Green Man 2018 @ Brecon Beacons, 17-19/08/2018

Green Man 2018Green Man 2018 has the cleanest festival toilets possibly in the world. By dint of constant attention and a corralling of gents with simple needs into a separate urinal area, these things are bloody pristine. They're probably cleaner than your own throne room at home. It's truly amazing; you’d have to go to your parents’ place for any better.

You might have the run of it because depending on your age, your parents could be at Green Man. It’s crawling with Observer-belt 40 somethings and their progeny, ranging from grubs to saplings. A combination of guilt and expedience means each child comes with its own little handcart full of personal effects, which doubles as a covered wagon when the sun goes down and daddy/mummy want to drink a local craft ale and ‘have a boogie’.

This is the consequence (or the cause; it’s very chicken or egg) of the Green Man ambigram.

Green Man is perhaps the least rock’n’roll festival you’ll ever go to. My goodness, it’s tame. You almost find yourself pleading for bad behaviour, and to see a group of sequinned cosmonauts dancing around the k-hole into which one of their numbers has temporarily descended. You want to be offered illicit substances by a northerner in a tracksuit, or see just a bit of old-fashioned vomit. Green Man was a small folk fest once, but you can't really claim having Fleet Foxes as the Saturday night headliner is enough to continue that appellation. And aside from the legion of children, the demographic is very ‘professional’ and 'similar looking'. This more problematically extends to the line-up, strong as it is otherwise.

Then there’s the other way to look at it. How nice to be a festival so well natured and polite. No crowdsurfers kick you in the head on their obnoxious way past as you’re trying to dance, and there are no lads stomping about setting things on fire. The setting in the Brecon Beacons is gorgeous, with the Black Mountains serving as a backdrop to the main stage. And yes, you can eat and drink very well – at a pretty non-exorbitant cost for a festival.

While racial and social balance is a question mark, the gender balance is better, which is refreshing. The pride taken in it being a Welsh festival is also lovely to see, with local produce, the Welsh language and what seems like a solid contingent of locals all prominent. This is complemented by the lack of any corporate behemoth bigger than Pieminister, at which we see the festival's longest queues.

People just love that pie.

Musically speaking, things are good too. After 5pm on any given day, you'll find yourself hurtling between the two main stages, ducking occasionally to the third and regretting not having the time for the fourth's more off-the-beaten-path offerings.

We start by inevitably getting walloped on Thursday night; certainly too drunk to tell you much about Public Service Broadcasting, apart from they were making a pleasant old ruckus that probably works better if you don’t pay close attention.

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On Friday we start our listening in earnest with Amber Arcades, who is lovely, though maybe a bit swallowed up by the main stage. In fairness, the second stage consistently profited from its compactness in comparison, with the large spaces and generous seating of the main engendering a lot of non-committal music watching. The off-kilter delights of Duds, who compare to A Certain Ratio and James Chance, is an unexpected early afternoon treat. The more conventional post-punk of Omni that follows suffers a little in comparison, but they’re certainly compelling and charming.

The Lemon Twigs seem to be the band everyone is talking about. They're saved from being totally insufferable by their consummate musicianship – the same can’t be said for some of their fans. Snail Mail follows with a slightly misjudged set: it's poorly paced and overly vocal-centric, with the frontwoman showing thinly-disguised contempt for a sound tech over a nagging bit of feedback. The music is of such a standard though, that when the melodies click, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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A dash to see the sumptuous big indie band melodies of Whyte Horses and the gorgeous technical compositions of Dirty Projectors make everything alright. Floating Points’ DJ set takes us into the night proper, proving more competent than inspiring, not quite evoking the epic scale of his recent work. That shady guy in a tracksuit would’ve helped this along, maybe?

Tonight’s headliner is King Gizzard and blah blah. To their credit, they create a massive, arena-filling sound, and are clearly giving the people want they want: psych guitar solos and heavy rock. It was that simple all along. Mount Kimbie are interesting enough, though focusing is a bit difficult after the day's shandies. Sadly, “Blue Train Lines” falls terribly flat sans King Krule, who you’d probably never see at a festival like this.

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Saturday is certainly bright and unpleasant tasting. Perhaps the best way to get over a hangover is to go see the psych-rock spectacle of Japanese wizards Bo Ningen – a wonderful masterclass in excessive showmanship, from which it is impossible to peel your eyes. The gravel-voiced Baxter Dury is droll and charismatic and pleasingly upsets some prissier audience members by saying a Very Naughty Word, while Goat Girl is decent, though potentially a bit overhyped.

Back at the main stage, Cate Le Bon further cements her reputation as a musical titan, managing to make music that’s both challenging and thoroughly enjoyable. John Grant pops up for a duet, in which he suffers by comparison with Cate Le Bon’s much wider and stronger range. Respect to him for later bigging her up during a slightly underwhelming piano-led set, in which much of his material comes across a bit like a budget Father John Misty. One gets the feeling it’d be better for him to operate obtusely from the margins, rather than command this huge green amphitheatre; he’s certainly got the material.

Teleman fits in between, with their stylised indie rock seeming to lack a bit of oomph en vivo. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever will certainly come closer to nailing the indie punk disco tomorrow, but it does make you pine for the slightly more cultured oeuvre of Les Savy Fav (the echo of the tail end of Inches in the name does it).

Back to Saturday, and Teenage Fanclub sound exactly like 90s indie rock legends, in a festival refreshingly light enough in heritage acts that you appreciate the ones that are there. The Wedding Present - who have been drafted in to replace John Maus, who’s out for personal reasons - complete the set on Sunday evening, and are just as rough-around-the-edges as you'd hope. There are a lot of happy late 30/40/50-something men in the audience, judging by the huge numbers of father-child Wedding Present t-shirt combos.

We cap Saturday night with the tremendous fun of Deep Throat Choir accompanying Simian Mobile Disco, which perhaps yields the best atmosphere of the weekend, and is the best kind of collaboration – adding value to both sets of work.

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You don't get to start every Sunday by seeing Dirty Three’s drummer accompanied by a Cretan lute player called Xylouris White, but that’s the tantalising prospect greeting us at Green Man 2018. The huge gravity of the performance is accompanied by one of the most wonderfully bathetic displays of embarrassing dancing we’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. Not going to say anything more, apart from quietly nodding you to the demographic notes above.

Jane Weaver’s wonderful art-pop maintains the gravity, though with a dose of arch fun, while Kevin Morby seems a bit pedestrian compared to his records, though we’re tempted to suggest this is another case of the big stage gobbling up artists. Later on, we notice Lindsey Jordan (Snail Mail) watching a phenomenal Frankie Cosmos set, charged with vulnerability, warmth, and imagination.

Speaking of phenomenal, is there a more magical band than Grizzly Bear? Their vocal harmonies and beautifully swelling precise musicianship combine wonderfully with the setting to create the most romantic moment of the festival. And to conclude, perhaps one of the most fitting bands one could find to close a festival: The War on Drugs, who dad-rock us gently out, to make sure we don’t get too hurt when we land back into horrible, horrible reality, away from this Stoke Newington x Brecon Beacons collaboration.

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