It’s a surefire way to gauge a band’s demographic, to watch who weaves between the standing crowd as they come on.
In this case, it's the kids of Electric Picnic. All of them. For their crowd, The Strypes do admirably, bringing the energy to the main stage when they begin with Behind Closed Doors. It continues with a well-paced, tight set that's smooth and shiny like a Ken doll.
But where’s the edge? It’s not in the two of the four who are wearing sunglasses on stage, which is frankly a bit rude. Nor is it in the frenetic guitar solos, which tread familiar ground.
The part when frontman Ross Farrelly and bassist Pete O’Hanlon play one guitar together is pretty cool, but aside from these three seconds, it’s fairly by-numbers. Which might explain why the kidz love it so.
There are worse things at a festival than a fast-paced rock’n’roll band, but so many better things too.
In three words: Rock by numbers
If you like this go see: Keywest
I’ll be goddamned if the Other Voices stage isn’t the grooviest corner of Electric Picnic when Katie Laffan and her “deadly band” are unleashing their scintillating rhythm and blues numbers.
A late sound check means we get a short solo guitar ‘n’ vocals performance of I Don’t Mind, the Dubliner’s absolute rum-punch of a cosmic funk single, before the show starts.
It’s even better about 20 minutes into the set, when it is rolled out smooth as an old-school Chevy, full backing coming from a two-part brass section, some freaky electronic squiggles and a bass turned way, way up. BF is a sensual song for lovers, while Laffan’s more muscular guitar chords on Monster add in some indie propulsion. That is, until the mid-track sax and trumpet breakdown presses down – horns that would make Al Green’s knees shake.
“I hope Frank Sinatra won’t notice,” jokes Laffan before getting into That’s Life. But her song draws from Frankie in spirit only. Over chipped guitar chords that have a reggae vibe, Laffan name drops, among others, Rick James and Erykah Badu, the latter being the most obvious influence on her soulful, idiosyncratic vocal style.
But while her music summons the spirit of a couple of dozen funky legends (the final song, not including a second performance of Ego as an encore, features the old-school tradition of mini solos for the entire band) it’s not overly indebted to any single artist. These are songs as fresh as day-old haircuts.
Laffan and band play again tomorrow at Body & Soul: Earthship Stage. Get to that, soak it in. If there’s any justice in the universe, it’ll be another early stop in a swaggering, neon-lit journey to a place that could be very special.
In three words: Freaky cosmic funk
If you like this go see: Barq
Dean Van Nguyen
Is that a bucket hat on Gabriel Winterfield? I really doubt the Jagwar Ma singer’s cotton crown is incidental. The group wholesale pilfers throwback Madchester veterans like the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.
The Cosby Tent is zapped into northwest England circa 1990, with the Australian group’s fat basslines, bouncing electronics, programmed drums and shades of druggy acid house forming thick psychedelic grooves that get the crowd moving like it’s the Hacienda.
Winterfield shifts from melodic vocals to raucous yells over the intense instrumentation of O B 1 and Give Me A Reason.
His voice has technical limitations, but has a kind of everyman charm when he screams over the sledgehammer-powerful drums.
The similarly paced tracks bleed into one another with few breaks, meaning Jagwar Ma’s set lacks form. But it’s good fun - no extra substances are wholly necessary.
In three words: Shaun Ryder's offspring
If you like this go see: Soulwax
Dean Van Nguyen
Rankin’s Wood stage
The Limerick hip-hop crew might be all couplets and commentary on record, but they’ve the smarts to know that that doesn’t carry a festival show. So for their Electric Picnic set, the sound is turned up to 11, and the experience is equally immersive.
Attired in matching printed shirts (nice touch), mynameisjOhn remains behind the decks in body but not in spirit, while the double act of God Knows and MuRli hop, skip and jump around the stage like they’re there to burn off calories.
Even with mid-tempo tracks like Heathrow, the gusto doesn’t change with the beat. It’s here when the shirts come off to a thumping bass, which continues on the high-speed grime anthem Soul Food, where the audience joins in for a spot of shirt-waving.
Truly, just watching Rusangano Family is tiring - in the best way possible.
In three words: So. Much. Energy.
If you like this see: J Hus
Rankin’s Wood stage
All Tvvins are now a festival staple. Consistent, yet they keep finding new ways to elevate a mood.
Rock music with swayable tendencies is a powerful thing. When the crowd is dancing with closed eyes, singing along with fists clenched, you know you’ve done something right.
Frontmen Lar and Conor tumble and fall into each beat, hammering into the ferocity of their songs and swinging their bass and guitar around like samurai swords. Damn those talented ninjas.
Their performances are always a workout and it feels like a real, actual Main Stage headline slot at EP isn’t too far off for them.
In three words: All swinging tvvins
If you like this see: Fangclub
Arriving onstage in front of a Neapolitan ice cream-coloured screen, Phoenix should be the Angel Delight this soggy Saturday sorely needs, their dreamy pop melodies transporting the crowd to somewhere balmier and ever so chic.
Thomas Mars, resplendent in a tropical shirt, clings to his mic-stand, alluringly crooning swoonsome love songs about girls with Timotei soft hair and summer breezes.
The Gallic dreamboats are not completely softcore though. They can still pack an electro-sucker punch when needed, with the sugar-pop of Lisztomania given an extra salty bite.
Pulling tracks from their new album Ti Amo, their gentle, almost yacht rock breeziness produces confections that are as light as just spun candyfloss . Unfortunately, they sound just too fragile for the Main Stage.
Phoenix are a lounge-core group of sophisticates that require the close club feeling to really ignite.
Their savoir-faire is sadly not enough to save them. The crowd disperses, looking for shelter and seeking out the warmth of some chips.
Three words: French pop fancies
If you like this see: The real pop deal with Duran Duran tomorrow
It takes about three minutes into the set before vocalist Fliss comes out like a boss, no introduction needed, in full dance mode, not even judging the crowd before getting them to fill in the blanks.
She leaves just as unfussily, letting Guernsey’s Alex Crossan aka Mura Masa to take back focus, using a riser full of gadgets to create his clean, minimalist interludes.
That sets the tone for the rest of the show: to a tent filled to the back, the pair take turns in creating a Saturday night vibe as the dark sets in.
Forgoing a spotlight, Fliss’s silhouette takes centre stage, so it’s all side profiles, limbs and dreadlocks for visuals. When her mic cuts out halfway through, it barely matters - she styles it out by dancing harder, then takes her leave briefly.
The biggest reaction comes for Firefly, with its singalong chorus and tempered drops matching the crowd’s mood. The only issue? They kept calling us Dublin.
In three words: The party's started
If you like this see: Soulwax
It should be hard for the shyly spoken wonder of Perfume Genius to be enjoyed slap bang in the middle of a Saturday night at Electric Picnic. On stage, the man himself is competing with the din of the night-time coming alive, when his delicate nocturnal symphonies deserve the cupped ear of a whispering lover.
It’s only when the full band erupts to full power does he manage to deliver his own quiet riot. He spills out his tales of decaying lust and the violence of turbulent romance, dressed in a singlet and PVC trousers.
He is a prowling Lou Reed on the grim streets of New York waiting for Candy Darling, sensually bending forth and greeting the decadent oblivion of whatever the darkness brings.
He is a siren song for the lonely and aching, ready to dance out their blues with the sharp ferocity that tracks like Slip Away from his No Shape album demand.
“I’m here for you baby,” he coos at an enthusiastic crowd member, proffering the barbed-wire bouquet of the aching Die For You as a soothing salve.
Entangled with the twin emotions of love and pain, it’s a performance of pure seduction, leaving the heady scent of longing in the darkened tent. “Welcome to my home,” he drawls - the pleasure was all ours.
In three words: Sexy, smouldering, melancholic
If you like this see: Father John Misty and pretend it's Perfume Genius
Is Sam Shepard, the electronica wonk behind Floating Points, lost in music or merely trolling his audience?
To watch his enlivening, frustrating set at Rankin’s Wood is to feel as weirdly manipulated as his kit, a boxy stack of samplers, controllers and spooling cables, which makes him look like the operator of the Vladivostock telephone exchange.
My text messages to friends elsewhere during the set read back like a split personality disorder: “Come quick, this is incredible.” “No wait, it’s not.” “Ok, it’s good again.” “Disregard, sorry.”
At times, dialling up the decay of a snatch of melody, and ploughing into Merzbow-level noise music, Shepard turns his attentions to his visuals, an imaging of sound waves that resembles a Windows 97 screensaver, as though he’s simply live doodling. Then he’ll hit an ineffably danceable groove.
Then he’ll decelerate and douse your ardour with freezing cold water.
Rather than the button pushingcertainties of so much techno, Shepard is making it up as he goes along, and there’s something commendable about applying jazz principles to electronic music. His trust is that you will see this as a durational project: boredom and elevation are all part of the deal.
It’s a chilly cerebral point. But even the driving rain isn’t incentive enough for most to stick around for it. They just came to dance.
In three words: Festival crowd repeller
If you like this see: Kiasmos