A national treasure of English folk tradition
Metronomy - Green Man Festival 2012

In a year devoid of a Glastonbury the smaller festivals come under a larger spotlight than usual. Green Man is no exception and this independent festival, celebrating its tenth year, has delivered an enviable line up for 2012’s offering.

Friday starts with TOY, a hyped London outfit making waves across the music press. They seem out of place, their dark primal scream dirge better suited to an underground city club than the rolling fields of the Usk Valley. There is, however, enough to suggest these will be ones to watch in the future.

Next up are Errors bringing their post-electro sound to proceedings. It has been an interesting year for the Scottish trio adapting to the loss of a member and touring their third studio album ‘Have Some Faith in Magic’. It is a typically solid set but with early EP lead ‘Mr Milk’ still gaining the biggest reaction you do feel more is required if these boys are to rise out of the midday slots.

Continuing in the Far Out stage are Lower Dens, the psych-folk brainchild of Baltimore based Jana Hunter. It is a nice change of pace as songs with traditional folk structures are realised with chugging beats and swirling echoed synths. Comparisons with Baltimore neighbours Beach House are inevitable but stand out track ‘Alphabet Song’ illustrates this quartet have more than enough quality to justify a look.

Nightfall arrives with Friday’s headliner, the wonderfully indefatigable Mogwai. The main stage with its amphitheatre like hill surroundings is ideally suited for such a spectacle and Mogwai live up to expectations. It is a less ferocious set than usual but no less impactful with set mainstays ‘I’m Jim, Morrison I’m Dead’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ offering up moments of emotive genius for the assembled masses.

Saturday is met with a fuzzy head and a late start and in a change to the advertised billing Van Morrison plays third from the top of the main stage. The older members of the audience clearly enjoying the long-time hits which results in a sense of togetherness and joy that permeates every part of the festival.

And so the stage is set for festival headliners Metronomy. The dynamic of audience has changed somewhat as the main stage is filled with youngsters all eager to witness a band who with the release of 2011’s ‘The English Riviera’ are at the top of their game. It’s clear this is a big night for Metronomy, so often found in the daytime slots of big festivals it is a treat to see and hear them perform a headline set. This is not lost on the band either, looking fantastic they deliver a festival defining performance that catalyses the electric Saturday night atmosphere into overdrive.

There is no mistaking what the main event of daytime Sunday is as The Far Out stage is filled to capacity for art rock newcomers Alt-J. It has been a fairly meteoric rise for this Cambridge quartet who justify the interest shown with an impressive array of influences, genres and ensemble singing. Keep on your radar.

It all turns a bit noisy as Islet and Three Trapped Tigers bring their equally raucous yet distinct sounds to the afternoon. Islet’s psychedelic synths and chanted vocals underpinned by frenzied percussion solos quickly draw the attention. Guitarist Alex Williams steals the show equally as mesmerising hitting a floor tom as he is grinding his guitar with a metal bolt. Three Trapped Tigers similarly prove to be a one-man affair with guitarist Matt Calvert producing an authoritative display of guitar and effects control. Disappointingly not every aspect of the set is at this same level but with influences being drawn from as wide as Aphex Twin and 65daysofstatic there is promise that with time and refinement good things will come.

And so we come to a close with Sunday’s headliner Feist. The former Broken Social Scene vocalist is resplendent under the festival lights and opts for a softer and dreamier closing set than expected. Her delicate and seductive purr is more than fitting though and proves to be the perfect lead up to the now traditional, ritual of burning the giant Green Man bonfire.

So how does Green Man fare overall? It has indeed come a long way from its humble 300 capacity beginning but incredibly has managed to retain its free spirited folk fair feel. From buggy pulling mums to wizard bearded hippies to excitable and energetic groups of kids this festival has something for everyone that even the lamentable Welsh weather can’t dampen. It may not have the scale of Glastonbury or the line up of Reading and Leeds or even the hipster appeal of Secret Garden Party but Green Man is a national treasure of English folk tradition and one that will hopefully be here for many summers to come.

Words by Chris Wash

Follow Clash: