Welcome to Shangri-La Glastonbury

The car is on fire, and there's no driver at the wheel
And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
And a dark wind blows
The government is corrupt
And we're on so many drugs
With the radio on and the curtains drawn

So the opening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 'The Dead Flag Blues' goes. An intense apocalyptic vision once shared by an area down the dusty ketamine-strewn (probably) railroad track at the end of Glastonbury: Shangri-La. 2011's theme for Shangri-La was one of the end of the world, the last party before our atrophic humanity and society as we know it disappears into the abyss "We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, And the machine is bleeding to death" to continue GS!BE's intro. It was the final rave before everything gets transported to the new world. 2012, the off year for Glastonbury, was the assumed apocalypse.

In Julian Temple's must-watch Glastonbury After Hours documentary that explores the murky side of the festival after the headliners strike their final notes on the main stages, a hyped-up punter screams "I think I've died and gone to heaven" in relation to Shangri-La. Which sets-up 2013's edition and the next four year cycle that revolves around the after-life, dubbed as the "Shafterlife" - split between heaven and hell.

  • A very English surrealism

To get a sense of the very English surrealism found in this corner, let's have a delve into our cultural history and clashes in society that fermented a potent blend, resulting in that 'Glastonbury sprit' that's so talked-up today. During the 1980's, the travelling movement that gravitated towards Stonehenge were ferociously moved on by the police, typical of an era beset with brutal police-clampdowns on a plethora of anti-establishment movements. Most of these travellers were of the punk movement and Michael Eavis welcomed (eventually) the convoy into Glastonbury in 1985 with them having nowhere else to go. Refugee status no more. Punk, in essence a rejection of the hippy dream, with its harder, urban-faced metallic edge cohabiting side-by-side with hippies and thus establishing a trenchant epoch.

The convoy was lead by a skull-bus. They came and built a stonehenge out of cars. They could build anything themselves, a fierce DIY ethic forced onto them by an unforgiving world. These are the people who make Glastonbury what it is in the present - either directly via the very same people still on site today, or by an influential sprit. Shangri-La is the pulsating heart of all this - simply looking around at the remarkable architecture, bizarre structures and wondrous contraptions confirms this. And fire of course, lots of fire.

And so came Lost Vagueness in 1986 that began as a late-night afterparty for travellers and festival crew, which in the past decade has spawned various areas in the South East Corner such as Shangri-La, Block9, Arcadia, The Common, and The Unfairground. But enough of the history lesson there's a party to be had right?

"One mans Heaven is another mans Hell" is the mantra for this year, in our wall-within-a-wall setting away from the main stages. We're in our own city within a city, like the Allied pocket of West Berlin wrapped in the East during the cold war. But without the threat of nuclear disaster (that was more 2011 really). During my first visit on Thursday night a consistent bout of rain created a sloppy mud-infested hell, well, in the hell part at least. Even though it's early days of the festival and a full day of music has yet to take place, the pure pleasure and fantasy vibe is apparent as witnessed first hand in this act of opprobrium:


A wild-eyed man screams in my face. In that moment I think he genuinely thought he was a helicopter, though I don't know if that was his version of heaven or hell.

Two gothic doctors are in a glass display window, preparing something. A punter gets up close to the window. The part-leather-clad female doctor breathes on the window, writing obscure messages in return, seemingly unable to speak or be heard through the thick glass. This goes on for 10 minutes and I have little idea of what's being communicated. One is in character, with the other character enthralled and joining this world. The next day the activity is wholly unambiguous - as someone is bent over trousers down, being spanked by the two doctors. 100 people are watching. Gasps, whoops, and cheers are heard on the outside. A filthy shower-less Glastonbury is not the best time to show 100 strangers your underpants is all I'm gonna say.

The Hell Stage plays host to a variety of music over the weekend - coming alive as darkness falls like Greek Goddess of the night Nyx doing her stuff, as thousands flock to Shangri-La after the mainstream music 'back there' is done for the day. Sure you can walk around and marvel at the objects during the day at Shangri-La, but the night is where it lives, breaths and unleashes a wild hedonism. A psychedelic cover of Tetris is my first greeting to the stage before the devil, who is acting as the compare, takes over and shouts at the audience.

It's all about the Friday night though where Goat are headlining - eschewing Portishead, Arctic Monkeys, The Horrors et al. The set is a jubilant psychedelic hurricane guzzled down by krautrock-party pills and pretty much the most fun I've ever had, the kind of hour where time is irrelevant, living life from beat-to-beat, primal chant-to-chant, cosmic guitar lick-to-lick, soaring into the warm night sky. Fuck it, now I feel like a helicopter.

To enjoy Shangri-La you needn't see any billed acts as such - much like Glastonbury itself. Take a devilish stroll into the maze-like Seven Circles of Hell that are adorned with testicle, willy and condom chandeliers in the corridors, and a series of micro-venues, bars and clubs playing all manner of sounds that generally make your body parts move 'til your soul blisters - as the venerated Michael Eavis looks on via Soviet poster artwork. What you have with these micro-bars esentially is a venue within a venue within a venue. Then within a venue. Russian Dolls yo'. Mind-blowing in theory, and a mind-blowing experience.

In our chat with Shangri-La creative director Deborah Armstrong she hinted at a secret act who would play twice over the weekend - who turned out to be Thom Yorke with Nigel Godrich spinning tunes in Heaven where they span Prince, NWA and Talking Heads. Being heathen types we didn't get access to Heaven; the augury concept was entry is only granted by 'Admin Angels' at four Desk of Judgements, where you can bribe, beg or charm your way in. On the other side is a pristine white and mud-free place where only those with tattoos were allowed access and ordered to take their shoes off. A bit like my Auntie's house in Basildon I guess.

Beelzebub himself Mick Jagger had a strut around Hell (he does have Sympathy for the Devil after all ay?) and even created a song especially for their Pyramid Stage set, 'Glastonbury girl', about someone he met at Shangri-La. Disclosure, Diplo and Skream all contributed to the party at certain points.

In reality during our humdrum day-to-day existence we are often merely being, however in this area at this time, we are living. Aldous Huxley-Smith in The Doors of Perception states in relation to LSD "there is a, an area of the mind which could be called unsane, beyond sanity and yet not insane. Think of a circle with a fine split in it. At one end there's insanity, you go around the circle to sanity, and on the other end of the circle close to insanity, but not insanity, is unsanity". I guess this is the goal of areas like Shangri-La in many ways, to reach this unsanity, but, crucially take a little part of this back with you to the real world. Get out of your comfort zone, expand your view beyond the narrow chinks of your everyday cavern and bottle this pocket of freedom. The hybrid of the brittle punk attitude and hippy sprit lives on - don't wait 'til the afterlife to enjoy your brief life.