The cagefighter is a no-show. But who needs Michael “Venom” Page when you have British singer-rapper Rowdy Superstar? As a throbbing bassline makes the comfy leather sofas at the back of the room vibrate, Superstar performs a distorted ritualistic dance on stage while burning fresh sage.
This is Shed, a new addition to Glastonbury, and one that aims to fight toxic masculinity and bolster the #MeToo movement by turning blokes into better sons, fathers and lovers. It is a sort of #MenToo, if you like, and blazing herbs is not the only weapon in its arsenal.
The exterior of Shed is just that: bits of sheds, the traditional refuge for a certain type of man, cobbled together into a facade. The idea is that old notions of masculinity are “shed” as you step inside the space at the entrance to the Shangri-La area, to be greeted by slogans such as: “Never underestimate your strength. Never overestimate your weakness.” Another advises: “Your best teacher is your last mistake.”
They’re all on vibrant rectangles of colour, and are the work of Adam Neate, a British artist who went to live in Brazil after burning all his work. “This is his first text work,” says Moses Powers, art director of Shangri-La. “His stuff is usually quite dark, but these hold a nice energy.” Leaning back in the sofa, Powers adds: “Shed is a bit of an experiment, a response to the fact that a lot of guys are a bit lost. They feel woke, but want to know how they move forward.”
Which could apply to me, I suppose, as a supporter of this march for equality, but one who can’t help feeling something of a bystander. So can I, a middle-aged man with a (possible) tendency to mansplain, get a detox at Shed? Well, I certainly find Professor Green, the rapper and TV personality who speaks as part of a panel, entertaining.
“I grew up in Hackney,” he tells a packed room, “and I used to rollerblade. I’d dress normally then get into my baggies when I got to the place. And I had to hide the fact that I loved Skunk Anansie. But I think that’s changing. Nowadays, you can get robbed by someone wearing a Supreme top.”
Also on the panel is Krissi Murison, the former editor of NME, who talks about how she came up against the notion of music being deemed “a man’s issue”. She recalls a newspaper article written during the heyday of lads’ mags, in which their various editors were interviewed. “The way they talked about women,” she says, shaking her head. “We were basically pieces of meat. So bloody hell, we’ve come so far.” But Murison counters this by talking about “porn culture” and its boom online. “Misogyny doesn’t go away,” she says. “It mutates.”
As the panel starts to find its stride, Jordan Stephens, one half of Rizzle Kicks, mentions a train journey, on which he found himself sitting with three young drunk guys. “One of them was talking about how he’d changed his life by meditating by the sea. And his friend said to him: ‘Mate, I’ll meditate when I’m dead.’ Just think about those words. That’s what we need to change.”
As the panel moves on to talking about the dangers of preaching only to the converted, two young men stagger in and ask: “What’s this?”
“Positive masculinity workshop,” I say and pat the vacant space on the sofa beside me. “Shite,” says one of them and they head back out.
I spend a good bit of time in Shed and I’ve never been hugged so much in my life. But does it make me, in the words of Powers, “a better ally to women”? As I step back out into the afternoon sun, and the melee, feeling woke in my flowery shirt and biodegradable glitter, I am certainly determined to put one slogan – “Being kind is never wasted” – into action. But I’m not quite as woke, perhaps, as the guy in purple fishscale swimming trunks and silk paisley-pattern dressing gown dancing to Craig Charles’s set on the main Shangri-La stage.
When I get back to my tent later, it is dark and there is a woman face down on the grass outside. “Just leave me,” she says, “I’ll be fine.” “You’re fine now,” I say, “but you’ll be cold in a while. Let me take you back to your tent.” Eventually, she gets up and I help her find her way through the night. As the party of Glastonbury booms in the distance, I recall another Shed slogan. “It’s not whether you get knocked down,” the words read, on a happy blue background. “It’s whether you get up.”