Green Man festival review – mesmerising and otherworldly

Glanusk estate, Brecon Beacons
Shaking off its folky roots, artists such as Four Tet, Yo La Tengo and Father John Misty transform the Black mountains into a mega-party

At Green Man, the bucolic grounds unfurl to reveal a multisensory playground of literature, visual art and performance. You can find eclectic delights in every corner, and BBC Radio 6 Music-friendly fortysomethings navigate the spotless, hill-ringed site with similar fervour to the many infants that roam freely. Between stalls offering Japanese kumihimo braiding, tree ring printing and candle wax powered boats, the only gripe you could have is that you may miss more than you will see.

Oh, and there’s the music, too. In its 17-year history, Green Man has progressively twisted its folky image into exciting and intriguing new shapes, perhaps best displayed this year by the top billing of Four Tet. His face-melting, rippling left-field electronica turns his Saturday night headline slot into a mega-party that confidently dispels the idea that Green Man can’t large it up.

The other main-stage headliners prove otherworldly, too. Yo La Tengo carve out few epiphanies, but they still impress. The trio ceaselessly switch between instruments to flesh out 90 mesmerising minutes of psychedelic freakouts, which fall somewhere between art and accessibility. But the weekend ultimately belongs to Father John Misty, a consummate showman and operational ironist of the highest order, whose intoxicating mix of histrionic outbursts and indulgent folk rock finds a fitting backdrop in the Brecon Beacons’ dramatic, verdant peaks.

Psychedelic freak-outs ... Yo La Tengo.
Psychedelic freak-outs ... Yo La Tengo. Photograph: Richard Gray/Empics Entertainment

That kind of wacky eccentricity thrives here: Green Man Rising 2019 winners Jerry shake up the Black mountains with a scrappy avant-garde take on postpunk that recalls the knowing anarchy of Parquet Courts. As they unleash a barrage of urban ska epics on to a curious mid-afternoon crowd, their choppy vocals and wiggy riffs swarm like flies – they’re vital and ecstatic. And Squid reinforce with a twiddly postpunk antidote to the many acoustic guitars that dominate the Walled Garden stage, rattling tambourines and cowbells with untamable, cartoonish energy.

Stealing Sheep later prove that unexpected moments of communal joy underpin the weekend’s finest memories – their meticulously choreographed showpiece of theatrical posturing and high-octane dance routines is a bolt from the future, and an inflatable pink sheep bounces across animated punters in tandem with their visceral, industrial electropop. Meanwhile, Matt Baty, the chest-pounding frontman of psych-metal purveyors Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs is the most unlikely ambassador of Green Man’s ethos of inclusivity and community “Rock music should be wholesome, hydrating and nourishing. It’s for all of us,” he says after two songs.

Face-melting electronica ... Four Tet.
Face-melting electronica ... Four Tet. Photograph: David Wala/Retna/

Blending upright bass cycles with direct, whip-smart lyrics, the Big Moon deliver guitar-forward indie pop with aplomb. They spool out the cream of their Mercury-nominated debut, and gamely road test new grunge-textured songs in front of a packed Far Out tent. At the end of the set, frontwoman Jules Jackson receives an on stage marriage proposal from her boyfriend. She gleefully accepts, the occasion apt for a festival that seems to run on love and wonder.

When the Green Man effigy is razed in its traditional Sunday evening burning, the masses unite to gaze at the sparks that shoot dazzlingly into the patchwork skies. At times like this, it becomes easy to forget that beyond these fields, there exists a world that is becoming increasingly devoid of Green Man’s core values of compassion and community.


Sophie Williams

The GuardianTramp

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