Electric Picnic 2019: 20 acts not to miss at this year’s festival

Electric Picnic 2019: Billie Eilish will be making her debut Irish open-air performance. Photograph: Rich Fury/Getty
IRELAND’S BIGGEST OUTDOOR MUSIC FESTIVAL KICKS OFF ON FRIDAY, IN THE GROUNDS OF STRADBALLY HALL, IN CO LAOIS. THE IRISH TIMES WILL BE THERE, WITH COVERAGE ALL WEEKEND. IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE 55,000 OR SO PEOPLE WITH A TICKET, HERE ARE THE ACTS WE’D ESPECIALLY RECOMMEND YOU CATCH

FIVE YOU DEFINITELY KNOW

Christine & the Queens
Chris (aka Héloïse Letissier) knows how to sucker-punch an audience. With a crotch clutch running in parallel with body-popping choreography, the pansexual French synth-pop songwriter delivers a vivid, focused stage show while performing incisive, carnal and stimulating genderqueer-perspective songs. Frankly, everyone else playing at Electric Picnic might as well give up now.

Billie Eilish
All eyes will be on Billie Eilish’s debut Irish open-air performance, and for good reason. In no time at all the California teenager (whose surname is O’Connell, so there’s a definite Irish connection) has become one of the most talked about pop singers in years. A little bit Lana Del Ray, a little bit R&B, a little bit goth-nihilism – fancy a jolt to the system?

Florence + the Machine
At a Florence + the Machine gig in Edinburgh two weeks ago a couple got engaged on stage. Beware, Electric Picnickers, the music of Florence Welch – who arrives at Stradbally celebrating the 10th anniversary of her debut album, Lungs – has the power to bewitch. Indeed, Welch has made certain of it, such is the potency of her dramatic, emotive music and her commanding stagecraft.

Hozier
Yes, he appeared at 2018’s EP as a guest of Mavis Staples, but this year Hozier, justifiably, has his own headlining slot. The most mainstream main-stage act across the weekend, the Co Wicklow man has enough hit songs across his two bestselling albums to make sure the audience will be eating out of his hands. Take Me to Church? Let Hozier be your host.

The 1975
The 1975

The 1975
It may have taken The 1975 10 years to break through commercially, but since their 2013 self-titled debut album, any lost time has been quickly made up. Their third album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, established The 1975 as (so says NME) a millennial version of Radiohead. With a visually arresting show and some cracking pop songs, you might need to hunker down for this one.

FIVE YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW BUT SHOULD

Brittany Howard
You might be familiar with Alabama Shakes, the American R&B/rock’n’roll group that Brittany Howard is a member of, but her Electric Picnic appearance is her first solo outing in Ireland. Preceding the release of her forthcoming solo album, Jaime, from which Howard will be delivering cuts in her usual funk/soul/hip-hop style, you can expect the venue rafters to quake and quiver in sympathy.

Mitski
The music of the Japanese-born US singer and songwriter Mitski Miyawaki packs a real punch, yet there is such an underlying sense of intimacy and emotion in her songs that sometimes you’re not sure whether to engage or resist. Ultimately, of course, you succumb – Mitski’s work is too strong to escape from, too stimulating to ignore, too smart to deny.

Courtney Barnett. Photograph: Mia Mala McDonald
Courtney Barnett. Photograph: Mia Mala McDonald

Courtney Barnett
An argument doing the rounds contends that rock’n’roll doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent itself as long as songwriters insert enough individuality into their work. Enter Australia’s Courtney Barnett, who has made something of a reputation for herself as a Dylanesque mistress of the contemporary indie rock song. “You just don’t quote a Courtney Barnett song,” remarked Rolling Stone. “You recap it.” Indeed.

Freya Ridings
Following too many years of playing in front of mere handfuls of people, London’s Freya Ridings has finally hit her stride. Her recently released self-titled debut album is stuffed to the brim with the kind of tender, plaintive Adele-influenced piano ballads that might get lost in the EP push’n’shove (or, perhaps, the noise around the tent she’s playing in). Fingers crossed.

Shura
This UK-Russian singer-songwriter now has two vastly underrated albums out there – 206’s Nothing’s Real and the recently released Forevher. What makes Shura a must-see is her perfectly pitched, lyrically intimate electro-pop, which eases its way from hummable to immersive in a matter of minutes. We are hoping the tenderness of the music is matched by the venue she is performing in.

FIVE YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IN QUITE A WHILE

Jarvis Cocker (Introducing Jarv Is…)
And well he might introduce us to something characteristically new. The Former Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker presents his new project/band, Jarv Is… to a completely unsuspecting Irish public. Although a track, Must I Evolve?, was released a few months ago, the performance aspects of Jarv Is… are pitched primarily as a “live experience with no barriers…” We are intrigued.

Jarvis Cocker
Jarvis Cocker

Echo & the Bunnymen
Liverpool’s Echo & the Bunnymen – aka two core original members, Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch – are the Electric Picnic heritage band that a certain demographic will gladly sing along to. From 1980-88, the Bunnymen’s batch of hits (including A Promise, The Killing Moon, Seven Seas and Bring on the Dancing Horses) established their post-punk durability and confirmed McCulloch’s status as one of rock’s most striking frontmen.

The Streets
Back recording and performing as The Streets, following a six-year hiatus, Mike Skinner fundamentally shaped British hip-hop in the Noughties and is currently prepping a collaborations/duets album. Little if any of that will surface during his EP show, however. Instead, he will fillet material from The Streets’ first two urban realist albums, Original Pirate Material (2002) and A Grand Don’t Come for Free (2004).

Scary Éire
There are settlers and pioneers, and by God in the context of Irish hip hop Scary Éire were the latter. The four-piece formed in 1990, delivered some riotous gigs in the likes of Dublin venues Fibber Magees and Barnstormers, signed to Island Records, recorded an album that wasn’t officially released, and then quietly dissolved. To say Scary Éire have been a potent influence on today’s much more coordinated Irish hip-hop music is a huge understatement, so to see them back – even if it’s for just a one-off EP gig – is something of an event.

Jessica Pratt
It has been four years since Jessica Pratt released her second album, On Your Own Love Again, so it has been a while since she has been seen or heard around these parts. Welcome back, then, to the California singer-songwriter, who channels Laurel Canyon vibes with individual multidimensional flavours. Her new album, Quiet Signs, is a murmur-soft, seductive piece of work, so here’s a suggestion for you – quiet at the back!

FIVE IRISH ACTS YOU’LL KNOW ALL ABOUT IN 2020

Inhaler
At Electric Picnic last year, Inhaler played the very compact Other Voices stage. Now? The band (which by law must be introduced with the words “featuring Bono’s son, Elijah Hewson”) are signed to a major label, and embark on an Irish and UK headline tour next month. Will lightning strike twice? You know, we really think it will. Stranger things have happened.

Eli Hewson of Inhaler. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Eli Hewson of Inhaler. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

David Keenan
David Keenan is such a perfectionist that he has put back the release of his much-anticipated debut album to early next year. It is an odd decision to make for a debut, which by any standard is viewed little more than a down payment of talent. It all adds, of course, to Keenan’s maverick sensibilities – and if there’s anyone that can surprise it’s this guy.

Mango x Mathman
The past year, in particular, has seen this Dublin duo (Karl Mangan and Adam Fogarty) stand tall and proud over the Irish hip-hop landscape. With Mangan using his love of Dublin as a bedspring on which to bounce off the city’s singular vibes (good and bad), Fogarty’s tunes reflect by osmosis his sense of the place he lives in. Anything else? They totally kill it on stage.

Nealo
One of the more interesting additions to the Irish hip-hop community over the past year is Nealo (aka Neal Keating), a thirtysomething former hard-core punk singer and law student who remodelled his life after an accident. Nealo’s music is really catching the attention – expressive, self-aware and fluid deliveries of words are underpinned by subtle, jazzy beats. No aggro, no macho – just Nealo.

The Wha
With the exception of a few ragged demo tracks on Soundcloud, and sporadic gigging, this Kilkenny teenage band are keeping their powder dry. They recently signed to the highly reputable UK indie label Chess Club Records, which will oversee the release of their much-anticipated debut single within the next few weeks. Think taut punk-pop à la Arctic Monkeys crossed with very early Elvis Costello.