It’s 2am at SCUM, the tiny alternative metal stage tucked behind a rusted shipping container in the midst of Shangri-La, Glastonbury’s dance music mecca that, this year, comes littered with eco-friendly messages and commands. Larissa Stupar, the singer of South Wales death metal band Venom Prison, shrieks into the mic like a woman who’s guzzled a gallon of petrol with a pop rocks chaser after polishing off a hand grenade as an hors d’oeuvre. Everywhere else in Shangri-La you’ll hear booming dance, dub and techno.
Yet the SCUM stage, the length of that shipping container and less than half its width, is a small world unto its own. Here, from midnight until around 5am, you can catch the most uncompromising metal bands in the world. Veteran Swedish death metallers Entombed AD (actually grizzled frontman Lars Göran Petrov, who, when his group Entombed split, continued to play their songs with a brand new band half his age) grind through industrial riffs and growl Oscar the Grouch-style vocals in the early hours of Friday morning. ScarLxrd, the disaffected Wolverhampton trap-metal upstart and former YouTuber, bawls through horror movie smoke, “I wanna see someone land on their fucking head or something!”
Twinned with the nearby, larger Truth stage, it’s one of the more extreme corners of Glastonbury. And the line-up’s so eclectic, so diverse, so supportive of fresh talent, that this festival might actually be more progressive than those dedicated solely to heavy music.
There’s real joy to be found in watching glitter-covered, bum bag-wearing clubbers wander round the shipping container and realise they’ve taken something of a left turn. One bloke genuinely stumbles backwards upon being hit by the sheer velocity of Venom Prison’s sonic onslaught. SCUM curator Digby Pearson says with a chuckle: “You can watch people’s faces – they come here with all the glitter on their cheeks and all that – and then they’re hit with this.”
Pearson previously put on extreme bands at Earache Express, an even smaller Shangri-La stage, named after Earache Records, the label he formed in 1985 and whose roster has featured underground heroes Munipal Waste and crossover stars Bring Me The Horizon, who play the Other Stage on Sunday afternoon. Earache Express was held on a stage fashioned from tube train; Scum takes place on an actual lorry. “We drove in and then we’re gonna drive out again,” Pearson explains. Well, it does fit Shangri-La’s theme of reusing and recycling.
“We have all the same ethics and politics [as Shangri-La],” he says, “and agree with all of the messages that are going out around here. But they need a bit more rock and metal – it’s very dance oriented.” Although a fan of dance music, he reckons SCUM is “perhaps also a bit of a fly in the ointment and something different – it’s in everyone’s DNA, a bit of guitar music, really… It’s the same sort of energy [as dance music] if you wanna get deep about it. It’s got a positive message.” He quickly adds: “You just can’t hear it because the words are like, ‘Wuuuarrgh!’”.
Fabulously, Stupar explains the political messaging of one song – “[this is] about the distribution of wealth in our society; we need to revolt, we need to resist and we need to destroy the rich!” – before, yes, shrieking astonishingly yet unintelligibly for four deliciously abrasive minutes. One fan, Harry Gonsalves, tells NME: “I like Venom Prison anyway but I’ve never had the chance to see them live. So to see them on a platform like Glastonbury is fucking insane. Larissa Stupar [is] one of the best death metal female vocalists going at the moment.” Gender is only a construct, but her voice seems to defy nature.
“The British fans of extreme metal are really brilliant, you know?”, Pearson says, pointing to open-mindedness in the community. ScarLxrd’s a prime example of this. For all that talk of guitar music being in our DNA, there isn’t one to be seen during his angular, serrated set held late on Saturday night (they can very much be heard, though). He’s backed by a wiry and haunted-looking hype man who stalks behind the DJ booth, coming out only to coo, “Oooh, Glasto, you so quiet” with camp menace. Given Scarlxrd combines brittle trap beats with buzzing extreme metal riffs, which isn’t exactly a common genre crossover, it’s maybe surprising to see the SCUM stage packed.
Yet for audience member Sophy Lole, exposure to new music is the lure of this endearingly strange section of Glastonbury. “It’s not usually my thing and even though some people criticise Scarlxrd for not being ‘true metal’, but I think good music is good music.” It’s Digby Pearson who suggests that Glastonbury, having taken a punt on French progressive metal band Gojira, whose pro-environmental message fits neatly with Shangri-La’s theme, is in many ways more receptive to new ideas than established big metal festivals.
“The thing about this is to expose metal to a mainstream crowd,” Pearson says. Harry Gonsalves agrees: “That’s probably quite true. If you take Download Festival, for example, the same 10 headliners have been recycled for the past six or seven years.” He brings Gojira up off of his own volition: “Massive respect, because they’re huge in the metal scene right now and to see them break out at this festival is amazing.”
Although there’s a distinctly spit-and-sawdust feel to SCUM’s aesthetic (one wall’s adorned with a zombie Keith Flint mural), there’s impressive showmanship, too, and a sense of occasion. From Scarlxrd’s horror movie smoke – licking the corner of the stage, threatening to engulf the audience – to Venom Prison’s closing pose, as they assume a formation that makes them look like a league of superheroes, it’s clear that spectacle is key to Pearson’s vision. Soon it will be driven away; SCUM burned bright and briefly.