Today, the UK population can be split neatly in two. The few hundred-thousand people who are heading to Glastonbury and won't shut up about wet wipes, and the millions who aren't, who won't shut up about how they don't care they're not going and it's probably going to be a mud-bath and they'd rather be sitting in an actual bath and sleeping in an actual bed, thank you very much.
For weeks, those in the former category have been planning their journeys and their line-up strategies and their dark web drug orders. What they probably haven't given much thought to is what's been happening behind the scenes; the logistics and infrastructure needed to get the festival up and running. After all, it's no mean feat to turn what is ultimately a load of fields into a fully-fledged temporary town.
I spoke to some of the people responsible to see how it’s done.
Howard Jones - EE, to keep people's phones working
For 51 weeks a year, our permanent site near the festival provides more than enough coverage for the area. But for one week a year that site would be swamped if we didn’t take action; it would reach congestion within hours on the Wednesday, and nobody would be able to get connected. While planning starts immediately after each Glastonbury ends – analysing what we need to add; if we should have tilted various antenna in slightly different directions – we drive our six temporary sites down in trucks to Worthy Farm in mid-May.
These are towers ranging between 19 and 25 metres tall, which we build on site. They’re about four meters squared at their base. Each site has 1,000 metres of cabling – mostly fibre – and that links up to antennas at the top. Each has 12 antennas across 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. A new 5G antenna will weigh 40kg to 50kg, and there’ll be three of them at the top of each temporary mast. That’s pretty big, so a team of 20 engineers work day and night in the run-up.
The other thing we have at the top of those towers is a microwave dish, which is essential for rural sites. You can’t have an underground fibre connection to connect everything together because it’s all temporary – it would take months to dig those trenches. Instead, we use microwaves, which are very high capacity over a relatively short distance. Each link connects to the next 25 metres in the air, all the way back to our permanent site, which has a fibre connection to the internet. It's complicated; it all needs to be lined up and pointing in the right direction.
Pick a mid-sized city – say Oxford or Bristol. What we need to facilitate is basically a week’s worth of network usage across a place like that, but all crammed into an area the size of the festival. That’s a massive amount of people and traffic using voice calls, texts, downloading and uploading. There’s typically a higher ratio of uploading from Glastonbury than in other places because people are sharing what they see.
In 2017, the last festival, our network carried 54 terabytes of data, up from 2013, where it was 1 terabyte. We’re expecting to go over 80 terabytes this year.
Steve Gallagher - Block9, which hosts one of the party areas
We started Block9 back in 2007 and we've been growing our presence at Glastonbury ever since. Our work with the festival never stops – while we're onsite this year we'll be talking about next year. This year, though, we're opening our latest creation, IICON, an immense sculptural artwork, architectural intervention and immersive music project, posing questions about power, technology and humanity in the digital age.
The seeds of the idea started three years ago, and there’s a lot of concept, music and then engineering to consider. It's developed into something that will hopefully obey – if not attempt to defy – the laws of physics. And we’ll still be running all our other venues.
The build for IICON started nearly three months ago. All the individual components needed to be constructed; it was put together in sections in a warehouse and we hand-carved the main structure. It was transported to the Glastonbury site at the start of June. The main structure – the sculpture – packs down into seven shipping containers, designed to be installed, de-rigged and packed away. In numbers, the IICON stage stands at 21 metres tall and is 35 metres wide, while the set and arena require 71 tons of ballast. The scaffolding weighs 25 tons and is approximately 6.5 linear kilometres, while 600 sqm of fabric is used on the back wall and visor.
Overall, there'll be over 1,000 people working directly on this project across the spectrum, from people looking after the site, machinery, plants. There have been multiple cranes operating over the past few weeks. We have engineers, riggers, build crew and an extensive production team planning everything, plus all the performers, people booking the artists and bar staff. There’s everything you can imagine you’d need in taking a green field and turning it into an adult playground for a few days. It’s why, for us, sleeping at Glastonbury is a rare occurrence.
Hamish Skermer – Natural Event, which provides the composting toilets
At Glastonbury this year we'll have 1,111 toilets. We only had five back in 2009. I knew our compost toilets would change the game, though. Either other toilets would have to improve or everyone would change to compost loos. At festivals we've had a very high tolerance of bad toilets, and very low expectations. Other companies were taking advantage of that.
Our toilets are all flat-pack – well, the basic model is. They arrive stacked up and we build them on site, as if you’d got them from IKEA. It’s all about high transportability, low transport miles. We’ve had a team of about 13 working on the site in the run-up. I did some maths, and to get our toilets ready our team will do 27,000 "things", from putting the seats on, a roof on, lights, etc. Add each action up and we do 27,000 things to make 11,000 toilets.
Everyone is going to have a shit at Glastonbury. In these toilets you just get a cup of sawdust and throw it over your business. You’re not chucking shit into the ground, but making compost to grow food out of. We’ll be a team of about 100 on site when the gates open: we have seven zones, zone managers, cleaning supervisors, cleaners on radios and an HQ, too. There’ll be about 60 cubic metres of sawdust we’ll use for Glastonbury; we’ve had ten articulated lorries take stuff out of our shed to site, accessible in over 3,000 wheelie bins.
Over Glastonbury, I reckon eight hours a day you'll have 15 people using our loos an hour. I reckon each has about a four-minute experience. That means the doors will open and shut 1.3 million times over the festival. That’s about 216 people per toilet per day, which I think is conservative. We don’t need to empty the toilets every day; they’ll be changed once or twice over the period of the festival. Then everyone’s shit is taken to our compost facility, where it’s treated. It’s somewhere between two and three years until it’s ready to grow out of.
We improve people's dignity when they’re having a shit at a festival. For so long people hated it, but we're fixing that. We want you to be able to feel respected on the crapper. Taking a few moments for yourself at a festival can make all the difference in you enjoying it. Some people think shit is rude, but if we were able to compost all of our shit and returned it to the soil? Our nutrients should be put back into the ecosystem.