Shangri-la Glastonbury acting out against corporate greed at festivals
by Josh Adams
The Great British Festival has been held up unanimously as a rite of passage for decades. Whilst the actual physical act of packing your bags to leave on a journey of unbridled discovery has remained much the same over the years, what awaits the pilgrims of pleasure on the other side, however, has changed quite substantially.
Where once the UK’s summer festival offerings lived life in the shadow of Woodstock: bohemian, countercultural, artful adventures that offered to expand the mind as well as fuck it up. Now their ilk are few and far between, exceptions in a world of debauched gigs in a field. Like Boomtown Fair, Latitude, Secret Garden Party and a small coterie of others, Glastonbury and its most exciting in-house city, Shangri La, are staging fight back against the legions of identikit events threatening to take the interesting out of some of the world’s greatest events.
A recurrent sight at Glastonbury since 2008, Shangri La is perhaps one of the best examples of an event that puts the experience at the heart of its execution.“It really depends on the core agenda of the festival organisers,” says Debs Armstrong, the area’s Creative Director. “If they are profit motivated they are unlikely to invest in areas outside of music, PR and infrastructure. If they do it for the love of the festival, they are likely to blow every spare penny they have to build their dream event. There are sadly plenty of festivals that have started as interesting and alternative but it became obvious when they are taken over by people with a commercial focus, they lose the magic. I’m thinking Lollipop and Big Chill”.
“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity,” says Hayden Kays, one of the event’s featured artists who focuses much of his artistic ammunition on the natural contradictions of capitalism. “Without them,” he says, “I doubt I would have ever got round to producing a piece of such vast dimensions. 8ft x 16ft is pretty whopping compared with my previous work. I've never produced anything as large as this before”.
Along with Kids of Dada featured artists Kays and Dan Hillier, Shangri-la boasts an impressive mix of established and up and coming talent, all contributing their art to illustrate the theme of this year’s bash, Heaven and Hell. High/Low Culture art poltergeist, Ron English, is one of the biggest names participating this year, having become renowned for his character Abraham Obama, a fusion of America’s 16th and current Presidents that reportedly had a direct impact on Obama’s first successful election five years ago.
It’s this focus on art that separates Shangri La from the crowd. Unlike most other festival events, these guys seem just as committed to booking big name visual artists as they are to booking headline-worthy musicians, to them it’s all equally important, it’s only right they should share the same space. Just because they’re featured at the world’s most famous festival, don’t think they’re playing it safe either: one creation by Doug Foster is recounted as “a giant hovering kaleidoscope of liquid light, an ever expanding super-mandala that engulfs its recumbent audience in a fractal universe of soothing special repetition”. All this creative endeavour is supported justly by the Arts Council of England too, perhaps one of only a few instances where government subsidy and psycho-active substances rub shoulders so freely.
Shangri-la is perhaps one of only a few instances where government subsidy and psycho-active substances rub shoulders so freely.
Featuring the up and coming of the visual arts is something the team behind the event hold dear, and it’s an ethos that’s taken them from strength to strength. “We change the theme and layout each year keeping it fresh and exciting. People follow the ongoing narratives we create and love to dress up and become part of it. You’ll always see things that have never been seen before within a festival environment,” says Kaye Dunnings, Artistic Director behind it all. “I’m very honoured to hand pick all the crew personally. We work together as a family to realise the creative vision”.
“Corporate greed has completely taken over the original free festival culture from where it all began. It’s trendy now and harder to afford. Shangri-La 2014 is highlighting these issues in a fun and playful way this year. We hope you like it!”