When millions tuned into the BBC to watch Mary J Blige cry her eyes out on the Pyramid Stage on the BBC last month — “no more dramaaaa!” — little did they know (or care) that, just a few hundred yards either side of her, there was enough dance debauchery to fill Fabric, SW4 and Secret Garden Party three times over — at least. Or that this jaded dance hack was also in the crowd wearing a poncho, also in tears, blaming it on the rain.
Of course, the sound of Motörhead thrashing it out on the main stage is unlikely to appeal to the majority of DJ Mag readers — even if Lionel Richie's jubilant rendition of 'All Night Long' is a festival moment we'll never forget — and, it's true, for those lucky enough to get a ticket, the sheer amount going on at Glastonbury is overwhelming to say the least, especially for first-timers at the festival.
It wasn't until '95 that a dedicated stage for dance music even appeared at Worthy Farm. After that came Glade in '98 and Lost Vagueness (now Shangri-La) during the early '00s before Dance Village appeared later that decade, reborn as Silver Hayes in 2013.
Serious ravers are catered for more than ever before at Glasto these days. Sod Kanye West desecrating 'Bohemian Rhapsody' or Pharrell in his silly little denim waistcoat, these days clubbers are as crucial to the event as phoney rumours of Prince popping up to do a secret set in a long-drop.
Silver Hayes could be a dance music festival of its very own, while Arcadia is a giant flame-throwing metal spider making moves as far as Bangkok. Then there's Shangri-La and Block 9 at the other end of a site twice the size of Bath. Let's also not forget spots like The Beat Hotel, Greenpeace's The Engine Room, Glade and live electronic/dance acts hitting West Holts and the Other Stage. If you're a dance fiend, Glastonbury is about much more than getting trippy at the stone circle until sunrise...
The Beat Hotel
It's the beat!
The first stop for bleary-eyed campers trekking down the hill from the Hospitality site and just a stone's-throw away from Silver Hayes, this comfy dance tent/cocktail bar is what you'd imagine a hotel would look like if it was co-designed by David Mancuso and Hunter S Thompson.
The automatic choice for a slushy cocktail to get you back on your feet around midday, it's here we catch Greg Wilson dropping vintage disco classics before Groove Armada pack the place out on Sunday afternoon.
Things get heady and deep late on Thursday with Gerd Janson b2b Ada, before Erol Alkan puts people into a trance with the spacey techno of DJ Koze's 'XTC' on Friday just before close at 3am. As useful for a proper dance as it is a spot to chill during the day, The Beat Hotel, with its iconic sign, outdoor dancefloor stage and Smokey Tails next door, is a must for those who favour deep house and disco flavours.
Hayes! What's wrong with you!?
The area most obviously geared towards clubbers at the festival, Silver Hayes is like London's South West Four with a bit of Lovebox thrown in — that's how much is on offer! The WOW tent is a big-top where we catch J.E.SuS dropping 'Bizarre Love Triangle' into industrial techno to an extremely squashed congregation on Thursday night.
Outside the tent is a boat party-themed stage — the booth shaped as a bridge — where the likes of Optimo, Midland and Dusky brought beats in the sunshine last year, and this time the structure has been developed, increased in size and raised higher.
It's here we encounter a rabble persevering through the pouring rain at a Hessle Audio boat party on Friday, before Session Victim open the tent inside at 7pm with a jubilant (and very live) set involving a slap-bass guitar.
Just to our left is the site's centrepiece. The Sonic Arena sits, like the spaceship from Flight Of The Navigator, as a giant canopy with open sides, where, quite fittingly, Flight Facilities singer Micky Green can be heard singing like a bird on 'Stand Still'.
Idris Elba is here on Saturday, as is Herbert (live). Much later, this is where we pass the slightly spooky sight and sounds of The Heds silent disco until 5am; a dancefloor confusingly singing-along jauntily to 'Suspicious Minds', while others on the same dancefloor chant “I wanna give you Devotioooon!” deep in their groove.
Elsewhere, the BBC Introducing tent is hosting Annie Mac's live broadcast, there's a girl-punk band thrashing it out on a stage to three or four people in rain macs as people spill out of the comfy Boo Dior tent; part taking shelter, part letting their inner chimp play free at ‘Sexy Kitchen Party!’(see box-out).
Meanwhile, the sultry La Pussy Parlure tent is promoting emerging electronic/indie talent and scruffily built shanty town, The Blues, is going off to dub, while others spread out, cotching on the grass (weather permitting), enjoying an open space scattered with big flags, various luminous structures and a giant wicker fox. Slap this in a city park and call it a festival, you'd get no complaints from us!
SEXY KITCHEN PARTY @ BOO DIOR
Something’s heating up!
Sheltering from the rain, we stumble upon something a bit special on Friday afternoon — none other than the Sexy Kitchen Party. Dressed as chefs in aprons, brandishing spatulas and dropping strictly old skool hip-hop, r&b and pop to a trendily kitted-out bunch, it's a long-way removed from your average dour-faced techno rave.
Shaneil, one of the chefs, is on the mic, imploring the happy-as-Larry dancefloor to “get those lightbulbs out (it's ok, it's not offensive!)” over the sound of Punjabi MC's Knight Rider theme. Between dropping self-proclaimed “stinkers”, we're regularly reminded of the Sexy Kitchen Party rules, which include “respect all women!”: helpful advice considering how steamy things get… turns out, the ninth unwritten rule of Sexy Kitchen Party is: “If Justin Timberlake tells you to do something, you do it!”
The dancefloor split into two sides — girls vs boys — we go head-to-head for 'Señorita'.
“Not too sexy!,” chimes Head Chef Alex, as a few guys get a little out of control during the singalong (“It feels like something heating up!”). We haven't had this much fun in years. 'How on earth did this come about?', we're left wondering...
“In the early hours of the second night I found Alex in the kitchen with a few others next to a small set of speakers which were pounding out techno,” recalls Shaneil, back in London, who's not really a chef at all, but actually co-boss of Birmingham night Seedy Sonics.
“Right on cue, he said, 'Let’s have a sexy kitchen party' and stuck on some George Michael. I said, 'This is EXACTLY what I need right now'. Within half an hour, as predicted by Alex, we had 30 people in the kitchen, dancing to everything from Spice Girls to Blue to Sean Paul to Mobb Deep to Aretha Franklin and necking shots of tequila. The main room was empty.”
“We knew that this was something special,” adds Alex, who, alongside Shaniel, regularly brings Sexy Kitchen Party to Regression Sessions as residents. “It was a vibe, the funniest atmosphere. Utensils were being used like pom-poms, people were chanting ‘Sexy Kitchen Party! Sexy Kitchen Party!’ and everyone was dropping like it’s hot.
Stupendously sexy and idiotic. People we had been going to raves with for years, who in their own right are music snobs, were getting low to Ciara in a kitchen at 7:30am.” So there you have it. You'll always find these guys in the (sexy) kitchen at parties.
La la land!
A buzzing corner of activity at the end of the rail-track, made up of awe-inspiring installations depicting freakish, end-of-the-world motifs and wild acrobatic performers dressed like Mad Max extras, Shangri-La is like nowhere else on planet Earth — let alone at a festival.
Predominately split into two outdoor stages separated by walls — Heaven and Hell — this field is as much about the hidden passageways and secret tents — as each tiny, exquisite artistic detail — as it is the strength of the bill. DJs and performers here are considered just as crucial as the many Banksy-inspired artists who contribute, music programmer Chris Tofu tells DJ Mag. “I’m more about bigging up the artists all in a single lump. They’re all equal, like the proletariat!” he tells DJ Mag.
Indeed, it’s this mentality that defines Shangri-La this year. Run as part of an ongoing narrative, the theme this year revolves around political consciousness, following last year’s focus on apocalypse. “This time it was about reminding people there is an alternative,” he tells us after the event. “Fuck the Tories, basically!”
And, aside from a sinister mural of David Cameron’s face and revolutionaries abseiling down stage walls, it’s an ethos reflected in the booking policy too, which sets out to provide an alternative to mainstream dance music. There’s The Monster Raving Tent — “literally a tent full of monsters raving,” Chris says — and another entitled the House Of Cum-ons.
More than once we pass through to the sound of bands thrashing out ska, dance music with live drums or trumpets and DJs pumping out electro-swing stylings. Andy C is called upon to “bring it” to Hell on Friday for the Essential Mix and J.E.SuS (Jackmaster, Eats, Seth and Skream) are at Heaven on Friday, while Lovebullets — in aid of charity WarChild and curated by Love Saves The Day (Bristol) — is a delightfully decorated 200-capacity tent where we find Richy Ahmed. Apart from that, the majority on offer in Shangr-La this weekend is of the weirder, more outlandish variety.
Block, the rocking beats!
Next to Shangri-La we find Block 9; immediately recognised by the enormous flat block with a tube train jammed halfway up it.
At the end is the field’s main attraction, Genosys, a booth backdropped by a tall, decaying high-rise from the future installed with windows revealing spooky dark rooms. We catch Chicago’s Robert Hood banging out slamming house and techno here on Sunday night as Floorplan.
With NYC Downlow opposite lining up house and treats, Block 9 is more obviously dedicated to club sounds than its neighbouring field. The notorious tranny party comes into its own with DJ sets from Cerrone, Tamo Sumo and Prosumer — there’s even a secret show involving Florence & The Machine — over the weekend.
Taking us back to the gay roots of dance music, it’s the cross-dressing MCs serenading the queue from a seedy first-floor hotel suite that really give this dirty basement-themed club/tent its dissident edge (“Welcome to NYC Downlow, homo-sexual disco”).
Shangri-La and Block 9 combined is a playground for ravers like no other. Just get there early, before the main stages shut-up, or be prepared to queue!
The Engine Room
When the ship goes down
Back towards the centre of the site along the rail-track, we stumble upon beats inside the belly of a boat deep within the Green Fields.
Powered by Greenpeace and its ‘Save The Oceans: Stop Over-Fishing’ cause, The Engine Room is just that; a stage, dancefloor and bar deep within the engine room of a ship constructed of scaffolding. Designed by Tabitha Pope and her team, it's the many artful touches — smoke emerging from giant funnels and its oily, metallic décor — that make this such a special place to party. Programmed by Mi7 Records, who’ve been involved since 2007, sets come from Barry Ashworth from the Dub Pistols, Coldcut, Pedestrian b2b Maribou State and The Egg over the weekend, so the music is pretty damn wicked too!
Founded in 2007, Arcadia is the brainchild of Pip Rush and Bert Cole, who saw the project as an opportunity to experiment with the concept of an immersive 360-degree event experience. Built of discarded military and industrial machinery, this enormous metallic spider presides proudly over the festival — just below the site's summit behind the Old Railway Line in front of The Park area — like a space invader nobody wants to mess with.
DJs play in the cock-pit from 7pm but it's not until after sun-down that this fiery beast really gets its A-game on. At 11pm, spangled ravers are treated to Metamorphosis: The Arcadia Spectacular Show, an intensely choreographed performance of robot characters bungie jumping, zorbing and getting electrocuted alongside all sorts of acrobatic aliens, magnetic mechanisms and immense flame-throwing fireworks.
Straight after the show, on Friday, Maceo Plex is called upon to keep proceedings appropriately dramatic with his new ‘Solar Detroit’ opus before Adam Beyer delivers some Drumcode darkness, proving how hydraulic extra-terrestrial spiders and techno are a perfect match.
Every proper festival needs a stage for leftfield electronic bands. For Field Day and Lovebox it’s the main stage, but at Glastonbury it’s the third biggest on site. Even The Other Stage (the big stage behind the Pyramid) is headlined by dance acts this year, with Deadmau5 and Chemical Brothers (side bar) on Saturday and Sunday.
West Holts is the one digging deeper when it comes to dance bands. Funkadelic’s George Clinton tops the bill on Saturday and the wild jazz forms of Flying Lotus for Sunday, but it’s Caribou followed by Hot Chip that gets DJ Mag down the front on Friday. Dan Snaith and his band have clearly come far since 2010’s ‘Swim’ and his prized near-top billing proves well deserved.
However it’s Joe Goddard’s five-piece — dressed a bit like Jelly Babies — that steal the night with an exceptionally tight set, finished with a rendition of Bruce Springsteen's ‘Dancing In The Dark’ that blends seamlessly into LCD Soundsystem ‘All My Friends’, the band joined on stage by Caribou on keys. It’s one of those unique, once-in-a-lifetime festival moments that — we get the feeling — is only possible at Glastonbury.
Dorian Concept’s illustrious electronica on Saturday afternoon — presented via a live drummer and bass keytar alongside Oliver Thomas’ off-beat keys — provides further proof that West Holts is Glastonbury’s strongest stage for live electronic music.
Chemical Brothers @ Other Stage
Still great veterans
It’s not a real festival without a headline spectacle from a UK dance legend, is it? We’ve all seen BBC footage of Orbital on this stage in 2004, so expectations were high for The Chems closing the festival’s second largest stage on the last day.
We know exactly what to expect — a skilfully compiled collection of hits (‘Hey Boy’, ‘Star Guitar’, ‘Saturate’), mind-boggling visuals in a field with flags flying at sunset, and smiley people going completely nuts. So do they deliver? Of course they bloody do!