‘Designed To Make A Festival Person Go Crazy’: Q’s With Chris Tofu, Mastermind Behind Shangri-La At Glastonbury

DJ Chris Tofu
– DJ Chris Tofu
World-renowned pioneer of vintage remixes, who ha been involved as programmer in hundreds of festivals, of which Glastonbury is the most famous.

Every festival organizer in 2020 knows that they need to offer the audience entertainment off the main stage. Glastonbury, which turns 50 this year, has been focusing on experiences in addition to the main stage lineup pretty much since its inception in 1970. 
The Glastonbury Fayre Manifesto of 1971, which is printed in the book “Glastonbury – An Oral History of the Music, Mud & Magic” by Crispin Aubrey and John Shearlaw, reads: “Glastonbury Fair [sic] (…) will be a fair in the medieval tradition, embodying the legends of the area, with music, dance, poetry, theatre, lights, and the opportunity for spontaneous entertainments.”
The festival’s come a long way since then, many additional fields have been added to the original site, becoming home to the most diverse venues, stages and programming imaginable. One of the areas where Glastonbury comes to life at night, after the main stage program comes to an end, is called Shangri-La. Each year, the space boasts numerous stages, venues, and art installations to make people think and get them inspired.
Pollstar spoke to the man, who runs this variety bazaar of hedonistic pleasures, which earned the nickname “Naughty Corner” over the years, DJ Chris Tofu.
Performers at Shangri-La in 2013
ANDREW COWIE/AFP via Getty Images
– Performers at Shangri-La in 2013
There’s an entire world of alternative venues, bars and stages off the main and second stage at Glastonbury.

Pollstar: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Glastonbury?
Chris Tofu: Super vibes.
Has that ever changes throughout all the years you’ve been working with the festival?
We’ve always brought super vibes, but the way that we’ve displayed them has grown over the years. There’s a super big stage, and a whole field full of craziness.
That’s what we bring in, that’s what’s so important to us. It’s not about what’s on the main stage. Some of us haven’t visited the main stage in 10 years.
That also shows you how vast the festival site is. 
Yeah, I think all the field organizers have like little magnets in their trousers, and when they get to the edge of the field, the magnet pulls them back. Nobody ever leaves.
That’s the thing about Glastonbury, it’s all many different parts all doing their things, and it’s all held together by the team. But many different parts, thousands and thousands of different people doing their things. That’s the most amazing thing about it, really, the most amazing thing about festivals, isn’t it?
When did you first launch Shangri-La?
I’ve been involved in that field for nearly 30 years. Before Shangri-La it was called Lost Vagueness, there’s a whole film about that, that’s really well-worth watching, by the way.
And before Lost Vagueness I was in a hardcore Celtic punk band, we had a stage in that field as well. And then there was a load of hassle, and then it just grew. Shangri-La must be in year 15 or something like that, I can’t tell.
Chief Vibes Master
– Chief Vibes Master
DJ Chris Tofu in his element

How did Lost Vagueness transform into Shangri-La?
Before Lost Vagueness, it was anarchist, new-age travellers, doing their own thing, creating like a free festival, they took the fence down, and stuff like that. And then after that Lost Vagueness came along, and we made the decision that to get into just some of the venues you had to wear suits and ties and stuff like that, because everybody was calling us the dirtiest, most ugly, filthy hippies in the world. 
And that created this real feeling for hundreds of different ideas, and crazy speakeasies, micro venues, and mad vibes, super vibes, as I said. People never knew what they were going to find. And then there was a small fall-out around the end of Shangri-La and Lost Vagueness with one of the main founders of Lost Vagueness, this guy Roy Gurvitz, it was a kind of moment.
Lost Vagueness continued with the team we’ve got now. The focus of Lost Vagueness isn’t so much on speakeasies, although there are micro venues, it’s on arts, brilliant arts, bringing art to the people, making an incredible gallery, where a quarter of a million people check in and out.
We create many installations, where people go in, and have great music, big bands. It’s burning man styles.
Do you remember what you thought when you first stepped on site at the farm?
Yeah, I do actually. I felt, ‘why would anybody in their sane mind ever want to organize something like this?’
And now you’re organizing it yourself?
Yeah, and not just Glastonbury.
How many times did you perform at Glastonbury with the Tofu Love Frogs?
One festival, we did 17 gigs. Some just campfires, but sometimes we played really big stages by accident.
What do you mean by accident?
You know, a band drops out, stuff like that. Our first gig was on stage two, because we were the only band who was actually looking for a gig back in the day. Bands weren’t so organized like now, or so willing to suffer in the mud. The magic mud.
Shangri-La in 2014
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
– Shangri-La in 2014
Shangri-La is the after-hours epicentre of Glastonbury Festival, a largely indescribable, ephemeral and interactive world that really comes to life after dark.

What does underground mean to you, and why is it important to have it at a festival?
Glastonbury’s always been so fantastic, because it provides this experience beyond the main stage, off the main stage.
Although you can get to check some of the best bands in the world, David Bowie’s been there, and Pink freaking Floyd, all that sort of stuff, everything, the ability to go off and loose yourself in places that you’ve never been, and be more intimate with the band, really creates a certain magic that Glastonbury excels at.
The U.K. underground, I’m talking about crazy brass bands remixing, I’m talking about Ska, I’m talking about things with so much vibe and soul – people at festivals are actually addicted to that. 
We’re doing drum and bass with whole swing orchestras and stuff like that, that’s kind of underground. It’s not what you’re going to hear on the radio by any means, but it is actually designed to make a festival person go crazy.
The most important thing with Glastonbury is, it’s the only time in the year, due to licensing and stuff like that, that people can have a proper all night experience. 
Unlike in other countries where everybody stays up all night regularly, like Europe, England isn’t like that. But this human being is built for that, so the English go extra mad at Glastonbury.
2010 Glastonbury Music and Arts Festival
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
– 2010 Glastonbury Music and Arts Festival
Man in virtual reality machine in a bizarre bar, nano-venue in the Alleys, Shangri-la.

I didn’t realize that curfews were still so strict in England.
It’s absolutely, freaking…it’s because of the second world war. They put in loads of laws, and there still there. And then the English complainer is so eloquent. 
Do you feel like the underground is still adequately represented at Glastonbury in 2020?
Yeah, I do. The other day Glastonbury won this award at the European Festival Awards for best lineup, and the thing is, in fact, there’s over 78 stages, I don’t know how many there are now, 78 programmers all pushing their own kind of big star every year, whether that for 50 people, 500 people, 5,000 people, 50,000 people.
That amount of curators ensures that every one of those little micro scenes is reflected. So, yeah, it still is a place to go and check.
As a programer, and I only run Shangri-La, I get hit by probably 2,000 to 2,500 bands every year wanting to play, and like some super big bands. But that’s not really what drives us. What drives us is what’s going to work on an audience, and make them go, ‘oh my god, I’ve never seen that before’, and go crazy.
Glastonbury Festival 2014.
Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
– Glastonbury Festival 2014.
Shangri-La is the after-hours epicentre of Glastonbury Festival, a largely indescribable, ephemeral and interactive world that really comes to life after dark.

Do you listen to all the 2,000 bands that send you stuff over the year?
Mostly. Just flick through them, because I’m going to know within 30 seconds. My lineup isn’t full yet, there’s still brilliant bands out there. 
Glastonbury doesn’t rely on everyone giving their lineup until April, which is so luxury in this day and age, when everybody else will just be fighting like crazy with each other to get the same band. We don’t live in that world.
What’s your main way of finding new music?
I DJ all around the world. I usually only DJ with live bands, so I’m always checking music, always watching music, always getting sent shitloads of music. Personally, I get to go to at least 27 festivals every summer. I’m an addict. So, I see a lot of stuff, my ears are open as much as possible. 
Plus, we live in a throbbing net called London, called England, called Europe.
Can you already reveal any details about the lineup at Shangri-La?
All I can say is that there’s some amazingly massive bands doing secret gigs. Bands people in LA would know.
What’s this year’s message at Shangri-La?
One of our main stages has been called the Truth Stage for four years now. Before Trump came in we ran these campaigns about how truth was just going to go out the window. We make a big noise about that, but also we built lots of our venues out of recycled material.
We build mountains of rubbish and stick venues in them, and stuff like that, and that’s really important to us, and that is a real symbol of how Glastonbury is, because you can say something. That’s what’s really important to people like us, and that’s why artists do it as well, because they think it’s a good thing right now. It’s not just a Coca-Cola/Pepsi Super Bowl advert sort of thing.
Art work by Dr D. at Shangri-la in 2016
Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images Images
– Art work by Dr D. at Shangri-la in 2016
Aside from offering a space to party after hours, Shangri-la also wants to make you think.

Where do you see Glastonbury, and Shangri-La in particular, headed going forward?
When we first started Lost Vagueness, that was the only thing in that area. However, the whole area of the Southeast Corner there, including the incredible Block 9, the Common, the Fair Ground, and then of course into the Green Fields, have created this kind of peer pressure that makes us all want to be as brilliant as possible.
The amount of incredible stuff that’s going on in all of those areas, and then Joe Rush’s staff, Arcadia staff, it’s on a pretty big scale. I can’t see that side of the festival changing.
As long as we’re changing then hopefully Glastonbury remains to have faith in our team. It’s bloody complex, there’s so many artists involved. 2,000 artists, if you counted everyone on a stage doing something, and that’s just one field. 
What’s the greatest band you had at Glastonbury that people probably never heard of?
That’s like dropping a bomb in my brain, because there’s just so many. It’s an insanely difficult question, how can you do this to me? I don’t know, let’s say, for the sake of their name being in Pollstar, 47 Soul.
Lastly, can you share a crazy, fantastic, emotional Glastonbury moment?
Easy, we have that every single year. I do an end DJ set on stage, and invite the whole crew, brass bands, samba bands, full circuses, everything, and then we just do this last thing on Sunday night, between 4 and 5 a.m., it’s the last thing at the festival, and it really is every year super emotional.
I think I was very emotional when I first went to Glastonbury, when I was a child, got lost, and was looked after by people. That was like freaking 35 years ago.