Glastonbury Festival 2017: A year of discovery

Sometimes, not having a clue whom you’re going to see at a festival is the best way to enjoy it. Last year, seeing all three headliners (Coldplay, Adele and Muse) was a no-brainer. However, with Glastonbury 2017 offering a less exciting list of headliners (save for the Foo Fighters, whom I was excited about ever since they were announced) and the line-up offering a more wide-ranging mix of artists, this year was all about finding new bands to add to my Spotify library.

Pyramid Stage with sunset

Where else to start than Royal Blood? As someone who isn’t usually a fan of the hard-hitting rock genre, I was a little bit unsure (solely relying on my faint knowledge of Lights Out to judge how good I thought they were). Yet, the end response was one of awe. For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a drummer. Well, Ben Thatcher (Royal Blood’s drummer) had me spellbound throughout the hour-long set.

Aside from music, there have been a few performances and stages I’ve never visited, purely for the fact that the long walk back to the next stage meant that I could miss a lot of the following artist’s act. This year, that wasn’t a problem.

This meant I finally got round to seeing Doc Brown live (and grab a selfie with him afterwards, which was cool), as well as attend debates on democracy and fake news – the latter proving very useful for my upcoming university dissertation. Cheers, Glastonbury!

Oh, and 2017 was the year that I finally got to see the fire-breathing spider. Yes, in one corner of the farm is a giant metallic spider which is home to electronic music, and a Metamorphosis Show. I won’t spoil the show for those planning to go to Worthy Farm in future years, but I hope the below picture gives you an idea.

Arcadia, the giant metal spider.
Arcadia – the giant metal spider where the absolutely bonkers Metamorphosis Show takes place.

I also felt that this year had a lot more TBA acts than usual, and when you have you no strict schedule to adhere to, you have nothing to lose. Stopping by the BBC Introducing Stage led to me hearing a quick set from Glass Animals and Blossoms – the latter dealing with a minor clash I had earlier that day.

At this point, I have to thank the @SecretGlasto account on Twitter for tipping us all off about who these TBA acts could be. It meant that I could watch The xx knowing that Elbow were playing The Park Stage and I wouldn’t miss much (sorry Elbow fans). However, what was far more exciting was their correct prediction for Sunday’s John Peel Stage performer – The Killers. All I need to say to prove how incredible their set was is this: imagine a large crowd of people singing Mr Brightside at the top of their lungs. That’s right, it was incredible.

The xx on the Pyramid Stage
The xx, with stunning visuals and a chilled sound for a Friday night.

Speaking of The xx and thank yous, I have to thank vlogger Grace Mandeville for recommending that – if you get the chance – you should see The xx live.

At first, I was a bit unsure about whether it would be my sort of music. Yet, with stunning visuals and a musical style which sounded like a mix between Of Monsters and Men and Porter Robinson, I was hooked. Thanks, Grace!

The whole weekend came to a close with Ed Sheeran’s headline slot on the Pyramid Stage on the Sunday night. In a bid to beat the traffic, we often leave before they finish their set. Plus, since the rest of my family weren’t too fussed about seeing Mr Sheeran, I was only able to listen to the first few songs.

That wasn’t a problem though, as I was interested in Ed’s set for a different reason. If you’ve read my review of his latest album, Divide, you’ll know that I’ve been quite sceptical of the Shape of You singer’s new material. This, combined with the fact that I found his 2014 V Festival performance fairly forgettable, repetitive and average, made me curious to see whether he would step up for the big spot at Glastonbury.

Long story short, with the soulful Castle on the Hill being the opening track and everyone getting their phone torches out for The A Team, there was something for the audience to do during the quieter song, whilst the more fast-paced songs kept everyone on their toes. With thousands of people huddled together on a field, one wonders if the intimate environment had a large part to play in that.

Now, one week on from the event, I still have a few songs and bands to look into. The XX’s entire song library is now in my Spotify, along with Lights Out by Royal Blood.

So, even when there are artists on the bill you may not have heard of, taking that risk at Glastonbury and trying something different is never a bad decision.

Artists/bands/speakers/panels watched: Biffy Clyro, Birdy, Blossoms, CassetteBoy vs. DJ Rubbish, Circa Waves, Clean Bandit, Craig David, Doc Brown, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé, Everything Everything, Faces of Disco, Fake News: Post-Truth Politics, Foo Fighters, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Gabrielle Aplin, Glass Animals, Is Democracy Broken?, Jeremy Corbyn, Katy Perry, Kirsty Newton, Major Lazer, Rag’n’Bone Man, Royal Blood, Silver, The Amazons, The Jacksons, The Killers, The Magic Gang, The xx.

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Musical Discovery: ‘Disconnect’ by Clean Bandit & Marina

For some people, seeing the name Marina next to Clean Bandit is a pleasant surprise. Not least because the single in question – Disconnect – first debuted two years ago at Coachella, but also because it was in 2015 that the Hollywood singer last released some music.

Now, she joins forces with Jack Patterson of the classical-pop trio to produce a song that’s finally graced our song libraries in full studio quality.

Almost following the template of Symphony (Clean Bandit’s collaboration with Zara Larsson), soft vocals and piano chords can be heard at the start of the song – the appearance of the latter instrument being no surprise given that Jack is the band’s pianist.

It a sound which is reminiscent of Rather Be, Extraordinary and Real Love. It builds on the success of Symphony to deliver another track which balances the classical and electronic aspects of the band’s style perfectly, complete with yet another soulful vocalist.

As mentioned previously, Marina’s last musical venture was two years ago. Since the release of her debut album, The Family Jewels, in 2010, the 31-year-old is yet to score a number one single (2012’s Primadonna being the closest at No. 11). Hot off the success of Rockabye and Symphony, a collaboration with Clean Bandit could be the song that takes her all the way to the top spot.

Musical Discovery: ‘Higher’ by Eliza and the Bear

Follow-up singles after a band’s first album offer a lot of opportunity and risk for those still riding the waves of a successful debut. It’s a chance to pursue new directions, but artists can only experiment so much before the original style starts to disappear, and long-time fans despair at the absence of the traditional vibe. It’s a tough balance between old and new, but most artists pull it off. However, when the indie folk Eliza and the Bear start to pursue a funkier sound with their latest track, Higher, one wouldn’t be surprised if some fans were taken aback by such a big change.

But does it work? Well, with an introductory verse that sounds like a cringeworthy American boy band, it’s clear from the outset that this isn’t your usual Eliza and the Bear track. Pounding drums or atmospheric guitar riffs are pretty much non-existent in this single, instead replaced with smooth bass, falsetto vocals and the occasional brass melody (the latter being one of the few intriguing aspects of the release). Sure, there are certain strengths to the track such as this, but they do little to shake off the feeling that this single is a little bit ‘meh’, and that it was the band’s attempt to slide in to the already over-populated funk trend taking over the pop scene at the moment.

Granted, respect must be given to Eliza and the Bear for exploring new ground, but the big leap is somewhat surprising and seems to disregard the indie folk which made their debut album such a success. Higher is a decent attempt at funk by the four-piece, but sadly, save for the change in genre, there is little to make this track special.

With a change of logo too, the question of whether this is the first of many funk tracks from a second album is an interesting question indeed…

Musical Discovery: ‘Came Here for Love’ by Sigala feat. Ella Eyre

It’s about time that Sigala graced our song libraries once more. Save for February’s Show You Love (where Sigala was only a featured artist), it was last December when the DJ got us warmed up for summer. Now that sunny days and scorching hot weather is upon us, it seems fitting that the Easy Love producer is back with a new single, Came Here for Love.

Joining him on the single is a singer who is no stranger to helping out on dance, electronic and drum-and-bass tracks – Ella Eyre. Having previously worked with Rudimental, DJ Fresh and Sigma, the 23-year-old has quite the impressive CV as a featured artist. It isn’t the first time that Eyre has worked with Sigala (real name Bruce Fielder) either, as the two joined forces on Ella’s track, Good Times.

This time however, the DJ isn’t bound by Sigma’s drum-and-bass style, instead returning to his traditional tropical house groove. With trickling marimba and sharp piano chords, we return to familiar territory. However, as one YouTube commenter points out, with slight violin-style instrumentals, the track also has a hint of Clean Bandit to it too – a slight, but nonetheless welcome change to Sigala’s usual melodies and musical make-up.

Yet, as much as it’s about Fielder’s creative construction of the track’s instrumentals, the DJ’s other strength is his ability to showcase the featured singer’s vocal talents – something which shouldn’t have been too hard given Eyre’s past experience.

Calm and minimalistic during the verses, the focus is very much on Ella up until the chorus, where the two artists’ contributions blend together for a full-on uplifting vibe.

Came Here for Love is a traditional song in many different ways. With love as the lyrical theme of love and vibrant piano chords, it’s a traditional Sigala track and thus, a traditional summer song through-and-through too.

Musical Discovery: ‘Grant Green’ by Mr Jukes feat. Charles Bradley

It’s been over a year since Bombay Bicycle Club announced that they were to go on hiatus, but now some of the band’s members have returned – albeit in the form of their own solo projects.

Cue Jack Steadman, the lead singer of the group who’s now explored the jazz genre with his stage name, Mr Jukes. In his latest single with Charles Bradley called Grant Green, the musician pays tribute to one of the greats from the American jazz music scene.

With mellow bass riffs lying underneath flowing drum rhythms, it’s a track which is certainly jazzy in nature. Further adding to the tone is the vocals of Charles Bradley, who channels the traditional soul of a jazz singer in the song.

Like most jazz, Grant Green has that perfect play-in-the-background vibe to it. Whilst the verses are, agreed, somewhat forgettable, the atmospheric feel to the single means that it’s still just as powerful when played for more casual listening. After all, it’s the chorus where Jukes and Bradley really shine through.

Accentuated notes from the brass section and drums maintain the liveliness of the song, with catchy and memorable lyrics also adding to the successful chorus.

As garden party season approaches, this is certainly a track to have on your playlist.

Musical Discovery: ‘Glue’ by Fickle Friends

With a growing fanbase and a big debut imminent, all eyes are on the Brighton electro-pop band Fickle Friends when it comes to their next release. For a while now, news outlets have reported that the five-piece group are to unveil their debut album in the summer, but with the announcement of an August EP (entitled Glue), could that be delayed? Even if that is the case, Fickle Friends continue to build the hype around their music, as they revealed the title track from the record late last week.

Bouncy synths introduce a track which sounds far more electronic than previous singles such as Brooklyn and Hello Hello. However, it isn’t long before it is balanced out with the traditional guitar riffs which are such a strong part of Fickle Friends’ style. Accentuated notes tense up the track ahead of the song’s catchy chorus, where Natassja Shiner’s soft and smooth vocals add to the euphoric, plucky electronic guitar and bass.

It’s yet another groovy track for the band to add to their already impressive collection, complete with summer vibes to keep us hyped throughout the season until the big EP release. Even when the band said in a recent newsletter that the song was ‘kinda born out of frustration from lots of writing sessions that hadn’t gone all that well’, there’s no dip in quality when it comes to this new single.

So, if this is indeed a teaser for bigger things to come (that debut album), then Glue certainly is a single which perfectly summarises the upbeat electro-pop vibe of Fickle Friends, and will no doubt be a great opener to the three-track EP coming our way on Friday, August 11.

Upping my photography game

Until now, I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that Flickr’s Creative Commons and fair use laws exist. Whenever I have an album to review or political opinion piece to write, I browse the site for photos to accompany my lines of text. It brightens the page and makes it livelier. However, upon looking at other bloggers and their websites, it’s clear that I need to include more original photos on this blog.

I remember a friend telling me a short while ago that they missed my lifestyle posts on this blog. During the changeover, where my blog became an online portfolio for my journalism, out went my Weekly Update posts in exchange for more professional articles. Except now, where I think I’ve finally found the middle ground.

During my second year at university, the Digital Photography module reignited my passion for photography. Keen not to let new passions die, I’ve been considering taking a photo a week to encapsulate my seven days. I’d be able to complete my – at present, failing – New Year’s Resolution to take more, whilst also going back to the blogging days where I talked about my everyday life.

For the past few weeks, blog posts have been pretty infrequent (which doesn’t help when it comes to competition entries), but I believe this should finally solve the issue about what I talk about on Sundays. Wednesdays are still problematic, but most of the time, these have been an extra music review, which is fine.

All being well, a new blog series – A Thousand Words – shall be starting very soon indeed…