-open arena, where all stages and entertainment reside, and centrepiece to the camp site, was full of character. Strewn with illuminating art installations, hidden forest pathways and of course, the Wickerman-esque focal point; a towering effigy - crafted with straw weaves, twisting vines and other repurposed woodland materials - of the synonymous Green Man.

Far Out, a massive circus-style big top tent, hosted a variety of day and night time performers, capitalising on euphoric light production and captivating stage visuals as darkness swept over the festival. And the Green Man crown jewel the Mountain Stage, so named due to its breathtaking backdrop of one of Brecon’s finest peaks, once again set the scene for some truly special headline performances. 

The Walled Garden, an ageing stone-walled structure that pre-dates the festival a few hundred years, contained its very own cider bar and food stalls and showcased a mesmerising spread of leftfield shows till near sunrise. 

Another stand-out addition to the evening initiative was Chai Wallah, a festival travelling, late night sanctuary with empathic live instrumental sets and hearty disco jams. It’s low-ceilinged canopy, swanky cocktail bar, and enchanting spiritual decor cemented a contagious hedonistic atmosphere.

Throughout the festival, we were treated to a number of immersive DJ sets and emotional performances. Future Islands brought their iconic 80s tinged melancholia to the main stage, exhibiting raw energy, earnest passion, and a few heartfelt anecdotes from eccentric frontman Sam Herring.

Roni Size made a defiant appearance at the After Dark stage (Far Out’s night-time alter-ego), opening with raw jungle cuts and liquid grooves before exploding into a powerful barrage of not-so-subtle jump-up.

Then, with punters bursting from a densely packed Walled Garden, Melt Yourself Down injected a North-African inspired wave of jagged pop-punk licks and soulful instrumental soundscapes. A complex web of sound, that threw up quite the dance frenzy.

One of the most memorable spectacles of the festival came from Thee Oh Sees. Their aggressive guitar medleys, distinct harmonics and clashes of white noise (reminiscent of a grunge bygone era) provided the perfect set-up for a full-scale riot.

Fast paced drum 'solos' from the drumming duo of the band would be drawn out for what seemed like hours, calmly building the levels of anticipation, before smashing back into the fold as a full ensemble, erupting in crowd hysteria every time.

Jon Hopkins also dazzled on late night duties. Building on slow moving selections of minimal techno before expanding into an odyssey of dreamy house soundscapes. This culminated in a full 8-minute rendition of 'Open Eye Signal', a breathtaking peak of euphoria that tingled all the senses. These two retrospections evidently highlight the versatility of the Far Out tent, and Green Man as a whole. 

While the family factor may be off putting for some, the dedicated 'child-friendly' zones and limitlessness activities have no real impact on the 'grown-up' experience. Hand crafted curios from local eccentrics, hundreds of craft beers and ciders from all over the world, a working blacksmith in which to craft your own Doombringer, these are just a snapshot of what’s on offer outside of the music sphere.

In Einstein’s Garden for example - filled with interactive science experiments and mind boggling demonstrations - we travelled through the quantum world of photosynthesis, a 'family' activity, and a thoroughly enjoyable head-fuck.

The climactic burning of the Green Man, of course, drew the biggest crowd of the festival. It's ritualistic transcendence uniting all folk young and old for one final farewell, symbolic not only of the end of the festival, but our rebirth into spring, and for some, the emotional end of the festival season.

Green Man is a true venture of discovery that opens up an unseen world of obscure music, homegrown culture and fluent unity, questions the veil between abstract and reality, and gestures a welcome invitation into the world of Welsh heritage.

Festivals 2017