Meet The Spider-Men: Five Things We Learned From The Guys Behind Arcadia, Glastonbury’s Flame-Throwing Party Zone

Ziggy Stardust had his Spiders from Mars, and here at Glastonbury there’s a nest of mechanical spiders that are every bit as otherworldly. They live in Arcadia, which also doubles as a home for DJ sets, hi-tech high-wire acts and enough pyrotechnics to flame-grill a small country. The creature’s masters and designers are Pip Rush and Bertie Cole, who’ve both been coming to Glastonbury since they were kids and have been running an area at the festival since 2008. Arcadia now operates with a full-time staff of 50 and an on-site team of several hundred. We headed backstage to meet them and learn more about our giant arachnid friend:

1) It’s more environmentally-friendly than you’d think

Despite punctuating its own soundtrack with frequent bursts of flame, Rush and Cole have come up with a novel way to reduce their gas consumption. “We’ve got the world’s first biofuel-powered flame system,” explains Cole. “It’s a really different effect. You get these beautiful deep orange tumbling flames out of it. That’s something we pioneered and developed last year, and that’s back again. The biofuel is recycled – it comes from Bristol’s chip shops. That’s something we’ve dreamed of for ages. A few years ago we were talking about trying to get the gas from Michael [Eavis]’s cows. We went through a few processes to try and figure it out. It’s actually worked out really nicely, because we’re from Bristol so there’s a circle there of where the resources end up.”

“The biofuel has reduced our gas consumption massively,” adds Rush. “It used to be that if you wanted a flame you needed a gas explosion, but the biofuel system is much more snappy so you can pick up the different beats [of the music the DJs are playing]. We’ve still got the gas – just because a few times a night you just want that massive shockwave.”

2) They’ve got a killer DJ line-up

Friday night saw a headline slot from Carl Cox, playing Arcadia for the first time in his career. Tonight, DJ Hype and Hazard will bring the bass back to back, while tomorrow electronic musician Paul Kalkbrenner will play a live set in the DJ booth that’s been specially designed to accommodate his instruments and equipment. Sunday will also see daytime sets from the likes of Todd Terry and Craig Charles bringing out his trunk of funk, proving that Arcadia isn’t just for night-time raving. “The idea is that there’s something for everyone,” says Cole. “We don’t want it to get pigeon-holed, it’s a universal thing.”

3) But it’s about much more than just the music

The best time to visit Arcadia is for their full-scale Metamorphosis show every day at 11:30pm. Even among the myriad wonders of Glastonbury, it stands out as something truly special. “We created Metamorphosis here last year and we’ve had a few runs to get it really, really strong,” says Rush. “We had a good run-through yesterday and it’s looking absolutely blinding. We’ve got the main spider in the middle, but we’ve expanded the show to come right out into the audience with mini-spiders on zip lines. The spiders pick people out of the audience and bring them onto the stage and then they’re metamorphosed inside egg sac cocoons. When they come out, one is a Tesla guy who can emit bolts of lightning through his head. Another comes out in quite a lavish light suit which looks like a deep-water jellyfish.”

4) The spider is born from machines of war

Just like their biofuel, Arcadia’s actual structure is also started life as something completely different. “The structure itself is 90% recycled,” says Cole. “We’ve spent quite a lot of time scouring the scrap yards of England searching for amazing bits of scrap. It seems to come from mostly military hardware, which is quite exciting because we’re repurposing it to become something so positive. The definitely gives us a kick. We’re now looking further afield for new stuff because we feel like we’ve eaten most of the good stuff in England! Now we’re looking at places like Russia to get some more exciting things.”

As well as repurposing machinery, Arcadia also takes people’s skills and puts it to new uses. “We try to involve lots of different artforms, not just music,” says Rush. “We have drivers who’ve spent their lives in scrap yards very skilfully driving these huge great machines and they’re choreographed in the show, making the spider come to life. We involve a huge range of disciplines.”

5) It will tap into your most primal urges

“People in a ring around a fire is something we’ve done for aeons,” points out Cole. “It’s really nice to be doing that on a modern scale.” So if you’re here on site – drop whatever plans you had for 11:30pm and prepare to see your night – and your festival – metamorphosise before your eyes. “The show is the pinnacle of what we do,” concludes Cole. “It’s really important for people who want to experience Arcadia that they come and check those shows out and get involved. Come with an open mind and expect it to be blown.”