The Battle Of Glastonbury 2023 through the Lens of TV and Social Media.
Glastonbury is all about unity the collective experience and being in the moment. But not so on social media which seems to take delight in deriding artists and those attending. Let’s see what happened this year :
“It’s just not special enough,” wailed a young woman next to me many years ago at the Pyramid stage. This was after Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Kano, Mark E Smith, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon had all been on the stage. On paper, that looks pretty special. In reality possibly not quite what a Glasto audience might have expected. She was waiting, nay demanding her “Glastonbury moment,” but “a watched pot never boils” and these moments often come when you least expect it, not when you’re actively seeking them out. It’s not always about the music either. For example, a “Glastonbury moment” for me, which almost resulted in death by Gladioli, happened when Morrissey (yeah, I know) was about to grace the stage with his humble presence. For reasons that are lost in time, I had printed out masks of his delightful visage (now available for dartboards). I handed at least twenty out to his fans in the front row, and as Moz arrived on stage, I donned my special Morrissey mask. The thing was my mask was of Neil Morrissey, and I bellowed “Play ‘Bob the Builder’!” Bad move. I’ll never forget the fury on the faces of Moz fans as they came for me, wielding flowers with the sort of murderous intent that suggested they might turn me into a human vase. I hastily left the stage and was rescued by some very kind Primal Scream fans. That was certainly a moment. Another memorable moment arrived when my drink was spiked while watching Pulp, resulting in hallucinations throughout the entire day where everyone had the face of Wallace or Gromit and I was convinced I could only communicate with the world by adopting the fragrant voice of Fred Elliot from Coronation Street. “My drink , I say my drinks been spiked Ashley!” I went to my dark place and found it populated by stop-motion clay figures and camp northern character actors.
There are those who claim Glastonbury is the greatest place on earth, a magical place where epiphanies can happen. Then there are those who dismiss it as a bit shit, despite never having been there and having no intention of going. They freely share this fact repeatedly online, wearing it like a joyless badge of honour throughout the festival. They seem deeply and viscerally offended by the sight of people enjoying themselves and bonding over music. Despite never going they argue that it has become too expensive, only accessible to the wealthy, and populated by annoying upper-class individuals dressed in sustainable Tofu Wellingtons. I can only assume I know a lot of very affluent people, or perhaps they simply budget for it, make sacrifices, and save for this special event. Our friend JK over at Live Music Pix, who manages to incorporate his love for Skating Polly into ANY conversation conducted this analysis of value for money and why he loves going.
But the festival does tend to create special moments, and this year was no exception. For example, watching young shoegaze upstarts Slowdive who only formed in 1989 make their Glastonbury debut on The Woodsies stage sounding so majestic was beautiful. As was the crowd’s reaction to Lewis Capaldi. You don’t have to be a huge fan of his music to empathise with the lad who was clearly struggling, and to see how the crowd carried him was deeply moving. It was particularly upsetting if you know Capaldi’s backstory which is detailed in the recent Netflix documentary “How I’m Feeling Now.” It really is affecting and powerful and shines a light on the pressure young artists often endure in pursuit of their dreams. With so much division in the world and the mental health of young people spiralling to record levels, this was a genuine heart-wrenching moment of unity, empathy and humanity. I do hope he gets the support he needs. He’s just announced he’ll be taking a break from touring for the foreseeable future which would appear to be a really good move (see below) The industry can be brutal. The “chew ’em up, spit ’em out” mindset still prevails, and despite the laudable movement to destigmatise mental health, the lack of pastoral care for musicians remains a huge issue. As critics, we need to take more care. There’s a fine line between critique and abuse. The so-called golden age of music journalism in the ’90s often involved a sneering thesaurus made flesh, wearing hobnail boots mercilessly giving artists a kicking for the sake of cheap snark (and we’ve all been guilty.)
This leads us to Billy Nomates, (aka Tor Maries) who gave a blistering performance, and what should have been a career-high was taken away from her by online abuse. So much so that she’s considering if she still wants to continue in music. The issue? She had the audacity to perform solo, using backing tapes of her own music that she had created. This may be down to her personal choice or it could be the untenable financial cost of touring and performing with a full band. If you do want to see more working-class voices in music, this is not the way to treat artists. Billy Nomates issued a statement and asked the BBC to take down any clips of her. She said, “The level of personal abuse on @bbc6music socials for (going) to work today is insane. I know lots of people don’t rate me. But the level of personal abuse on that public page is too much.” She added, “There will be no more shows after this summer. You wouldn’t stay in a workplace that did this to you. Why should I?”
The Anchoress summed it up by tweeting, “To all the people in the replies saying ‘The male bands get it too’ and ‘it’s not that bad,’ etc. When an artist tells you that the impact is such that it means they want to leave their job, listen.” And people wonder why there aren’t more female headliners. Certainly, the “pipeline issue” isn’t about a paucity of female talent, but is without doubt rooted in misogyny. However, the pushback against these comments and the support for Tor was heartening. Although there have been suggestions from those whose commitment to cynicism is almost admirable, that this was nothing more than a PR stunt from the artist. Erm, no. Not everything is fucking a conspiracy.
Magic often happens when artists bring on a surprise guest. Caroline Polachek and Weyes Blood, for example, performing together was sublime, as was The Anchoress joining The Manic Street Preachers, adding a different dimension to the songs
Rina Sawayama gave a huge performance and then at one of the biggest festivals in the world gave us another “wow” moment. She angrily called out Matty Healy’s recent racism controversy and his self-confessed liking for certain types of pornography. She said, “Tonight, this goes out to a white man that watches Ghetto Gaggers and mocks Asian people on a podcast… he also owns my masters… I’ve had enough.”
There was a lot of talk about the stale male and pale headliners at this year’s festival. Many suggested Lizzo should have headlined and she certainly produced a set worthy of erm Worthy Farm. It was an exercise in unbridled joy.
Lana Del Rey’s set, on the other hand, was in many ways exactly what you’d want from a Lana Del Rey set: mesmerizing, narcotic, slightly chaotic, beautiful, and brilliant – at times like a pop art project treading a line between Norma Jean Baker and Norma Desmond. Had the set not been cut short due to the festival’s strict curfew after she was late taking to the stage, ostensibly due to pre-show “hair styling” issues it could have been an absolute classic. Because when she really hit her mark, it was a set of exquisite beauty – proof that festival sets don’t have to be all bangers from start to finish.
A quick word on her lateness, which she (jokingly?) blamed/deflected on having “hair issues”, there may be more to that than meets the eye. LDR has previously opened up about her struggles with debilitating stage fright ( HERE). We aren’t all armour plated and some artists still get incredibly nervous before going on stage, confidence is a fragile thing, but hey keyboard warriors must have their say.
As for the headliners, Elton did what Elton does, he played the hits, none of the “this is an experimental ambient piece I recorded whilst embracing my spirit animal on a hillside in Peru as the sun rose.” And it was nice to see him give the majority of guest slots to up-and-coming artists when he could have literally gone for ANYBODY.
The Arctic Monkeys’ set was probably more criticised than Guns and Roses’ retro rock. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan and 20 minutes of Alex Turner’s Steve Harrington lounge Lizard shtick and mannered drawl was an adequate sufficiency for me but guess what? There’s this amazing thing called choice, and there were plenty of other artists on offer. And so I began the long, arduous journey to seek out another stage and stumbled across the living room to retrieve the remote control before stoically battling my way back to the couch. And by a happy accident, I landed on Kelis, which was an unexpected treat. Okay, so we all know her 2003 song “Milkshake,” but I must admit I haven’t really kept up. But oh my, what a set and what a voice.
And that’s the joy of festivals, the happy accidents, whether watching on TV or being there in person. I’d never “got” Sparks before, I don’t know why, they just never quite clicked – they seemed out of time when actually it turns out they were ahead of their time. And seeing them on the Park stage, there was a lightbulb moment. Their sound certainly sounded more fleshed out than when I bought the 7″ of “Beat the Clock” as a small egg and wasn’t hugely impressed. So maybe not an epiphany, but certainly a newfound appreciation, better late to the party than to never arrive, eh?
Even at home, you get a sense of excitement via social media (if you ignore the cheerless edgelords ), my phone was pinging away from people telling me something that I kind of already knew – that The Last Dinner Party are going to be huge, sorry trolls suck it up. (read my interview here).
As ever, the BBC’s coverage was excellent, and there was an abundance of new talent showcased on the BBC Introducing stages, including Coach Party, Vlure, and Eaves Wilder (who also had the opportunity to perform on The Other Stage when Japanese Breakfast withdrew). It’s rather puzzling when the very same individuals who rightly complain about the scarcity of music on TV criticise the Glastonbury coverage. There seems to be a peculiar cognitive dissonance when they disparage the quality of new bands and argue that music was “better back in the day,” while simultaneously complaining that the ACTUAL artists from that era are too old and should retire.
So what would be a good way to irk the purists? Well, Rick Astley performing the songs of The Smiths backed by Blossoms might just do the trick, no? Rather than being indicative of the UK’s cultural decline, it could just be seen as “a good laugh” and an opportunity to listen to some classic songs sung by somebody who genuinely seems to love them, with the added bonus of “not being Morrissey.” Had they performed a “Never Had No One Ever Gonna Give You Up,” mash-up I fear the ‘real music’ fans’ collective heads may have imploded.
But there really is something for everybody, and anything that puts live music front and centre is surely a good thing. I’d love to get back there but disability has stopped me for quite a few years. But never say never. However, if you are a music fan and you genuinely don’t see what the fuss is all about or view it as somehow a huge cog in the monolithic death machine of capitalism, then don’t go. Or if you really do find it all so terribly dull, here’s an idea (to quote William Shakespeare): “Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead?” And while you’re at it maybe leave social media alone.