Chasseur was once again in attendance at this year’s Electric Picnic, a music and arts festival set in the historic location of Stradbally Estate in County Laois, Ireland. Having gained legendary status over the years as Ireland’s best festival (and now officially its largest) due to its eclectic mix of artists and unrivalled atmosphere, we bring you the best of what we saw over the weekend.
Friday night would see The Strypes, Foals, Pet Shop Boys and Blondie all take to stage, but as we were not there to witness it ourselves we cannot give comment. Word around the festival though is that Foals “stole the show” and the weather was like “Noah’s Ark”. So now you know. (See what we did there? It’s the name of a song by a band playing at the festival. Get it, get it? Ugh…)
Saturday was ushered in with an increasingly cloudy sky and threat of rain. After a stroll around the main area we headed to catch Dublin-duo We Cut Corners. Unbelievably, this would be their first gig at Picnic, which is a real surprise given their reputation in Ireland. Sharing vocal duties the two boys play songs from their latest album ‘Think Nothing’ as well as some older material, all lapped up by a very appreciative audience. Irish songstress Cathy Davey followed, her stage minimally dressed with tree branches and clad in black. She plays to an intimate crowd and shows once again that when you have an incredible voice, songwriting panache and guitar-playing abilities then really that is all you need.
Hozier showed what a difference a year makes when a massive crowd greets him over at the main stage, no doubt in part to the success of his single Take Me To Church. We worried whether or not Hozier could make the jump from smaller festivals to the largest stage at this one (to put this in perspective: last year he was playing festivals for pretty much unknowns) but we are glad to report he has no issues with handling a much larger arena. His soulful voice can still stir the emotions even when playing to thousands. Clean Bandit may have underestimated the impact that their debut album has had on the Irish market but when they step on to stage and see the sea of fans before them they will leave in no doubt. Deafening screams greet them as they stroll out and they couldn’t look happier. Live they are wholly competent, craftily mixing synth with live instruments, grooving on the stage and building a rapport with the energy” and the first time they saw someone dance to their music “was in Ireland”. They came, we danced; and these kids are only getting started!
Over in the comedy tent Simon Anstell was keeping the mood light and buoyant with his very own brand of comedy; offering up jokes about the Queen. We couldn’t stay long to watch him but when we were leaving he seemed to have everyone in the palm of his hand. The first big act of the night on the main stage was Paolo Nutini, who came backed up with a big band. Dressed casually in jeans and a shirt and accompanied by visuals his show offered up plenty of charm and professionalism as his soulful voice swathed across all those gathered at the foot of the stage. As the night began to slowly move in it was time for Portishead on the main stage. A huge screen displayed visuals as the hypnotic music slowly leaked from the band. We are split about their performance however, on the one hand it was a minimal, hypnotic set and on the other it was underwhelming and teetering on monotonous. It all comes down to the mood you were in (and what mood-altering products you had consumed). Some may have relished the set whilst others may have hated it. We are on the fence… (A reviewer on the fence? Fire him!) Having no such problems over at the Red Bull Music Academy stage were a host of DJs playing from ten at night ‘til four in the morning in the middle of the woods; all lit up by laser lights and huge LED screens. Rave in the woods? Yes, please!
Back in the festival proper the night was gearing up for headline act Chic feat. Nile Rodgers. Nile himself appears in immaculate white flanked by the other members to a rapturous reception. Really what can we say about Chic that has not already been written in a thousand column pages? They are a master class in how band should be. They emit a warm, genuine, affectionate spirit, they work the stage and the crowd and all the while deliver hit after hit of song from their back catalogue. Everyone gathered loves it and who could blame them? Nile has a continuous grin on his face and he tells the crowd that four years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and that he is “so happy to be alive”. Tonight it shows! With Chic well and truly into their show we left to catch SBTRKT, a musical project led by Aaron Jerome. There is a huge turn out for the show and everyone is loud and giddy. Not louder than the music though, with the electro beats pulsating through everybody in the tent much to the delight of this EDM crowd.
Sunday dawned bright, sunny and very, very warm. In the relative calm of the early morning we took a stroll to sample the many, many delights that this festival offers. The food is incredibly varied with everything from vegan\vegetarian\raw to any manner of meat dishes. The drink too is not merely confined to beers but offers up cocktails and even a wine bar. In the Body & Soul area you can watch people perform crafts such as woodwork, metalworking and textile making; and if the mood takes you you can have a go yourself. There are plenty of attractions too: political theatre, a literary tent, a chakra meditation area, an outdoor sauna, a spiritual massage tent and countless art installations. New this year is the Brooklyn area complete with basketball court and DJ to give you a flavor of that infamous New York burrow. At the heart of all these attractions is the actual Body & Soul stage, a beautifully carved wooden stage with sits at the foot of a natural grass amphitheatre where people sit form early morning to late night enjoying the eclectic bands on show. For now though we are back to the main stage to get Sunday going proper.
A clear blue sky and scorching sun made for a perfect setting for The Dublin Gospel Choir to work their magic on the by now incredibly relaxed audience at the main stage. It was with their infectious Gospel spirit that the choir brought people to their feet and danced in the sunshine. The Wailers followed and continued the good-time vibes, and by the time the lyrics of Buffalo Soldier were washing over everyone the place was well and truly chilled.
Irish legend Sinead O’ Connor followed looking healthy and happy. Dressed in a black suit complete with blazer, a shaved head and tattoos on show she looked very much the iconic performer we have come to know and love. Vocally she didn’t disappoint either, mixing her older with material with her newly released ‘I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss’. Her voice effortlessly moves from gentle, fragile child to strong, powerful Goddess and age has certainly not dented her live presence.
Inside, Laura Mvula was proving why she is a twice-nominated MOBO artist with her sleek, soulful voice, natural charm and effortless beauty. The show was intimate and yet stirring, and with only one album in her armoury something tells us that Laura is going to be making huge moves in the future. English lads Drenge completely changed the tone with their loud, guttural style of rock. For only two guys they make one hell of a racket and provide one of the most energetic performances of the entire festival so far. For those of you who rocked, we salute you!
A woman that needs no introduction was moments way from appearing onstage but as to why there was giant baby bottles on the stage was anyone’s guess. But this is Lily Allen, the pop star who does as she pleases and does not feel the need to explain or be understood. Appearing with a ghetto style hairdo complete with purple fringe, Alexander McQueen glasses and a barely there white jumper come dress she looked every inch the pop star. Thankfully she sounded every inch the pop star too! We were concerned as to whether or not Miss Allen could actually command a stage but boy she can and she makes it look easy! Opening with LDN was a perfect choice considering the weather and Lily works the crowd with minimal fuss, cheekily giggling that her baby is Irish because he has “red hair”. Before she starts It’s Not Fair she asks the audience to get “your two fingers out” and after goes on to do a spot of Twerking, which sends every photographer into a frenzy trying to capture the photo “moment”. Lily proves to be a formidable performer with the tongue wedged very firmly in the cheek.
St. Vincent cements her reputation as one of the best live performers on the circuit with a daft yet brilliant show. Wrangling tunes out of her guitar she stands at times atop a large pyramid structure and in what can only be described as theatre pretends to slowly collapse until she is flat on her back spread across the three steps, guitar discarded to the side. In another show of theatrics she takes tiny little steps to the side, back and forth all in unison with her backing singer. This combined with the use of strobe lights has the effect that the two of them are moving around the stage without using their legs, akin to stop-go animation. It really is something to behold and crucially the sight never once dents the integrity of the music or the artist. She is simply brilliant. All throughout the weekend Beck seemed to be the word on everyone’s lips and with him not having played these shores in over ten years the appetite has been well and truly whetted. The eccentric American appeared in front of an LCD screen wearing a bowler hat and with his band in tow quickly set out to wow the crowd. Well aware of his long absence from the Emerald Isle he informs his huge audience that he is “going to make up for that tonight”. He goes on to do just that as the fired up multi-instrumentalist wows the crowd with his stunning performance.
Leaving the Beck show we pottered on over to see one of our favourite bands of recent times, The Horrors. With the set bathed in different coloured lights the indie-rock band stroll out to a surprisingly small audience. They played this stage last year and are playing it again now, which would suggest that their latest album Luminous failed to gain them any new fans. Unfortunately, their live show is representative of said album; it’s good, but there is never quite that moment where The Horrors take off and we leave them feeling a tad jilted.
With Beck wrapped up the main stage is prepped for the Outkast invasion. It begins uneasily though, a MC asking the audience “are you ready?”. Ugh, could the start of this show be any more derivative? Thankfully, when Andre 3000 and Antwan Patton launch themselves onstage they display enough talent and showmanship to banish all thoughts of an underwhelming show. Andre (dressed in a costume that reads “a redhead before I’m dead”) and Antwan (adorned with plenty of gold chains) are charismatic and work effortlessly together, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, as they work both sides of the stage as the rain descends. Andre in particular is incredibly energetic, bouncing around like a twenty-something with no damage done to his vocal duties.
To end the night we decide to catch Slow Dive, an English band who put on an incredibly intimate and chilled show, one that almost lulls us into a slumber, but in a good way. We couldn’t think of a more apt way to end Electric Picnic.
Electric Picnic once again served up one of the best festival experiences that you can have. Its winning formula is the sheer amount of side attractions at the festival, relaxed atmosphere and peerless organization. It would be easy to sit all day and never once see a band and still be satisfied. The only attraction we really didn’t get was the Spinning tent (and it was always empty.)
With discounted early-bird tickets already on sale for 2015 and a direct bus service from Dublin airport Electric Picnic is an increasingly attractive option for overseas visitors. So, what are you waiting for?