Three days, one field and 41,000 party Picnic people

Fancy dress is mainstream, toddlers are a must-have accessory. It’s Electric Picnic 2014

Highlights of Electric Picnic 2014, where 41,000 people crammed into a field for the annual arts and music festival. Video: Niamh Guckian & Daniel O'Connor


So 41,000 people stockpile beer and eat organic fast food while crushing plastic cups underfoot in a field in Laois. Electric Picnic is a multigenerational event. The original Electric Picnickers have bred with one another and sullen toddlers in ear-protectors are the must-have accessory of the season. The toddlers have replaced beards (although there are still a lot of beards – see our beard of the festival).

Children are everywhere, usually being propelled around in wheelbarrows like little kings or wandering around collecting branded plastic cups in return for prizes (this is a real thing). Eight-year-old Ryan Eli Powell has mobile-phone numbers scrawled on his arms in case he gets lost. “Yesterday, someone sat on me,” he says with glee.

Not everyone is pleased by these youngsters. “When we’re all too drunk, they’ll take over,” explains a worried young man named Tom, pointing at some passing toddlers. “I mean, I’m already too pissed to fight them off. Two of them could probably take me.”

“Don’t worry,” I say to Tom. “At The Irish Times we have a drone.” Though he has a point: these little tyrants do look like they’re awaiting their moment, and our drone isn’t weaponised. Instead, it’s being mainly used to garner film footage for our website.

Inca gods and Scooby Doo

The fashion choices this year? Some people favour animal-themed costumes, which leads to inter-species mating (“A bear and a tiger. They aren’t even from the same ecosystem,” complains one young lady.)

Others are more crafty. Brian Connolly is wearing a lovely intricate and colourful balaclava that he knitted himself. “It’s based on an Incan god,” he says. He lets me wear it. It’s a little sweaty.

I also encounter a man dressed like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, the Scooby Doo gang, and at least one man rightly having second thoughts about adopting blackface. “He’s washed his face twice since this morning,” says his friend Paul. “Some people don’t like blackface.”

Over at the Theatre of Food I see people dressed as Aengus Mac Grianna, Brian Kennedy and Brendan Courtney. They’re engaged in some sort of food-based quiz.

Four friends are dressed as “child-friendly” Sesame Street characters. It seems that fancy dress is becoming mainstream and it’s only a matter of time before you go to meet your bank manager and he’s dressed as a duck.

What does the Electric Picnic mean?

At the History Ireland Hedge School, historian Donal Fallon considers the question of musical progression.

“How has music evolved?” he asks, at the History Ireland Hedge School. “Well, we’re all down in a field in Laois listening to the Blades, Pet Shop Boys and Blondie.”

A little later at the Arts Council Tent, Will Self condemns his generation for creating an infantilised culture.

“The youth of today are crushed under a big saggy denim middle-aged arse,” he says.

Well, the youth of today clearly like being crushed beneath that denim arse.

“They lock you into a field for three days and then they let you out at the end,” says grinning punter Leabhras Gorman.

“That sounds like prison,” I say. “A fun prison,” says Leabhras.

Feminine mystique

“What’s that smell?” asks Angie as she walks from the campsite. “I smell it everywhere. Oh, God, no,” she says with horror. “It’s me, isn’t it?” Angie declines to give her second name. “I wish to retain my feminine mystique.”

Instead of showering, punters can always choose to be cleansed by Dr David Sumray’s Deprogramming Machine. This involves climbing a wooden ladder to have a suction cap lowered on your head. All malign influences are then sucked from the body.

“He can’t take it,” cries lab-technician Jake Ennis as I undergo this process. “Are you a real doctor?” I ask.

There is a power cut during Bonnie Tyler’s performance at the Electric Ireland Power House on Saturday night and the Irish Times irony-meter also explodes. This doesn’t stop people spending the weekend singing Total Eclipse of the Heart at random intervals.

In the campsite, a man in a long coat gives a long-winded account of what constitutes an appropriate breakfast beer (Carlsberg). Where’d he get his coat? “In a skip,” he says proudly.

Drunk people play basketball at the Heineken Sound Atlas Stage. A native American chief blows a whistle in my face. The Science Gallery features a boffin talking about the science of STDs. “I don’t think anyone in the audience was visibly scratching,” says Fionn Kidney, who works for the gallery.

A sporting event

In the comedy tent Eleanor Tiernan says: “You know you’re emotionally dead inside if you can eat a whole packet of Love-Hearts and not read the messages on any of them.”

I see two men in their thirties trying to give one another wedgies. Blood is drawn and underpants are torn. “They’re very close,” explains their friend John. We watch for a while. They are like magnificent stallions (if magnificent stallions gave wedgies).

At one point a man called John Nolan gives me a sip from a camel-pack filled with whiskey “I view the Electric Picnic as a sporting event,” he says.

Over three days I survey this field of athletes – wandering around in all of their dazed, costumed, wheelbarrow-pushing glory.

“Fantastic,” I think, and head back to Dublin.

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