Few festivals in the world can boast the same serene beauty of Green Man’s Glanusk Estate. Nestled within the valley of the Black Mountains, the history and enchantment of the ancient site hangs contagiously in the air. A penchant for ritual and free-spirit also ground the mythical narrative further, emphasised by vibrant set pieces, colourful costumes and eccentric acts and performances on offer.
For it’s relatively intimate size (a cap of 20,000) Green Man is still one of the most eclectic experiences out there; showcasing everything from post-rock, indie folk, techno and afro-beat, to poetry, visual art, independent cinema and comedy. It’s celebration of Welsh heritage is also a sweet touch with bilingual signage, themed workshops and stages championing a number of rising local talents.
Despite being the shortest day of programming, Thursday paints a delightful preview of what can be expected over the course of the weekend. Drum heavy post-punkers Bodega and folky enigma Pictish Trail already hinting at the many sides of Green Man. The Chai Wallah also begins its late night pilgrimage with upbeat sets from Afro Cluster and the Allergies. The space has become a legendary hotspot for late night revellers with live acts and DJ sets running through till 4am.
With another sell out year under their belt the atmosphere is electric and, although at capacity, the arena never feels too crowded. Each area on-site has it’s own distinct character too, the carefully selected acts bringing their unique qualities to the foreground. On Friday art-pop trio Stealing Sheep stole the show (and an oversized inflatable sheep that was left bouncing across the head’s of their fans).
Their brooding melodies and dreamy vocal textures bringing the magic of the Walled Garden to life. A surprise collaboration between globally-influenced psychedelic rockers Khruangbin and heralded electronic duo Maribou State, during the latter’s Far Out set, was also a major spark for excitement.
Green Man however is far more than the world renowned artists it books. Little troves of entertainment can be found throughout the grounds; Nature Nurture hands out serious soul nourishment via yoga classes, vegan delights and bubbling hot tubs; Babbling Tongues hosts talks and comedy sketches from figures like Jarvis Cocker and Caitlin Moran, blending humour, insight and the downright obscure; and there’s Fortune Falls rife with water features, blossoming nature and the much-loved Green Man Rising stage.
The Rising has long been a platform for fateful competition winners, promising new stars and game-changing live acts. Speaking to Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin - ahead of their stellar Saturday evening performance - she says, “this is our first time at Green Man, yet the festival has been on the radar since the age of 16… we’re going to play a lot of new material”.
The opportunity is also another step forward from their humble indie-DIY beginnings: “it’s political in a sense, [DIY] is not marketed like the rest of music. You do everything yourself and rely on friends and other bands in the community to get gigs and make things work. But now with access to platforms like this, new producers, management and studio time it’s like we’re beginning to transcend that now”.
Just a few hours later the stage’s headliners Scalping deliver a completely unhinged audio-visual workout. Their heavy brand of noise rock, techno and general chaos unfurls like a continuous DJ set with the added thrills of a larger stage presence and mosh pit carnage. It’s the perfect warm up to Four Tet’s blinding live set; turning the Mountain Stage top billing, typically the reserve of rock odyssey and indie stardom, into a hedonistic four-to-the-floor rave with a stunning outdoor backdrop.
In defiance of the poor weather predictions for the 4 day run, only a few light showers and grey clouds could interrupt the pleasant warmth of the August sunshine. And moving into Sunday’s final sprint it was clear these intermittent blips had done nothing to dampen the spirit of the crowds.
With a mountain vista and Mr. E’s trademark charm, Eels humoured their way to success with positive rock renditions of “Novocaine for the Soul”, “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” and a tongue in cheek skit about newbie drummer ‘little Joe’.
Then, embracing the fast-growing contemporary jazz scene, Ezra Collective charged up the Far Out in a flurry of on-stage hype and virtuosic jamming. But it was on this same stage that punk grunge sensations Idles drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival. Frontman Joe Talbot commanding his subjects with raucous abandon, inciting stage dives, crowd splits and furious head banging staggered between punk-political speeches about the NHS, immigration and self-fulfilment.
“We’ve met a lot of horrible c**ts, and you’re going to meet many horrible c**ts,” he shouts down the mic, “like they did to us, they’re going to tell you that you’re not good enough, too old, too ugly - but look, we’re here now. At Green Man. Playing to you”.
As per tradition, the annual burning of the Green Man effigy attracts swathes of attendees from all corners of the site. As smoke settles following a climactic display of fireworks, and crackling flames continue to bask the cheering onlookers, there’s a very wholesome sense of love and unity.
As so many others move towards bigger, more corporatised ideals, Green Man consistently stands its ground by embracing this community spirit - a shared experience that simply must be tried to truly understand its deserving place as one of the UK’s most beloved festivals.
Words: Kristian-Birch Hurst