For The Chemical Brothers, dance music has always been the sound of Glastonbury Festival. “It’s easy to lose yourself to,” Tom Rowlands told us in anticipation of tonight’s headlining set on The Other Stage (June 28). The festival has left quite some imprint on them, too – when they’re in the studio tinkering away, they’re directly influenced by the prospect of playing those songs to thousands of fans here on Worthy Farm.
This year more than ever, dance music feels so integral to the party. The steady thud of house, techno, disco and beyond on stages both big and small is unmissable as you saunter through the site. Dance music hasn’t been excommunicated like at other festivals – it’s a part of the programming across the biggest stages.
The Chemical Brothers can take some of the glory for that. Over their two-decade career, they’ve headlined the Pyramid Stage once (2000) and headlined The Other Stage a record-setting five times since 2004.
With each return to the stage, they up their game, thanks in part to new technology – their visuals now are stunning – but also because they bring bigger and better tunes each time. New album ‘No Geography’ is their best since the ‘90s, and its feel-good sounds are perfect for festival fields. The disco-indebted ‘Got To Keep On’ (the theme from the BBC’s 2019 Glastonbury coverage) is tonight’s most exhilarating moment and the rage-inducing ‘MAH’ catches the crowd at their most excitable.
The sensational array of visuals that accompany the set helps them continue to command headlining spots across the globe. We see a roller-coaster ride spin out of control on the frightening ‘EML Ritual’ and lasers shoot out from the giant robots that descend from the rafters for deep-cut ‘Hoops’. Every clip maximises the moment.
Though neither of the duo speak directly to the crowd, their energy and gratitude is obvious. Ed Simons frequently takes himself out of the band’s control centre to gee them up, and Tom looks genuinely overwhelmed throughout the set . The pair are seen pointing out the many flares and pyrotechnics the crowd have brought with them to elevate the moment.
There’s a case to be made that The Chemical Brothers could, in fact, be back on the Pyramid Stage soon. Twenty years down the line, none of their counterparts can match the constant reinvention that keeps them a household name. They’re keen to pay homage to the figures that helped pave the way, though – a blistering version of ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ closes the set, and video screens dedicate the set to The Prodigy’s late frontman, Keith Flint, a seminal figure in dance music and British music.
Getting to the top is easy, but sustaining that creativity is what separates this duo from their peers, like Fatboy Slim, who pops up in various spots on the site this weekend, but in no slot as lofty as this. Their fifth time headlining The Other Stage was a charm; let’s hope this tradition continues.