Aldermaston. This quiet unassuming Berkshire village, with its quintessentially English candle auctions, is used to secrets.
At the height of the Cold War, it was the destination of choice for duffel-coated CND marchers thanks to a certain hush-hush site a couple of miles away.
And, since 2004, it’s been neighbour to an even less well-kept secret – an annual three-day party of hippies, ravers and ‘underground’ electronic dance music in a beautiful country estate. GladTalk takes a peek behind the scenes with Glade Festival organiser Nick Ladd.
Some hippies say there are 12 stages you have to go through to reach heaven. Well, you'll find plenty of hippies at The Glade but you probably won't be doing much meditating at its 12 stages. From its relatively humble origins as a simple stage in a wooded area of the Glastonbury festival, The Glade has evolved rapidly into a vibrant festival in its own right, now catering for 16,500 of the happiest, most up-for-it festivalgoers you'll ever meet.
Perhaps the most significant change for this year, as GladTalk revealed back in November, is the scrapping of the main dance tent to make way for a new open air stage (simply called the Main Stage) for more live-oriented electronic acts and adding some smaller tented venues, which Nick said will have “better acoustics and a more intimate, havin’ it vibe than the old main tent, which we felt was getting too big”.
We also reported in February that the new tents would include a techno tent and the Roots Tent, which is themed around the roots of dance music. Nick confirmed the techno tent, which will be a late-night venue only, now has a name - the Vapor Stage - and promises it will highlight some of the biggest names in Canadian and Detroit techno.
He was also quick to correct assumptions that the Roots Tent would be solely about traditional Caribbean styles such as salsa and reggae, saying: “It’s more just the roots of dance - it’s a very broad spectrum including all sorts of electronica.”
The other innovation for 2007 is a new arena called the Nectar Space, a hi-tech geodesic dome which Nick confirmed will be a multi-functional arts and talks space. Close to the ID Spiral chill-out area, it will feature visionary artists like Alex Grey and Luke Brown, while talks cover “anything from ecology to quantum physics”. Nectar will also have its own soundtrack of West Coast breaks, a more downtempo version of the genre than you are likely to hear in Breaksday.
I put it to Nick that this diversification into visual and performing arts was moving The Glade further into “mini Glastonbury” territory, but he winced at the term. “Glastonbury is unique, we could never compare ourselves to it. It’s so wonderfully diverse whereas we will always be an electronic dance music festival.”
So does this mean it definitely won’t try to be all things to all people and start featuring indie guitar bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Killers in the future? “Absolutely.”
Music to my ears – it ain’t broke and they’re not fixing it. We move on to the other stages. The Breaksday Tent is taking a fresh approach this year, focusing on up-and-coming artists in the breaks world rather than relying on the usual big-name suspects. Nick said: “Breaksday will for sure be featuring lots of new talent - but there are also plenty of the biggest names in breaks in there - there won’t be a breaks line up in the UK in 2007 to touch it, that’s for sure.”
Psy-trance features heavily at The Glade, of course, with the open-air Origin Stage (which Nick says will have shade this year to protect ravers from the scorching sunshine that has become the festival’s hallmark) and the Liquid Stage tent which along with other late stages, will be playing until 4am while relying on state-of-the-art Funktion One ‘Ambisonic’ surround sound systems.
In plain English, this means the quality of the sound in the arenas will be level, clear and loud. But residents in the outlying villages can sleep easy because thanks to a remarkable appliance of science, the rigs’ noise-cancelling ability means that the local community will get disturbed far less than they have in the past.
“Liquid Stage is evolving,” said Nick. “It’s probably only 30% psy-trance (mostly after midnight when Origin shuts). There will be quite a widely cast net of musical styles, but all with the emphasis on psy.
“On the psy-trance front in general, there are some new names balanced with a lot of the legendary producers as always - plenty of diversity from progressive to twisted full-on, but no commercial rubbish or big build-up drumroll cheese. There is plenty of that to be had elsewhere.”
Overkill, the breakcore/mash-up tent, is also having a change of direction. I’ve heard from other sources (not the main organisers) that there is one particularly novel twist being planned, but I’m not at liberty to say what it is. Let’s just say it’s so wrong, it’s right. ;)
And of course the Sancho Panza crew will still be pumping out the best in good old house, the Pussy Parlure will be shaking up cabaret and cocktails with a funk and world music twist, while the Rabbit Hole returns with ad hoc jam sessions, open mike and generally unhinged behaviour.
But there’s so much more to The Glade than just the music, no matter how well thought-out its line-up of established and up-and-coming acts is. One thing that marks this festival out is that the organisers aren’t in it for a fast buck – they consistently turn down offers of corporate sponsorship from mobile phone companies and the like.
And unlike the “we’ve got your money now and we couldn’t give a toss” attitude of many festival organisers, The Glade take feedback from festivalgoers very seriously. Last year there had been a number of complaints about heavy-handed security, which caused the organisers a great deal of concern.
“This was the most serious issue we have had to address from last year,” said Nick. “We are working with the security company to make sure arena security staff are hand-picked - they will be much more understanding of festivalgoers and their needs.
“The security on the outside of the fence - the perimeter security - will be the same as last year. They were very effective in keeping non-ticketholders out of the event, which is good for everybody.”
Concerns about overcrowding are also being addressed by expanding the site into more fields – last year’s site took up one-eighth of the Wasing Estate grounds, so there is plenty of room. But Nick did also point out that the outlying fields were less crowded than near the stage areas, so that is something for people who don’t like tripping over guy ropes to bear in mind.
Another issue that was raised was a shortage of water taps last year. Nick promised the water situation “will be majorly improved, as will the cleanliness of the site”.
He added: “There will be more bins and we will be encouraging people to use them! We are looking into using only compostable plates, plastic glasses etc to cut down the landfill impact of the event.”
Another thing that sets The Glade apart from most other festivals is that they like to give something back to the community for their support. Nick said: “Last year Glade donated £30,000 to Oxfam, plus £4,000 to local parish councils and various projects in the local area.
“A donation from 2005 has seen a skate ramp built for kids in Aldermaston, which is apparently going down a storm.
“This year, we are establishing a charitable foundation to funnel more money into the local area projects - somewhere in the region of £25,000 will be going to a variety of things, from old people's homes to youth projects, whilst the donation to Oxfam will continue.”
And with nearby Aldermaston’s parish council having already voted to give its backing to The Glade, it’s looking like the festival is winning fans outside of the site as well as within.
...we will always be an electronic dance music festival...