Back in 1931, proto-anarchist writer Emma Goldman told the world that if she couldn’t dance at the revolution, she wanted no part of it. “Free your mind… and your ass will follow”, as Funkadelic put it. This year’s Glastonbury is shot through with this kind of righteous anger and ass-shaking, and Kate Tempest ignites that passion on Thursday night at the Rum Shack. Anyone who doubted that there would be an audience for socially-conscious poetry set to hip-hop beats should have seen the crowd massed outside the tent. They should have heard the cheers go up when Tempest rapped that “wages are fucked and rent is outrageous” or said of city boys buying coke that it’s “meant to be hard times, right / a recession / but these guys are buying more than ever.” The message is clear: we’re very much not all in this together. After her set Tempest said the night was “magical”, and gave a nod to the Left Field, Glastonbury’s political heart. “I think it’s really important that it’s here,” she says. “It creates a space for people to be confronted by people talking about interesting ideas. That’s fucking cool.”
The Left Field itself opens on Friday morning with a heartfelt tribute from Michael Eavis to the great old Labour politician and orator Tony Benn, who died in March. Turning that energy to practical action, a discussion on food banks immediately followed that concluded that the best way to fight the food poverty which affects a million people in this country is to remove the Conservative party from power as swiftly as possible.
Proving that chopped’n’screwed beats can still speak truth to power, that evening on the West Holts stage tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus rapped about the “blood-soaked dollar” that “still works in the store” as she talked about inequality and the travails of Haiti on ‘Water Fountain’. Two hours later on the same stage was arch provocateur MIA, who Garbus has called an inspiration. Her set is a no holds bar rave punctuated by middle-finger salutes to authority like: “Cause it’s not me and you / It’s the fucking banks!” on the pounding ‘Bring The Noize’. As Tony Benn said: “There is enough energy in this field to change the country for the better.” He’s gone, but his spirit lives on.
Originally published in NME, 5 July 2014.