Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Electric Picnic 2012: the pointyheaded overview

We begin where we left off last September. A year ago, looking back at another late summer weekend in Co Laois I ended the piece with the line “2012 will be interesting”. The Electric Picnic has had a starry history, …

Tue, Sep 4, 2012, 09:23


We begin where we left off last September. A year ago, looking back at another late summer weekend in Co Laois I ended the piece with the line “2012 will be interesting”. The Electric Picnic has had a starry history, but old lads and lasses going on about 2005 means nothing when it comes to ensuring a festival delivers the goods and pulls the punters year in and year out. By last year, it was obvious that changes had to be made. The question was what would those changes be and how would they work out.

The view from the air on Friday evening. Photo by Dave Meehan

In some ways, the biggest change of all that people were talking about in advance was always going to be a red herring. The fact that Oxegen wasn’t on the summer schedule this summer, something we predicted last year, led many people to mistakenly assume that the Electric Picnic would take up that slack with that younger constituency. From day one, we’ve pointed out here that this was a ridiculous idea in so many ways. From the timing (by September, the post-Leaving Cert crowd have other things on their mind than collective celebrations) to the line-up (The xx are no Swedish House Mafia), you were comparing chalk and cheese. Stradbally would not be overrun by young ones in county jerseys – though The Ticket’s HQ on-site was invaded by jersey-clad Dubs on the Sunday afternoon to watch the match on a laptop.

But here’s the thing: I’d wager that 85 to 90 per cent of those at the Picnic this year were Oxegen veterans. Oxegen has been the predominant music festival in this country for years so it’s really obvious that people looking for a music bash would have gone there at some stage in the last decade. That they’ve grown tired of that event and went looking for something else as they and their mates got older – and more sensible – is also obvious and should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Yet so many people – even my peers in the media who should be able to put two and two together to get four – have went on about this as if it was some big deal. I even had someone from another paper banging on at great length to me this year about the rough Oxegen crowd at the Picnic this year. I think he meant “younger” crowd. When you get into your forties, the kids can look dangerous. You also tend to forget that your own exuberent behaviour back in the day at, for instance, Feile probably frightened the horses too.

What makes the Picnic work now is that mix of people who head to Stradbally. You still have some of the people who were here in 2004 and 2005, though not as many of them as they’ve gone elsewhere or have decided to give up on their wild years. You still have tons of families and kids roaming around (there were even three kids who were happy to provide a pre-Banter Banter in Mindfield on Sunday afternoon, complete with whip-smart “that’s what you get for not supervising your kids” comment from one of them directed to his parents in the audience). You still have a plethora of big music fans (and OTR readers – hello to everyone who came up and said hello over the weekend). And you now have the newbies – who are excited, gobsmacked and enthusiastic by the fact that there’s so damn much to see and do – and the day-trippers, both necessary to make sure the festival can keep going. That’s what makes this damn thing fly. As the Stylistics put it, people make the world go round.

Music also makes the world go round. The bookers at Festival Republic and POD will never please all the people all the time and putting Gavin Friday on the main stage is never to please anyone. That WTF moment of the weekend aside (the negative reaction to the set and the sheer lack of punters watching probably put Friday’s career back a decade), there were many, many musical highs over the weekend. OTR readers have already been listing theirs elsewhere so I’ll join in here.

Pick of the weekend for me, the ones which got the five star reviews, were The xx (sublime on the main stage) and LAPD (the trad supergroup with Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin and Donal Lunny bringing the house down in the Body & Soul arena on Sunday evening). Other acts who delivered great sets included – deep breath – Jesse Boykins III (a set you know will stick long in the memory), The Roots, Kormac’s Big Band, SBTRKT, Van Dyke Parks, Jonathan Wilson, Paul Buchanan, Breton, Not Squares, Rustie, The Strypes (these Cavan schoolkids rocked the place again and again and again over the weekend), Delorentos, Laura Sheeran and Dexys. As some readers have noted, there were paltry turnouts for some acts, which is a pity, but that’s what you get at festivals. Remember the handful of people who turned out to see The National last year at Oxegen?

Typing, writing and reviewing meant I missed as much as I saw, which is always the most annoying thing for me about the Picnic. Perhaps the best testament to the strength of the booking policy is the fact that I’d love to have gone to a festival with that line-up somewhere else, where I wasn’t running around like a blue-arsed fly for three days and nights. And yes, before you asked, I missed Patti Smith, who turned in a blockbuster performance by all accounts.

But as we know by now, it’s not just the main stages which make this event zing and that becomes clearer than ever with every passing year. From Mindfield’s universe of the imagination and fiery debates to the new stages like the Trailer Park, from the food stalls to the security who seemed to have got things right (I watched one security supervisor deal politely but firmly for five minutes with a very tall, intimidating punter who wanted to bring drink into the arena – the security man persuaded him through words, not slaps and digs, to do otherwise), from the art scattered around the site to the vibes in the air all weekend, the Picnic got things bang on this year. Do not under-estimate the power of decent weather either – rumour has it that Melvin Benn, John Reynolds and Thomas Cosby had a whole clatter of Child of Prague statues buried somewhere on the site.

Next year, the Picnic marks 10 years on the go. There will be more changes, more recalibrations, more attempts to improve what’s on offer for people’s €230-plus, more efforts to show that you can put on a commercial event while still creating a little bit of magic. There will be the usual humming and hawing in advance from punters and potential punters about the line-up, the arrival of younger fans (we’re all getting older, folks), the price of drink, the schedule clashes, the lack of any sports coverage and all the other stuff which gets people fuming. But as anyone who was at Stradbally last weekend will tell you, it’s better to be there than not be there. Roll on 2013.