Gig of the Week: Body & Soul

Ten years later still big surprises and little gems at Ballinlough Castle

Barq

Barq

 

What a difference 10 years can make. Back in 2008/9, Body & Soul dared to advance from its origins as part of Electric Picnic. There was little to stop it, as its increasing “festival-within-a-festival” success seemed bound to make it an independent, standalone event. Body & Soul director Avril Stanley searched around for suitable sites, but as soon as she set eyes on Ballinlough Castle, a few kilometres outside Oldcastle, Co Meath, she knew she had found the space that would make the body electric and the soul soar.

These early festivals, with their committed remit of creating an alternative and holistic music/arts event experience for up to 5,000 people, are a fond memory for many of the festival’s early adopters.

More recently, the success of Body & Soul is such that its numbers have increased to 15,000, and it is now – due to the nature of its programming – a strictly over-20s event. While numbers have increased and some original attendees might have wandered off, Body & Soul remains a classy act. It helps that Ballinlough Castle is large enough to accommodate all manner of smaller “festival-within-a-festival” events because from the very start Body & Soul was (and continues to be) more than just about the music.

This year’s music line-up is as impressive as it is innovative

 There may be people (with some small justification, perhaps – we’re not about to sneer but rather to present anecdotal feedback) who would prefer to stand in front of a stage, small or large, watching musicians perform than to make their way to the festival’s “Sanctuary” area, which houses a tent “filled with Ireland’s best therapists and masseuses”, a marquee that “hums with the sound of sound healers, yoga teachers, break dancers”, and wood-fired hot tubs “you can share with friends”. But, then, that’s the difference Body & Soul wants to make.

Cult favourites

The organisers/bookers are correct when they say they book resolutely left-of-centre music acts, pioneers and cult favourites in their continued aim to redefine “the typical festival format”. They have no problem, however, pitching trusty incursions into the mix, with wellbeing (anyone for a Balinese steam treatment?), food (its Food on Board strand is terrific and includes Chan Chan, White Mausu, Market Kitchen, and Julia’s Lobster Truck), and Arts/Culture (including talks, panels, discussions and immersive theatre).

 And yet we come back to the music, because when you have had enough of turmeric tonics, your fill of lobster (lobster!), and your head is spinning from all those people yakking on, you want to take things to a different level, don’t you? Staying true to the festival ethos of mixing up-and-comers with left-of-fielders, this year’s music line-up is as impressive as it is innovative. Nominal headliners include Sweden’s Fever Ray (aka Karin Dreijer, who is tasked with curating the main stage acts on the festival’s opening night of Friday, June 22nd), UK electronica musician Jon Hopkins (a B&S regular), and US singer-songwriter Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam).

 The devil, however, is in the detail, and dotted throughout the line-up across the weekend are big surprises and little gems, quite a few of which are Irish. Personal homegrown picks include Pillow Queens, Paddy Hanna, Saint Sister, Barq, Bitch Falcon, Slow Place Like Home, and I am the Cosmos.

Best bets otherwise include Baxter Dury (a chip off the old Blockhead), Pantha Du Prince (German composer/conceptual artist Hendrik Weber) and Reykjavikurdaetur, an Icelandic all-female hip-hop ensemble that has to be seen and heard to be believed.

 On its website, Body & Soul states it has a “heart-shaped mind and cutting-edge soul.” Sharing wood-fired hot tubs aside, that sounds just about right to us. 

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