In the back corner of a field in Somerset there is a tiny door, camouflaged in the wall and marked with a one word question: Further? Beyond the door lies a maze of tunnels walled in fabric that twist and turn and shrink and grow and spiral off in numerous directions. One wrong turn will send the explorer back into the dark fields outside, but successfully navigate your way through the crawl space and you will come across the Rabbit Hole; a true wonderland of utter nonsense, where masked drunks dance through the night and there’s much more than Lucy in the sky above, with lights and projections designed to turn the human mind to an unrecognisable pulp. Yes the whole place is pure madness, but that’s okay, because we’re all mad here, and at Glastonbury anything is possible.
Last week the biggest birthday party in the world came to an end on a dairy farm in the south of England, as Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts celebrated 40 years as undisputed mother superior of the festival world. The only people foolish enough to debate this title are those unlucky enough to have never experienced Glastonbury and, until you go, you can’t comprehend what you’re missing.
Across the colossal site there are around 50 stages hosting every conceivable genre of music, from the previously unheard to the biggest acts the world has to offer. Despite this it is no music festival, and if gigs aren’t your thing you could always get inspired in the Leftfield, fight the man in the climate camp, absorb some lectures in the on-site university or simply relax at the cinema. If you don’t fancy going to a festival to study, or protest, or catch the premier of Toy Story 3 there is always the theatre, the poetry field, the circus, the cabaret, the craft fields, the healing fields, the workshops, the karaoke and the countless bars, cafes and restaurants to keep you entertained. It is its own town, its own world. Every inch of the 1000 acre landscape is painstakingly detailed and decorated to be as bizarre and beautiful as it can; from the thousands of hand painted bins to the original Banksy work scrawled around the site.
The atmosphere surrounding this unique birthday celebration was pure exultation, with the most peaceful and friendly society on Earth co-existing within the grounds. Even the thousands who gathered in a field to watch England’s humiliation at the hands (feet?) of Germany couldn’t stay down for long. The good nature of Glasto is absolutely infectious, as is the madness, and before long even the most uptight attendees were hurrying to the shops to ditch their regular clothes for more colourful and amusing attire. The only thing brighter than the mood was this year’s weather, as the festival notorious for mud and wellies blistered beneath an unprecedented heat wave that forced crowds to squeeze into shade and wait for nightfall to grant some reprieve from the heat.
But as night falls and the headliners come to an end the Glastonbury universe undergoes a twisted metamorphosis, and the serene tranquillity of the day is lost beneath a blaze of fire and futuristic horrors. For this year’s festival leading architects from across the globe worked together to create a haunting dystopian vision of what future may lie ahead of us, taking inspiration from such works as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Orwell’s 1984 and creating a world to entertain, educate and absolutely terrify the nocturnal festival goers.
Far from the glamour of the Pyramid stage or the peace of the Green Fields was an area littered with the remains of fallen aeroplanes and helicopters. In Shangri La visitors could enjoy a trip down The Alleys; a narrow, roofed, nightmarish tunnel system that housed a variety of night clubs and raves, as well as shops that advertised an array of oddities including body modifications, brain transplants and spare organs. Just outside the alleys were such memorable buildings as children’s store Toys ‘n’ Guns, and the blood splattered Surgery where tequila was syringed into the throats of those in need of medication, and all this beneath Big Brother’s ever watching eye and a sound system that looped unnerving commercials with orders to obey, buy and reproduce.
Beyond Shangri La, when it seemed things couldn’t possibly get any more surreal, was Block 9, where a train jutted from the front of a hotel and leather clad vampires and cyberpunk drag queens who spent the nights attempting to lure passersby into the dilapidated hotels and bars that resided here. These makeshift towns were design masterpieces, but nothing in comparison to the might of Arcadia, a nighttime hot-spot that truly had to be seen to be believed. Each night thousands gathered to dance and marvel beneath the shadow of a colossal steel tarantula that sent lasers and jets of fire to scorch the clouds above sleepy Somerset. There really are no words to describe this place, so here’s a video to give you a taste:
Eventually the long days of unbearable heat, rocking and raving wore on even the most hardcore partier and as the skies began to brighten people slowly drifted away from the action in search of more peaceful surroundings. And that’s where The Stone Circle plays its part, the source of Glasto’s mystique and the social hive where thousands sit round camp fires, side by side, sharing stories with strangers and huddling close against the cold, waiting for the sun to rise over the festival grounds and deliver what might be the most arresting and jaw dropping sight in Britain.
This year’s festival was something magical, beyond words, and impossible to summarise in one piece of prose. One thing’s for certain. If life begins at 40 it’s going to be a very exciting future for Glastonbury Festival.