Friday 22 August 2014

Live Review: Green Man Festival 2014

We're pretty damn lucky to live in the UK. Aside from our National Health Service (even in its dire state) and education system amongst other things, we've probably one of the best selections of music festivals that's ever been on offer. And although on one hand it makes organisers work that extra bit harder to stand out from the crowd, with Green Man's picturesque rural backdrop and breathtaking scenery already checked off, a fair chunk is already in its favour. Add to the mix one of this year's strongest line-ups around you're pretty much on to a free run home. Now in its 12th year, its continual rise from small independent status to big time contender, Green Man has once again shown just what hard work and dedication can achieve, all without ever compromising its ethos. Nestled within the heart of the Brecon Beacons it's the kind of place that no other festival setting can compare with. From atmosphere to location, Green Man excels in abundance to any other extravaganza that's currently on offer and it's clear to see why. This is by far one of the most friendliest, chilled out festivals on the circuit. Dress how you want. Dance how you like. Just have fun. With a line-up second to none boasting almost every musical genre you could ever conceive, this year looked to be its strongest to date and with all 20,000 tickets being snapped up it had one pretty big party on its hands.


Mac Demarco - Photo Courtesy of Jake McPherson
Daughter - Photo courtesy of Jake McPherson

Come Friday, the torrential rain from Thursday's awakening is almost all but forgotten. Where other festival sites become a swamping mud bath at the first site of the heavens opening, Green Man, being in Wales, and well, used to its monsooning nature (it rains here 364 days a year right?) copes like no other. There's grass. Actual green grass. Not a puddle in sight. And my wellies stay firmly tucked away in my bag. Mind boggling.

Following its huge success in 2013, Green Man Festival once again brought its championing showcase of the best in new and undiscovered talent to the Welsh countryside. With last years stage headed up by some fantastic names such as Radstewart, R Seiliog and Haiku Salut, 2014 was set to be just as hot as this year's competition winner's Wyldest were announced to open the first full day of music on the idyllic Mountain Stage. Still yet to release their debut EP, the North London based outfit make for the perfect start to my festival. Channelling their dark pop textures melded together with a smouldering backdrop of smokey guitars and basslines, much akin to Warpaint, the charming young group sent ripples of swirling synthy melodies throughout the natural amphitheatre surrounding the stage. An excellent treat for early risers. Tunng follows. Determined to make this year a festival of discovery I did little research beforehand. Dispelling my OCD and on times OTT planning compiling list after list of acts to see, this year I left a lot of things to chance embracing the free natured spirit that descends on the quaint village of Crickhowell each year. Tunng happened to be one of them acts. Their folky high energy rhythms making a wonderful introduction to their sound. With their haunting timbre's that echo a solemn discontent the London based group showcased a diverse adaptability in fine style as they mixed hearty electronic melodies with folky instruments and raspy vocals.

Next up was Toy over on the Far Out stage, a band who've garnered some impressive reviews for their second studio album 'Join The Dots'. When it comes to extended bouts of psychedelic strangeness, Tom Dougall and co really hit the nail on the head as they deliver a rousing display of immersive darkly tinged guitar music. Whilst there's little crowd interaction as the band channel their goth-chic vibe across the fairly populated tent, their brash and on times shoegaze influenced music came to life in the bestest of ways, the on-stage energy intensified amongst the replication of all of the subtleties found on both records.

Expansive due to its surroundings, yet compact enough to enable rambling between stages a breeze, a short dash down the hill found myself amongst All We Are rounding off their set. Having recently signed to Domino's imprint Double Six Records the Liverpool-based trio make for the suitably relaxed atmosphere already surrounding the festivities. With jangly guitars and tropically infused percussion the band make an upbeat energy worth kicking up a fuss about. Thoroughly enjoyable. Meanwhile over on the main stage Augustines were cranking a vibrant blast of feel good spirit. Frontman Billy McCarthy is something of a showman and it doesn't take long before he's driving a hedonistic engagement from each and every audience member with hands raised in the air front to back. A short wander later and it was back to the Mountain Stage to catch the opening few songs from Daughter. Having seen her perform at Swn Festival back in 2011 to no more than 100 or so fans the sheer scale of her rise has been nothing short of mesmeric, the darkened shadow of the mountainous backdrop providing the perfect setting for her music here.

The highlight for my Friday though definitely goes to Mac Demarco. If there's one thing I've learnt from Green Man '14, it's that there's no one else I'd rather be best friends with. Making a change from the numerous folk acts performing across the weekend Demarco's comedic stage presence and quite frank hilarity make for one of the most entertaining shows around. Simple to write off as your typical class clowns the band form quite the paradox as their talents hold no bounds. As rustic guitars jangle around and Mac's anguished screams echo throughout the Far Out tent it's safe to say the memory of him departing the stage with the mic banging on his crotch will (unfortunately) stay with me for quite some time. Cheers for that Demarco! From on-point stage banter to crowd surfing and backwards diving 20 feet up a tent strut during set closer 'Still Together', it really had it all.

Sticking around for Caribou the first day's activities were brought to a triumphant close as Dan Snaith and his band brought their experimental electronic bleeps and basslines to the Welsh countryside. With an unrivalled urgency playing songs from across their vast catalogue, dressed in white and huddled together centre stage, the band sent captivating synths and heavy percussion across the attentive audience. With their infectious delivery it's no wonder new single 'Can't Do Without You' could still be heard sung amongst festival goers on the Sunday around camp.


The War On Drugs - Photo Courtesy of Polly Thomas
East India Youth - Photo courtesy of Dom Moore

Having already seen the enchanted Famy a few times previous, once supporting the acclaimed Wu Lyf (RIP), I was eagerly looking forward to hearing some of their new tracks from the forthcoming debut LP. They didn't disappoint. Encased in mystery the band forged wholesome grandeur melodies in their luscious signature style. "If baby is your buttercup, be careful man, not to fuck it up" came Bruce Yates' croon on Ava's Epilogue before launching in to my favourite single of theirs. Elsewhere on the Far Out stage, blog favourite's Woman's Hour were getting down with their delectable blend of swoonful synths and moody disconsolate vocals. Received with brilliant reception the band's archetypal synth-pop sound became even more dreamlike in person, Her Ghost being my favourite as projected and provocative guitars intertwined with Fiona Burgess' ghosting voice raising it to the rafters.

With Green Man being all about the chill and downtime, there was no  better way than to make use of the dry floor lounging around to the sounds of My Sad Captain over at the Walled Garden. Hot off the back of their 3rd studio album 'Best Of Times' the band elegantly glided through their back catalogue treating fans to a gloriously blissed out affair. Through swirling synth sections and glittering guitars the London quartet acted as the perfect soundtrack to a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Highlights from Saturday definitely go to The War On Drugs. Following their highly acclaimed new album 'Lost in the Dream' the denim clad band took to the Mountain stage to rapturous applause. With average song length times running from anything between 4 and 7 minutes the band inject an airy warmth in to their music and that's evidently clear from their playing style. Thanking the crowd profusely between songs the Philadelphian outfit drifted in to sublime brilliance as they settled in to their performance indulging their way through rafty choruses and harmonica solos. Raising the crowd to climatic highs through swirling guitars and melodic breakdowns this is a band that have been refining their sound for years, finally honing in on that magical formula.

Rounding up an already fantastic evening of live music and entertainment I made the final short journey back to the Walled Garden to catch East India Youth. Having already been wowed at Glastonbury previously this year I was highly looking forward to seeing William Doyle's effervescent synth layering's again and he far from disappointed. Trundling on to stage with a mug he wasted no time in spewing out pulsating bass heavy tunes. Building his way through sporadic electronic landscapes Doyle manages to hold a defined attentiveness from the audience, the idolised crowd swaying and moving as if on command. Calculated and pristine in nature East India Youth is the kind of artist who could so easily become brushed off as another rigid work of electronic heartless art but he's far from it. Throwing everything he's got in to his energetic live performances William Doyle delivers something that can only be described as strikingly emotional, his anguished note perfect cries screeching out over the crowd.


Vancouver Sleep Clinic - Image courtesy of my dodgy phone
Real Estate - Image courtesy of my dodgy phone

For any early risers, Sunday was going to have probably the most special of all treats in store. Vancouver Sleep Clinic. At just 17 the sheer force of Tim Bettinson's emotive cries become quite hard to handle on times. At risk of reducing every man child and woman to tears through his expansive, flawless efforts the Brisbane based artist (joined by a full live band) delivered one of my favourite sets of the whole weekend, and quite possibly the year. Shutting down the Far Out tent with an impeccable silence, everyone in awestruck devotion and respect, Bettinson and co transversed their stirring and affectional talents rising to dizzying heights. Whilst on times the sound was a little muddy, evident on their cover of Drake's 'Hold On We're Going Home' the band still managed to enlist goosebumps and raised hairs from high energy percussive hits and ambient synths. As crescendo's built and crashed down before me it was clear to see how much this meant to the band, Bettinson's facial contortions displaying a heartfelt vision of pain. Like a rush of blood to the head the band's ability in crafting such exposed works of art that so quickly develop in to fully fledged anthemic explosions was nothing short of mesmeric. Still in awe himself from the response and turnout to their set, just what has been conceived from a few scrawled lyrics on an old maths book and some cheap microphones and a laptop is still a pretty hard to comprehend. With the new tracks sounding equally as exquisite alongside songs's from the 'Winter 'EP I think it's safe to say Vancouver Sleep Clinic have quickly become one of my favourite artists, let's just hope a full length LP is not too far off.

Sticking around for Hockeysmith was another choice decision as sister duo Annie & Georgie underpin their raw and gritty aesthetic in gorgeous detail with vast and powering melodies. For a more chilled offering though Nick Mulvey was creating quite the atmosphere over on the Mountain Stage. Enjoying the reception from his acclaimed debut album 'First Mind' he seems to have developed the perfect knack for crafting timeless sentimental compositions, each and everyone doused in a resilient charm. Working the guitar like a piece of art itself Mulvey cascaded through his songs with a fine musicianship, each string clattering away with a divine intricacy.

Next up was an endearing set from Australia's Ry X. With glimpses of the mountainous backdrop glimmering behind as rolling clouds floated over its dramatised setting, the soulful croon of Ry X delivered in both mood and aesthetic. Divulging his raw and emotive pain through slow burning, flickering finger-picked guitars, Ry Cuming's gorgeous falsetto cries could move even the hardest of hearts. Breathtaking in every sense of the word, his desolate charm effortlessly glided over the laid back crowd all eager to soak up his husky voice.

With some time to kill before Real Estate took to the Far Out tent there was no better soundtrack than that of the captivating nuances from Sweden's First Aid Kit. Having the ability to create the kind of intimacy only experienced at small shows, Johanna Söderberg and Klara Söderberg manage to almost erase your memory from the fact that you're stood in an open field in the middle of nowhere. With soft keys, delicately strummed guitars, all immaculately weaved together by the pair's floated voices the duo managed to create the perfect harmony between the soaring and reaffirming calm. Sadly having to depart early it was time for Real Estate. With their new album 'Atlas' being firmly stuck on repeat for months they were one of the acts I'd been most looking forward to. And in great spirits the band done what they do best. Playing songs from across their back-catalogue the New Jersey group elicited joyous sing-along's amongst their jangly guitars and long drawn out choruses. Just as on record Real Estate's sound is thoroughly crisp as each guitar layer unfolds encasing its counterpart, live it's no different except for an extended energy. Their dry sense of humour making for an even more engaging experience. If you get a chance to see them live, don't miss it up!

A quick stop off at one of the many bars dotted around the site (very reasonably priced I might add) it was time for Neutral Milk Hotel. I can imagine a lot of people are attending here for this sole reason alone. The size of the crowd they pulled in was evident enough. With a cult following and this being their first tour in almost 16 years it's no wonder people were excited. I've shamefully never really indulged in their music before but had to make the effort to see what all the fuss was about. With no filming and photography at the band's request it was nice for once to be able to enjoy a live performance without someones iPhone rammed in my face. I almost forgot what it was like. With a sound that's almost as rich as the earthy ground it was crafted from the folk outfit took us on a journey of self reflection through trippy psych melodies, accordion bellows and ravished vocals all in their enigmatic style. It looks like I have some catching up to do on their album's.

With Lanterns On The Lake closing the Walled Garden stage through their post-rock inspired crescendo's, their emotional display of spiritually gorgeous music was more than enough to sweep me in to a dazed like state. Warmed up on Vodka and Coke (the stupid blonde idiot inside me forgetting to pack trousers, would you believe shorts don't quite cut it in the cold Brecon night) it was off to the symbolic burning of the Green Man. A fitting end to fantastic weekend of new music and discovery going out in a blaze of glory.

I might have frost bite in my legs and hands, a broken tent to sort out, and a months worth of washing yet I can't help but smile. Green Man is a true work of art. The kind of place where everlasting memories are created in one of the most beautiful settings of all the festivals around. Still able to boast its family run, independent ethos in a time of austerity is no mean feat yet Green Man 2014 has shown just how magical things can be when done correct. Same time next year yeah?

Green Man 2015 will run between August 20 - 23 


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