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Review: Green Man Festival 2023 – Strange, Beautiful and Inspiring

Cosseted within the picturesque Brecon Beacons, the much-treasured Green Man festival holds inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability right at its forefront.

Bringing people of all ages to rock together to celebrate music, science, comedy and the arts – all with the appropriate silliness – this year’s event is remarkable for achieving a 50/50 gender split across its line-up and headliners – itself a wonderful and much-needed feat. With a bill that sustains the festival’s habit of allowing us to witness old legends along with the latest and greatest in emerging talent, and a crowd ever impressive for their displays of friendliness and courtesy for each other, it was with great pleasure that we unlocked some tinnies and got stuck into a weekend’s worth of outstanding music. 

Welcoming us into the festival are local favourites The Bug Club, their cute-as-hell indie is as adorable as an oversized jumper lent by a partner, and the children next to me are joining glow sticks to make large circles in one of many examples witnessed of kids doing hilarious things over the weekend. Edging back up the hill to catch Spiritualised, there’s someone bambling about dressed as a purple dinosaur and it’s clear that party time has arrived. And speaking of our Thursday headliners, looming up to the impressive Far Out tent as their hypnotic grooves are frothing nicely is like being confronted with a huge glorious ancient wonder of the psychedelic world, overawed by its immaculate mass of pristine sound. 

The Orielles

As the festival gears into full swing proper on the Friday, I’m already stinky, sweaty, hungover, slightly constipated; the seat of my pants is irrevocably damp already. In other words, I’m already more ready than I’ll ever be for The Orielles’ welcome noon-time set. Their oh-so-melodious psych-pop electronica – plucked entirely from their latest opus ‘Tableau’, dreams in from the mizzled clouds and foggy valleys, filling my heart with love. Following them on the Far Out stage comes the gusty, aching indie-rock of Melbourne’s Floodlights, singer Louis Parson’s New Wave baritone ripe with powerful yearning.

After a bit of a breather and a shot of tequila, Gently Tender grace the walled Garden with their soulful injections of beatific joy – as if bedecking the whole Walled Garden stage in wreaths and wreaths of roses. Hightailing through the bubble machine tent, I catch the glitching tensions of Sorry – Asha Lorenz, aptly capturing the festival’s joyful, childlike spirit by sporting a glittering cowboy hat over her hoodie. 

Following a typically mesmeric set from Mercury-Nominees Jockstrap, which feels as if the whole festival is clamouring to catch, one of the festival’s uncovered gems comes in the form of three/four piece UNIVERSITY. Mining the beautifully sad intensities of unhinged punk euphoria – eclipsing too into post-rock and slacker – they have a balaclava-clad member on stage playing Bully/Canis Canem Edit on an Xbox 360; watching our bully beat up school kids in a playground alongside the music felt like the perfect metaphor for whatever this was. 

Then it absolutely pissed it down. Just comic levels of deluge. Mud sliding everywhere, most bravely squelching through it all with the plucky motivation not to let a hell of a lot of rain spoil their fun.  My lasting memory of the downpour is of Warmduscher ripping into the iconic ‘Midnight Dipper’ bass riff in the distance as I’m pathetically noshing on a spicy fish curry, barely sheltered by a tree. But as I shift into some drier clothes and the rain abates, the gloriously experimental and beautiful Salami Rose Joe Louis provides some comfort, “It’s gonna be okay, just make it through the day.” – Right on, Salami!

The biggest dilemma of Friday is Slowdive vs DEVO – a truly devastating clash between perhaps the UK’s most iconic shoegaze band, and the trailblazing antics of one of New Wave’s foremost pioneers. As we wrack our brains with this existential crisis, and day sinks into night, Green Man regulars Squid deliver one of the most captivating sets of the weekend. With the pastoral undertones of latest record ‘O Monolith’ more than fitting for this idyllic setting, it’s amazing to see how stately and assured the group have become from their frenetic beginnings – and how multi-faceted too, as the set seamlessly pings from post-punk to post-rock to interstellar techno breakdowns.

Upon witnessing the cracked and skewering barbs of ‘Narrator’ and ‘Peel St.’, it made sense to wait eagerly in the rain for DEVO’s headline set and catch one of the first bands to ever do that now-ubiquitous, spiky, post-punk thing, on this, their farewell tour, of all occasions. Their set is truly bonkers. From crude sexual imagery popping up on the big screen to getting thousands of people to shout ‘Whip it’ and ‘We are Devo!’, here are men in their 70’s waving pink cheerleader Pom Poms, ripping each other’s clothes off, wearing their iconic red ‘energy domes’, reminding us all how dumb and insignificant we are in the context of an ever-expanding universe. It’s a unique and amazing experience to behold. Relieved to see some grown-ups acting their age, PVA’s headline the Walled Garden is, by contrast a moody, and, swaggering seduction; epic, divine, a majestic end to a majestic day.

Saturday brings a welcome end to the rain, leaving thick trenches of mud in its wake. Masters of suspension Deathcrash provide the grand opening to proceedings. Their soft slowcore offers a gentle, tender lull to awakeness; their full-aggression post-rock avalanches are a bucket of water to the face screaming you towards lucidity. Later, there’s a gleeful irony in later catching Mandy, Indiana and their crushing blows of abrasive industrial squall in a tent the colour of rainbows. Also there’s irony too in leaning next to a Helter Skelter, absorbed in the sinister rock rumblings of Crows delivering a shit-hot set. 

Water From Your Eyes

When Water From Your Eyes take to the stage at the Walled Garden, the evening begins to burn its brightest. In-between vocalist Rachel Brown’s barely audible ramblings about the cost of the festival’s Ferris Wheel, the Brooklyn experimental pop duo unleash an incendiary set of huge-ass beats and awesome riffage, snatching from rock to string samples to Beach Boys’esque sunshine pop with barely the blink of those aforementioned eyes. ‘Barley’ brings the mosh, while the extraordinary ‘“Quotations”’  brings out the tears.

And speaking of crying, I’m a snivelling, snobbing wreck at the elemental powers of Swedish Psych-rock wizards, Goat. They’re visual stage presence – an ornate array of brightly coloured costumes and masks;  the dynamism of the two lead vocalists, shaking, fluting, tambourin’ing with baletic grace; guitars grooving with all their eggs in the wah wah basket – it was so unbelievably perfect and momentous that I could not help but weep and shiver and all over in desperate euphoria.

And if that wasn’t enough, all those who pulled themselves away from Confidence Man were treated to a redonkulous 1am set from current So Young Magazine cover stars Fat Dog. With dance routines, Alsatian helmets and crowd invasions a-plenty, and an airing of new single ‘King of The Slugs’ to boot, it would take a hard heart indeed not to be infected by this decisively urgent display of sublime irreverence. While their set inexplicably finishes 20 minutes early, we’re all left amazed as to why we haven’t all been mashing up ska rhythms and donk beats before now. 

Sunday morning’s big event is the Women’s World Cup final, which a huge crowd gathers by the cinema tent to consume. Weak of body, mind and spirit, it was a tonic indeed to stumble to English Teacher’s set to commiserate England’s loss. Delivering a flock of unreleased material, and sounding more explosive than ever, we’re left salivating as to what lies imminently on their horizon. 

To keep us all awake comes a double dose of high-stress industrial noise. First, as I partake in a nourishing salad, Nuha Ruby Ra eviscerates the baking sun with serious bass and crow-like shrieks. Then, walking into Gilla Band’s set feels like I’m entering my final moment of death. For all those who brought the wrong footwear for the weather, forced to stuff their feet into plastic bags to keep their toes dry, ‘Bin Liner Fashion’ feels like the weekend’s grubby anthem.

The Last Dinner Party

The Rising tent is already packed to the rafters 15 minutes before The Last Dinner Party are due on. In probably the thickest crowd this stage has ever seen, this feels as much like a pivotal cultural moment as it does as simply a performance of music. Those who got there early enough to catch a glimpse saw a truly spellbinding masterclass of glam-tinged art-rock. Throwing four-part choral harmonies into the mix, as well singer Abigail Morris’ gleeful stage frolics, so adoringly was their set received that the band could barely pull themselves from the stage upon its conclusion. The chorus of ‘Sinner’ has rung in my head ever since it’s airing there. No doubt it’ll be a much bigger stage next time round.

As the day, and the festival began to draw to a close, there were still treats a-plenty to keep us spirited – not least in the form of Mary In the Junkyard, whose stumbling, tricksy and feathered indie-rock provided a succulent sweetness for these last dying hours. Following them on the main stage, Amyl and the Sniffers are sounding fat as fuck. Mentioning how they hold the record for saying the word ‘cunt’ on the BBC, it’s incredible to see how the festival organisers are free-thinking enough to host this set full of swearing and female emancipation to a crowd filled with quite a lot of children. 

Mary in the Junkyard

Not before Special Interest dazzle their potent electro-punk across the reaches of the Walled Garden, the entire festival gathers to watch the Green Man himself burn up into cinders, and the fireworks burst up from its remains. Open-mouthed, staring at the sky, there imprinted on the smoky sky, are all our wishes, hopes and dreams flying up into the heavens to give us their good grace for the year ahead. It’s time put ourselves back together and trudge along home away from this strange, beautiful and inspiring place.

Tickets for Green Man 2024 will be released on September 30th 2023.

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