Electric Picnic 2012: How was it for you?
UNA MULLALLYfinds out what festivalgoers in Stradbally, Co Laois, thought of this weekend’s event, and our critics rate some of the acts
AS A SUNBURN-LEVEL of warmth enveloped Electric Picnic on Sunday, you couldn’t move for people licking ice creams, drinking prosecco, slurping watermelon and generally making up for a summer that wasn’t. Although much of the magic of Body Soul has been transferred to its standalone festival in Ballinlough, and in many ways there is a certain fatigue about the artsy-crafty festival aesthetic, there were still pleasant surprises at this year’s event: decent chai, a knitting wagon and an attention to looking after the late-night crowd.
The thing about the Picnic is that it contains multiple experiences, unlike events that have one particular flavour or direction. You can be civilised or debauched, spend the weekend tripping on acid or observing chef demonstrations. You can lie back in Body Soul or rave it up in the woods. You can treat the main arena like your back patio, stretching open a deck chair, reading the Sunday papers and supping a latte, or you can check into an experience completely at odds with your normal lifestyle, painting your face and legging it around all weekend – half midlife crisis, half fauxhemian.
Most bands seemed to have great fun performing. The added dance stage created a brilliant late-night vibe in the forest, and once again Irish acts triumphed. So how was your Picnic?
‘The sun, the sun’
Leane Harte, a musician from Dublin, said, “It’s been amazing. Seeing Patti Smith with her full band was my highlight. I’ve wanted to see her play for years. I went to the Abbey for her spoken-word thing, but since I was 16, when I started listening to her, I’ve wanted to see her play. The crowd was amazing. Also, Le Galaxie was brilliant. A big part of that was the crowd, the atmosphere, the time it was at. Another highlight for me was Heathers. I’ve been really excited to see them with a full band, and their new stuff came across really well.
Bobby Healy and Justin Kinsella were just after digesting the Dublin Gospel Choir, “I’m sick I just caught the last two songs,” Healy said. “They’re amazing.” Probed for highlights, they point to the sky. “The sun, the sun.” It’s a magic ingredient that the Picnic has a good record of obtaining. Kinsella caught some of the comedy. “I saw a New Zealand comedian yesterday. I haven’t laughed that hard in two years. He was mimicking a Mayo football fan, which was very timely.” Healy also had praise for The Strypes, a young band from Cavan who captured Stradbally’s imagination, “I went to see them on Friday and Saturday.” They played three gigs over the weekend, which is good going considering secondary school is back in session.
After The Cure, on Saturday night, Healy and Kinsella headed over to the Salty Dog stage, one of the venues slightly off the beaten track on the way to the Algorhythm Stage, a new addition serving fans of dance music, which ran until the early hours of the morning. Healy was fresh, though, thanks to his camper van and “a lovely shower”. ”Everyone is really nice to each other. The overall feeling is the same as last year, very positive. It’s a really nice event.”
On Sunday Anne Leonard was a day tripper, arriving with her five-year-old daughter, Jennifer Newell. “It’s very well organised, but there’s too many queues for the same kind of thing. We went through three security bag checks. The weather is fabulous, which is great, as we wouldn’t have come down if it was raining. It’s my first Picnic, and I’ve never been to something like this in Ireland.” For her daughter, the best part of the day was winning a teddy bear.
‘It’s all about the little details’
While Max Romeo waxed lyrically over a reggae beat on the main stage, punters lolled around, hats over faces asleep on the grass, or queued for highly praised cocktails in Bacardi’s base. In Mindfield, some took shade under large wooden Penguin book covers.
Niamh McCabe and Sinead O’Kelly from Portmarnock, in Co Dublin, couldn’t say enough good about Trinity’s orchestra covering Dark Side of the Moon. “The xx was really good as well,” said O’Kelly. McCabe, who was also here last year, reflected on the crowd. “I think there’s more people this year, probably because of Oxegen not being on. But it’s a nice crowd.”
O’Kelly, a festival first-timer, said, “It’s nice to see so many kids here, all running around with their face painted. I didn’t really know what to expect. What I like about it is that there’s always something on. We were listening to trad all night at the Salty Dog stage on Friday, with loads of people dancing.”
McCabe was mostly looking forward to Glen Hansard’s set. “I think that will be the best finish to the whole thing. I like that there’s such a wide range of music, though, and there’s the comedy and arts-and-crafts stuff, too.”
O’Kelly was also impressed by the minutiae. “It’s all about the little details. Stuff like the lights in the forest, all the art everywhere. Those kind of things don’t have to be there, but they make such a difference.”
In many ways The xx on the main stage was a booking that defied logic. The London trio’s sleek minimalism is probably best suited to a venue with a roof and four walls rather than the open spaces of Stradbally Hall. Throw away all those preconceptions: The xx stole the show. With songs from that starry debut album and Coexist, their soon-come second album, here was a performance showing that less, sometimes, is more. Songs like Reunion and Crystallised were gorgeous slivers of tinsel-like textures and incandescent melodies. When the beats glided into place every so often, the audience reacted with glee. The xx on the main stage? Goosebumps all round. - Jim Carroll
Body & Soul Arena
Let’s forget about their age for a second and concentrate on what happens when these Cavan musicians start to play. They know the retro-mod game back to front, inside out and upside down. They know the licks, the riffs and the grooves. Close your eyes and you could picture yourself in a sleazy, sweaty Sixties beat-club basement. But, more important than all of that, these lads play like beasts. They may be schoolkids – in fact, they look as if they’re wearing their school uniforms on stage – but they have the versatility and verve many older musicians will never possess. What will they be like in a few years’ time, at this rate, especially when their set starts featuring more of their own songs? Tonight The Strypes throw down a bunch of brilliant show-stoppers and leave us wanting more. Now that’s what we call entertainment. - Jim Carroll
Who would have thought one man and his guitar could draw such a crowd? While Christy Moore did his elder-statesman stint on the Crawdaddy Stage, and Sigur Rós plied their thinking-man’s indie for the Main Stage masses, a young man of Irish heritage drew a huge crowd to his Electric Picnic debut. There were plenty of scratched heads when Ed Sheeran was added to the bill, but the young Londoner knows how to work a festival crowd, eliciting wave after wave of “Hell yeah!” and “Oh-oh-ohs”. And, sure, it’s fun to sing along to Drunk, Grade 8 extracts some ill-advised beatboxing and Small Bump encapsulates Sheeran’s Damien Rice-influenced sensitive-singer-songwriter shtick. But does it mean anything? A cover of Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars is a horribly hollow cover of a saccharine tune that sums up Sheeran’s appeal as purveyor of sappy ballads that place melodic hooks over real emotion. Dreadful. - Lauren Murphy
Sigur Rós were preceded by tense organ strains that gave way to a huge burst of sound. Hoppipola’s never-ending beauty had to be the highlight, followed by side-on visual projections (making sure everyone got a decent view), a perfectly paced set and, above all, Jónsi’s remarkable vocals. There’s something about his voice live that, like an amazing view, continues to take one’s breath away no matter how many times it’s encountered. Not meant for those who wanted to dance until dawn, which is a problem with a more thoughtful Friday headliner choice, when much of the crowd want to kick off their weekend with a bang and then regret it the next morning, the response seemed more muted than the adoration these Icelanders usually command. But extended applause showed the appreciation was there all along, as they finally led the crowd, ears ringing, into the night. - Una Mullally
A frontwoman in an Indian headdress? A man in dungarees playing bass? Normally we’d shun such sartorial madness, but as it’s Friday afternoon at Electric Picnic we’ll let it slide. Alabama Shakes may be better suited to a dingy Deep South club, but they send just the right current of soul-tinged electricity to get the crowd quivering to life. True, Brittany Howard’s powerhouse vocals help matters tremendously as she bellows out Rise to the Sun and Heartbreaker, from the quartet’s debut album, Boys and Girls, with sheer abandon from behind her feathered crown. And even though the slow, slinky title track decelerates the momentum midway through their set, it’s a solid performance that gets hips moving and heads nodding in all the right ways. - Lauren Murphy
Just when you thought interpretive dance was the last outpost of the jazz fraternity, along comes Claire Boucher. The 24-year-old has hired, or at least dragged along, a man in a vest who squirms and squiggles around the stage with an inflatable rubber tyre as she plies her dreamy electronica to a wedged Cosby Tent. It’s all good, though. Boucher needs a diversion from the fact that she’s using new equipment, as all her gear was stolen in Manchester on Thursday night. “This might get a bit weird,” she says, but that’s no bad thing. After a studious warm-up introduction, the throng comes alive for Oblivion – complete with an unleashing of balloons – before sinking into a blissful reverie for the duration. The set’s a bit slow to get going but builds nicely to an even groove by the time she leaves the stage. - Lauren Murphy
Hear the drummer get wicked. Of course, there’s more to the Roots – the legendary Roots crew, to give them their fully deserved sobriquet – than Questlove on drums, but let’s start with the man at the back keeping it all in check. He may be an articulate hip-hop historian and one of the most prolific tweeters in the universe, but Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is also one hell of a drummer. Hearing the full tent yahoo, shout and scream along to his 10-minute drum solo was quite something. Getting schooled by Quest on a Saturday night is always a treat. The rest of the band, supertoned from all those sessions as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, are also on point. It’s a hoot of a show, full of funk and fever. When they get a girl from the audience to come onstage to provide the female vocals on You Got Me the place explodes. Something tells us they’ll be back again. And again. - Jim Carroll
In the smoggy light embracing the stage it’s hard to pick out every button pressed, beat triggered and knob turned, but SBTRKT’s Ganesh-like drumming and Sampha’s beautifully soulful voice flow through the crowd like spring water flooding the tent. SBTRKT’s dark, dubby tunes are transformed into urgent and pulsating sounds live, bringing the crowd together. Hold On got everyone singing in unison, but it was a sublime reworking of Wildfire that blew the roof off. Straddling a snarling bass sound yet maintaining an upbeat sentiment is a tricky balancing act. SBTRKT manage to pull it off with style. - Una Mullally
“She looks pretty cool.” A crowd member is appreciating Ham Sandwich’s front woman, Niamh, who looks as if she’s just walked off a McQueen catwalk. But who cares what anyone looks like when her voice and the accompanying music sounds so good. Ham Sandwich are the Buckfast of Irish festivals: energetic, dirty, a good idea at the time, best enjoyed with friends, sweetly shambolic and, ultimately, wholly satisfying. A furiously dancing trumpet player, Mister Brian, and a string section belt out an inspired cover of I Feel Love. Words, The Naturist burst through the crowd’s clapping hands before the whole place descends into a confetti canon and beach ball-punching party while guitarist and singer Podge crowdsurfs. A sincere and unpretentious connection that the audience laps up. - Una Mullally
Alice Glass doesn’t sing: she shrieks. The frontwoman of Canadian electro-experimentalists Crystal Castles also regularly throws herself into the audience, bounces energetically around the stage and looks suitably cool from behind her purple hair and white-rimmed sunglasses. The problem is, Crystal Castles have zero tunes to back up Glass’s uberhip posturing. The only explanation for the huge crowd is that they want to get their Saturday-night dancing shoes on early, but even the extravagant light show and the addition of a live drummer to Ethan Kath’s synthesized soundtrack does nothing that a Clubland compilation couldn’t better. This is horrible, empty nothingness masquerading as music. Their set also finishes a whole 20 minutes early. If it wasn’t so terrible, we might have cause for complaint. - Lauren Murphy
Often, the addition of unknown songs into a festival set list spells one thing: disaster. Just as well, then, that pretty much every new tune that Conor O’Brien’s Villagers disclose tonight is stamped with a seal of quality. An uncharacteristically patient audience nod along to the Swinging Sixties vibe of Judgement Call, serenely absorb the acoustic flourish of The Bell and tap feet to the electronic undertones of The Waves. They’re rewarded by a smattering of tunes from Becoming a Jackal, and even though the sound of 8,000 voices singing the dreamy refrain of its title track is a real heart-sweller, it’s the memory – as well as the anticipation – of the new material that resonates the loudest. We can’t wait for that next album. - Lauren Murphy
Cynics might suggest that the Hartnoll brothers are just checking their e-mails up there on stage and that the show is about the visuals as much as the music, but when they hit their stride Orbital are an awesome sight and sound. They were the first act of the weekend to fully use the visual potential of the stage, with graphics, images and lights in perfect synch with the tunes, but ultimately it was about the sounds. Opener Halcyon shot into a mix of Belinda Carlisle, Bon Jovi and Opus III before a thunderous set of new and old tracks during which Belfast and Chime, especially, brought hands in the air exhilaration. For a brief few seconds beats fell over themselves as something, somewhere went awry. Sometimes it takes a misstep to remind you how regularly Orbital border on perfection. - Shane Hegarty
OF MONSTERS AND MEN**
A sunny-Sunday-afternoon festival crowd is an easy-to-please one; bands find easy pickings amid the thousands of punters in search of a band with feelgood songs to sing, clap and stamp their feet along to. Suppliers of this year’s afternoon anthems, presumably in the absence of Mumford Sons’ availability, are Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men, another folk-rock band intent on making accordions and trumpet solos cool. Yet while Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir and co’s appeal cant be overestimated – they have drawn a crowd 20 deep outside the Crawdaddy Stage – their formulaic tunes differ only in their euphoric midsong refrains (“Hey/Oh-oh/dada-dum”). Even their cover of The Cure’s Close to Me saps the pep from the original, rendering it sluggish and lifeless, and although Little Talks breathes life into the set it’s not enough to rescue it from mediocrity, even in the face of enormous popularity. - Lauren Murphy
This is what Sundays at Electric Picnic were made for (as well as the now-traditional early-doors gospel and reggae acts on the main stage). The Laurel Canyon revivalist Jonathon Wilson brings a touch of hazy southern Californian folk to Stradbally, and the vibes are delicious. “Vibes” is a much-abused word – we’re guilty as charged this weekend, as you can tell from data-mining our reviews – but it’s a term that suits the North Carolina native, his band of long-hairs and the beautiful freak scene that these songs evoke to a T. Songs from the glorious Gentle Spirit album worked their magic on those in the tent, and they probably sounded even better to those lolling in the sun outside. - Jim Carroll
Were you there? Bono was. Glen Hansard was. A crew of ultimate fans were. Patti Smith knew it. “There is so much great energy in here!” she screamed after the second song. Thus ensued a righteous and riotous set. Indeed, Pussy Riot were shouted out to when Smith was preaching about a right to pray to whomever you choose. Fists were raised when she spoke about young poets needing to rise up. The people have the power, she said. As the set went on, with Pissing in a River, her tribute to Amy Winehouse, and Because the Night, people burst into tears, and hugged, and air was punched. And then Gloria. As the refrain of “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” rang out, even the bar staff were getting emotional. All hail Patti, godmother of punk, queen of the Picnic. - Una Mullally
He is the world’s oldest teenager, and this set – three hours and 30 songs or so – was expected proof that Robert Smith’s decades of alienation, angst and a dollop of love have been rewarded by a slow set in which a classic was always imminent. For those less familiar with the catalogue, there might have been times when it didn’t quite fly, but there were many glorious moments, Push, A Forest, Pictures of You, In Between Days, The Caterpillar and Lullaby among them. Just Like Heaven delivered a longed-for Festival Moment; and the closing threesome of Boys Don’t Cry, 10.15 Saturday Night and Killing an Arab were short, sharp bursts to end an epic show. And by the time it was over, 80 per cent of the world’s dry-ice supplies had been exhausted. - Shane Hegarty