Should Mumford & Sons be headlining Glastonbury? (Culture Questions #2)

NO
By Ben Wilson –

Back in 2009, a storm was brewing – a storm that threatened to provide musical debate’s own ‘marmite’ moment. Out of West London, a newly formed four-piece were spearheading what some were calling a ‘whole new folk scene’, while many were writing it off as a storm in a quaint florally-patterned teacup. Soon after, Mumford and Sons stormed into the mainstream consciousness and all hell broke loose.

Up until this point, bluegrass music had found its cultural home sentimentally entwined with the creeks of the Mississippi Delta and the dusty track roads of Appalachia. Tweed had been the prime reserve of erudite scholars, and partygoers at Movida who were being semi-ironical about the fact that their Belvedere money came from Daddy owning half of Chichester. But the rules all changed when Mumford and Sons arrived clutching their acoustic arsenal, dressed like sharecroppers from some mythical undiscovered suburban plantation (think Emmerdale meets Skins and you’re probably on the same tracks as their stylistic thought processes).

From there, they transported the banjo from a third-on-the-bill curiosity at Hop Farm to the kind of V Festival main-stage powerhouse that will have business executives drunkenly chanting along between swigging their £5 pint of cider and shouting at the band to ‘sing that song about the boy who’s like a lion but not actually a lion’. However, the banjo’s inclusion in the Mumford’s sound came from no natural fondness for the elusive art form that is folk music, but instead as a means of getting more paid session work – while you might argue that anyone needs to do what they can to get ahead in the saturated and cutthroat world of professional music, there still should be personal conviction and idealism to stop the whole enterprise from becoming disingenuous. When you have people like Laura Marling claiming “There is an elegance in the sound of a fiddle and a banjo and a guitar, a whole tone shaped by history and the physical way they are played” it becomes obvious that there is still plenty of room for romanticism in the modern climate of chart positions and album exposure.

In fact, the banjo proved to be such a defining factor for the band that they settled for the highly imaginative name ‘The Banjolin Song’ for one of the singles on their first EP in a categorically say-what-you-see (or more accurately, hear) revelation. Presumably names that didn’t make the cut were ‘The Stamping in Time Enthusiastically Song’ and ‘The Being as Twee as Humanly Fucking Possible Song’, although those can be safely stored in the bank since they should still hold relevance to Mumford & Sons’ artistic direction for the foreseeable future.

February’s Brit Awards saw the waistcoat clad faux-folk rockers firmly established among a pantheon of mediocrity that included such scintillating acts as Simon Cowell’s “favourite songwriter at the minute” Emile Sandé, Kanye West nemesis Taylor Swift, and puppy faced boy band One Direction, whose sole contribution to the world of entertainment came when floppy coiffured Twitter sensation Harry Styles took a shoe to the groin whilst onstage in Glasgow. Now this entire piece isn’t going to descend into a rant against success or a band becoming ‘mainstream’, but when it comes to a genre as distinctly alternative and established as folk music you have to wonder how long it can survive when exposed to the grinding demands for innovation and that ‘new sound’ that the commercial music market seems to depend upon. Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to get Skrillex to start making them a few dubstep remixes…

YES
By Lucas Hammerman –

Mumford & Sons may not have the best lyrics, and they may not have the most unique of images, but they are not without talent; it takes something to get to number one both in the UK and US.

What they have is a definitive voice in their sound with all the facets that give a perfect crossover of everyday listening and powerful vocals. This is going to be needed at Glastonbury, where they share headlining status with Arctic Monkeys and the more anticipated Rolling Stones. They fill out the line-up of British Rock comprehensively between the post-punk indie tones of the Arctic Monkeys and the classic rock vibes of the Stones.

A fair lot of critics are being finicky on the sameness of their songs and claiming the band is boring. These people need to stop humping their eardrums that are so chained and leathered up in technical terminology and music genre definitions that it has become near fetish-like (I am looking at you, Guardian music reviewers). Mumford & Sons are fun. People can get passionate about things that are fun. A crowd that is passionate is going to make for a festival that is excellent. However, to satisfy the apparent need of critics these days to break down every little word, I will spell it out. Lyrics that aren’t hard to remember and songs that are fun to howl to—I mean howl as in both senses, singing along and howling like a dog (try the latter if you haven’t yet, it’s quite satisfying,) in the car is something that can’t be overlooked as an awesome quality. Good bass on the drums lead to recognizable atmosphere that transfers through the radio and on a sunny day, consumes you. The music is ecstatic. The sense that the singer is present in the song is addictive.

Can they compete on the same stage as their British counterparts? While not having anything revolutionary for the music scene as the Arctic Monkey’s have in recent memory or the unique character delivered by the Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons bring a reminder as to why folk and rock are such great counterparts. The components of their musicality such as the fast-paced instrumentation of songs such as Babel, Whispers in the Dark, and I Will Wait that is paired with their often slower vocals hold interest and provide excitement. The lifting harmonies ring smoothly while maintaining the feel of a singer-songwriter experience: their music is authentic and powerful over large crowds.

This sense of intimacy and excitement is raw; it plugs into your ears and does not leave. The feeling builds continuously; unaltered instruments with smoky-man voices can control the atmosphere of large crowds in a way that is absolutely unifying. Songs such as The Cave, Little Lion Man, and Ghosts That We Knew, carry a definitive story-telling aspect to them, diversifying their songs while still sticking to what they know.  There is no doubt that there may be better bands out there, but Mumford & Sons give a feeling in their music that deserves a spotlight at a festival like Glastonbury.

Glasto Gods or Trust Fund Wurzels? Are you a Little Lion Maniac or do your find the Mumfords meaningless? Let us know or suggest our next Culture Question @roar_news #culturequestions

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