Glastonbury 2017: Five key performances

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  • Fun though it was, Glastonbury 2016 was a massive slog, both physically (due to heavy rain) and, for most of the audience, emotionally (due to Brexit). By comparison, this year's 47th edition of the mammoth festival was a walk in the park. The weather held out, meaning trainers replaced wellies and sitting down was always an option. Politically, too, there was something in the air. Shouts of "Ohhhh, Jeremy Corbyn" (to the tune of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army") rang out constantly all weekend, while the man himself gave a rousing speech to tens of thousands of supporters at The Pyramid Stage on Saturday. (He was billed, cleverly, at 4 PM—get it?) Several artists, including Nile Rodgers, Run The Jewels and Stormzy, paid their respects to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Feelings of camaraderie and collective unity generally run high at Glastonbury, but perhaps never more so than in 2017. In the words of a friend of mine, "it was a vintage year." Of course, a lot of that had to do with the thousands of performances that took place across Worthy Farm's 900 acres. From one-man bands and chart-topping pop stars to a woman playing three recorders using her mouth and both nostrils, Glastonbury's 180,000-strong crowd were spoilt for choice. On an electronic tip, there were a handful of once-in-a-lifetime moments. A packed crowd at NYC Downlow belted out "Happy Birthday" in celebration of Block9's tenth anniversary, followed by a cake fight. Felix Dickinson, closing Genosys in the early hours of Monday morning, layered Corbyn's Pyramid Stage speech over a bumping techno groove. And then there was Radiohead, who proved that there's a place on the world's biggest stage for songs as glitchy and weird as "Idioteque" and "Everything In Its Right Place." Everyone, from the punters to the performers, goes the extra mile at Glastonbury, which is why it's so, so much more than just a festival. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Radiohead Having headlined in 1997 and 2003 at the peak of their creative powers, Radiohead have a deep connection with Glastonbury. As such, they're constantly being sized up against their own lofty reputation. This year's performance began unusually, with the band exposed in daylight due to an extended set time. A clutch of songs from last year's heartbroken A Moon Shaped Pool LP were front-loaded alongside twitchier numbers like "15 Step" and "Myxomatosis," making for a soft landing that probably won't have convinced casual onlookers to stick around. But the reality is Radiohead are one of the strangest acts to ever attain arena-size status, adroitly fusing wrenching and complex guitar parts with advanced electronics. This is a huge part of why they're so loved. What constitutes a hit for Radiohead is uncommon—a big single like "Pyramid Song" would be a heavy hitter for most acts, but in their sets it's just one of many. Overall the pacing felt right, balancing songs from each of their nine albums, and ending up with a closing run of soaring anthems ("There There," "Paranoid Android," "Fake Plastic Trees") that absolutely ripped. A far cry from the days of visible unease with global fame, Radiohead seemed to be enjoying themselves on The Pyramid Stage. Still, after all these years, they remain the greatest rock band around.
    TQD As a DJ, there can be few things as exciting and nerve-racking as playing immediately after Arcadia's Metamorphosis show, which sees the metallic arachnid come alive with lasers, dancers and huge jets of fire for a crowd of thousands. It's probably one of the best known attractions happening at festivals today, and for good reason. As a result, the following act is guaranteed a huge audience, but engaging everyone in the crowd at once, many of whom might not even like dance music to begin with, is an uphill battle. On Saturday night, this task fell on TQD, the bassline supergroup composed of DJ Q, Royal-T and Flava D. Their combined years of experience behind the decks has never been more apparent. Without a direct view of the CDJs (the booth is suspended over the crowd) it was hard to tell what was a perfectly executed edit on the fly and what was a preexisting remix, though their set contained snippets of festival favourite "You Got The Love" by Candi Staton, Goldie's "Inner City Life," Skepta's "It Ain't Safe," a dubplate of P Money's "Who's In Charge" and even the theme from The A-Team. The main motifs from these would flash into the mix before a new devastating bassline crashed in and sent the floor into a frenzy. Just after halfway through, a recreated version of the bassline from The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" rang out, causing everyone beneath the towering robotic monster to bellow Jeremy Corbyn's name for the nth time that weekend. It felt like TQD had forged a genuine connection with their audience.
    Steffi & Virginia As Block9's popularity continues to surge, the area's towering outdoor stage, Genosys, has become a dependable alternative for anyone unwilling to brave the queues for NYC Downlow and London Underground. DJs play from a small booth beneath a giant decaying tower block from a dystopian future—think something out of a deranged steampunk or manga film. At night, banks of green lasers shoot from the cracks in the shadowy walls, though it's only when daylight breaks that the full scale of the structure hits you. For 2017, a huge billboard to the left of the stage showed a revolving stream of hilariously offensive ads, including Donald Trump's penis pump, Theresa May's weak and wobbly chairlifts and one that simply read "Wanking with Ivanka." Dark, atmospheric club music works best, though a tinge of euphoria is essential. Steffi & Virginia, who closed the stage in the early hours of Sunday morning, grasped that from the start, rolling out gurgling acid tracks that hit the perfect 4 AM sweet spot between house and techno. The beats thumped hard, while soulful chords and synth lines urged the sprawling crowd to raise their heads and arms to the sky. Bang on 5 AM, they slammed in the familiar chords of Underworld's "Push Upstairs," a track that should have kickstarted a full-on hour of rave. Instead, they slipped back into trackier fare, only to return to form in the final moments with Limited Edition's piano-heavy "The Light" and one of the greatest house tracks ever made, Rhythm On The Loose's "Break Of Dawn." In more ways than one, it was a fitting finale.
    Boy Better Know Grime was particularly well represented at Glastonbury this year, with Wiley, Stormzy, Kano and P Money all performing. Given the recent surge of interest in the genre, it felt symbolic that, on the final night, while Ed Sheeran—one of the UK's biggest pop stars—headlined The Pyramid Stage, Boy Better Know closed The Other Stage. Unfortunately, there weren't quite enough people to really give the crew their moment in the sun. Those who were there, though, loved it. Skepta, JME, Frisco, Wiley, Shorty and Jammer gave it their all, bounding around the stage performing a set composed almost entirely of singalong anthems, while most of the audience sang every word back to them. They played only their grime tracks, relying on none of their poppier material, and their voices have rarely sounded crisper. When DJ Maximum dropped "Too Many Man," the audience erupted as blasts of fire flew from the front of the stage.
    Luke Howard (Horse Meat Disco) In the past decade, NYC Downlow has changed the culture of Glastonbury. An out-and-proud beacon for queer culture, the pop-up club has carved a reputation as one world's best. Masters At Work capped off a fantastic five days of music in the venue. Gideön, the Downlow's cofounder and booker, told me it was a dream to book the NYC duo. Seeing them play felt like a real moment. Following them was Horse Meat Disco's Luke Howard, who always plays the final set of the weekend. He managed to transmit a singular energy, playing a mix of disco obscurities and gay anthems. Much of his music spoke to the ideals of acceptance and community that embody the Downlow, like Carl Bean's "I Was Born This Way" and Paul Simpson's "Musical Freedom." More than that, the set's message featured themes that seemed especially prominent at Glastonbury this year. For the grand finale, the club's lead rabble-rouser, Jonny Woo, mimed along to Liza Minnelli's camp classic "Ring Them Bells." Behind him was a packed stage full of drag queens and naked go-go dancers. As the lights came up at 5 AM, signalling the end of Glastonbury's 47th edition, I left smiling, feeling that NYC Downlow had once again delivered something truly special. Photo credit / Charlie Raven - Lead Anna Barclay - Radiohead Luke Taylor - TQD Allan Gregorio - Steffi & Virginia Egle Trezzi - NYC Downlow Florence Beasley - Boy Better Know