For one weekend in August a tranquil valley in the Brecon Beacons is transformed into Green Man, a music festival that just might be the best around. In its fourteenth year it has a line-up that lives somewhere in the gap between folk and rock with a real emphasis on independent record labels. Although there was some rain, the sun did combine several times to furnish the site with rainbows, and anyway, the high calibre of bands on show where a panacea to anything the Welsh weather was willing to throw at us.
The first day was a gentle introduction in terms of volume with most of the action taking place in the tented second stage known as the Far Out stage, a place that was largely rammed the whole weekend despite the Mountain Stage's undeniable beauty. A few acts also played the Rising tent which is a small stage just round the corner from the Mountain stage separated by a small pond which steadily grew over the weekend. As most people pitched their tents, located the bar or sought out friends, Flamingods made the most of their afternoon slot. The record evokes 'Feels' era Animal Collective and some of the other freak folk from that time but the live show brought a more direct psych feel to it which was exactly the sort of thing to whet the appetite for the weekend.
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After an enjoyable set from King Gizzard the main event of of the night was set to take place. Wild Beasts introduced their sleazier, funkier and more riff laden new album 'Boy King' to the headline slot and it worked a treat. Beside imposing light towers and with a darkly lit sci-fi referencing backdrop it felt like a really powerful moment. Songs such as 'Alpha Female' and 'Tough Guy' were standouts from the new batch and a medley of 'Devils Crayon' with 'Palace' was an inspired late set highlight.
On the Friday the third stage known as the Walled Garden witnessed a fine set from Throws whose arty rock music took many by surprise and the way the crowd grew throughout obviously left them impressed. Back at the Far Out stage, Suuns were a revelation. After their first exciting LPs the latest couple had been slightly disappointing and it seemed that the band had maybe gone to the dreaded comfort zone. If that was the case; they have their mojo back. They performed with gusto, edginess and aggression and their guitarist's idiosyncratic style of loose chromatically descending lines worked so well against the tight backing band and the singers yelps. A little later that evening on the same stage saw a transcendental performance from Floating Points with his otherworldly electronic cosmic jazz fusion vibes.
Early Saturday afternoon brought possibly the highlight of the weekend, and definitely a strong outward emotional response as people openly wept to the sheer beauty of Yorkston/Thorne/Kahn. With its steeped grass ramparts falling into the stage in a stunningly bucolic way, and a backdrop defined by a broad ridge and a stoic crag face; the Mountain Stage was the perfect setting for them. They all shared vocal duties and despite having different styles (and in Khan’s case different scales) it combined poignantly. Towards the end of the set Thorne’s daughter Molly joined them onstage and there was just something so caring about them all but so genuine as to avoid being twee or contrived. It is worth mention that the sarangi (due to Khan’s proficiency) has become a favourite instrument for anyone that caught that set.
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The scale of the festival makes it easily manageable to flit between the stages and also allows you the opportunities of bumping into people enough times to strike up conversations. The cost of food and drink on-site isn’t extortionate and there are enough stalls, bars and staff to comfortably manage it. The bands booked by the festival are of such a high standard that anyone could go to Green Man in a parallel universe, watch all the bands they missed due to clashes and still have a great time. The site stayed so clean during the festival as well partly to do with the re-usable cups that encouraged festival goers to, well, re-use their cups rather than just toss them away. And in part, surely, because the punters at Green Man are such a pleasant bunch.
Anyway, back to the music. Later on that Saturday the Far Out stage (once again) was in the presence of German-cosmic-music-demigod Michael Rother of Neu! and, albeit briefly, Kraftwerk. His performance was the real highlight of the whole weekend, proving that the old guard wasn’t to be outdone. It was a set that had none of the anger and aggression of Beak and Suuns or the density and complexity of Floating Points, but found its power through restraint. The drumming was clinically and beautifully motorik with Rother's guitar playing sympathetic to every groove as it moved between clean, almost naive, guitar lines to a more fuzzy, driving, distortion. The real ability he has always possessed is to combine these elements and make something so human yet pure out of them. The enjoyment he and his band mates were clearly taking from the show was also contagious with the whole tent genuinely enamoured.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra arrived on Sunday with a set that wanted to party with 'Trouble' and 'Multi-Love' standing out to make everyone wish it was Thursday again. However, by the Sunday there had already been enough good music to satiate even the greatest of appetites; so lets talk about the food. There was a plethora of quality scran available; from a Goan fish curry to crab topped chips via seriously good cheese toasties the hardest thing was choosing what to have. And in a land of so much choice, the man of simple tastes is King. And if you like your beer and the idea of supporting small, local independent breweries whilst listening to amazing (largely) independently released music in one of the most stunning settings possible, then make this your festival of choice in 2017.
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Words: Will Burgess