Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Glastonbury Festival 2014

Sunburnt, sleep-deprived and covered in mud I stumbled home from Glastonbury. I had a brain full of bad wiring and a body that was in the process of shutting down, organ by organ.  This is the physical impact of living in a muddy field for five days, grabbing two or three hours sleep each night, eating the odd bit of junk food to keep fuel in the tank and dancing dancing dancing furiously from noon until 7am the next morning. Like some thousand-year-stare GI returning from the shit you glassily gaze out at the uncomprehending world, muttering "you weren't there man, you don't know".

Though there's 200,000 people in attendance most people experience Glastonbury through a TV set.  Digitally flitting from stage to stage, you catch highlights here and there and marvel at the headliners from a comfy sofa.  It's a decent way to watch live music on TV, but the music is merely the icing on top of the cake.  Great icing though; my highlights were the body-thudding laser-chaos of Skrillex, the future rock performance art of St Vincent and, of course, Dolly Parton, whose performance took me to hitherto unknown heights of joy.  But if you want to read gig reviews go check out The Guardian's coverage.

Glastonbury by night.  Photo by Mikki Sandhu
This review is about the side of Glastonbury that's left out of most article; behind the A-list music glitz, behind the pyrotechnics bursting from the main stages; behind the huge crowds lies the real joy of the festival: exploration.  Glastonbury is pretty much a fractal experience, the more you burrow into its deepest corners the more you find squirrelled away.  Squeezed into every darkened nook and cranny are secrets that only the intrepid and attentive will ever discover, a ever-shifting kaleidoscope of woozy, half remembered interactions that now feel like dreams than something that actually happened to me.

Most of these take place in the darkened, fiery labyrinth of Shangri La, Block 9, the Unfairground and The Common.  These are the intense, crammed late night hangouts, teeming with a crowd that has pupils like saucers and tense, rictus jaws. Walking around here is like being stuck in a tumble dryer full of the demented.  You get jostled left and right, dazzled by lasers and building wide projections, freaked out by professionally trained weirdos. Eventually you're lost deep within this whirlpool, hoping desperately you don't actually lose your mind.

London Underground at Block 9.  Photo by Peter Podworski.
My favourite of these areas was Block 9.  Having arrived from the grimy city I was initially a bit non-plussed to see that they were constructing a grotty tower block in the middle of all this greenery.  If I'd wanted to wander around damp council shitholes I could do that quite easily back home.  But at night, with sickly green lighting illuminating everything, trashy transvestites dragging it up through shattered holes in the buildings and pounding dance music filling the air I was totally in my element.

A little birdy had tipped me off about some secret stuff going in the corner of this tower block; telling me to make my way underneath the tube train that'd smashed through the building and ask to jump the queue into the club within.  I did and got hustled into a pen outside full of chatty people.  What followed once I was inside was a blizzard of intense oddness; hell-nurses wanted to shove suppositories up my arse, lovelorn women living in trash that I got pregnant and being threatened that my cock was going to be cut off while having a close-up polaroid of a puckered anus shoved in my face.  

And yes there was a lot of mud.  Photo by Mikki Sandhu.
It was an experience designed to fuck with the chemically altered mind as much as possible.  This was the Roundhouse Theatre's contribution to the festival, and it was so good I couldn't shut up about it all weekend.  I made it a mission to drag as many friends as possible along, taking a sadistic pleasure in watching them pop confusedly through the double doors only to emerge with twisted brains and big silly smiles on their faces.

On a slightly less psychologically intense front was the excellent Back O' Beyond bar in The Common.  Taking on a slightly slanted Day of the Dead theme, the bar was staffed by skeleton boys and girls.  To the sounds of rickety retro-rock I lay down in a coffin and got turned into a skeleton man, then capered around the garden outside to You Know You Make Wanna (Shout) like a madman.  This bar was off the beaten track, yet stuffed with teeny-weeny details within details.  Within a Jesus knick-knack shrine at the back was a fence - I spotted a hinge in it and found a small shed with another man inside.  He made us burst out onto the dancefloor to make a scene.  We did.

Me being turned into a skeleton man.
Eventually the nights took on a freaky pattern.  We'd find a series of tiny, packed out raves, each hotter, smaller and crazier than the last.  Everytime we ventured somewhere we'd find faster and faster dance music; culminating in a 4am arrival at a tent playing music like this.  It was full of freakshow circus performers and an audience who looked like someone had shoved an egg whisk in their brain and hit omelette.  In my burnt-out, ruinous state I thought for a moment that I was actually going mad, figuring there was about a 50/50 chance I was imagining all this from within a padded cell.

There is nothing and nowhere on earth that matches Glastonbury.  But for all the amazing experiences, fantastic music and beautiful scenery the real highlight was spending the weekend with amazing people.  It's the tiny personal moments that are going to stay with me the longest; everyone holding hands and snaking through a packed crowd; linking arms with a friend and negotiating especially slippery mud; pretending to sleep in someone's lap to get away from a boring man at the Stone Circle; bumping into old friends I haven't seen in years and years; hiding from a torrential downpour next to a veggie burger van; waking up in a boiling, sweaty tent and grinning as I remember where I am; helping a stranger out who's stuck in a muddy pit; even something as simple as catching someone's eye and both smiling like idiots at how much of a great time we're having.

Sunset at Glastonbury.  Photo by Mikki Sandhu.
Dolly Parton said "Wouldn't it be great if we could all just live like this?", a thought I guarantee has gone through the mind of everyone who's stared out contentedly at the sun slowly setting over a throng of ludicrously happy, mud-stained people.  But we can't. We've got to head back to the boring old real world where there's music doesn't bubble up from everywhere around you and things don't randomly emit vast plumes of flame into the sky. After Glastonbury everything else feels desaturated and muted, the rest of the world a joyless, unfriendly place in comparison. 

This was the best weekend I've ever had in my life.  I've made new friends, discovered fresh music and raved harder than I've ever raved before.  I only wish I could go back and do it all over again.

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