“We’ve got no fucking fireworks, no glitter, no fucking floor tom to bang at the front of the stage. We’re singing songs about political unrest and some of them went to number one across the world, so there’s proof that it can be done.” These are not the words of unreasonably popular US “indie” band Imagine Dragons, who played Glastonbury’s Other Stage to around 25,000 people today, but of Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire, impassioning during the set that directly followed them.
He may not have explicitly said their name, but you get the feeling that Wire was making a covert dig; Imagine Dragons, half an hour previously, had been enthusiastically banging their front of stage floor tom like it was going out of fashion. An hour before the defiant, despairing rings of ‘A Design For Life’ rung out, meanwhile, the Las Vegas quartet addressed the crowd with a cheesy spiel about the power of music, ending with a summary that music, above all, “gets rid of things that separate us like politics.” As a band that have never shied away from a little political conversation, you can understand why Wire and any other even slightly socially engaged person might be a little turned off.
But the thing is, people DON’T seem to be turned off. As one of the biggest selling artists of 2013, Imagine Dragons’ popularity is undeniable. Despite a torrential downpour basically wiping out the festival for an hour just before they came on, the crowd for the band was enormous. It’s difficult to criticise a fanbase as huge as this without sounding like an embittered indie snob – numbers, after all, speak volumes for themselves – but the band’s popularity is baffling.
Having come to fame largely through smash single ‘Radioactive’, which was used to advertise everything from wrestling to headphones, the entirety of their Glastonbury set felt like music made for an advert sync. Atmospheric build ups give way to epic, crowd-baiting choruses designed to soundtrack a BBC highlights montage: you can see the panning, wide-shot of a thousand girls with flowery headbands losing their shit (in an attractive, dignified manner) in your mind with every power chord.
It’s not that all of it is even horrendous. Elements of Two Door Cinema Club’s bounce pepper proceedings; harmonies are genuinely Fleet Foxes-style sweet and there’s even the odd bit of (sorry Yannis) mathy, Foals guitar, but the entire act that surrounds it is just empty posturing with dollar signs in its eyes. Every element of Imagine Dragons’ set is there to desperately please people: they come out purposefully smeared in mud because “if you guys have to brave the wet, then [we] might as well get dirty too”. They do a pop star parting of the crowd to see who’s the loudest and then decided to “call it a tie to keep everyone happy”. They offer to take everyone back to Vegas with them.
If some of the most exciting sets of the day came from the aforementioned Manics, who are still angry, righteous and perpetual outsiders in their forties, and Fat White Family – who addressed the slightly incongruous situation of playing to thousands of people at a £200+ a weekend festival by being as thrillingly vile, polarizing and naked as possible, then Imagine Dragons are the opposite of this. They’re a group posing as a rock band without any of the elements that make rock’n’roll brilliant: danger, sex, edge, spark.
If those 25,000 people enjoyed themselves then fine, but in the middle of the biggest and best festival in the world, there’s really so much more out there than an enthusiastic floor tom.