Worthy Farm, Somerset
Three years ago, the devastating result of the European referendum and a slippery landscape of mud threatened to diminish the euphoric spirit of Glastonbury. A year later, Jeremy Corbyn brought hope to thousands at Worthy Farm – before he later compromised his status among the left. A Glastonbury Festival still rooted in the future, then, felt more distant than ever for some past attendees.
But while real change is usually slow to be placed into effect, progress was visible at Glastonbury 2019. It was the event’s first plastic-free year, a move celebrated onstage by two Daves. The first being the much-loved 93-year-old broadcaster, and the second being a former Crack Magazine cover star and 21-year-old rapper. Over 99% of all tents were taken home – which made for a wonderful post-festival statistic – and the mantras of preservation and harmony that lay at the core of the festival’s ethos were implemented to bring real change to the site. This year, the festival’s agenda led to action.
The core elements of the festival’s ethos – unity and kindness – also echoed across the site through the festival’s bookings. IDLES rallied a full audience at The Park. In unison, they celebrated the NHS, sang for their mothers and amplified pro-immigration values that, three years ago, felt threatened by the announcement of Brexit during the festival. The values the Bristol band hold close echoed those of the festival’s – the role of live music as a source of hope and critical thought.
Stormzy’s turn on the Pyramid Stage provided the weekend’s most blockbuster political moments. There were spoken segments from Malorie Blackman and David Lammy and a wheel-up prompted by 100,000 people (those aged under 21 may usually be stereotyped as apathetic in the face of politics, but a significant amount were present here) who shouted “Fuck the government and fuck Boris!” live on national TV. It was an occasion that could only have happened at Glastonbury. The grime star appeared both unflinchingly focused and completely present in the moment. Onstage, Stormzy fully seized this opening and captured the fury, humour and glory of his world and brought it to the biggest stage at the event.
You didn’t need to look far to find fellow future leaders at Glastonbury 2019. The London jazz revolution reverberated across the weekend through the immersive cosmic wanderings of The Comet Is Coming, the community-focused ethos of Steam Down and the collaborative jams of Ezra Collective. Billie Eilish and Rosalía offered a diverse forecast of the future of pop music – Billie through an unvarnished personality and infectious melodies and Rosalía through a standard of choreographed precision that made Janet Jackson’s chaotic mimed mega-mix feel all the more loveless.
As usual, NYC Downlow – or the world’s most famous temporary nightclub – continued its reign over Block9. Key names this year included foundational house groundbreakers Tony Humphries and Erick Morillo. With godfathers like this billed alongside the likes of Midland and Horse Meat Disco’s Luke Howard, the festival reaffirmed the cross-generational significance of this space and the community that built it. Every year the queue is longer and the message is stronger. Elsewhere, Giant Swan caused chaos in The Glade, Paranoid London’s chuggy acidic techno continued to be the most underrated live act in electronic music, and Hessle Audio’s two hours at the hypnotising new IICON Stage provided proof that Block9 is a changing force; a swell of breaks and jungle syncopations closed one of the most visually impressive festival stages we’ve ever seen.
And then there was Kylie. 14 years ago, a breast cancer diagnosis meant she had to step down from a headline show, and she arrived at her 2019 legends slot glowing and armed with chart-topping hits. Where other legends slots have relied on pure guilty pleasure thrills, Kylie struck a perfect balance of corniness and grace. The silliness of Locomotion was counterbalanced by the sheer wonder of Nick Cave, who joined the Australian star for Wild Rose and the timelessly provocative Slow. Where other legends have used the afternoon slot as a victory lap, Kylie tied up unfinished business – reminding audiences of the breadth of her catalogue and re-asserting her untouchable status in British pop.
With a weekend dominated by shameless blasts of pop, The Cure’s gloomy and intense guitar headline salvo felt needed. As Robert Smith said, “I hope I don’t regret doing this” before he launched into Boys Don’t Cry for the finale, Janelle Monáe stripped down to a leotard and covered herself in mud for her final song at the West Holts Stage. The two performers are worlds apart – one notoriously inhibited, the other an expert performer in every sense. In the context of Glastonbury, they didn’t feel so disparate, especially on a year where optimism, self-expression and connectivity were strong themes throughout.
Words: Thomas Frost & Duncan Harrison