Finding musical serendipity at Electric Picnic’s smaller stages

Tara McGuinness, booker of Body & Soul’s Bandstage stage, on how she selects the line-up

While it's the big acts such as the xx, A Tribe Called Quest, Chaka Khan and Duran Duran that will dominate the headlines from Electric Picnic this weekend, it's the small-print acts (or the ones who are not on the poster at all) who have the potential to unexpectedly make someone's weekend infinitely more memorable.

With dozens of small stages to stumble across, the capacity for discovery is strong in Stradbally. It’s that ethos that drives the booking policy of Tara McGuinness, who looks after the Bandstand in the Body & Soul area of the festival.

McGuinness is a deep tune diver, an online delver, a woman with a curious ear, plumbing the depths for music acts unknown. Eschewing a traditional way of booking live acts who are active on the circuit, McGuinness makes room on her programme for acts that she finds online that need a little coaxing from their shell. Her modus operandi is to highlight those people who are hidden no matter what genre they can be described as.

"I got into Soundcloud and I was putting things like 'Ireland Kerry', 'Ireland Cavan' into the search and would see what would come up," says McGuinness of her discovery process. "With some of the music I was finding, I was like 'this is better than Berlin, this is better than Glasgow, this is better than Chicago."


McGuinness says it’s the “how music turns me on or how music can affect me emotionally” that drives her, so that means the Bandstand line-up is an eclectic offering.

Experimental composer

“It could go from Irish trad to full on experimental composer or somebody putting reverb and looping the sound of blowing into bottles or it could go to a full-on rock band.”

Giving a stage to an unknown artist who doesn’t have the connections is part of her remit.

“It’s not fair that just because someone has a contact that they’re going to get in and some that doesn’t know anyone is getting lost when they’re probably the most talented.”

This year's line-up ranges from the jazz pop of Síomha to indie-rockers Penrose to the electronic house of Primary Colours, the drum'n'bass of WOB!, the punk pop of Susie Blue, a takeover from Kildare electronic label 045 Recordings and sci-fi techno of Klark Cant.

“Live is where you see that your music madness isn’t actually that mad,” suggests McGuinness. “Because when they’re performing then you get the reaction, people are inquisitive. I think of a lot of audiences especially at the Electric Picnic are expecting this music to be from somewhere else and when you say they’re Irish, the response is ‘seriously?’.”

It’s a bugbear of McGuinness’ that the Irish music landscape and the media and radio around it in her view condescends and patronises Irish music and its musicians by putting them in the Irish box, having an Irish music hour or specialist programme. It feeds that incredulity at festivals where an audience member can’t really believe that the unknown talented artist in front of them is Irish.

“I just don’t think that our media in this country really comprehend that Irish people are musically intelligent and we have been for centuries,” she says.

“I think the first thing is that the media has to take Irish music as serious as music that comes from elsewhere. To naturally want to play it – not just as a token. You don’t put something on because they’re Irish, you put something on because this artist . . . is working bloody hard, blood, sweat, tears, lack of confidence, no money and nobody is giving a s**t about them. It should be amazing that they’re Irish but it’s because they have talent they they should be played.”

Gold beneath the surface

McGuinness suggests that the ignorance of the gold beneath the surface in this country can sap the life of a new band over time, crushing their spirit with the lack of opportunities.

“You can just see after a while, their life is being sucked out of them not by the audience but by the Irish music industry placating them, not celebrating them,” offers McGuinness.

“There are so many great acts coming out and they have vitality and they’re working hard and then they see it withering. And it’s not because they lost their mojo, it’s because they have few places to go and don’t have money to further their career. It has to change because every three years we are without a doubt losing amazing bands because they just have to give it up.”

McGuinness’ programme at the Bandstand this weekend is her attempt to offset that in a small way, of fighting against the “spoon-fed drivel and regurgitation of the back catalogue” of Ireland.

“I really think the future catalogue coming from Ireland is going to be even better if we give it a chance.”