Green Man 2019 @ Brecon Beacons, 15-18/08/2019

Green Man 2019If you’re accustomed to holy hell of UK festivals, Green Man 2019 could be a shock. It’s just so damn… pleasant.

Good food, clean toilets, nice proprietary booze that you drink from reusable cups because: environment… It’s a very different proposition to the cardboard burgers and plastic-cup Carling we’ve ‘enjoyed’ elsewhere. Let’s not forget the setting. You crawl out of your tent into the shadow of a beautiful, sheep-lined mountainside, which somewhat mitigates the customary festival ritual of praying for death every morning. You might even camp here for fun, if you're so inclined.

The weekend concludes with a firework show, and the ritual of burning the Green Man – as opposed to a mass of hepped-up L.A.D.S. burning down toilets and blowing up gas cannisters. On the odd occasion you see a security guard, it almost comes as a shock (you never see them actually called into action).

Okay, no one would claim it's the most rock ‘n’ roll festival. It seems to be the preferred event for parents with tiny children, perhaps for this reason. You can buy the bleeding Guardian, for Chrissakes. Though at least this means Good Eggs are abound. The atmosphere is consistently positive and friendly. You make a friend every time you go for a piss.

While it's not rock ‘n’ roll, there's no arguing about the line-up – ar least, there isn't if you’re a fan of guitar music. This is very much the dominant theme at Green Man 2019, ranging from the feyest of folk to some pretty robust rock. If this is your thing, there's no shortage of quality music at this year's edition of the festival.

It's nice to see a relatively fresh roster of artists as well. While it's always great to get an opportunity to see old favourites, there’s a touch of the creeping homogeneity in the modern festival landscape. Sure, there are a smattering of marquee prestige bands on display, but it's the top-drawer, up-and-coming acts that keep us charging between the three main stages.

We're also pleased to note solid female representation amongst the acts. It's not quite the same as Primavera Sound’s 50-50 push, but Green Man 2019 quietly strives for the same target. Perhaps there’s even something to be said for that approach? In terms of other forms of diversity, the line-up is a bit on the white side, but perhaps that reflects a larger issue in guitar music as much as anything. Leaving aside Amadou & Mariam, whose large-scale compositions are hard to place in the guitar/non-guitar spectrum, the most prominent non-white artists – South London jazzmen Sons of Kemet and the Ezra Collective – are not typical guitar bands at all.

Thursday

Amadou & Mariam are supposed to headline Drunk Thursday, but travel difficulties mean they're deferred to Friday evening, so we get – for the second-year running – the “semi-legendary” Wedding Present. And what a bloody delight it is to see them again, despite some newer numbers falling a bit flat (regardless of Gedge’s claims). Only the small kids pressganged into the show by their very enthusiastic parents are anything less than delighted.

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Earlier in the evening we very much enjoy razor-sharp NYC post-punkers Bodega, as well as the slightly ridiculous but strangely compelling synth-punk of Audiobooks. These New Puritans are disappointing in between, with a live show that doesn’t match the majesty of their records or past performances.

Friday

Friday starts with Pet Shimmers, who are joyous and elegant by turn, before we move on to catch four-piece sibling group Penelope Isles. How lucky to be born into a family with a shared gift and passion for melodic, playful indie pop. We have “Leipzig” stuck in our head for at least 24 hours afterwards. A sizeable crowd suggests big things await them.

An even bigger crowd materialises in a now quite boggy second stage, for the wholesome 90s-stylings of The Beths. Theirs ong “Future Me Hates Me” is a competitor for the earworm trophy of Green Man 2019. We also brave the drizzle to catch Squirrel Flower, who brings the pace down with her large-scale work. As can be the case sometimes, the void of the main stage swallows up her sensitive work. It's not enough to detract from an assured performance.

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Julia Jacklin is ournext draw at the main stage, and she rewards our enthusiasm with an accomplished and beautiful set. Clearly, we have an artist approaching her peak, and long may her success continue.

We run to catch a little bit of Bridget St John’s evocative vintage folk before taking in the talented Marika Hackman’s twisted-pop worldview. Here’s an artist who embraces the uncommon qualities of her unpredictability, in everything but the expectation that her work is worth listening to.

Bill Ryder-Jones is another prodigious talent, if more conventional in his indie rocking. He serves as the perfect hors d'oeuvres for the festival (/lifetime) highlight of Yo La Tengo. The gentle statespeople of indie-loveliness perfectly capture the contradictions that have always defined their schtick: gleaming but unpolished, majestic but humble, playful but earnest. There aren’t many bands like Yo La Tengo around, and it’s a real privilege to have them here.

It's also a privilege to catch Amadou & Mariam in their new Friday evening slot. The pair and their wonderful backing band are Michelin-starred in the art of creating a great party atmosphere. They do what they do best through the sophisticated pop fusion into which their sound has developed over the years. It is, without question, the shit.

Saturday

Blearily, we begin Saturday by catching Beabadoobee, whose eccentric stage presence and edgy, joyfil power pop helps us to feel a little better about life.

Saturday afternoon at the main stage delivers one of the most wonderful pairings we could hope for. First, Stella Donnelly, whose fucking hilarious stage patter and beautiful, acerbic songs makes us fall in love with her. Then Sons of Kemet, who give a huge performance, befitting their status as the biggest name in the South London jazz scene. Their dancehall-inspired, tuba/sax/double drum combo is impossible not to love, as evidenced by all of us dancing like unrestrained idiots.

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Tiny Ruins sound very promising, although we only manage to catch a couple of tunes before trying to work out once and for all what A Certain Ratio are all about. They've always been a confusing band. Are they really fucking great? Are they actually just making a terrible, indulgent racket? Their show at Green Man 2019 will not resolve that quandary for you, unless you’ve already made up your mind. It’s certainly compelling, we’ll tell you that – and unique.

We catch a little bit of Kokoko! afterwards – perhaps not enough to really get into the spirit of things, as we don’t feel the set evokes the intensity of their records.

Big Thief are undeniably one of the must-see bands of this age; their huge cinematic set is complemented by a glorious sunset, and they very much live up to the billing. Adrianne Lenker seems liberated by the setting, and gives a captivating performance that confirms her status as one of the greatest frontpeople and songwriters on the planet at the moment.

Headlining the second stage is Car Seat Headrest. Indie prince Will Toledo leads a performance that combines the scale, sensitivity, and sense of theatre that have propelled his project beyond their indie niche into the mainstream. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is the evening’s anthem, with a singalong that continues well into the next day.

We’re going to be a little briefer on the mainstage headliners tonight. Both Stereolab and Four Tet put on big, spangly, glittery shows. Let’s just say…you have to be there. We will say this: the atmosphere is second to none. How wonderful to see bands of this calibre in such a friendly, joyful space. It's something not always guaranteed…

We try to watch A Comet is Coming, but by this point, the comet has long ago come for Team DW…

Sunday

We open Sunday with the hypnotic and cosmic acoustic guitar and analogue synth loops of Grimm Grimm, who are wonderfully strange and offer a nice way to get back into the mood. South Korean power pop outfit Say Sue finish the job. They’re very much of the clean and simple melodies-school of indie, and do it with consummate panache.

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Having our lunch to the side of the main stage, we see a crowd gathering around the caterwauling emanating from the unsigned band stage. Is this one of those must-see moments? The Intergalactic Republic of Kongo are as ridiculous as their name suggests as ensemble dance funk ideally should be. We don’t know how this will be received in the real world, but hell, it's definitely fun here.

Aldous Harding is, of course, a very different proposition. As the Folk Musician of the Moment, it’s a coup to have her here. Well done Green Man 2019. Her performance is erudite, haunting and as wilfully weird as you’d hope. On the other hand, her sound is uncompromising, which could be a challenge for non-folk aficionados in the crowd, as it's a little impenetrable (and her schtick a little offputting). Harding perhaps represents the last real vestiges of the festival’s original folk MO.

Eels give a pleasingly avuncular performance on the main stage next, before giving way to Sharon Van Etten, whose epic, theatrical work functions on a ridiculous scale. There's no question of not filling the space here. It's an accomplished performance from an artist who's found and completely owned a new niche, casting her past (very strong) oeuvre into murky obscurity.

Later, Ezra Collective make another case for non-guitar music, with a jazz set that’s as far from chin-stroking goatee bleating as possible. In fact, we would say that this sizzling hot set is one of the most fun (and straight up one of the best) things we see all weekend. If you get a chance, get your arse to an Ezra Collective show asap. We also catch Skinny Pelembe in the run up to the grand finale, who makes some clever, slick sounds that fuse hip-hop, jazz, indie, and more. One to keep an eye on.

We then have a bit of a headline clash. How can we be expected to catch Nilüfer Yanya, Idles, and Father John Misty? In the end we decide, with regret, to dispense with the latter.

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Nilüfer Yanya is clearly a huge talent, with a voice and songwriting chops that could see her competing with the best, if she lives up to her potential. Her performance at Green Man 2019 is compelling and dreamy, which becomes slightly problematic, given the lateness of the hour.

We're hopeful Idles will shake things up a bit, and we're not let down. The second stage is packed to the rafters for the Bristolian punks’ set. No one can take their eyes of the performance which proves why the band are currently one of the most in-demand live acts in the country. Sleaford Mods might think they’re poseurs, but it's far easier for fans to get behind Idles’ political diatribes. Whatever side of that debate you come down on, it’s rewarding to hear them at least having a go. Cos the world is fucking shit at the moment, isn’t it?

And it is back to this shit we must now reluctantly go, after spending a glorious four days at a festival that has to be up there up with the best. Here’s to you, Green Man, for showing us festivals don’t all have to be the same. Time for a long lie down now…

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  1. Car Seat Headrest in the News – Sept. 2019 – Notes n Letters - 16/09/2019

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