Exploring the fiery depths of Shangri-La...
Glastonbury site

Clash has been at Glastonbury Festival since Wednesday afternoon, absorbing every drip of cultural moisture that Britain's most mystical festival has to offer. Here is our recap of Friday, the first official day of full music.

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Glastonbury has so much to offer, aside from the music, that it's easy to lose track of the stage programs. However, the arresting sight of thousands of people going batshit crazy with every flag you can imagine breezing above their heads is still something special.

The Hives are the first band to bring this vibe to Friday. The charmingly bipolar stage persona of frontman Pelle Almqvist creates a garage-rock talk show atmosphere, and he stretches their 2007 hit 'Tick Tick Boom' to over eight minutes so he can introduce and socialise with the front row between verses.

Alt-J grace the same stage a few hours later, and deliver the performance of the day. The delicate songs of ‘An Awesome Wave’ become earthy and hymnal within these spiritual surroundings, with the stone circle in squint’s view and ancient ley lines running beneath your feet.

They close the set with a Gregorian-inspired vocal harmony before rolling into ‘Taro’, an epic finale of Middle Eastern guitar plucks pranging out over the thousands.

Smaller stages across the site start to hit their stride, and Mount Kimbie keep up the momentum over at the new William's Green area. It's a low turnout, as they battle with Dizzee Rascal's Pyramid gig, but those that bothered are hardcores. That fascinating collision of minds they bring to the stage, one rock and one electronic, sounds massive live, with frenetic riffs hanging out over pounding soundscapes.

With Mount Kimbie finished, it’s time to journey to Shangri-La, Glastonbury's most notorious and nefarious corner. It's a place the thousands ascend to, once the stages have finished, to continue their mischief in much more debauched ways.

This place is mad and devious. As we walk in, a hi-vis security guard barks down his phone, "We've got a man trapped on the toilet. He's 20 stone. He's been there all night and apparently he's on LSD." After a few hours in here, this type of chat becomes the norm.

The area always embraces a theme. Two years ago it was the viral apocalypse. A rave to end all raves, where you were encouraged to sacrifice your soul to the DJs. The world ended then.

This year we begin in the afterlife, or the 'Shafterlife' as they call it here. The words "One man's heaven is another man's hell" are daubed across totalitarian propaganda posters that cover every patch of wall, with Mr Eavis himself making the odd satirical Lenin-like appearance in the artwork.

You can make this decision yourself. The entrance to Shangri-La brings you first to the good end. Cloud 9 is a fluffy ambient bar on your left. Purgatory is a dank boiler room, with cracked leather chairs, broken switchboards and abused typewriters. Eventually you reach the gates of heaven, and the Desk of Judgement.

Here, revellers get into queues and wait to speak to one of four angels. You must convince them you need to be in Heaven, or you're not getting in. You can be charming, or you can just bribe them. Either works just fine. Once inside, Heaven is a beautiful interpretation of all the popular stereotypes.

Clean, white, gentle and organised fun, it’s spread across a large room of cushions and low lighting, a harpist plucking pop tunes on stage. On the tip of some gossiping angels, we make our second visit to Heaven at 1am, and find Thom Yorke DJing to a house party vibe of 200 or so.

The Radiohead frontman dances up and down the stage, whilst Daphni's mix of 'Cos Ber Zam' thunders out. His two-hour set is a personal and sociable set of African-inspired bass, followed by some meaty house and techno.

If the world's oldest juxtaposition didn't as much hint already, Hell is the complete opposite to the Thom Yorke parties of those pearly white gates. It has seven circles, each more depraved than the previous. Sick Sick Sick is Hell's main indoor joint. A live drummer bombards his skins over the DJs, who are playing wonky bass and the odd questionable dubstep remix.

The club also has a smaller room, called The Glory Hole, where brutal pornography is projected as a camera films those who enter. Their reactions are then projected back into the main room.

Around the corner is Love Bullets, a bar made entirely from (you guessed it) old bullet cartridges. And on your left, before this, sits Pluto's Bazaar, a tiny and dingy room where ravers are forced to contractually sell their soul, so that their faces can be advertised to those queuing to get in.

Back down the corridor, where microphones are hidden in chandeliers above your head to amplify the idle chatter, you reach the last circle of Hell. A sign offers two options: are you feeling murdery or slothy?

Slothy leads back to the bar; Murdery to the inferno's pièce de résistance, Hell's main stage. As we pass, Craig Charles is spinning lost funk and soul records. His collection appears to have survived the apocalypse unscathed. 

If this is the afterlife, then where do they go next? Shangri-La's creative director assures us that this warped narrative still has much more to reveal.

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Words: Joe Zadeh

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Find Saturday's highlights here

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