Glastonbury 2004: reports and reflections
Techno, Pear Cider and a Casino in a Field
Report by 'skim', July 2004
My fourth Glastonbury, and despite the mud and bad luck in meeting up with people (not to mention the botched car hire), one of my most relaxed.
It was an arduous, wet slog getting there, but by five on Wednesday afternoon we were settled chez Urban in the Dragon Field and ready to drink cider.
Despite all intentions to have a relaxing Wednesday night, visits to the Urban75 crew at the cider bus triggered off a vodka-fuelled voyage of discovery that ended for LilJen and I in the Stone Circle at dawn the next day chatting about nothing in particular to some people we didn't know the names of and thinking we definitely needed to get some sleep.
The Glastonbury Effect was kicking in.
After a day of hazy rest on Thursday, everyone was ready to start the weekend in earnest.
LJ and I started off in the Glade around lunchtime. By the time we got there the heat was beating down and evaporating all memories of the previous day's patchy weather. Krafty Kuts was playing, with a very welcome rude bassline to start the afternoon.
Later we walked to the Dance tent to see Mylo, but his set didn't do much for me. It doesn't help that I'm not a huge fan of the Dance Tent, and much prefer the more intimate Glade for seeing acts.
And in any case this was all really a preamble to seeing PJ Harvey, the main attraction for me this festival.
She didn't disappoint, stalking around the stage in a tight Spice Girls dress and orange stilettos, mocking Girl Power with her altogether more terrifying Woman Power. 'Scary' Spice: meet ze real monsta.
Polly Jean sang a mixture of old and new, finishing with – thank you – To Bring You My Love, leaving me completely exhilarated.
Later, in the Glade, the crowds thickened and we lurched into nightfall. Then the familiar Glastonbury disorientation set in, and I couldn't find Jeni. Blame the darkness, blame the crowds, blame the, er, cider misuse.
I was lost. And vague.
There was only one thing to do – head for Lost Vagueness. I shuffled through the throng on the railway line, the closest thing Pilton Farm has to a motorway for all its human traffic.
The atmosphere down in Lost Vagueness was something else. The noodle stalls were replaced by shops selling feather boas and plastic policeman hats.
Women were wearing ballgowns, men were trussed up in evening jackets. I got chatting to a stallholder who told me the casino was the place to head for, only I'd have to wear a skirt to get in.
'It's a warped place,' he said of the bit you had to queue in smart gear to get into. 'You don't know who's an actor and who's real. And they're all smoking opium.' This sounded interesting.
Still not able to find LilJen or any other Urbs, I thought about heading back to the tent to find a skirt in order to get into the casino and see some of these poppy-sucking thesps in action, but a passing crew member told me Fatboy Slim was doing a 'secret' gig in half an hour.
I learned later that a rumour has been spreading around the Glade that he would be doing an unannounced set there, which had people's hopes up, but then he showed up instead at Lost Vagueness instead.
I'm glad I got the tip-off: it was a pleasure to see him DJ without standing on a pebbled beach with thousands of people in front of me.
He's a master of what he does – good-time party music – and his enthusiasm for what he's playing is infectious.
The next day I had better luck in finding other people and spent the day shuffling around doing nothing much in particular except soak up the sights and sounds, cowering from the rain in my flimsy Little Red Riding Hood cape.
I meant to spend more time in the Glade listening to the Warp DJs, but just didn't make it.
When I did finally it was to catch the end of James Holden's set, which wasn't lively enough for me, but that's 'progressive' dance for you. Whatever that means.
But things got better. A lot better. First up was Ceephax – aka Andrew Jenkinson, little brother of Tom 'Squarepusher' Jenkinson – who took to his 303 and drove us on a full-power acid odyssey, complete with an hilarious hardcore acid cover of A-ha's Take on Me: superb stuff.
This is the kind of techno I like – unpredictable, inventive and creative. Oh, and stuffed full of dirty bass.
AFX was meant to come next, but he never showed and they put a live dub act on instead. Huddled with other Urbanites at the Glade I considered going to see Basement Jaxx, but stuck it out and waited for Squarepusher.
He embarked on a brutal drum 'n' slap bass set which drilled through the speakers and set the place rocking, fucked-up noise filling the bits in between when you thought your ears couldn't take any more.
His twisted bass and relentless beats made for the best dance act of the festival – even if I couldn't actually dance to it in any traditional sense.
I stuck around to watch Plaid for a while, but again I couldn't find anyone. Now the problem wasn't being lost, it was temperamental mobile reception.
When I finally got a message it pointed me in the direction of Lost Vagueness. “Meet me under the chandelier in the casino,'' said LilJen.
I assumed she meant the bit where you had to queue to get into. So I popped back to the tent, threw a dress over my jeans and mud-caked wellies, and headed to the casino.
I endured a half-hour of jostling in a queue under a shower of condensed sweat rain from the ceiling, all the while hoping they weren't going to turn me away for wearing wellies with my dress.
It was nerve-wracking in a way I wouldn't put myself through in London, because I never go to anywhere with a dress policy, so to be standing in a tent in Somerset worrying about dress codes felt completely wrong.
But my mate was in there, and I wanted to see what all the hype was about, anyway.
Inside, the casino was crammed with pretty people in pretty outfits, but still no sign of LJ. I looked for actors, for amusing people, for wanton opium smoking.
Nothing. I took some photos, all of them a bit shaky, then looked back through the bar to the other half of the tent where no one had queued to get into, where I'd been a short while before.
And there was a chandelier. Bugger. I'd queued and waited and… oh fuck. This pear cider was getting to me, evidently. I wandered around a little more looking for familiar faces, but I was unlucky.
So back to the tent, and the intermittent whooping for no reason from the Stone Circle, punctuated with occasional cries of 'bollocks!' (Well, it had to happen sometime.)
The next day, I needed something different. Really different. I needed to sober up and take in the air and… well, what about some opera, dahling?
A few of us watched the ENO on the Pyramid Stage, and those fat ladies singing made quite a contrast to all that caustic electronic noise in the Glade a few hours before.
Strangely refreshing, and surely more fun than Glyndebourne.
We headed to see the Divine Comedy afterwards, but clever and arch music wasn't particularly making good festival music for me, so I didn't stay long.
In any case my view was obscured by some really bad flags… I mean, do you really think Neil Hannon's interested in your ganja leaf bedsheet, lad?
Hours later, the sun was starting to set and I planned to go and watch the Libertines.
What I got instead was surprise act Supergrass and a big hippy-distracting rainbow which probably would have been more fun to watch from the green fields, not an overflowing bin by the cider bus looking like a mutant surgeon in my £5 rainproof poncho .
The mud was getting to me.
I felt slow, tired and couldn't move any more, except to lurch to a pie stall where I could slurp hot gravy into my tummy against the chill.
Orbital's gig had been planned for later but when it got to that time I was not in the mood, so I plumped for Bill Bailey instead to finish off the festival. He was on top form, and full of tunes and perplexed looks.
And who needs 'Chime' when you can have a bouncy house version of the BBC news theme?
Walking out of the campsite on Monday morning, the message from Banksy on the fence was clear – 'you will never leave'. When we'd finally lugged everything up the hill and arrived at the car to find a flat battery, it seemed very real.
Profuse thanks go to the Man With the Jump Leads – without him the journey home could have been a lot worse.
The mud might have been hard work at times, and the bad luck meeting up with people was a pain, but in terms of what I saw it was perhaps my best festival.
PJ Harvey, Ceephax, Squarepusher , Fatboy Slim and Bill Bailey were all very different acts which made the festival for me, and I don't think there's any other event in the world where I could have seen them all together, along with the loads of other things that I saw and experienced over the five days.
The non-appearance of Richard D. James in the Glade was disappointing, although at least a possible gabba-induced audience riot was avoided.
I don't know if I'll be going back next year, and might choose a couple of smaller, more electronic music-led festivals next year.
But I'll be going back sometime again because, as Banksy says, you will never leave. (Especially not if you rent from EasyCar.)