Packed for the Picnic?


Seven sleeps till Stradbally: ahead of Electric Picnic next weekend, TONY CLAYTON-LEAputs five festival performers through their paces


Friday, Electric Arena

What can we expect from your performance?Good music, good show, good songs? It will, of course, be different from Sigur Rós – I’m playing with four different guys, one of whom is my boyfriend, conveniently. It’s different for me because I’ve been playing with Sigur Rós for about 16 years, so it’s a bit strange to play with other people. But it’s refreshing and fun. The show’s design will be different, too, with lots of back projection and animation.

What’s your most memorable festival experience?They are different, all of them. I remember one gig we played in Roskilde, Denmark. I can’t recall what year it was, but it was a fun gig. The audience was quite similar to Irish audiences – really powerful and energetic, not shy of letting you hear them. That’s quite empowering for a band, getting that kind of feedback.

Tour bus or tent?Usually, we sleep in a tour bus, but the way most festivals work for us is that we hang around for a while, play the gig, hang around for another while and then drive out.

What is the weirdest festival you’ve played?We played a festival in Japan called Summer Sonic, and when we finished the first song they just stood there, totally silent. Polite, perhaps, but strange nonetheless.

What’s your worst festival experience?I was at one once and I wanted to get into the festival experience, so I decided I’d sleep in a tent, but there was a drunk outside it all night, really loud. And then the tent was so hot it was like a sauna. It was very difficult.

Do you mingle backstage much?I think bands in general are quite shy, and they tend to keep to their own backstage space. Or perhaps that’s just me and Sigur Rós. Maybe I should walk up to people and introduce myself?

Is the festival experience as much fun for bands as it is for punters?You have to learn to enjoy it, because it is a bit of a big circus, and you have to take it for what it is.

Were you a festival goer?Yes, when I was much younger, and in my hippy phase – long hair, a beard, and drank warm beer and slept in one tent with loads of my friends. Unfortunately, we pitched a tent in the dark, only to discover quite soon afterwards that we had pitched it too close to the main peeing area. Not good!



What’s your worst festival experience?Colours of Ostrava festival in the Czech Republic. After driving 10 hours in a van we had to cancel at the last moment because of a rainswept stage.

Do you mingle backstage much?Yes, plenty of old faces and all that water under the bridge has to go somewhere.

Any surprises up your sleeves?A magician never reveals his secrets.

What’s the best thing about festivals?The fresh air.

Best festival advice?Keep dry and pace yourself.

What is the weirdest festival you’ve played?M’era Luna – it’s a goth festival on a former military airbase in Germany.

Onstage and 40,000 people watching you – does your sphincter tighten?No, it’s more difficult to play in front of a small group of people, truth be told.

Does it matter who else is on the bill?Yes, it’s difficult to do the flying trapeze when the clowns have just been on.



Does it matter who else is on the bill?That’s one of the good things about playing a festival – if you’re lucky enough to be able to check out some of the other bands playing that day. Inevitably, I never get to see who I want to see.

How do festivals differ from regular gigs?Festival gigs and venue gigs don’t have anything in common, other than we’re on stage playing music. The festival experience is equal parts exciting, exhilarating and frustrating, often because you’re just thrown out to the wolves. But that’s also kind of fun – you show up, you walk out on stage and you just hope for the best. It can often be a very good bonding moment for the band when we glance at each other with a panicked look that says “are we going to get through this?”

What is your fondest festival fiasco?There was one in Belgium several years ago, and we were playing material from an album that hadn’t come out yet. We thought the audience just wasn’t getting into it at all, but when we came off stage we discovered that, while our onstage monitors were working fine, the sound system had been accidentally reset by an electrical fault at the very start of our show. So it sounded terrible for the audience.

Have you ever gone to a festival as a paying customer?No. We often say to each other when we’re at festivals that if we weren’t playing we wouldn’t be here in a million years. I’m glad that they are some people’s idea of a good time, but not mine.

Do you actually know where Stradbally is?I have no idea at all, and it doesn’t matter. I just wake up when I get there.

You’re onstage and 40,000 people are watching you – how’s the sphincter?It does tend to tighten, and that’s where a couple of drinks comes in handy – to loosen the sphincter, as it were. Not too much, obviously – that’s a fine line you gotta walk.

What is the one song you just have to play?I don’t believe there is one for Eels. I don’t think there are that many people coming to Electric Picnic to hear Novocaine for the Soul, or who will be that disappointed if we don’t play it. But my mission is to put on a kickass show.

Your top-five fantasy festival line-up?That would be in heaven, where the line-up would include dead people performing for one last night, with a supergroup jam at the end – John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Michael Jackson.



Any surprises up your sleeves?Too many to mention.

What’s the best thing about festivals?Meeting up with old friends and getting your annual chance to check out the competition.

It’s take the money and run for bands at festivals, isn’t it?I’m not sure I agree with that. Festival shows can be very exciting and, depending on the location, pretty atmospheric, so it is good fun. Except when we have to fly from one end of Europe to another at 4am.

Best festival advice?Don’t sleep.

What’s your ideal onstage extravagance?Iggy Pop.

Are you fussy about your backstage facilities?No. As long as we have some drinks we’re happy.

What’s your must-have backstage accessory?Joe picked us up a cool iDock that looks a bit like the Orgasmatron from Barbarella [doesn’t he mean Sleeper? – Ed]. It’s pretty offensive but is super loud, with lots of bass.

Are onstage performing times important?Each stage has a pretty tight schedule to stick to, as bands are on and off every hour, so if you go on stage late your set is cut short. It’s usually the stage manager or tour manager who has to deal with that bit.

Favourite backstage tipple?Gin and ginger with a slice of cucumber. You have to try out these things – it’s boring drinking whiskey every day.



What’s your worst festival experience?As a performer, Aarhus festival one year in the 1980s was pretty horrendous. We were on after Miles Davis, who played a fantastic but really long set during which we were introduced to Elephant beer, which we found very drinkable. A bottle turned into a case, a case turned into another, and by the time we got on stage the site was dry of Elephant beer. I was seeing double and not making much sense, the cacophony we produced sounded like we were all playing different songs. Eventually the police were called (probably by the audience) and mercifully the plug was pulled. We were charged with crimes against music and frogmarched off the site. We got off lightly.

Do you mingle backstage much?For some unknown reason I usually find myself running about like a headless chicken at festivals, so I don’t get as much mingling done as I would like. I do like to mingle in catering, though, which is my favourite bit.

Do you wander out into the crowds at festivals?I did once at Glastonbury and got really lost. It kind of put me off a bit.

Is the festival experience as much fun for bands as it is for punters?Yes, I think it is. Bands playing festivals don’t usually get the chance to do soundchecks, so there is always the possibility of technical glitches and such, which can be a worry if you think about it too much. So it is best to relax and enjoy the whole experience as much as possible.

Were you a festival goer?Yes, I was. I was never much good at the camping bit, though. One tent looks very much like another in the dark, and that did cause one or two incidents – but it is a great way to meet people.

What’s the best thing about festivals?The diversity of the line-up – I really love coming across new bands that I’ve never heard of. Festivals are about the only place where you can do that.

It’s take the money and run for bands at festivals, isn’t it?No, not really. If anything, the presence of so many other bands tends to make you work harder. In my experience it’s usually promoters or managers who grab the cash and do a runner. Bands get preoccupied with doing a good show, soaking up the whole festival and general “hanging out” vibe. This tends to mean that getting them away from the site can be a long drawn-out affair at times. If, however, the weather turns nasty they can shift quite quickly.

Best festival advice?Always take wellies and sunscreen, just to be on the safe side. Also, roughly plan your day so you don’t get too distracted and miss that act you’ve been dying to see for the last six months. Oh – don’t forget to eat.

What’s your ideal onstage extravagance?Just still water and a nice clean towel. I am a simple soul with simple needs.