Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The long and winding road to Electric Picnic 2014

Now that we’re done and dusted in Stradbally, what’s ahead for the Electric Picnic in 2014?

The ground troops at Electric Picnic 2013. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 09:19


First, the music and the highlight of all highlights from a weekend in a field in Co Laois. I spent a good 30 minutes yesterday rummaging around in the office trying to find the David Byrne and St Vincent album in order to try to relive the night before. But, in fairness, “Love This Giant” on a stereo in the shine of a sunny autumn afternoon was no match for what happened live in fron of my eyes and ears on the stage of the Electric Arena at the Electric Picnic on Sunday night.

When people go on about Picnic moments, point them towards this funky, brassy, magnificent show which took off within minutes of the singers and musicians hitting the stage and didn’t stop until “Road to Nowhere” had blown the roof off the tent. Every song, be it “Lazy”, “Burning Down the House” or a giddy, frantic, magnificent theremin face-off during “Northern Lights”, was pitch-perfect. Every person on the stage swung and swaggered their hearts out. Everyone who was fortune enough to have been there – I owe one to my Ticket colleague Lauren Murphy who took the Franz Ferdinand review off my hands, which meant I could skedaddle across the site to catch the Byrne & Vincent show – knew they were at something very special. It was truly one of those “I was there” moments.

“I was there” is what festivals are all about. It’s about the experiential, the fact that you and your social network were there to see that moment, share that joy, take it all. If a festival has enough “I was there” moments to relive after the fact, it’s doing its job right.

So did Electric Picnic 2013 do its job in this regard? Well, as the man said, that depends on you and who you are and what you wanted. You can read all the reviews in the world (read a bunch of them here) and all the opinion pieces in the world (read a bunch of those beasts here) and all the colour pieces in the world (read this instead), but it all comes down to what you thought, what you wanted and what you got from the Electric Picnic. You were born with a mind of your own, after all.

It was definitely the year of the big change, something which astute observers were signalling well in advance. Chalk this down to a number of things: a very specific bill, a surplus of Oxegen fans looking for the crack, emigration scooping out many of the potential mid-to-late twentysomething demographic, a cheaper ticket price than in previous years to square off the recessionary worries. Whatever, Picnic 2013 was a much different beast in claw and tooth to any of the previous Picnics which the oddly pitched “10″ celebrations were celebrating (the Picnic won’t turn 10 in the birthday or anniversary sense until next year).

There is no such thing as a typical Picnic goer, but few would argue that this year’s model was a far younger, more energetic and more mainstream man or woman.You could see it in the numbers (or lack of numbers) which many acts attracted. Many of the usual sideshows at the Picnic were just not as busy as they used to be, while some acts struggled for attention.

By contrast, the bigger acts made out like gangbusters. Be it the Arctic Monkeys or Disclosure, the field was full and the vibes were lusty. If you were a sideshow with a well-known celebrity like Aidan Gillen, Amy Huberman or Pauline McLynn, all of whom featured on the Arts Council Literary Stage, you were also busy. Many in this audience seemed to gravitate towards who and what they already knew rather than go for something new. Many in this audience also seemed happier to stay on the campsites for hours on end rather than come and explore the shows, hence the big queues to get into the arena from 7pm onwards.

Everything changes in the end and a festival in a field in Co Laois is no different. There will be more changes because such things are inevitable. Over the weekend, Melvin Benn spoke about his hopes to expand the capacity for next year, which will truly turn the boutique into a big shop. But he also knows that there’s still the ongoing court-case with Picnic co-owner John Reynolds to deal with. Both Benn and Reynolds have different ideas about managing and operating the event – they wouldn’t be up before the beak and spending a small fortune on legal fees otherwise – and the outcome of the dispute over parenthood and guardianship of the Picnic will dictate what will happen next. That outcome, by all accounts, is still months away and could even drag out into next year.

A Picnic will definitely go ahead in Stradbally next year for sure – deals were already in place with the landowner for rental of the field from some time ago and this year’s sellout means there’s more more money in the kitty for the shareholders to play with. But it remains to be seen what it will look like: a Festival Republic-led event with a 40k capacity or a POD-helmed fest which seeks to put the genie back in the bottle?

For some reason, Michael McDowell comes to mind at this juncture and his adage about gaps in the market and markets in the gap. Should a super-sized Electric Picnic become a reality next year and should the billing, pricing and pitch mean it’s Oxegen without the EDM, does this mean that there’s a space in the Irish festival landscape for an old-school Picnic to come along? For someone like Reynolds to dream it all up again? Because, let’s face it, there would be no Picnic in the first place, no Picnic for MCD and Live Nation to buy into when they couldn’t come up with their own event (hello HiFi!), without that crazy Longfordman. Then again, it’s worth remembering that Reynolds is the one who brought in Festival Republic to the Picnic in the first place.

You might argue that alternative Picnics already exist in the shape of such bijou gatherings as Castleplaooza or Body & Soul or Longitude or Forbidden Fruit, but none of them quite have the scale and ambition and sheer lunacy of the Picnic as was. Because I really don’t think there’s any going back in Stradbally to what the Picnic was. Those days are over, those memories are golden and those times can’t be replicated. It’s not that the Picnic is now on a road to nowhere, to link it all back to where we came in, but rather that it’s now on a different route. Many will choose to go along, just as many will decide to get off at this stop. What will be interesting to see is if something else comes along to sweep up all those who’ve got off or getting off the bus. Watch this space.