Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Why Body & Soul works

Now that the mud has settled, it’s time to examine why Body & Soul worked. Although this was my first year at the festival, two and three timers were saying all weekend that this was the year it had taken …

Tue, Jun 26, 2012, 10:08


Now that the mud has settled, it’s time to examine why Body & Soul worked. Although this was my first year at the festival, two and three timers were saying all weekend that this was the year it had taken off, much like Forbidden Fruit’s second year a few weeks ago saw that city festival already find its feet.

So why did it work?

The line-up was creative
There were no massive stars, but the punters in Ballinlough were just as excited about M83 as others might be about The Killers, or about St Vincent as others might be about Gaga. Acts like Gold Panda, John Talabot and Django Django beefed it up, although the main stage was sparsely attended for acts further down the line-up.

The setting is gorgeous
Ballinlough has it all; a weird castle, a lily-strewn lake, a beautiful woodland, walled gardens and a rolling green golf course surrounded by wild meadows. The landscape of the site means you end up wandering and discovering, with something interesting behind every corner. Beats the hangar at Sonar.

The crowd is nice
I didn’t see one altercation all weekend, neither between punters nor security and punters. Everyone was chatty, friendly, and having a good time. A substantial portion of the crowd also seemed to be more enthused about getting high rather than getting drunk. Leaving the illegalities of this aside, it makes for a far better atmosphere. I would prefer to be surrounded by a bunch of punters on ecstasy than a bunch of punters full of beer and Jaeger any day. Couple that with an overall feeling of safety and the high presence of children at the festival (during the day, obviously, not at night) gave a well-behaved sense to the whole thing. Whatever your thoughts on children at festivals are, Body & Soul certainly provided for them.

The devil is in the detail
Body & Soul isn’t about massive high-tech production values and beefy sound systems, all this talk of ‘nooks and crannies’ actually makes sense when you get there.

More after the jump, including hits and misses.

- David McDermott’s brilliantly surreal history of pre-WWII dance on the Wonderlust Stage.
- M83, especially their sax player.
- Dux & Co’s amazing chorizo casseroles and meatballs. Best food at the festival.
- Mother in the woods. The gay club night took over Saturday evening with brilliant sets from Ghostboy and Chewy.
- Gold Panda, ‘You’ was amazing.

- Natasha’s Living Food, I found it odd that one of the biggest food areas was given up to a lot of stuff that didn’t taste particularly nice. Don’t all throw raw cacao at me at once, it’s just my opinion.
- The sound on the main stage. Unless you were up the front, it wasn’t loud enough.
- Power cuts, well, shit happens.

One sentence that was thrown around all weekend is that it felt like the first one or two Electric Picnics. Now, for punters who have attended the weekend emigration to Stradbally on an annual basis, the magic of that festival has kind of been diluted by its predictability. Familiarity breeds contempt, and for those who know the Laois site like the back of their hand, from where the nicest parts of the campsites are to where Pieminister will be exactly located, the spontaneity of the festival is gone, even though it’s still one of the best around.

Body & Soul’s aesthetic, a craft-based one set around the idea of discovering nooks and crannies, where giant soundsystems and plastic walkways are replaced with wooden stages, and hand-painted signs, resonates with those who value the magical escape of a festival. You could very easily not even engage with the main stage all weekend. Indeed, I only managed to catch one band on Sunday, M83, and didn’t feel any lesser for it. Unfortunately, when the site gets crowded, the subtlety of Body & Soul’s hidden corners gets somewhat lost. I arrived down early on Friday evening, and managed to wander through the site to boutique camping without anyone checking my ticket or searching my bags (a portion of the site and one of the gates flooding gave the organisers an understandable headache, so things were slightly and very forgivably all over the place on Friday). You forgive these things, because even though John Reynolds, a seasoned festival-maker was keeping a watchful eye on the entrance to the festival, the punter gives the organisers the benefit  of the doubt when things go wrong. As I said to one of the festival organisers that evening, it’s only 40 minutes out of your time for a whole weekend if you get sent in the wrong direction a couple of times.

Anyway, that evening Body & Soul was at its best. The site was dry and freshly completed. There weren’t that many people around. And all of the installations, seating areas, lighting, art and everything else was there as it was meant to be seen. Wandering around and discovering all this detailed effort was nothing short of, yes, magical. It was a beautiful experience. When rain, punters and wear and tear get put on top of that, a certain vibe gets lost, so I’m incredibly glad I got to see the festival on Friday night. I was also grateful for my yurt on Saturday given the on and off rain, but overall we were lucky with the weather. Sunday was brilliant; a clear hot day, with everyone up for a good time.

Sure, soy milk is manky, and it would be extremely easy to bitch from the sidelines about Glenageary hippies, fisherman pants, dreadlocked parents with fairy-winged children, and young professionals in face paint, but only in the same way that it’s easy to bitch about kids throwing cans at each other at Oxegen, or the coked up architects who attended Electric Picnic in the boom, or Irish music fans who stick to Primavera and nothing else. The secret is out. Good value, interesting music, a beautiful setting and a few thousand people determined to have a pleasant time without pissing anyone off. See you next year, B&S.