From bacon rolls to Wok N' Roll: how far Irish festivals have come

More and more people are seeking alternatives to the monster, big-act music festivals

Please, no Elbow: there are alternatives to the big-act festivals. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

Please, no Elbow: there are alternatives to the big-act festivals. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

 

Over the course of 10 years, Irish music festivals have seen a complete overhaul into more polished machines, catering to wider audiences and providing more than just headline acts for entertainment and a plastic pint of watery beer for nourishment. We look back on how far we’ve come and some key players in the festival circuit tell us what they love and hate about this time of year. 

Less advertisement

As alcohol brands fight for your money at the monster festivals by disguising bars as grandiose venues with someone from Fade Street DJing, smaller festivals such as Another Love Story (ALS) are drawing a bigger appeal.

“On a wider sense, we created ALS as an antidote to the large-scale commercial focused festivals because we felt among ourselves and our peers a growing tiredness with that unavoidably big-business feel that those events engender,” says Emmet Condon, who runs the festival with Sam Bishop and Peter O’Brien. 

“I don’t think there’s any sin in being sponsored,” he adds. “But the vape tents seem to be to be only a half step away from a Shell Oil Arena to me, so I’d like to see at least a little discernment in these areas.”

Less VIP nonsense

Music photographer Ruth Medjber agrees that while larger festivals have lost their shine – with VIP areas filled with anyone verified on Twitter – we have other options. “I think the magic has kind of worn off for me, though I do like discovering new tiny fests, where there’s no VIP nonsense, no massive queues and no big brand sponsors. It’s more about sharing an experience with your mates than watching the next big band,” she says. 

Fashion pages in Irish magazines try to convince us that crocheted bikinis and blood diamond bindis are festival fashion essentials

Thanks Penneys

Taking lazy inspiration from Coachella, fashion pages in Irish magazines try to convince us that crocheted bikinis and blood diamond bindis are festival fashion essentials. But our sccchhhtyle tends to be whatever we find in Penneys, paired with the just-eat.ie branded rain poncho.

Be sound to bands

“For the most part, festivals are magic,” says Other Voices host and Le Galaxie regular MayKay, whose first festival appearance was in 2007 with Fight Like Apes at Electric Picnic, so she has seen it all. “Downsides: some festivals are just shit. There’s no heart in them. And you can feel that from when you get to the front gate. 

“You arrive at the stage to a pissed-off crew. You get rolled on and rolled off stage. You get eight warm beers and a food voucher for a hot dog. Reason #437 why you need to get along with your band mates,” she says. 

“These same festivals just book whatever big-name bands they can book, and put little to no thought into programming and clashes. I met Jenny Lewis backstage at an Irish festival before and asked her why she looked sad and she said something like: ‘Em. I’m on the same time as Beyoncé. Either I’m about to play to no one or I’m much bigger here than I thought I was’.”

Glamping: Does ‘gen pop’ exist anymore?

Long gone are the days of sellotaping the fly sheet to a tree and hoping for the best. Instead, we have glamping. Like a fabulous algae, boutique camping areas with fully stocked, pre-pitched tents, are taking over our festivals, leaving genral population campsites in the shadows. Options now include bell tents, silk tents, tipis, festihuts, yurts, squrts and PodPads, all for the price of one month’s rent. If a camper camps in the general campsite, does the camper exist at all? Answer: no.

Go green

People are becoming more aware of the waste we create at festivals, with some people treating their tents with the same respect as disposable cups, but Body & Soul commits itself to being as eco-friendly as possible.

Tents and wellies: campers arriving at Electric Picnic, Stradbally. Photograph: Alan Betson
Tents and wellies: campers arriving at Electric Picnic, Stradbally. Photograph: Alan Betson

“We’re certainly seeing the emergence of a more sustainably aware, conscious camper, which is wonderful. The younger generation are seemingly a lot more tuned in to these concerns and actively want to be part of this mindset and our leave-no-waste policy,” says Body & Soul creator and director Avril Stanley. “Preserving the grounds is a central concern, and the expansion of our Us & You campsite is a clear reflection of this.” She expects 5,000 people to use the Us & You leave no trace campsite this year.

Safer drug use

Festivals are a time of indulgence, whether your vice is booze, UV paint, Pieminister or drugs. Drug use at festivals happens, and even if users drink the right amount of water or measure their doses carefully, there’s no predicting what way a high can go. So festivals should consider onsite drug testing kits or providing safe spaces.

As it stands, testing kits do not test purity: they simply rule out the presence of certain substances. So, for example, a festival user can test if their MDMA is contaminated with harmful substances such as PMMA: it can be toxic at lower doses and its effect take much longer to kick in those for MDMA.

Elbow, Elbow fans, Elbow’s music, Elbow’s fans singing Elbow’s music, Guy Garvey from Elbow. But there’s positives too, I guess

Compared to the UK, the use of drug testing kits at Irish festivals has been slow to take off. The distribution of SafeSesh kits in Irish universities by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) has proven popular. But SSDP and Help Not Harm – which, at last year’s Electric Picnic, implemented the first drug welfare services at an Irish festival – want to see a more hands-on approach. 

“I think distributing test kits is a good start, but we have to follow in the footsteps of Portugal and services like The Loop [a non-profit organisation that conducts forensic testing of drugs at clubs and festivals in the UK], where testing is carried out by officials, working with the police and medics to ensure people are taking drugs as safely as possible,” says Fergal Eccles, director of festival welfare for Help Not Harm.

“This approach opens up avenues for young people who choose to use drugs, to get in contact with understanding, educated and compassionate service teams at festivals. Festival-goers are often deterred by the law to seek help if they find themselves or a friend in an emergency.”

Less Elbow

Like Kermit sipping on tea, Le Galaxie’s Michael Pope has the final say on Ireland’s festival culture. 

“Sure, maybe there’s a lot to dislike about festivals. The noise, the overpriced food, the overpriced drink, the topless bros, the bottomless babes, the wacky shades, the cowboys hats, the cowboy boots, the flower crowns, the bindis, the the Native American war bonnets, the mud, the grass, the sky, the inflatable hammers, the campsite acoustic guitar player, the campsite, the undercover cops, the public urination, the public fornication, the toilet situation, the toilet roll situation, the phone situation, the ATM situation, Elbow, Elbow fans, Elbow’s music, Elbow’s fans singing Elbow’s music, Guy Garvey from Elbow. But there’s positives too, I guess.”

People are becoming more aware of the waste we create at festivals, particularly at the campsites. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
People are becoming more aware of the waste we create at festivals, particularly at the campsites. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Irish festivals a decade apart

What you drank in 2007: Cans of Heineken that were gently fermented by the eco-climate that developed in your tent.

What you’ll drink in 2017: A rum cocktail filled to the top with crushed ice and dreams from the secret bar that evades time and space.

What you wore in 2007: A pair of O’Neill’s tracksuit bottoms tucked into a pair of wellies and a windbreaker that was in its prime in 1994.

What you’ll wear in 2017: Under your layers of Gore-Tex rainwear, your sequin jacket and feathered boa are waiting for their moment.

What you ate in 2007: A breakfast roll consisting of one rubber rasher, slathered in ketchup for €12, served in tinfoil.

What you’ll eat in 2017: Wild garlic foraged from the festival’s woodlands, sprinkled with the tears of the young, served on a rustic bin lid. Or Wok N’ Roll.

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