The saying goes that the UK’s biggest, weirdest and wildest five-day party is “its own city”. And for good reason. The festival’s current attendance – around 210,000 – is higher than the population of Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich, Aberdeen and York. It has dense settlements, a strict social hierarchy and a thriving trade in San Miguel and Goan fish curry. Plus, the Pyramid Stage is basically a cathedral at this point.
So yes, for a couple of days in June, by almost every metric, Worthy Farm qualifies as a city. Which has us wondering… does Glastonbury count as a 24-hour city? For the past few months, VICE photographer Yushy and I have been on multiple gruelling journeys to test the night time economy of London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Now, it’s Glastonbury’s turn. I begin at 10AM on Thursday morning. So far today I've had two sips of water and a multivitamin, after a complicated, demanding, almost experimental first night’s sleep (someone on the campsite was playing Elton John on the acoustic guitar into the early hours. I used to like “Rocket Man.” Now I’d like to murder him). Before we start the clock, I want to apologise for any typos, malapropisms, grammatical flubs, libellous slurs or sentences that read like one of Wayne Rooney’s old tweets. I’m on deadline here, in the middle of a field, typing this story up almost as it happens. So do not hold me responsible for anything that happens after this.
First up: breakfast. I kick things off with a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with sausages, chips, mushy peas and gravy. I wash this all down with a pint of iced coffee. The delicious concoction sits like a naval mine in the bowels of my stomach. One to worry about later… For now, I want to experience the cultural phenomenon known as “Glasto”.
Like most major festivals, there are more performers than you could hope to see in a lifetime, from local crooners to global megastars. As such, we’ve decided to go with the flow and see where the day takes us. The first act we stumble across is a DnB DJ at The Glade. It’s not even midday. It sounds to me like Megatron falling down the stairs. It’s way too early for this. Luckily for me, there’s an infinite number of things to see and do at this festival, from mime workshops to matinee screenings of The Wicker Man. There’s even an entire tent dedicated to juggling. So we decide to sack this off and get stuck into some new age therapy at the Healing Fields.
I’ve never heard of “laughing yoga”. But I give it a go because I like laughing and I also like the idea of being able to touch my toes. Plus I get to lie down with my eyes closed for most of the workshop. I leave feeling like a new man. Hippies, we salute you. The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur of cider, sunshine and £7 churros. Oh, and at some point I got my face painted like Spider-Man.
By the time I sober up, it’s 8PM and we’re losing light. Shangri-La is calling us, but that’s in the deep South East corner of the festival and I’m wearing a white vest and jorts. This feels like an oversight, so we make the 40-minute trek back to our campsite to put on jumpers and eat salt and vinegar crisps. At 10PM, we set off into the night.
Everywhere you look there are hippies, yippies, yuppies and, for some reason, insanely jacked lads swapping uppers for downers, downers for uppers and tinnies for tokes. With that in mind, it takes us the best part of an hour to reach the promised land of Shangri-La, Glastonbury’s late-night district. Once we get there, there’s a paranoid feel to the back alleys and side streets. There are too many people. Too many people on too many drugs. The vibe is critical, a threat to national security.
All the while, Arcadia’s giant, robotic, flame-breathing spider looms over the trees – even The Great Fire of London, I think, was less of a spectacle. We bounce around Shangri-La for what feels like an hour, although when I check my phone, it’s 3AM. We’re hurtling towards sunrise and my stomach is crying. That’ll be the naval mine from yesterday morning… or the fact that my last meal was a dehydrated crisp. I’m flagging and I need something quick. I settle for a cheese toastie. Old reliable. The one that never fails. It’s delicious, and eye-wateringly expensive. I savour every bite.
It’s the mean hours of the morning and what I can only describe as a psychedelic fever is sweeping the Shangri-La. The sick are returning to their campsites, while the terminally ill are marching on to the liminal edges of Worthy Farm in search of more, more, more. London and Glasgow were dead by this time. The South East corner of Glastonbury? It’s Night of The Living Dead.
Yushy and I find ourselves wandering the jungle badlands around the Stone Circle at 4AM. The sky is getting lighter. I feel sad and bored. We meet a man who calls himself “The Squid Lord”. I am too sober for a conversation with his lordship.
In his biography of Hunter S. Thompson, the American journalist E. Jean Carroll claimed that the great gonzo hellraiser’s daily routine consisted of Heineken, cocaine, Dunhills, two cheeseburgers, acid, grass, and more cocaine – all before he was ready to pick up a pen. But then again: journalists are liars. And I’m not Hunter S. Thompson. Still, I could use something to take my mind off how dog I feel, so I blag myself a tinny from some friendly scousers and try out Worthy Farm’s favourite sport: belly sliding down Glastonbury hill at 5AM.
20 minutes later, the sun starts peeping over the clouds. We head to the top of the hill and snuggle up beside a couple of ageing warlocks who are deep in some ketamine dream; listening to the sun, waiting for a new kind of light. If this is the point where the story falls off a cliff, so be it.…I’m not ashamed to admit… that I fell asleep… for a few nanoblinks there… unprofessional of me… but closing my eyes feels like the most natural thing in the world… I can almost taste the sweet relief of my £7.99 travel pillow.
I check my phone: it’s 6AM and the sky is an incandescent pink. There’s a million miles of billowing polyester on the horizon. We’re in some Ballardian paradise. Or hellscape. It’s hard to know the difference. I pose for a photo that I never want to see again.
So is Glastonbury a 24-hour city? No, it’s a 72-hour fever dream. A five-day around the clock bender. A thought experiment on what would happen if you put acid into the water supply of a Medieval travelling circus. Spoon my brain into a jar on Monday morning, would you?