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Glastonbury – The Greatest Show On Earth

Genosys by James Gillham

Things have been pretty hectic since I got back from Glastonbury just over a fortnight ago (this coming right on the back of a full-on 3 days in the North Of Ireland) – I was no sooner home than I was off on my annual jaunt to Croatia, so this is the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath and blog about what were a few unforgettable days at the world’s most famous festival.

My first Glastonbury was only a couple of years ago, in 2011 (they took a year off in 2012), and was something of a hit and run mission, where I was in and out in a day to play 2 gigs within hours of each other – the first on the Wow! stage, before heading across the site to the Block 9 area for my slot at the discotastic NYC Downlow. Despite the mud bath conditions, it was the perfect Glasto debut for me – I blogged about it in a tad more detail here:
http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2011/06/glasto-wow-downlow/

This time around I spent a couple of nights on site, which certainly enhanced the experience, and allowed me greater insight into the famous Glastonbury vibe. I arrived on the Thursday evening, driving down from Liverpool in a constant deluge of rain – the weather forecast had been promising, but the scattered showers they’d anticipated seemed vastly optimistic, and, on arrival, it very much looked like it was going to be another weekend for wellies and waterproofs.

Stonebridge Bar

No sooner had I got myself settled into the caravan provided for me than I had to set off for my first gig at the Stonebridge Bar, located in The Park. It took us quite a bit longer than we’d anticipated to drive around the perimeter of the site, the weather not helping, and we weren’t able to access the venue, but fellow passengers, the guys from BMSoho (formerly Blackmarket Records), kindly gave me a hand across the field with my flight cases, so we got there about half an hour before I was due on, giving me just enough time to get my gear all set up before Psychemagik’s spot came to a close. All I knew was that this was a bar, and that the line-up had been put together by Heavenly’s Carl Gosling, who I’d previously worked with on a series of Rizla sponsored events at Bestival, Big Chill, Lovebox and Rockness. Not being a Glasto regular, in my mind this was a low-key affair, an appetizer for the big one the following night at Block 9’s new Genosys area. So you can imagine my surprise to find that the ‘bar’ was actually a jam-packed big top, which had a massive crowd congregated outside as well as in. Sometimes it’s the gigs that you expect the least from that turn out to provide the most, and this was certainly one of those occasions. The energy in there was something else and, despite the rain outside, the people were determinedly giving it up to the max. Suffice to say a splendid time was had by all, not least myself.

The recording was uploaded onto SoundCloud last week and is available to stream / download:

It was great to see Jeff Barrett there, the inspirational co-founder of Heavenly Records, who, apart from signing bands like Saint Etienne, Manic Street Preachers, Beth Orton and Doves, was also responsible for launching the Chemical Brothers (then the Dust Brothers) at the Heavenly Social’s famous Sunday club and, in the process, unleashing the ’90s Big Beat movement (he also managed DJ Andrew Weatherall). I’ve the utmost respect for Jeff, a true maverick whose fervent passion for music helped shape the cultural landscape. The last time I saw him was back in 2005 when I was booked to DJ at the Social (the venue born out of the nights) for the launch of the Don Letts compilation ‘Dread Meets B-Boys Downtown’ (an album which was subsequently withdrawn, due to a licensing issue with one of the tracks, and now sells for top dollar as something of a rarity).

Heavenly logo

Onto the Friday night, when I played the closing spot at Genosys, a towering concrete and glass structure that is truly daunting in scale (see lead image), looking like it might have been transported from the film ‘Alien’. Genosys is an outdoor stage within the Block 9 dance area, which, thanks to NYC Downlow (a New York tenement recreated with ’70s advertising hoarding and a yellow taxi-cab installed on top of a wall) and London Underground (a 6 story tower block with a Northern Line tube carriage crashed into its 5th floor) has gained a reputation for being at the vanguard of festival set design – the radical approach of Block 9 masterminds, Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher, venturing boldly into new vistas of dance imaginings, bolstered by a top-notch DJ line-up. Seth Troxler, Bill Brewster, Julio Bashmore and Luke Howard (from Block 9 regulars, Horse Meat Disco), also appeared at Genosys on the Friday, and with the skies staying dry it was the perfect environment for an open-air party. Here’s how it looked as we entered the final hour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoU32HyMebs

I followed US DJ Seth Troxler (who hails from Detroit via Kalamazoo, and recently topped Resident Advisors best DJ listing), who I briefly met last March in San Francisco for an afternoon photo session, ahead of an upcoming feature for SF publication Sex + Design, in which we interview each other. I played until close at 6am, taking proceedings from darkness to light, which had its own special symbolism, with a field full of weary yet satiated festival goers dancing in the new dawn. Whereas I normally build things up, starting on a downbeat or mid-tempo vibe, then gradually upping the bpm, I worked the night in reverse this time, gradually slowing things down. The recording has just been made available to stream / download via SoundCloud:

Occupying the next caravan to me was Chicago DJ Gene Hunt, who worked closely with the late great Ron Hardy during the ’80s (Hardy best-known for his legendary residency at the Music Box in Chi-Town). Gene would appear at Genosys on the Saturday night, and we shared a nightcap together on both the Thursday and the Friday. It was during one of our conversations that the full weight of appearing at Glastonbury really hit me, when he pointed out that, having played major US festivals like Coachella, Glastonbury was on a whole other level, representing something of a pinnacle for him. ‘What tops a headlining slot at Glastonbury?’ he asked, for this is revered worldwide as the festival of festivals. His words helped me to put things into perspective; to understand that I was now part of a tradition dating, in a modern context, from 1970, when the first contemporary arts festival at Glastonbury was held (with T-Rex topping the bill), but also connected to solstice celebrations that go all the way back to antiquity. This is a unique British gathering that, amidst all the revelry, carries much gravitas, so to hear Gene, an American, wax so lyrically about its significance really brought things home.

This Glastonbury was particularly historic, given the long overdue appearance of The Rolling Stones on the Saturday night, a performance that attracted more people than have ever watched a band at Glastonbury previously. Needless to say that there was a sense of occasion that made the whole event even more special than it usually is, and I value my participation in what, in the future, I’m sure will be viewed as a vintage year for what was, that June weekend, undeniably the greatest show on earth.

Rolling Stones logo

A big shout out to Maz, Ché, Liam, Tom and Rob, with whom I shared the vibes, and thanks to all at Stonebridge and Block 9 for looking after us (with special mention to Fran and Kitty for going beyond the call of duty in their efforts to make it such a memorable stay for us all).

Glastonbury Festival Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Festival

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5 Responses to Glastonbury – The Greatest Show On Earth

  1. Finlay July 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Great to see you there both nights Greg, the atmosphere was great at both gigs. Two highlights in particular – everyone singing the chorus of Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere with their hands in the air as the sun came up at Genosys – was brilliant.

    Just a pity that when you listen back to the recordings on Soundcloud, you can’t hear the crowd… because my second highlight was when you dropped Two Sides of Sympathy in the Stonebridge Bar i’ve never heard a crowd sing the first “Na, na, na, na, na, oh” so LOUD! Was a great moment.

  2. paul July 12, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    After a lovely warm afternoon travelling down, we arrived at 3pm to get out of the van and it started raining, it didnt bloody stop for 6 hours! Our first appointment for the weekend was Stonebridge for Psychemagik and Mr Wilson, we drove ourselves mad playng trepadation in the bloody tent waiting for the rain to stop, all in high spirits, then when we could take No more, we headed out in our dancing wellies, Stonebridge rammed! We were at the front, face’s painted by kids half our age and genrally making a posse near the front, around 5 hours later we stummbled outside for home knowing that we had been part of one of those special festival moments, Greg, did you realy play Moroder? Yeah, Awsome!!

  3. H July 13, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Having returned home from possibly the best Glastonbury that I’ve ever experienced, a magic moment I will never forget was hearing Fleetwood Mac drift out of the speakers, being able to listen to that set again is amazing. I was surrounded by wonderful friends, in the most amazing field in the world, its magical! So hard to explain it to people, but it really is the best place in the world for 5 days. The countdown to next year has already started, I really hope you get the chance to play again and Genosys was one the best additions to the SE corner, the guys who put it together should get a medal! xx

  4. Pete July 16, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    What a set! A truly wonderful experience dancing as the sun came up. I’m happy it’s not just me that enjoyed ‘Everywhere’ so much. The whole glastonbury festival will be remembered, and your set was the icing on the cake. Thank you thank you!

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