jakub | August 21, 2023

Green Man Festival 2023: festival season’s understated triumph

“Come follow me to joy”, reads a large, buttermilk yellow-coloured sign near the gates of Crickhowell’s Glanusk Estate, home to Green Man Festival. It’s a simple, yet enticing introduction to the playground of music, science, art and theatre that lays beyond: a space that revels in its seemingly boundless remit. Upon entrance, glitter-strewn astronauts are on hand to direct crowds to a not-so-secret rave in a cocktail bar; groups of teenagers exude a proper up-for-it energy as they play rounders in the fields. It says something about the festival’s calm, friendly atmosphere that attendees can purchase pick axes and spades from a tool store as easily as they can order a pint of craft IPA.

Now in its 21st year, the festival remains independent, while also aiming to be greener than the rest – all of the power on site comes from hydrogen and solar. An abundance of Welsh language signage and lessons, too, suggest a commitment to upholding the region’s sense of identity and pride; a festival-wide mission statement that takes on greater significance this year after its backdrop of Bannau Brycheiniog reclaimed its Welsh name in April.

But Green Man also continues to look to the future and new trails being blazed. Even when severe weather warnings threaten to damage “gazebos and large structures”, Friday showcases the breadth of the festival’s new music programme. Eve Appleton Band, the winners of this year’s Green Man Rising competition, kick off proceedings on the Mountain Stage with a burst of quirky, compelling progressive folk songs. “Thank you for waiting in all the water,” Appleton tells a rain-soaked yet quickly charmed crowd.

university band
University at Round The Twist, Green Man 2023. Credit: Parri Thomas

Local favourites Melin Melyn follow, dressed as shop workers; they’re an immediate success with a high-energy set of vintage pop that plays out like an unhinged episode of Supermarket Sweep. After directing a large crowd to the merch stand, the band’s ‘Jolly Baskets’-branded caps soon become the afternoon’s unofficial uniform. And if there is one quality that unites the many newer acts at Green Man, it’s this sense of playful abandon. Butch Kassidy prove to be a masterclass in thrashy tension and release, while enigmatic trio University slowly but surely overcome technical difficulties at the Round The Twist tent – they’re a riot of yelped vocals and eerie distortion. An additional, balaclava-clad member sits at the side of the stage playing Call Of Duty for the entire set, only further emphasising their purposefully meme-ish vibe.

Heavy showers continue to tumble down, leaving crowds to slide and twirl gingerly through the mud – but the dancing continues into the night. Dur Dur Band Int. may repeatedly shout out Cardiff – the Welsh capital is an hour-long drive from the Green Man site – but punters’ goodwill is such that no one rushes to correct them; the Mogadishu collective’s percussive funk, soul and disco medley, however, is rapturously energetic. Others continue to arrive with a rave mindset: PVA hammer out acid-house scorchers; both cosmic jazz maestros The Comet Is Coming and new wave icons Devo later prove that Green Man’s sense of adventure remains nourishing and vital. Underneath neon lights, festival-goers bounce in tandem as they lift their umbrellas to the sky instead of gun fingers. Inhibitions soon dissipate without care.

Dur Dur Band Int. at the Mountain Stage, Green Man 2023. Credit: Oliver Chapman

Saturday continues to submit to patchy weather, but leave the rescue mission to live music superfan ‘Big Jeff’ Johns, who opens the Rising stage with his band, The Outlines. Having been injured in a fire at his home last summer, Johns’ appearance is a heartwarming highlight. Duck across to the Walled Garden stage and Irish newcomers Bricknasty’s warped hip-hop crossover is lush and ridiculous – often sounding like Rejjie Snow by way of Yussef Dayes within the confines of a single song. Their set offers resounding proof that the real gold is nestled further down the bill, particularly after UK indie festival mainstays Sorry disappoint; as they avoid eye contact with a busy Far Out tent, the band’s typically strident guitar anthems lapse into a distant, soupy mix.

Mandy, Indiana’s Valentine Caulfield is an electrifying force as she screams down a mic over pounding industrial beats, while the unassuming yet staggeringly brilliant Water From Your Eyes conjure a low-key spectacle – recent single ‘Barley’ makes for one of the weekend’s more unexpected singalong moments. But the night undoubtedly belongs to Self Esteem, who is on particularly impassioned form during her headline set. Here, every emotion is elevated: she encourages headbanging into a blur during ‘You Forever’, while a unifying ‘Fucking Wizardy’ is all recoiled energy that is unleashed in chunky synth drops. “Look after each other,” she says, wrapping her arms around herself in an expression of gratitude. Having grafted her way to the top of this lineup, Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s star power and influence keeps growing.

Mandy, Indiana at the Rising Stage, Green Man 2023. Credit: Parri Thomas

Tired eyes are awakened in the morning by Kanda Bongo Man’s soukous fusion, a heady combination of Congolese rumba and breezy drum patterns. His slot follows the previous evening’s painful schedule clash of Confidence Man versus Fat Dog – and those who choose the latter find themselves quickly using up any Vodka Redbull-fuelled stamina they have left. The sax-assisted band’s discordant rock jams incite dozens of moshpits, in which a slightly unsettling German Shepherd face mask is passed around between punters. It’s a breathless and brilliant hour.

If there’s one recurring criticism of Green Man this year, it’s the dominance of palatable folk-pop acts on the Mountain Stage – as evidenced by pleasant but fairly one-note headliners First Aid Kit. But those willing to explore the site’s more secluded corners will witness newer acts triumph instead. Between LA trio Julie and their Northeastern peers Thus Love, a feverish new rock scene coheres at Green Man on Sunday afternoon, even if the latter would be much better suited to the murky depths of a festival tent than the Walled Garden’s open-air space. The Last Dinner Party’s eye-wateringly large crowd stretches far beyond the Rising stage’s sloped viewing area, before hundreds of fans take over a swooping and glorious ‘Nothing Matters’. An hour later, experimental trio Mary In The Junkyard bewitch a much smaller – but noticeably engaged – audience with a similar operatic intensity.

The Last Dinner Party at the Rising stage, Green Man 2023. Credit: Nici Ebrel

Those seeking one last shot of theatrics get their fill from Young Fathers, who marvel with lengthy improvisational numbers, plus distortion-heavy reworkings of cult hits from across the Scottish group’s career. From here, thousands migrate to the midnight burning of the Green Man effigy. We gaze skyward, in awe, at a dazzling fireworks display so fabulous it’s impossible not to sneak a phone snap – even if it feels decidedly not in the moment.

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