Electric Picnic 2011 2nd – 4th Septmber, Stradbally, County Laois, Ireland
So what is the difference between Ireland’s two biggest rock music festivals Oxegen and Electric Picnic. Oxegen is all about the music, the bigger the act the bigger the draw. Oxegen is held in a racecourse and is self contained, you have all of the stages, stalls, carnival and the camping areas spread out in the one place. Electric Picnic is also about the music but also about so much more, the one thing that is synonymous about the Picnic is the love for trees or should I say fairy forests, nature, craftsmanship and total experience. I know this sounds like clapped out old hippy stuff but its really true. The Picnic has inspired many smaller festivals such as Life, Castle Palooza, Knockanstockan, the Body & Soul festival and Bump festival.
Out of all the six Picnics I’ve been to, this is the first of which I volunteered for, its a sign of recessionary times and there was just no way I could have afforded to attend otherwise, seeing that I already had volunteered at other festivals over the summer, there was just no bloody way I was going to miss the Electric Picnic, the final blow out of the summer.
So what does the first time volunteer do, well to get the foot in the door visit the festival website and click on their volunteer section. I had been trying to apply for volunteering at the Picnic since May this year and only realised by August that you could email the volunteer coordinator directly. The next thing you need to do is go on the festivals Facebook page or alternately the festival volunteer page and appeal for car share. It can be difficult to get available transport like on the official festival days when there is city links and shuttle buses available. That is where Facebook comes in handy you will always find someone who is driving from one of the big towns or cities like Cork, Dublin or Galway.
I managed to get in touch with Kevin who was driving from Galway and he also became my festival buddy for the weekend, where we plotted round our shifts to plan the music and frolics.
This where the festival review starts proper. Its really exciting wandering about a deserted festival site the day before a festival kicks off, you get the feeling that its specifically put on for you and no security guards bawling at you “Where the hell do ya think your going?”
Stradbally has one of the most beautiful woodlands in Ireland and for the Picnic, lanterns and all types of lights adorned the trees giving an otherworldly feel to the whole thing.
Now on with the music, Mr Whippy was the first artist or DJ of Thursday night to have the coolest reggae and dance sounds to entertain the volunteers, traders and workers converged in the reggae village in the woods, Trenchtown. He has an obscure and excellent reggae collection much like the Rootical Sound System that you would absolutely die for. We stayed there till about 2.30 am and called it a day preparing for the shift tomorrow night.
One of the first disappointments for me was discovering that my 2nd shift was during the Toots & the Maytals performance, one of the main bands that I wanted to see. My first shift was the difficult one from 8 pm till 4 in the morning. At the volunteer office we availed of the free coffee as at 2.50 to 3.50 euros in the main arena it was quite expensive, all the staff at the office were great craic and made us feel at home, it was also a great meeting place to meet likewise music fans. Another perk about being a volunteer was being able to take short cuts through the festival, because EP veterans will tell you there is lots of walking involved, the area is that vast.
So on with the music again, the first act of the day, Kevin opted to go and see Sharon Corr at the Electric Arena whilst I checked out the up and coming indie group Twin Shadow at the Cosby stage. My verdict, they were ok but it bit repetitive and whiny, typical of a lot indie groups really. Onto the Crawdaddy stage next to check out the old 1980s Irish band Cry Before Dawn, now this did take me back to the period around groups like In Tua Nua and Tuatha De Danann, but after about 10 minutes the novelty of interest wore off plus time was running out before I had to start the shift. So I met with Kevin again in front of the main stage to catch the fourth headliner Jimmy Cliff. The reggae legend was dressed in a bright luminous yellow jumpsuit and he performed all his classic hits like You can get it if you really want and Wild World with a great energy that belied his age of 63 years old. Alas we had to exit mid set to prepare for our first shift.
At entrance 2 where I was working, between the Little Big tent and the Cosby tent, some of the volunteers jobs involved checking the punters wristbands, volunteers and festival workers wristband had a black clip whilst the regular festival goer had a silver metallic clip, the volunteers job was to check they were secure. Myself and another volunteer guarded exits to the side of the entrance, the roads leading to the back of the stages, our job was to ensure that the road ways were clear and that festival production traffic flowed smoothly to the stages and stalls, so fairly easy work. I still also managed to appreciate some of the music from the tents, but sometimes it got a bit too much if you could hear three different genres of music blasting into your ears at the one time. We were also supplied with work manuals as we were also info stewards, so sometimes you helped the regular punters with directions around the site.
At my break at 9 pm I checked out the US artist Santigold on the main stage, this was on the strength of a video clip I seen from 2 years previous which featured Santigold in the soundtrack, she was performing on stage at a festival in Canada called Sasquatch festival but the camera was on a fan a fair bit from the stage who was dancing, his dancing was so wild that he attracted a crowd of a few hundred who joined in, any artist that can do that is worth investigating.
Its hard to describe Santigold’s music, it was a combination of hip hop, dub and electronica with a dash of happy-go-lucky rock n roll. It was hard to tear myself away back to work again at 10 when she invited some of the audience onto the stage.
Back at the shift Gavin Friday (Virgin Prunes) was kicking off his set in the Cosby stage beside me, it sounded like he was trying to do an impersonation of Nick Cave and did not make much of an impression. By now it was fairly lashing with rain, thank god I brought the water proofs. A much more interesting sound was emerging from the Little big tent the other side of me, German electronic musician and producer Boys Noize was splaying listeners apart with his scintillating electronica, dubstep, techno and visuals, of which I could see a figment of through the aperture of the tent, I really wanted to be in there going mental, but it was still nice to hear.
He was followed by Irish DJ Shit Robot who was equally good and disturbing in his electronic dexterity, yep this was the mad type of music I loved. I remember looking at one of the security guards who was watching another entrance grimacing, so I asked him what he thought of the sounds, he replied, “Don’t ask.”
Both Kevin and myself had a bit of a lie in till noon seeing that we were working till 4 in the morning, so we basically lazed about the campsite until near the starting of our next shift, Kevin’s job was checking wristbands and for booze being smuggled into the arena, he was stationed at the entrance from the Jimi Hendrix campsite to the main arena. When I started my shift at 2, I let a vehicle into the production area, the driver said to me out of the window, “Where is your bodhran.” I didn’t recognise him but I knew straight away he was from Galway and knew me from playing the sessions. The fact was, that I did have my bodhran, it was in the tent and I was saving it for maybe a chance session in Sunday evening in the Body & Soul. At 3 oclock I got my first break and just by chance coincidence one of my friends Aminah Dastan was singing backing vocals at the time with Donal Dineen’s Parish on the main stage. I didn’t know this at the time till I spotted Salim her brother in the audience, so I was very chuffed with that, the music was also a brilliant laid back funky rock and soul sound that was absolutely perfect for a sunny Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me and there seems to be no footage of Parish, so I’ll include a video of Aminah herself.
Back at the festival production gate some of the nostalgic sounds of the Undertones came floating down to me from the Crawdaddy stage, the group apparently were playing their entire self-titled first album, but I’m sure they played more than that, Jimmy Jimmy, Get Over You, Teenage Kicks. But I also heard later tracks like You’ve Got My Number and My Perfect Cousin from their 2nd album Hypnotised, Paul McLoone just sounds like Fergal Sharkey, unless your looking at the band on stage, there is know way to tell the difference who is singing from outside the tent and I saw the original group on the Hypnotised tour in 1980.
Because I was on the back shift, volunteers for some reason got two breaks on this shift which was a nice surprise. So I took advantage of this break and treated myself to a Thai red vegetable rice dinner from the great Wok n’ Roll stall and sat down to watch some of Swedish artist Lykke Li’s set. Like Santigold’s set its hard to describe but she is like a cross between Karen Dreijer of Fever Ray (singing in her normal timbre), Goldfrapp and Santigold if that makes any sense at all, there was also a nice use of visuals for the backdrop.
Finally free for the night, I make for the tent to drink a few beers to catch up with everyone else, no sign of Kevin at this stage, so I make my way to the main stage where Arcade Fire is blowing minds with their visual extravaganza. I have already arranged to meet Salim at the Electric Dreams entrance, the highest point from the main stage. I don’t really have an interest in Arcade Fire so remain at the entrance talking away to complete randomers, hippy folk from Kildare just up the road from Stradbally, then again thats what the Picnic is all about, the art of conversation digging some of the same sounds and aspirations.
Back at the campsite, I’m chilling for a while drinking some beers with Marguerite’s (my sister) ipod dock blasting out the sounds, guess what I am playing, previous concerts from Electric Picnic’s yesteryear and keeping the cool vibe of festival spirit going. Kevin eventually shows up and we make our way down to the main stage for the Chemical Brothers.
The Chems are about 20 minutes in to their set and I have missed the mighty Horse Power track, but all is good and they are now thrashing our ears with Swoon, both tracks from their recent album Further. The front of the main stage is thronged and really wild so we stay about fifteen rows back, just close enough to get a good view. They use an amazing effect for the track Don’t Stop in which the lasers are inverted to the backdrop screen creating what looks like a colony of fireflies or lots of little spotlights refracted through moving water, shimmering, so to speak and with a bass that rocked the ground like a nuclear explosion. They also used a wonderful looking lighting rig of circular lights that came down in vertical strips which surrounded the DJs and lifted up again for different tracks. Some of the classics they played in their 2007 EP set also got an airing such as Saturate and Believe. The Chems sure know how to put on a show.
The Chemical Brothers at the Electric Picnic 2011
Seeing that I could not find a Youtube clip of their EP performance with a good audio, I will include the segment from their Glastonbury show this year.
The rest of the night was spent wandering around the Body & Soul area with Kevin looking at stuff, I missed Paddy Keenan’s set, the Bothy Band uilleann piper but you cannot catch everything I suppose, we did catch a crazy drumming party in one of the tents which looked a lot of fun. The final port of call was Trenchtown, the reggae village where I hoped to catch up with Salim and Aminah, but alas they must have retired for the night. Mr Whippy was playing the decks again in his ice cream van or was it the main stage, anyway he was giving it stick with his wonderful reggae collection and we were loving every minute of it, the few hundred that was there. It was 4.30 am when we got back to our tents, it only dawned on us by then that we had to do our last shift at 8 am in the morning eeeeeeek!
The phone alarm went off at 7.15 am and to tell you the truth I felt like some stranded whale left on the side of a beach, under three hours sleep and I was feeling the effects of partying. I had to shake Kevin’s tent for a few minutes until he woke up. Many of the volunteers at the office were fairly bleary eyed too and were not used to getting up at such an early time at a festival. It was fairly quiet up to 11.30 which was the time the Sunday day ticketers were due to arrive, so time was passed by spreading hay over the muck as there was a steady bit of rainfall that morning.
Some of the tents music reared in to action at noon, but the first likeable sounds emerged from the Little Big tent at 1.30, Laser Tom & the Blast Crew, a kind of funk with wah wah guitars, cool dance beats and amazing horns. This was on the strength of hearing them outside the tent while working. When I finally got my break I rushed into the tent only to find them finishing up 20 seconds later, damn. When I finished my shift at 4pm the plan was to grab some shut eye for a few hours, but by then the campsite was a rumpus, not a chance in hell. Met up with Kevin had a bite to eat, had some beers and chilled at the campsite.
We didn’t venture into the main arena again till about 8 pm, I introduced Kevin to the sounds of Andy Weatherall who was kicking up a storm at the Little Big tent. This was the second time seeing him after catching him at the Sea Sessions festival in Bundoran, Co Donegal last year. The marquee was absolutely wedged and Weatherall played some wicked filthy techno, a great start for the oncoming party that lay ahead.
Straight up to the main stage next to catch Underworld, this was my second time catching them too after being blown away by them at the Electric Arena in 2008. What can I say about Underworld, they were amazing once again and they were the only group to take advantage of the Electric Picnic’s main stage set up, by having someone film the band and projecting it on to each side of the main stages canvas. Now why can’t the Electric Picnic employ this method with all its main stage acts, it means that people at the far back can see clearer some of the action. Festival goers have been arguing that EP should use plasma screens at each side of the stage but Underworld proved that you just merely have to film and project it onto the sides of the cloth. They played a mixture of their classics spanning the last twenty years like Rez, Born Slippy and new stuff from their recent 2010 album Barking such as Scribble. Underworld probably got one of the best reactions from the crowd at the festival and had a stunning light show to boot.
Back at the campsite we made a new buddy, Paul Dinneen from Kilbritten in West Cork, who hung about with us rest of the night, this being his 2nd year at EP.
And finally to the last main stage act, Pulp, now I never really bothered to have an interest in the band before, Blur being the one I probably liked the most out of the Britpop scene, but Pulp simply blew me away tonight they were rather excellent. I saw Jarvis Cocker before in his solo set up at EP 2008 which was alright but nothing compared to Pulp’s performance on the main stage. I wouldn’t be so knowledgeable on the groups music, but they had a powerful presence and a great visual show too, banks of TV monitors showing corresponding visuals. The song that worked best with the visuals and lights and my personal highlight was the angst-driven This is Hardcore, songs like this mark out Pulp and distinguish them from their counterparts, Oasis and Blur. The reaction from the audience to their lesser known material was strange, tracks like Sorted for E’s and Wizz seemed to get no applause at all considering the crowd that was gathered, but Cocker’s dry humour and banter eventually won them over. The best reaction was received when the group finished with their biggest hit Common People, they are truly one of the classic bands from the Britpop era even though their history goes back to the late 1970s.
Myself, Paul and Kevin explored more of the Body & Soul for the next few hours, I had a vain hope that I might just bump into Salim and Aminah or some Galway heads but no joy there. I missed Austra playing on the B & S main stage but did catch a bit of the following act, Brandt Brauer Frick who were kicking up a buzz with a healthy dose of ravers giving it stick on the dance floor, the German trio use acoustic instruments from the classical tradition which they blend into techno music creating a very unique sound.
Went on to the next nearest stage, the Earthship where I think Jon Averill or maybe Def Disco where frying their audience with filthy electro beats, this stage was made of wood and earth and was rimmed with vari-lights at the top giving a visual splendour at night time. Once we tired of bopping to the relentless bpm, it was time to seek out one of the chill out stages so the Peace Pagoda took our fancy. This is a lovely chilled out stage with open spaces, Annapurnas the DJ at the time had lovely chimes and ambient effects on the go and mixed it in nicely with Blur’s Tender, yep, this was the place with the unmistakeable smell of weed, many folk choosing this quiet ambient spot to have a fly wee joint. One thing was for sure it was bloody cold by this time with a chill wind blowing through the open spaces. I couldn’t find any night time clips of the Peace Pagoda but did come across a daylight clip on Youtube of a rave in there from Electric Picnic 2010.
The final port of call was Trenchtown to catch a bit of music before our shut eye, who better to take us into a cool chill than the County Clare group Serious Mischief. Serious Mischief were the second last closing band for the Trenchtown main stage, they mix elements of jazz, free form and reggae together, performing a mixture of songs and instrumentals. The drummer made a big impression, he had amazing dexterity and was very intricate in his style.
It was back to the tent then for the last few cans among other things and the beat box using the final batteries. In retrospect, my initial disappointment of missing Toots and the Maytals was short lived, reports coming back about the gig revealed that Toots Hibbert had Laryngitis and he couldn’t perform the gig, his daughter Leba stepped in and apparently she done an excellent job.
The following day when we said our goodbyes to everyone, we were but an hour out of Stradbally when the storm predicted by Met Eireann for the weekend kicked in for the next two days, so we were very lucky indeed.
Roll on EP 2012.
Bump Musik Festival, Landscape House & Gardens, Co. Clare Ireland. 23rd & 24th July