Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Electric Picnic 2011: the pointyheaded overview

Leaving aside this bad experience and occasional squalls and sheets of rain, it was a very good weekend in Stradbally. As we can see the recollections already in the bag by us and you, the eighth Electric Picnic – and …

Tue, Sep 6, 2011, 10:40


Leaving aside this bad experience and occasional squalls and sheets of rain, it was a very good weekend in Stradbally. As we can see the recollections already in the bag by us and you, the eighth Electric Picnic – and the fifth for the Daily Ticket crew in the shed – will be remembered for some great musical peformances from both headliners and acts down the card. It will also be recalled with a lick of the lips for some great pies and pizzas as well as champion grub from Rathmullan House and Saba, as food continues to make its presence felt on the Picnic menu. And it will be remembered by many for after-hours’ shenanigans or Roald Dahl workshops, depending on which end of age-scale dominated your entourage.

But the eighth Picnic was also inevitably about change. Eventually, everything changes, even the audience who attend an Irish music and arts festival which was once as odd as two left feet with its boutique branding and is now an accepted part of the Irish entertainment establishment. There were many comments heard over the weekend about the changing nature of the Picnic audience, that it’s now attracting a different crowd to the one who was here in 2004 and 2005, that it seems to have picked up a post-Oxegen crowd.

Talk about stating the bleedin’ obvious! If the Picnic was still just pulling the people who were here six or seven years ago, it would probably be a very boring, strange, staid affair. Festivals need new blood to survive and thrive – one reason for Oxegen’s stagnation is that it has set its stall out solely as a post-Leaving Cert beano and, well, we know how that one goes – and the Picnic is now very much a tribal gathering where many of the tribes rarely meet. And – shock, horror – some of these tribes were once to be seen in Punchestown in July.

You’ve the increasing number of family groups who can be found in the Soul Kids and Mindfield arenas with an occasional foray further afield (the front-row for the Rubberbandits, for instance, or a stroll around Body & Soul of an afternoon). You’ve the chi-chi arts brigade who jump from stage to stage – and food post to post – with giddy glee. You’ve the hipster indie music snobs (yes, OTR’s people) who are here to check bands off a very big list. You have the ravers. You will always have the ravers. And you naturally have people who are a little bit of one of the above and a little bit of another (also OTR’s people, to be honest).

To my mind, it’s this cultural mix which makes the Picnic such a gas. Yes, I know many readers have allergic reactions to tough looking youths in tracksuits, but I’m sure there are also those who look with disdain at the families-of-four in their Kildare Village North Face bargains who romp around the place too. That’s life, that’s the Picnic. You can’t choose your audience. Your audience chooses you and the Picnic attracts all-comers. Fact of life. You can’t, as I’ve seen some comment, insist on an older audience or pitch a different musical mix to attract a different audience. The Picnic is the Picnic is the Picnic, you could say.

Yes, there are now thieves and lowlifes and troublemakers present, just as you’ll get such criminals and gobshites in every town and village in the land. We’ve all heard unsavoury reports about thefts on the campsite. State photographer kDamo, for instance, wasn’t the only one to return to his tent to see its contents had been ransacked and his belongings stolen. But it wasn’t just in the campsites that such petty crime was going on: London-based food blogger Niamh Shields ran her Comfort & Spice cafe in the Mindfield area over the weekend and her camera was nicked from her prep kitchen which was supposed to be off-bounds. There’s a lot of Gardai and security (who were very polite and friendly this year) on site, but it just goes to show that even such measues won’t stop this shite happening.

Going back to the tribal mix for a second, such a blend of ticket buyers means that you can’t very well say that any one musical act will define the festival any more. By a process of simple addition, you’d think that Pulp pulled the biggest number of ticket buyers to Co Laois. They were the Sunday night headliners, thus accounting for those 4,000 day tickets which were sold as well as the bulk of the weekend ticket sales (even if many had already left town by Sunday night to beat the traffic).

But even though they certainly pulled a large crowd who knew all the words to the big hits, there were still hundreds, if not thousands, who were checking out Body & Soul or Adam Beyer or the Silent Disco or other attractions at the same time. Yes, even as Pulp were racing through “Common People”, there were hundreds in a tent with headphones on their head screaming along to the Eurythmics as spun by an anonymous Dutch DJ. Despite what we say here every year when the names for the next festival are rolled out, it’s really about more than the headliners.

Yes, some things need a refresh, but that’s already subtly underway. I loved the Science Gallery tent, for instance, and the whoops of delight which greeted a boffin in a white coat dissecting a cow’s heart onstage. The after-hours’ stuff was amazing, especially the Gramophone Disco which brought a taste of Tennessee to Co Laois with its country tunes all night long. The fact that nearly every single space on-site turns into a club after midnight is still something to be cheered in a crazy way. Musically, as noted elsewhere several times, the bookers deserve a big round of applause for booking so many Irish acts and putting them on every stage. We kept hearing positive word of mouth all weekend long about Moths, Tieranniesaur, Toby Kaar and Trinity Orchestra, for instance. You’d never get that at Oxegen because you don’t have the audience who are as open to new, experimental, exciting Irish sounds as at the Picnic. They want boring beige like Ryan Sheridan.

But it’s also worth remembering that both Electric Picnic and Oxegen now share a Venn diagram and not just because they’re Irish summer festivals. The Picnic is run by EP Republic Ltd, which is made up of John Reynolds’ POD Concerts and Festival Republic, the UK company owned by Live Nation and Denis Desmond’s MCD, the latter which, of course, operates Oxegen. They may have different bookers and all of that, but there is a common ownership. Dinny was apparently on-site over the weekend – unlike so many others, the dude didn’t call by the Daily Ticket shed to say hello or give us his thoughts on the hurling – so I wonder what he made of things.

It will be interesting to see what happens in 2012 and beyond. Electric Picnic now has a good, strong, workable formula which draws a diverse crowd. It will never be a mass event, but then again, it never set out to be a mass event. Yes, it didn’t sell out – I owe someone €20 on that bet – but what sold out this summer? The future will bring more changes for the Picnic in terms of attendance and music mix but those enhancements and embellishments are only natural.

But with lots of rumours around Oxegen – it’s noticable that they’ve yet to put up the dates for the 2012 event on their website or announce early bird ticket details, something sister fest T In the Park has already done – the owners might well decide on changes to Picnicland. Certainly, you could break it into a Camp Bestival-style event for families, a mad day out for the ravers and a Field Day bash for the indie snobs like us, but while that might increase ticket revenue take, it would take away the sheer idiosyncratic nature of the Picnic when and where all these tribes collide. LIke I said, 2012 will be interesting.