The weather was refusing to play ball during the first day of Body and Soul, alternating between intense bursts and a steady drizzle. Not that this had any effect on the fizzling spirits in the Casa Habana tent. Sligo band Tucan were tearing through their instrumental tunes at a rate of knots, mixing covers and riffs lifted from other songs with their own material. A relatively big outfit, with a salvo of brass thrown over the instrumental rock of the lead and acoustic guitars, bass and drums, they provided perfect festival fodder to get the crowd’s day up and running properly.
Shangaan Electro brought colour and energy to the main stage, shaking up the crowd with their Soweto flavoured Afro beats and wild synchronised dance routines. Musically, it’s rapid, sharp beats, with the MC leading the charge from behind his decks with whoops and hollers while his four frenetic singers – two women in swirling dress only to be outdone by two men resplendent in orange boiler suits – offer fuel to the fire of his beats’ wild and flashy turns. The band urged the crowd to move their feet with repeated calls to dance at “One – Nine – Eight” – apparently dancing at 198bpm is the cure for all ills, be it general aches and pains or persistent rain at a music festival.
Django Django’s slick, punchy electro pop should suit Irish festivals well and here they pulled out an energetic set that brought the first major crowd of the day to the festival’s main stage. Perhaps a large portion of the crowd were there just to hear hit single Default, but no matter – they held fire with that ace until the end of the set, and won over a lot of new fans with their precise, sharp tunes. The matching maroon and white circled shirts were quite fetching to boot.
After a reputedly storming set in Dundalk’s Spirit Store recently, the anticipation was high for the set from Conor O’Brien and his Villagers outfit. Their debut might be one of the most played Irish albums of recent years, but the tracks still sound fresh and vital live, and this set was a rock solid mixture of tracks from Becoming a Jackal and newer material. Live, O’Brien matches his crafted songwriting with fire and poise, and makes sure that the crowd are with him every step of the way. Undoubtedly one of the sets of the evening, O’Brien provided a thrilling showcase of his newer material and proved, again, why he’s one of the most interesting and creative acts we have.
If Jason Pierce has a large extension on his home, it’s fair to say it has probably been paid for by Irish audiences. Perhaps there’s a rule somewhere that at least one Irish festival per year has to pay Spiritualized to play, but every time you see him live, it makes perfect sense. The band build huge walls of sound and noise, propelled on blistering light shows to create a wave of musical hope and ambition that takes no prisoners. As ever, Pierce and the band have little or no interaction with the crowd – beyond, of course, the cathedral-sized riffs and tunes that are shovelled out and upwards into the Ballinlough night. And what more do you need from a festival main stage act?
Gold Panda has a reputation for taking his minimal electronica and building it into soaring, thumping techno tunes live, and here he didn’t disappoint with a heavyweight set that ticked a lot of thrilling DJ boxes. That could well have been the best DJ set of the night, were it not Daniele Gaudi. Together with a sidekick, Gaudi picked up where Gold Panda left off and delivered a colossal set of huge tunes to close out the first day of Body and Soul on the Upstage.
The DJs may have had the benefit of an up-for-it crowd who were more than happy to keep things ripping along until after their 3am allotted end time, but this was a cracking, quality set of tunes that had smiles all through the tent and had the pair beaming by its end.
There was just enough time to squeeze in a rocking set from resident DJs from Dublin club Mother, here transported to a small stage in the woods, before the sun threatened to come up and Body and Soul day one drifted to a close. As day two gets underway, the sun is shining, and the festival is largely incident free, with no trouble on site beyond muddy ground. Par for the course for an Irish festival then. Roll on day two.