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Green Man Burn Credit Oliver Chapman 2

Devo, Self Esteem and First Aid Kit headline a rainy edition of Green Man

22 August 2023, 00:00

Combining alt legends with fresh discoveries to set the 6 Music Dads a-twitter, Green Man's line-up consistently spans nationalities and styles, and always does good service to homegrown Welsh talent.

This year, the likes of Goat and Amyl and the Sniffers are complimented by the fresher faces of Mary in the Junkyard and The Last Dinner Party, as well as legends The Wedding Present and Friday night headliners DEVO.

The festival describes itself as “the friendliest festival on Earth,” which seems about right with its crowd of devout indie fans, camping chair families with diablo-flinging kids, and a healthy population of blissed out local drudes. They take annual selfies in front of Table Mountain, romanticised first sips of the festival’s own Growler beer, and even get tattoos of the pseudo-occult symbols used to label the stages.

One wakes up to the children’s entertainment tents, where MCs can be heard converting games of British Bulldog into opportunities to learn about microbiology. Litter picking volunteers report a lack of purpose given that most people clean up after themselves. New York’s cumgirl8 – one of the festival’s breakout highlights of the weekend – shout out this charming all-ages atmosphere, breaking through their punk veneer to comment, “We’ve never seen children at a festival before, your kids’ wellies are so cute!”

Those wellies are not just for show either; the first day is pretty grizzly with rain. Those unfamiliar might assume that a festival out in the Black Mountains will always be something of a washout, but this year’s rain is actually something of a rarity for the festival. Friday’s weather shifts along a spectrum from soggy mist to all-out downpour. Mercifully, the tent stages are well-stocked with great acts. Sorry and Jockstrap at the Far Out stage redeems the afternoon with a pairing of two of South London’s best experimental pop exports, while Broadside Hacks’ live accompaniment of a newly restored cut of The Wicker Man at the is a similarly compelling diversion later in the evening.

Green Man Jockstrap Far Out Credit Nici Eberl
Photo by Nici Eberl

Though the rain does not abate, Friday headliners DEVO manage to draw a crowd out for their outright party of a set. This is the band’s final tour, and they live up to it with a larger-than-life energy and the charismatic Mark Mothersbaugh who leads the band through a rampage of classics with a string of outfit changes, as well as tongue-in-cheek graphics and a high-concept framing video. Songs like "Peek-a-Boo" and "Gates of Steel" outshine their recorded versions in this immersive setting, while "Whip It" provides a great moment of pop catharsis.

In its 21-year history, Green Man has cultivated a strong sense of community that runs beyond the crowd to include many of its alumni. It always affirms Wales’ confluence of great artists and H. Hawkline’s delightful Sunday afternoon set provides a telling instance this year. Among those joining him on stage are Group Listening’s Paul Jones and Cardiff breakout act Alice Low, while She’s Got Spies is taking photos down front and Gruff Rhys also joins the crowd. The slot given over to Lost Map Records project Weird Wave on the Thursday is also a family celebration of a label that has consistently fed the festival with talent from Wales and beyond, not least its founder, Pictish Trail.

Green Man Self Esteem Mountain Stage credit Parri Thomas
Photo by Parri Thomas

There is also a nice circularity to Self Esteem’s return to headline the festival. She has played under that name at the 2019 and 2021 festivals, and, as the festival keenly point out, also graced the Mountain Stage back in 2016 with Slow Club. Some Green Man nerds may also remember her on stage with The Moonlandingz that year too. The sense of self-conscious continuity and evolution is an important part of what makes Green Man feel so special, combining with its gently cultish self-proclaimed lore to create a genuine identity that deepens from year to year.

The festival is also good at helping to cultivate new talent, with its Green Man Rising strand providing a valuable spotlight for up-and-coming acts. Eve Appleton Band, winners of a competition run earlier this year, have the honour of opening the Mountain Stage. Other finalists secure spots on the Rising stage, including Lilo, who, between songs, make no secret of the fact that playing Green Man is a genuine dream come true. Sunday is particularly strong at the Rising stage, with Lilo being followed by The Last Dinner Party. As is to be expected for one of the most tipped/hyped bands right now, this is one of the most oversubscribed sets of the weekend, an increasingly rare opportunity to catch the band on a reasonably small stage. The scale of the crowd that gathers brings to mind black midi’s similarly packed Green Man debut on the same stage back in 2018.

Green Man Burn Credit Oliver Chapman
Phot by Oliver Champman

By Sunday morning, the worst of the rain is a distant memory, as hundreds crowd around the Cinedrome to squint through the sun at the World Cup Final. That evening, the only concession to make for the weather is the addition of one or two layers – that is excepting those leaving it all on the floor at the Ash Kenazi-curated Popperz night at Round the Twist. The main attraction of the Sunday is Mountain Stage headliners First Aid Kit, another group showcased by the festival at various stages throughout their career. They conclude the weekend with majesty and an earnest joy that spills over into sweet singalongs to "Emmylou" and a magically elemental version of "Hem of Her Dress". From here, it is time for one last demonstration of the festival’s pagan mythos – the burning of the eponymous Green Man – after which the crowd disperses to the dance abandon of several late night stages, or back to bed to prepare the little ones for a long journey home come morning.

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