The best bits from Electric Picnic
Above all else, it was clear that the duo and their fine backing band were having a lot of fun. This was no po-faced, posturing NME photoshoot (their collection of headgear and costumes would rule them out Vogue’s September issue, too) but even though The Duckworth Lewis Method don’t particularly take themselves seriously, their infectious songs are more than just a throwaway side project for either musician. Even the sun is bowled over, poking through the clouds. Wicket, chaps.
Crowd-pleasing sets are all well and good, and an essential part of festivals. But when an act aspires to high art, delivers it without compromise, and manages to produce the most engrossing, bewildering, and straight-up thrilling set of the festival, it’s a privilege to witness.
Björk comes on stage in a dress that looks like Alexander McQueen designing for a cosmonaut, and she’s brought along a 14-strong choir of unearthly looks and voices. Mark Robinson is marshalling a phalanx of sounds and samples while Manu Delago wrestles frenetic lyrical beats from his kit, bank of samples and two hangs (a sort of metal hand drum that resonates to gorgeous effect).
For her part, Björk starts off in almost contemplative form, but it’s not long before the enormous Tesla coil in the roof is lowered and fired into crackling life, and the full scale of the Icelandic musician’s intent is revealed. I’m the Hunter slithers its way into biological life; Thunderbolt touches down to explosive effect; Joga could tear up the fields of Stradbally with its emotional charge alone. All of this is played out to an electronic backdrop of soaring galaxies, tectonic plates splintering and shunting, vector graphics spinning. Some of these have been around the block, but they’re so original they still look fresh.
This is a challenging show, and like Björk’s music, it shifts and turns, snarls and snaps. One minute Björk is crouched low to a solitary beat; moments later bursts of fire tear up the back drop, and the choir is raising an unholy noise. If it weren’t so engrossing, it would be terrifying, and it’s got enough kinetic charge to level a small city square – ora small festival in Laois, for that matter.
6. Irish acts in Body &Soul
The Body & Soul area of Electric Picnic makes a lot of its organic and holistic approach to everything from shamanic journeys to raw chocolate. But its greatest achievements are that home-grown feel to the music. Festivals can make a burgeoning Irish act. An epic gig or brilliant discovery spreads from mate to mate, the Chinese whispers of the “best gig ever” taking on a festival mythology that feeds back into an increased size for the next show. Last year, Le Galaxie rose to the occasion, becoming champions of the late-night slot, and this year rewarded with the coveted Sunday midnight slot at Body & Soul. And once again, some of the best gigs at the festival were from Irish acts. On Friday evening, Daithí, who has been growing and morphing into some kind of dance-pop supernova, hauled a crowd into the amphitheatre, with several people who’d never even heard of him going away singing his praises. That’s what you want from an early-evening gig. The next day, this time at a set in a bigger tent, the crowd had increased. Another Irishman, Donal Dineen, probably lost count of the number of DJ sets he doled out over the weekend, but his brilliant level of quality control means punters keep coming back to hear what he’s going to play next. Again: word of mouth, respect, quality.
One of the gigs of the weekend, wasn’t particularly well-attended, but those who were there were mesmerised. Again Body & Soul, again a fairly below the radar Irish act. Lisa O’Neill delivered a set of such stunning poise, humour, depth and emotion that it was almost hard to digest. Body & Soul with all its little corners and cafes and seating areas was a good place to be to come to terms with her brilliance.
7. A better range of bars
Festivals are increasingly homogenised in terms of what alcohol is available, with beer brands monopolising what pint a thirsty punter can sip on. But this year at the picnic, a diversity of tipples was noticeable and welcome. Tiger beer had a new bar at the main stage, meaning Heineken wasn’t the sole lager of the day, as it has been at most of the outdoor events this summer. Still, at pints of beer ranging from €6 to €6.50, festival bars need to get real on the value – or lack thereof – they offer. Mindfield hosted its usual wine bar, with plastic half-litre bottles of wine available for €15, which is a decent price.
The prosecco bar outside Body & Soul was a great spot to hang out, and up at the trailer park, another bar offered rum drinks. The Bacardi bar was as usual packed all weekend. It’s a great setting with brilliant guest DJs meaning that people hang out for a dance as well as their order. Red Bull continued their rise as a mainstay of festivals, emphasising quality in the programming of their dance-music orientated entertainment. Their music academy stages at various festivals show what you can do with some imagination and good bookings while not shoving a brand in people’s faces.
While the range of drinks available widened, it’s still a shame festival bars don’t offer the same “full bar” capacity as indoor venues do. Pouring rights and brand presence are a valuable revenue stream for festivals, but the punter loses out.
And there’s still the contentious approach to stopping people bringing alcohol into the main arena. Considering most Irish festivals are allergic to allowing a BYOB policy because of the perceived impact it would have on bar takings, it leads to binge drinking in the campsites, as people consume their alcohol in a short period of time before heading in to catch a band. That needs to be addressed.
8. John Grant
This was the festival slot that John Grant was born to play – late night Saturday to a packed tent full of festival patrons ready to dance, not tucked away inconspicuously on a tiny stage in the woods at 2pm.
Once upon a time, the former Czars frontman’s songs may have been more suited to a more serene setting – indeed, the majority of the tracks on his remarkable solo debut Queen of Denmark are intimate, heartbreak-driven beauties – but with a new collection of dancefloor-ready tunes and a fine backing band drawn from musicians from his new hometown of Reykjavik, he turns in a set that is both deep and dirty, slick and sexy, propulsive and personal. Oh, don’t worry, Grant is still writing elegies for the eternal outsider, as he testifies to with the magnificent Pale Green Ghosts and Blackbelt – it’s just that this time, his sneering ripostes and achingly succinct reminiscences have a snap and a groove in their tail.