Friday begins with a North African breakfast of eggs poached in tomato sauce and a sense of mounting excitement for the progression of the day. One of the many lovely things about the festival is the sense of laziness during the daylight hours, where the vast majority of people opt for lounging around on the grass rather than cramming themselves up against the stages. It really creates a sense of building- as the sky darkens, the sounds grow louder and the energy heightens.
So, we’re sitting on the slopes of the stunning natural amphitheatre which surrounds the Mountain Stage when we begin to indulge in the day’s musical menu.
Wildest (Dreams)- Mountain Stage
They’re billed as ‘Wildest Dreams’ though they tell us they’re now just ‘Wildest’ (though the wildest what, I’m not sure of…) and they have gained the honour of opening the Mountain Stage. This was earned through the Green Man Rising Competition, which aims to make a contribution to the ongoing quality of British music. Their simple, listenable dream pop blends sparse, shimmery guitar riffs and synths akin to Warpaint. However their choruses didn’t bear the impact they could be capable of and you got the sense you had heard the melody somewhere before. This is by no means a flat start to the festival- Wildest show promise and have much time to grow into themselves, finding a sound which is more truly their own. Surely playing such an inspiring setting will give them a confidence boost and interesting things will lie ahead.
Highasakite- Mountain Stage
Highasakite are a more evolved version of Wildest, channelling influences such as Bon Iver and Purity Ring. Weird lyricism, transcendent vocals and a sonic landscape like the mountainous regions of Norway (the country from which they hail) pretty much sums them up, though the band’s frontwoman Ingrid does it well too. Highasakite are “a small orchestra” she tells us in interview.
“The nature is a different type of beauty that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world before.” she remarks on the UK’s countryside. There are many strange, surprising lyricisms in the band’s songs, such as ‘I am a philistine’, of which she explains: “It’s not meant to mean anything specific, but it has some different types of meaning. Sometimes the associations which come from the words are more meaningful than what it actually means.” Ingrid writes a lot about relationships in conflict, such as in ‘I, The Hand Grenade’ so it seems to me that she is seeking to express these conflicts in unconventional ways. “I love a good love-song. With all the clichés that comes with it. If I could have written one of those, I would. But it’s not what comes to mind when I write lyrics. I’m inspired by poets like Philip Larkin, Pablo Neruda, Nils Øyvind Haagensen and Marit Kaldhol. They are all very honest and a little dark, and that inspires me more than other ways of expressing something.”
It is obvious that one of the main things which makes the festival so enchanting is the way its space is designed. Within this otherworld there are several areas which offer a different kind of escape. From the Far Away Field to the Walled Garden to the Fortune Falls where we find ourselves listening to the majority of Highasakite’s set. Dragonflies flit around us as we lounge on grass which is so strangely soft and furry it’s like a natural carpet. A wooden sculpture of an actual dragon watches over the pond, which is so peacefully still that it is a giant mirror. The reflection of the Green Man Rising Stage rests atop the water like a large white sailboat.
Highasakite are accompanied by the heartfelt acoustic songs Erin K on the Green Man Rising Stage (though the stages are perfectly timed so there is no noise interference from the Mountain Stage) in providing us with a perfect Fortune Falls relaxation soundtrack.
Jonathan Wilson- Mountain Stage
The chilled out, lazy guitar licks of Jonathan Wilson are perfect for the time of evening. Though when anywhere else it would be time to wind down on this summer evening, paradoxically, things here are about to be winding up… This set makes me confused at why Kurt Vile is playing at 11pm on Sunday night in a tent, when clearly the vibes are just right for him here.
Sun Kil Moon- Mountain Stage
The atmosphere at The Mountain Stage is still mellow, as Sun Kil Moon pull on everyone’s heartstrings with beautiful vocals in an emotionally intense set. Kurt Vile’s set aside, Green Man really gets the important matching of music to environment dead on. This is seen strongly here, as the fading light of the day makes the performance even more sentimental.
Polica- Far Out
More intense sounds are to be found in the Far Out tent, which offers a much more varied bill than the Mountain Stage. Polica’s melancholic music is a dark void into which you tumble and find you are surrounded by swirling, often impenetrable vocals and throbbing bass and percussion. In live performance, however, the mystery (i.e reverb) which shrouds singer Channy’s voice is stripped back and she seems a little more vulnerable. I am not saying she is a meek performer at all, I find her mesmerising in a gentle, extremely soulful way. Stand out tracks I found were from their debut ‘Give you the Ghost’- ‘Lay your Cards out’ and the haunting ‘Dark Star’ studded the set and really made the connection with the audience unlike the new releases. The BPM’s are amped up at the end for a great finish as the band blast out Polica’s most dancey track ‘Chain My Name’. When they are finished, I look outside to find that Polica have brought on the darkness- a new, entrancing world lies there.
The trees, a core part of the festival’s heart, are bewitchingly lit up, the light rippling and moving in the most surreal fashion. Some over 100 years old, they seem to be inhabited by some ghostly energy. As does the Green Man effigy. His eyes glow a vibrant green, seeming imbued with spiritual wisdom. It feels as if he is watching over each and every one of us. The site literally looks like a dream.
Beirut- Mountain Stage
The sense of timelessness which has pervaded the night so far comes in even more strongly during Beirut’s set. They begin almost at the witching hour, and it feels simultaneously very late and very early. The sky is deepest black, but while at most festivals, the headliners have finished and the heavy, party beats are starting- here Beirut’s mellow sounds make us think of daytime, the sea, the sun… But it’s a strange and magic sensation, trumpets winding tendrils of sound around our head, as take in the breath-taking view of the stage, crowd and whole amphitheatre. The Black Mountain is literally a black, looming mass against the night sky. Though for this time of night the sound is surprisingly tranquil indie- and perhaps the usual festival goer would be looking for something a little more aggressive- the crowd is huge and totally absorbed.
Caribou- Far Out
Okay, so maybe as the night wears on a little, the younger punters are looking for something with a bit more bass involved. This seems to be the case as we troop up the hill only a little way through Beirut’s set, accompanied by an army of people who are hyped to see what Dan Snaith aka Caribou will offer us. He is clearly one of the most eagerly anticipated acts of the weekend. The crowd is already spilling out of the tent, but we manage to weave our way inside. Turns out he is absolutely the perfect choice of headliner for Far Out. As intense and explosive as it is intriguing and immersive- it is an amazing, varied mix. You never quite know what is coming, as he takes you through a multitude of genres. Elements of shoe gaze, electro and heavy techno beats combine with real guitars and pan pipes to create an intoxicating cocktail of sound. There are surprises at every turn as Snaith effortlessly switches from pumping bass explosions to panpipe melodies which take you away with the fairies.
Snaith’s humility is particularly touching- it is clear that he feels truly honoured to be part of such a special festival as he thanks the crowd and tells us ‘Green Man, this won’t be the end’.
It’s a solid set list, but it’s the final three tracks which really hit with full force. As the surreal, repetitive electro noises of ‘Odessa’ cry out like some creepy animals from a trippy, imaginary land, the crowd is totally in the palm of Snaith’s hand. It is followed up by catchy new hit ‘Can’t Do Without You’, and the perfect closer ‘Sun’ makes a triple threat. ‘Sun’ is most definitely the highlight of the set, constantly pulsating, building to the point of explosion, then dropping off into a sound like echoes in the stillness of a cavern. A triumphant, headline-worthy performance.
By Sophie Brear