With the UK festival market being the homogeneous saturated beast that it is, very few can claim to have a unique identity all of their own. However, one which does stand out from the crowd is Green Man. Set in the idyllic Brecon Beacons just a couple of miles outside the quaint village of Crickhowell, its picturesque location coupled with a relaxed and chilled out vibe creating one of the most polite, family-friendly atmospheres we've encountered at a UK music festival.
Now in its eleventh year, having started as a one-day event back in 2003, Green Man has grown in size and stature ever since. This year's capacity of 22,000 being a far cry from the 300 attendees at that inaugural festival. Indeed it's probably the only UK festival where punters can purchase a seven-day holiday ticket taking in the three days leading up to the start of the musical action on Thursday. Not that Green Man is solely about music. Aside from having arguably the most impressive line-up anywhere on these shores for a festival of its size, there's also a variety of other activities ensuring no one ever gets bored. Visit the British Ecological Society's stall in Einstein's Garden and if really brave, leave a swab of your own body fluid and watch those cultures grow over the course of the weekend. Phone battery dead? Join the Electric Pedals and Sustrans cycle powered mobile phone charger disco where faster pedaling increases the charge into one's battery.
As if the quality of Green Man’s line-up isn’t enticing enough - more of which later - the choice of food and drink on sale is equally as appetising. Food from five continents is available, from Moroccan Souk Food and Japanese Noodles to local treats, and all at acceptable prices. The pork belly on sourdough bread from the Wright Bros Independent Food Emporium is possibly the tastiest offering, although bar a dodgy traditional North African breakfast everything is of a standard that puts your usual festival fare to shame. To wash that down, the festival ale hits the spot (alongside a range of local ales and ciders) and a rum bar strategically placed next to the Far Out Tent offers up some dizzying Caribbean style cocktails. (JD)
Nevertheless, we're here primarily to talk about music. This year, DiS sent along Dom Gourlay and Jordan Dowling (JD) to give their lowdown on the best and the rest of Green Man's musical offerings. It's fair to say neither came back disappointed...
Arriving on Thursday afternoon, the first thing that stands out about Green Man is how compact the site is. With each stage being in close proximity to one another, moving around the site in between acts offers little hardship, and while clashes are inevitable (nonetheless always the sign of a great festival), such logistical advantages make for very little downtime throughout the entire four days.
With only the Far Out tent open this evening (imagine a huge circus tent with a ridiculously huge soundsystem), there's no excuse to miss out on anything. Welsh five-piece We Are Animal remind us of a lo-fi Caribou, albeit one that focuses more on guitars than electronica, while founder member of the Mekons and former Three John Jon Langford soaks us in an hour's worth of countrified nostalgia. It's Manchester's M O N E Y though that really grab the bull by the horns. Having seen them deliver an incisive wake-up call on Sunday morning at Latitude last month they're an even more potent force today. Frontman Jamie Lee starts the set in the audience before joining his band on stage. Equally mesmerising from an audio and visual perspective, there's elements of Hope Of The States, early Verve and Wu Lyf in their repertoire. 'Hold Me Forever' and 'Letter To Yesterday' leave tingles down the backs of a thousand spinal chords. While 'Bluebell Fields' sounds like the composition Richard Ashcroft has spent the past decade-and-a-half trying to write. Put simply, they're immense, and well on the way to becoming ours and anyone else in close proximity's favourite new band of 2013.
Out with the new, in with the old. While most of the conversations surrounding Patti Smith's rarer-than-a-badger-in-a-supermarket festival appearance centered on whether it would be dominated by the spoken word, the first lady of punk clearly had other ideas. Opting instead to play a greatest hits set - if that's the most appropriate way to describe a Patti Smith show? - there's barely a single person not singing along by the time she reaches the chorus of opener 'Dancing Barefoot'. Although fan favourite 'Gloria' may be conspicuous by its absence, rousing renditions of 'Redondo Beach', 'Because The Night' and closer 'People Have The Power' more than make up for it. Weary after half a day spent on numerous motorways and A Roads, yet ultimately satisfied from a musical perspective, DiS retires to bed, eagerly anticipating what Friday has in store.
We don't have too long to wait thanks to Haiku Salut's impressive midday performance on the Mountain Stage. Having watched this band grow at a rate of knots over the past twelve months, their late addition to the bill as winners of the Green Man Rising competition for undiscovered artists proving more than justified, as the large crowd at front will testify to.
The new wave of psychedelia (or "psych rock" as it's come to be known) seems to have taken over the underground this year. Both Jacco Gardner and Moon Duo come from opposite ends of the genre's spectrum, the former taking a more whimsical folk-orientated approach not too dissimilar to Donovan, whereas the latter prefer drone-driven, spacerock mantras aplenty. Now with new drummer John Jeffrey on board, it's the San Franciscan outfit that steal the show. Sounding heavier with an added degree of intensity to boot, the likes of 'Sleepwalker' and 'I Can See You' bristle cordially with the enigmatic 'Motorcycle I Love You' dazzling and dizzying in equal measures. Sandwiched in between, Parquet Courts' updated version of CBGBs era punk rock is loosely executed, if somewhat throwaway in places. Indiepop legends The Pastels play a similar set to the one served up in the rain at Indietracks three weeks ago. Except this time round they've brought the sunshine, which makes the closing couplet of 'Baby Honey' and 'Nothing To Be Done' even more effervescent than usual.
Say what you like about Fuck Buttons, but in many ways they epitomise the perfect late night festival experience. While arguments reign supreme as to whether or not the Bristolian duo have yet to make a truly great record, their live show is pretty much as good as it gets in experimental dance territories. Elements of drone and noise confuse the erratic beats, and while the visuals behind them add an eerie touch to proceedings, it's the raucous nature of pieces like 'Surf Solar' and 'Brainfreeze' played here in the flesh that truly set the men from the boys.
Having managed to avoid too much in the way of rain so far, the elements take a turn for the worse on Saturday. Fortunately, the majority of our day is spent in the Far Out tent. And rightly so, as Wild Smiles twisted garage rock and Girls Names ethereal post-punk prove mid-afternoon winners all round. Over on the Walled Garden stage, the rain may not have subsided but Stephen Black aka Sweet Baboo does his best to inject a little sartorial elegance into an otherwise murky teatime.
The only break from Saturday’s deluge came as the Duluth, Minnesota slowcore trio Low made their way onto the stage. Like the crimson red skies and bursts of bolt lightning that greeted the birth of the Royal baby, their entrance seems to move the skies themselves. Whilst recent full-length The Invisible Way is perhaps their weakest album to date, the married harmonies of Alan Sparhawk & Mimi Parker’s voices still contain that rare magic that has made the band so enticing over their 20+ year existence. ‘Clarence White’ and ‘On Your Own’ are given a much-needed shot in the arm when performed live, with guitar solos and squalls of feedback that give a nod to Neil Young & Crazy Horse, as does a later cover of Neil’s own ‘Down By The River’. However as is often the case with Low, the requests at the end of their set hold their most precious gems, and the hushed couplet of ‘Murderer’ and ‘Over The Ocean’ dampened the eyes before the deluge resumes. (JD)
It's fair to say we're big fans of The Horrors, and looking at the sizeable crowd braving the elements on the Mountain Stage, so are a large proportion of Green Man's attendees. Thankfully, there's no repeat of the Y Not thunder-fuelled monsoon that threatened to curtail the entire festival a fortnight earlier. In fact, for the next hour, the skies stop what they're doing and pay attention to arguably the most progressive UK band at this moment in time. Once again playing a set mostly comprising of material from Primary Colours and Skying, the prolonged introduction to 'Sea Within A Sea' coupled with 'Still Life''s added coda make them a no less interesting proposition. New song 'Elixir Spring' is aired, and on first impressions we're reminded of Flesh And Blood era Roxy Music swapping post-it notes with Kraftwerk.
When you listen back to Band Of Horses’ first album Everything All The Time, or the work of Carissa’s Weird from which they splintered, it would be hard to fathom how the alt-country sextet could graduate far past the toilet circuit. Never mind become headliners at a festival the size of Green Man. Yet, they are entirely comfortable in such surroundings and possess a substantial catalogue of arms-aloft tear-jerkers and fist-pumpers. Their performance is a veritable greatest hits set, and Ben Bridwell's reverb-drenched howls on ‘Funeral’ and ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ are as affecting live as they are on record. Like Low they drop in a Neil Young cover, ‘Powderfinger’, and his influence is present in the same manner as can be found on My Morning Jacket’s earlier work; streamlined into something much more immediate and festival friendly. (JD)
Away from the vast confines of the Mountain Stage, LA four-piece Allah-Las are bringing a touch of sixties-influenced surf pop to the Walled Garden. Although still a relatively new proposition to many in the UK, there's a resounding familiarity in their Byrdsian repertoire that makes the likes of 'Vis A Vis' and 'Catamaran' so utterly insatiable. Afterwards, DiS and fellow associates spend the next two-and-a-half hours dancing our asses off to the Heavenly Jukebox DJs. They play 'Thinking Of You' by Sister Sledge followed by Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams'. Happy? You bet we are!
Jon Hopkins has made his name through his work with Coldplay and Brian Eno amongst others but he deserves to be known for his own cannon. His rich blend of techno and ambiance, captured perfectly on 2013’s Immunity, is as irresistible live as it is on record. You can hear whispers and fragments of countless artists in his ebbing soundscapes, from Four Tet and Burial to Motoro Faam and the aforementioned Brian Eno. However, the organic nature in which they build sets himself apart from many of his brethren, and although his performance is still very “one man and his laptop”, there is more energy, both onstage and off it, than most bands can muster. (JD)
With Green Man entering its final day, sunshine engulfs the site once more, and a large part of the afternoon is spent exploring the many alternative pastimes that can be found at this fantastic little festival. Over yonder, we bump into former DiS editor Mike Diver spinning hip hop classics from inside a giant set of false teeth (no seriously!). Back at the Far Out tent, technical problems for the first time this weekend threaten to derail Melody's Echo Chamber, forcing Ms Prochet and band to start twenty minutes later than scheduled. Fortunately, by the time 'Crystallized' scrapes angels wings off the stars followed by the diminutive chanteuse announcing this would be her last show for some time, parity is restored even if the stage's time scheduling isn't.
Which means Unknown Mortal Orchestra are hurried on and off like cattle at an auction. Nevertheless, they remain an enthralling outfit live, none more so than when the three-piece veer away from their setlist, instead becoming a fully improvised work in progress. Understandably, the loudest cheers are reserved for former single 'Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)', and while their set ends up being short and sweet, it's nonetheless entertaining all the same.
British Sea Power also seem to be going through something of a renaissance at the minute. This year's Machineries Of Joy long player arguably being among their best yet, they're an unparalleled bundle of joyous energy here that shows no sign of relenting even when the stage manager and members of next band Swans' entourage remind them their set has run well past its finishing time. Taking requests from the audience; yours truly gets his wish after several screams for 'Spirit Of St Louis' with a near ten-minute run through of the 2002 single. Their now familiar giant polar bear takes the stage during 'Waving Flags', while instrumental opus 'The Great Skua' reminds all and sundry what astounding musicians they really are.
Which brings us onto the final act of the day, and indeed the weekend. Again, taking the stage nearly forty minutes later than advertised, Swans seem far too quiet to begin with. Twelve minutes and one "piece" in and the visceral brutality that made The Seer one of last year's finest records is unleashed. Michael Gira and his five associates look like the kind of people you'd cross the street to avoid, and when he makes eye contact with the front row, we stare at our feet gracefully. Nevertheless, this is about as intense as performance art gets. Forget the notion of this being any old "set". Gira and co. don't do "sets". Incredibly loud, at times disturbing, yet nothing short of engaging. As climaxes go it doesn't get any better.
Green Man, we salute you! Here's to next year...