Glastonbury 2015 after dark – ravers seek unbridled dance hedonism

Silver Hayes and Shangri-La are where the festival truly comes alive, with gridlocks of party chasers rubbing shoulders with drag queens and DJs

“Look, it’s Jesus! If we push through we might be able to get to the front. We can’t miss Jesus!” No, the Dalai Lama’s Glastonbury appearance has not been upstaged by Christ’s return – it’s 5am in the middle of Shangri-La and a new electronic supergroup who call themselves J.E.S.u.S. are giving the crowds a different kind of spiritual healing. Of course, they are playing the Heaven stage.

Forget Yeezy: these are four of club music’s wildest international party DJs, Glasgow’s house hedonist Jackmaster, moustachioed Detroit techno dude Seth Troxler, Bristolian tech-house producer Eats Everything and Croydon dubstepper Skream, who take everyone back to the halcyon days of classic house, jacking acid techno and voluptuous, deep grooves, just for fun. It’s an endlessly euphoric, smile-spreading set, and just the soundtrack to uplift you as someone tries to wee in your welly boot.

It’s the second night of my Glastonbury rave hunting, in which I’ve been tasked to find what happens at the festival after dark. Unlike anywhere else in the world, for one weekend only there’s a late-night riot for every stripe of party animal. At Silver Hayes – the newly renamed Dance Village – younger clubbers in flower garlands and pastel vests get wonky to UK grime artists like Krept & Konan, Mumdance and Novelist and Skepta. Those with a taste for gnashing breaks and jungle can get their fill of bass at the Aztec-themed Temple. The Rum Shack rewinds to the 60s and 70s with rock’n’roll, funk and sweet soul all night long. The glam east London drag queens are bewigged and beglittered at queer discotheque NYC Downlow.

Transvestite shows at NYC Downlow Glastonsbury
Transvestite shows at NYC Downlow. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Beyond the headline acts and breaking acts, the reiki massages and the chai latte tents, these places are where Glastonbury truly comes alive and unbridled hedonism fizzes from every corner. In particular, the club curation across the festival feels like its strongest yet. I find myself, night after night, being drawn back to the Stonebridge Bar’s discerning showcases. No matter what time it is, there’s always music you’ve never heard and can’t wait to dive into. On Thursday night, Radio 1 DJ Benji B’s Deviation party takes over the sound system for six hours. I’m disappointed to discover that Kanye hasn’t flown his chopper on to the site two nights early (Benji was credited as working on Kanye’s album Yeezus) to drop by. But Deviation’s mix of Afro-house, old-school dubstep and disco is so deliriously good that Ye’s absence is soon forgotten. On another night, Ben UFO and Joy Orbison – two UK DJs whose electronic mixes will always keep you guessing – warm up for Hot Chip’s DJ set by going back to back with souped-up Italo disco.

But enough of the dance nerd wankery. Sometimes you just need to watch a giant mechanical arachnid blast out fire to beats big enough to give you a hernia. Enter Arcadia – or, as I hear one man in a squashed straw trilby and neon Wayfarers holler, “the dubstep spider”. As I draw closer to its legs, it becomes clear that Swedish techno overlord Adam Beyer is in its DJ booth belly, though I’m distracted by the flames that burst out of its shell so close that they almost singe my eyelashes. The closer I get, the more I gasp as the heat sucks all the oxygen from the air. It’s a spectacle, like being trapped inside an apocalyptic scene from Mad Max, but I long to wander and soon it’s off to Shangri-La, Glastonbury’s notorious party playground.

Arcadia dubstep spider
‘Sometimes you just need to watch a giant mechanical arachnid blast out fire to beats big enough to give you a hernia’ … Arcadia. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex Shutterstock

No Glasto nightlife report would be complete without a trudge through Shangri-La at silly o’clock. It continues to be the most popular area, attracting thousands of rave zombies to its many hidden bars, purpose-built clubs, outdoor stages and seemingly endless stream of drum’n’bass DJs. After Kanye’s subdued headline set on Saturday, I mission there to find some other vibes. What I do find is all the men of Glastonbury in bucket hats, who are queuing as if their lives depended on it in the line for Bez’s Acid House. The Happy Mondays man’s tent is always a big draw, channeling Madchester’s golden-era acid house and techno era; twisting a hundred faces into slack-jawed looks of pure joy that were probably last seen inside the Hacienda.

Reviewing the raves here is not the easiest task. Itineraries go out of the window – night-time becomes a deranged theatre of loo breaks, booze queues, bumping into old friends, waiting around, waiting for someone, waiting for the show to start, losing someone, waiting around again, and finally finding somewhere to dance before you decide, 15 minutes later, that it’s time to move on. I am swept into gridlocks of people desperately chasing the party and, to my chagrin, queue for an hour to get into a club playing breakcore. But I am reminded that “bimbling around”, as one friend affectionately terms it, plays just a big a part of Glastonbury nightlife as the times when you fix on dancing. In fact, the only downside is finally arriving at Block 9 for Four Tet’s DJ set at foreboding outdoor structure Genosys only to find that, as with disco legend Cerrone’s set on Thursday night, the music is too quiet to immerse yourself in.

Cerrone plays Genosys at Block 9 Glastonbury
Disco legend Cerrone plays Genosys at Block 9. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Sadly, my bimbling doesn’t seem to lead me towards any secret sets. Last year Aphex Twin hopped off his combine harvester to play unannounced in the Temple – a cosmic sign that he was readying a new album to the delight of his mangled fans. Not one to be outdone, Skrillex followed a five-star headline performance on the Other stage with two hush-hush DJ sets, including, I just about recall, an all-jungle one in the staff bar, Maceos. This time around I find no such surprises – save for a secret one-song set by Florence Welch with the drag queens at NYC Downlow – so I go in search of my own marvels instead. On Saturday night, I find a secret raised decking opposite Shangri-La’s Hell stage and am lacerated by the sounds of Dutch quartet Kuenta i Tambu, who take Afro-Curaçaoan tambú music to ravey new highs (full disclosure, I googled that: at the time it sounds like turbo dancehall that could make a robot twerk).

So, what have three 6am finishes in a row taught me? That every other bar will be playing electro-swing. That there will always be someone dancing to the sound of a crisp packet being crumpled or a lone bongo at the Stone Circle. And you can guarantee that somewhere a chip van will be pumping out 90s club classics for those that refuse to trudge back to their tents. But most of all, it’s that no one does nightlife quite like Glastonbury. Me, I’m off to the Beat Hotel till Monday morning.


Kate Hutchinson

The GuardianTramp

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