Behold Electric Picnic and the Irish middle class at play
Patrick Freyne’s immersive, experiential rundown of the festival experience for people his own age who aren’t attending
And so the summer comes to an end and we, like tribesfolk of yore, must gather in a field for the Electric Picnic. Yes, though it sounds like a trap devised for Yogi Bear, and generally resembles an art installation called The Irish Middle Class at Play, Electric Picnic is actually a cathartic druidic ritual banishing the sun.
And there you are, right in the middle of it, you big eejit. You are adorned in wristbands – all the colours of creation – theoretically allowing you access to all sorts of strange mysterious places (though in practice most of them are purely ornamental). You are wearing flowers in your hair. These are not real flowers. These are plastic flowers, smelted onsite, no doubt, by a traditional plastic-smith or another such craftsperson over in the Greencrafts area. “Ha ha ha!” you cry delightfully, prancing about like a woodland nymph until a security guard asks you to stop because children are crying.
Anyway, first you go to “the old person zoo” (Mindfield) for some culture. While music festivals were once a counter cultural rite of passage for the young, they are now also where senior civil servants and account executives from official Ireland go to do drugs nostalgically. Let it be clear: no millennial will ever pry this generation’s cold, disappointed hands off youth culture. “Stick it to the man!” you cry, before going over to talk to “the man” in person. You knew him in college. He’s now a junior minister and he’s here as part of a panel discussing “Brexit and the arts.”
Of course, music festivals are really all about the music – real music like that produced by the melodic 19th-century clown people Duran Duran, and the elderly phonograph-cylinder-jockey Pete Tong (originally billed, in the music halls of yore, as “The Whimsical Dr Peter Tongstun and his Fantastical Gramophone”).
And over at the Electric Ireland Throwback stage you will get to see S Club Party and 5ive. These carefully curated olden days pop combos are very appealing to both the aged and young hipsters alike. They gather to gaze up at them though their opera glasses while smoking pipes or sucking on gin-soaked rags (this is what young people do now). “I quite like this classical music,” one of them says, spinning his fidget spinner in time to S Club Party.
“There ain’t no party like an S Club Party,” they sing. This sounds wrong to you. You do some quick research on the internet and find that there have been several parties like an S Club Party: Provisional S Club, for example, and S Club 7: The Workers’ Party, from whom they split over “the national question”. But then you notice the group’s cunning use of a double negative in the song title and you smile in appreciation of their wordplay. It’s certainly catchier than “There are several parties like an S Club Party; we must acknowledge that for the sake of completism.”
Later, 5ive take to the stage in order to insist that, “5ive will make you get down now.”
“I doubt that,” you snort, feeling smug after your experience with S Club Party. But then you get to thinking. S Club Party were once S Club 7, but changed their name when their numbers dropped from seven to three. But when 5ive lost two members they refused to change their name to reflect this in any way. They are still 5ive not 3hree.You get unaccountably angry at this. Then you become depressed. With horror you realise: 5ive have, indeed, made you get down. Touche, 5ive, you hunky, funky bastards.
Sadness makes you hungry. In times past, the only food available at an Irish music festival was a blight-ridden potato and a box of melted Twixes that were being sold from the boot of your cousin’s Datsun Sunny.
But how things have changed. Do you wish to eat centaur? The King’s deer? The black egg of the phoenix? The most dangerous prey of all (man)? Foie gras? Mothra? Crisps? Chewits? All such wonders are available. In the end you purchase a panda burger from an artisan butcher who lives in Wicklow and you wash it down with a refreshing goblet of carbonated tears you got free at The Irish Times caravan in Trailer Park.
As you digest, you find yourself oldsplaining why Feile was the most important music festival to a silent youngster who is pretending to ignore you. “Hey Daddio, I’m not hip to your jive,” his sullen expression seems to say.
Infuriated, you begin describing the shoegazing bands of the early nineties, referencing the economic theories on which you believe their melodies were based. Then using discarded beer cans you act out the Blur/Oasis conflict, lamenting the tragic loss of life (when Graham Coxon killed Bonehead).
Yet all the while the youth’s silence and fashionable ear protectors seem to mock your old world wisdom and stained safari suit. He just stares at you sullenly as though saying, “What’s with this freaky cat? Is he hip or square?” (This is how young people talk).
So you get angry and start waving your arms around. You just want some goddamned respect. You draw a crowd. Eventually someone says. “Excuse me, would you stop lecturing my baby.”
On reflection, you realise that the subject of your ire is a baby in a sort of wagon. “I don’t see age,” you explain. “Or race or gender.”
“Really?” says the baby’s parent, who turns out to be an ophthalmologist. “What do you see?”
“Just weird fuzzy shapes,” you say. She administers an eye test and gives you a pair of free glasses. You can now see age, race and gender. They are socio-political realities and you stop updating your men’s rights blog almost immediately. All in all, you conclude, it’s been the best music festival ever.