Left-wing ideals and a spirit of change at Glastonbury 2017

Hate to rub it in if you couldn’t make it, but – at the risk of seeming a little pretentious – it felt like there was something special in the air at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.

Maybe it was the ideal weather, or the knowledge of 2018’s fallow year making everyone go extra hard. After the spectre of Brexit mingled with the apocalyptic conditions of last year cast a shadow over the event, we were all partying through the pain. But the vibe could have all been improved this year by today’s political climate. The widening cracks in the Trump and Tory governments and the left-wing Labour party’s unexpected surge in popularity has indicated that an alternative to spirit-sapping neoliberalism could be round the corner – a great excuse for a knees up.

Politics were everywhere this year and not just in the hippyish corners of Glastonbury’s hardcore. There were more people wearing Run DMC-style or Nike-tick Corbyn T-shirts than merch with the festival headliner’s names on. Ahead of Run The Jewels’ set on the Pyramid Stage, Jeremy Corbyn drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival with an awe-inspiring speech, and it was impossible to avoid the slightly laddish, but good-natured “Ohhh Jeremy Corbyn” chant.

During his set on the Other Stage, Stormzy – who, at this stage in his career, is a bonafide mainstream star – encouraged the Corbyn chant, also rapping his heartfelt verse from the Grenfell charity single and demanding justice: “We urge the authorities to tell the fucking truth, first and foremost,” he said. “We urge them to do something. We urge the fucking government to be held accountable for the fuckery, and we ain’t gonna stop until we get what we deserve.” Late night at the NYC Downlow, drag queens and leather daddies performed for the long queues and collected change for the Grenfell victim’s fund, and during Chic’s pitch-perfect, feel-good Sunday afternoon set on the Pyramid Stage, Nile Rodgers praised the volunteers, revealing he recently visited the London building, was given a pair of gloves and told to “get to work.”

Despite the demand for UK MCs being bigger than ever and Skepta absolutely killing his Pyramid Stage slot at last year’s festival, perhaps there’s a criticism to be levelled at the fact Glastonbury’s main stage didn’t host any British grime or rap artists (that’s if you’re not counting Craig David’s polished garage bars). Still, top tier UK rappers were given a noteworthy slots: Dizzee Rascal headlined West Holts on Friday, Boy Better Know closed the Other Stage on Sunday and Wiley was invited back despite the fact that, when the organisers last tried to book him in 2013, he accused them of being “tight bastards” on Twitter and pulled out.

Arguably more interesting was the UK MC bookings on the smaller stages, most notably the Sonic stage in the Silver Hayes area, which hosted an all-dayer of new artists who drew rowdy teenage crowds. Avelino crooned his way through Afrobeat-inspired, flirtatious anthems while Birmingham rapper Mist managed to instigate a massive moshpit – even though he’s recovering from a broken leg and his lyrics evoke a deep sense of sadness. There’s a great deal of hype around Brixton drill group 67 at the moment, but unfortunately they looked uncomfortable on the Sonic stage, resulting in a strangely lacklustre performance.

When the weather is good at Glastonbury there’s a willingness to wander and encounter some of the welcome oddities in the booking policy. Having gone viral after attempting to teach Ed Miliband death metal vocal techniques on Radio 2, a huge crowd gathered for Napalm Death’s set in Shangri-La. The dystopia of a city left to ruins in rubbish formed the narrative for the area this year, and here death metal felt as apt as breakneck drum ’n’ bass.

It’s no exaggeration to say Block 9 has become one of the most revered areas in the world to experience electronic music. With the promise of queer performance alongside quality house and disco until the early hours, the NYC Downlow was in high-demand all weekend, and this year the Genosys stage’s monolithic, overbearing beast of a construction truly brought the house down. Friday’s onslaught from Shed, Blawan and Berghain mainstay Norman Nodge – who, during a particularly weird set dropped the The Beautiful People by Marilyn Manson – was a highlight, with the stage’s improved sound redeeming previous years’ lack of volume.

While plenty of people seemed unhappy with Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran as headliners (as much as he makes some of us cringe, Sheeran’s slot was probably justified by the scope of wide-reaching appeal), there was no denying the level of excitement for Radiohead. In hindsight, speculation of them marking OK Computer’s 20th anniversary by playing it in full was always a little unrealistic. What did come to pass was a set that started with the sombre and got bigger and more bombastic as it moved on. The blurry and abstract visuals didn’t provide much of a sense of what was going on, but to embrace the emotion of the music all you really had to do was shut your eyes.

2018’s fallow year allows time for reflection, for growth and a refresh where needed. Glastonbury’s wonderment lies in its ability to adapt, and 2017 was the Glastonbury everyone needed – trouble free, warm and with the spirit of change in the air. Fingers cross, by Glastonbury 2019 this year’s political sea-change will have crested into something that touches the real world, too.


Words: Thomas Frost + Davy Reed