- The UK's biggest, most-cherished party makes a triumphant return.
- After last year's fallow year, Glastonbury 2019, come rain or shine, was always going to be special. So the fact that it was blazing hot all weekend, with temperatures peaking at around 28 degrees on Saturday, meant it was one of the best in recent memory. Of course, the heat presented its own challenges—oven-hot tents, peeling shoulders, the daily, desperate hunt for shade—but these were minor setbacks among a sea of golden moments, many of them delivered by the dozens of electronic artists who made up a chunk of the mammoth bill. Ciders were drank. Tears were shed. Lifelong memories were formed. Just ask any of the 200,000-odd people who were there: few things in life can top a weekend in the sun at Worthy Farm.
Here are five key performances from Glastonbury 2019.
Rosalía or Lauryn Hill? This kind of gut-wrenching decision is typical of Glastonbury, a festival that boasts music on roughly 100 stages. History, though, suggests it's usually better to go with the zeitgeist-y artists. Rosalía, the new queen of Spanish pop, was a riot of sound and dance. Backed by a squad of preened prancers, she lit up John Peel Stage on Friday afternoon with her unique blend of flamenco, trap, pop and reggaeton. The dance routines were inch-perfect and mesmerising, the beats booming and rhythmically infectious. Her soft, breathy vocals, too, were hard to fault—at one point, she went a cappella while the whole tent stood rapt. The best tracks, though, were her collaborations with James Blake ("Barefoot In The Park") and the Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin ("Con Altura"). Before signing off with another hit, "Malamente," she took a moment, flipping between Spanish and English, to celebrate free love and the right to be proud of who you are. In among the cheers and bellows, some people could be seen wiping away tears.
Noel Gallagher might have shut up about Glastonbury being a rock festival since Jay Z put him in his place in 2008, but that doesn't stop legions of men with similar haircuts complaining anytime a rapper or R&B star is booked to headline The Pyramid Stage. It was no different for the grime kingpin Stormzy. Though it might seem early in his career for such an iconic slot (he's only released one album), his towering presence over British pop culture makes him the perfect candidate. He's politically angry yet seeps love, hope and positivity. He's launched university scholarships for black students and book grants for young writers. He puts his mum in his videos.
Stormzy is the first black British solo artist to headline the world's most famous festival, and while it's heartbreaking it’s taken until 2019 for that to happen, it’s a mantle he wore with pride and gratitude. (Many had reported he was the first black British artist full stop, but Skin of Skunk Anansie headlined back in 1999.) Bounding onstage in a black Union Jack stab-proof vest (later revealed to have been designed by Banksy), Stormzy's energy, passion and politics shone brighter and more powerfully than the plumes of flames that roared from the stage. A ballet interlude featuring two black dancers referenced the fact that ballet shoes have only just become available in different skin tones. A speech by the Labour MP David Lammy about racism within the criminal justice system boomed over the system. Stormzy's love for black British music was also front and centre. Opener "Know Me From" is littered with references to the scene that spawned him, and he delivered a brilliant version of Shanks & Bigfoot's garage anthem "Sweet Like Chocolate." He paid homage to the next generation of rap and grime, shouting out 65 younger stars before the melody of XTC's "Functions On The Low" signalled the start of "Shut Up," one of his biggest hits. Hearing that melody on The Pyramid Stage was electrifying, but it didn't come close to the sound of tens of thousands of fans singing it back. Everyone expected an incredible performance, and he over-delivered. Some people were beaming, others were weeping. Anyone who had come out of curiosity probably left a bona fide super-fan. Such a historic set must have seemed an enormous pair of boots to fill. Stormzy, true to form, was too big even for them.
The Chemical Brothers
One of Glastonbury's oldest musical traditions is having iconic dance music acts headline its second-largest arena, The Other Stage. For many, it's as close to a mega rave in a field as they'll ever get, while for those who were there in the '90s, it's unlikely anything ever came close in terms of scale, production and atmosphere. In this regard, few do it bigger and better than The Chemical Brothers, who played the festival for the 12th time on Saturday. Their set felt fresh and full of verve, with new tracks such as "MAH" and "Eve Of Destruction" sounding particularly powerful alongside huge, freaky-as-fuck visuals of warring superheroes and topless crowned brutes. The hits, too, sent the place mental—"Hey Boy Hey Girl," "Saturate," "Galvanize" and, to finish, the timeless "Block Rockin' Beats," which ended with Tom Rowlands flipping a synth on its side and twisting out a gnarly blast of acid. As the music faded to applause, arms flew through the air, silhouetted against a haze of red light. For the final time, the screen flashed blue and then white, displaying two parting messages: "Love Is All," followed by: "In Memory Of Keith Flint 1969-2019."
For many dance music fans at Glastonbury, the arrival of Block9's new stage, IICON, felt more important than any of the headliners. Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher, who also run Genosys and the famed NYC Downlow, are some of the best-known stage designers in the world. IICON promised to take things to a new level. An initial announcement said it was a call to stop messing around on social media, but little else was revealed until the festival.
As expected, IICON was an awesome spectacle. A giant disembodied head, fully projection mapped, stared blankly down at the DJ through an LED screen. Ironically, this rally against Instagram culture was probably the most Instagramable part of the festival. It was also one of the largest spaces for dance music at Worthy Farm, though this didn't mean compromising with the programming. Cutting-edge rave music from across the spectrum soundtracked the weekend. Hearing such contemporary music on a stage that big was mind-blowing, though at times the size lead to a mild disconnect with the crowd, who were mostly just looking to party. This wasn't the case for Hessle Audio, AKA Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound, who presented a masterful balance of modern party sounds. Techno, hardcore, jungle, wonky garage and twisted UK funky all blended together perfectly. The music was forward-thinking and perfect for the dance floor.
Sicaria Sound X L U C Y X Jossy Mitsu X Sherelle
Anyone paying attention to London dance music will know a fresh crop of young talent is rising fast. Sherelle is perhaps the best known of them (partly because of that Boiler Room), but plenty of other artists deserve just as much hype. They've honed their craft on radio, developing individual sounds within what we clumsily lump together as "bass music." The final set of the festival at the Silver Hayes venue Gully Blues was a back-to-back between four of the scene's sharpest acts: Sicaria Sound, L U C Y, Jossy Mitsu and Sherelle.
In what felt like a symbolic passing of the baton, the five DJs were handed control of the decks by the dubstep pioneer Mala. They split their three-hour slot into four 30-minute sections, before joining each other for a closing back-to-back. Sherelle played the part of compere, making sure to highlight each act's style and flair. Most of the music hovered around 140 BPM until Sherelle closed with an onslaught of jungle and footwork. One of the great things about this scene is the love they have for each other. It's not just that they're great DJs; you genuinely get the feeling that they're happier for their friends to succeed than themselves. There's a 1000 different ways to enjoy Glastonbury, but a universal part of the experience, as with any great party, is the relationships we develop with the people around us, old and new. This set perfectly captured that.