Thursday 23rd May
So my journey began with Kevin Keehan from Galway at four in the afternoon, we had to pick up two other volunteers in the city and our destination was Belvedere House, Mullingar for a briefing and to register and to pay the rest of our bond for working at Life festival that kicked off the following day.
With everyone arriving, Lorna, our coordinator gave a talk and then some of the security also gave a talk. Lorna took a bunch of us on a walk so that we could familiarise ourselves with the festival layout. This was my chance to get to know a few of the other volunteers, set the tent up and crack open a few cans. It’s a lovely feeling to be wandering about a festival before it kicks in, technicians running around putting the last touches to the sound systems and lights and others putting up the Psy stage art among the trees. Where my tent was positioned I looked down to the main stage from the top of the hill, most of the volunteers were camped to the right beside the trees and there was a grand singalong going on there with some fellahs and their guitars, there was an excitement in the air and this was my first festival of the summer. I wanted to take it easy enough on the first night so four cans was grand enough and I hit the hay about half two in the morning as I had a shift at 10 am.
Friday 24th May
Rising at 9 am I made sure I scoffed a few cereal bars and some mixed fruit and nuts before heading off to my volunteer check in at the office. There was a squad of about eight or nine of us dispatched to the car parking area of the festival, something that I done before at Life Festival 2011. We sat about for a little while until Tim our supervisor showed up and assigned us to posts. Two volunteers were at the entrance gate and they had to find out if the drivers had in fact, tickets otherwise they would be turned away or diverted to the drop point. I was positioned a little further down the track and my job was fairly simple, to point the driver to the next volunteer. Volunteers were positioned right along the track until the driver was directed into a parking space.
I was then moved to the entrance myself where I helped the other guy talking to the drivers, I directed taxis and parents down the drop off route and car parkers down the only other route. As I said the work was fairly easy but when your on your feet for a solid eight hours or more the last thing you want to do is dance when you finish, more like putting your feet up and sitting for an hour or two. I was eventually moved to the drop off point as the previous guy had communication problems and a back log of cars had gathered there as a result.
Most of the time it was fairly quiet but the drop offs came in bursts and that kept me busy, I started noticing other cars in the drop off area that weren’t there before and realised that some of them were driving in through the exit while I was dealing with drop offs and just completely abandoning them. Some security was asking me why the cars were there and all I could say was I have no idea why. Near the end of my shift someone at the entrance had started directing drivers destined for the car park to the drop off, so I had to tell the unfortunate drivers that they had to re-queue again as you have to be in this lane which I pointed to up the field, you ought to have seen the faces of some of them. Another problem was DJs and artists being sent to the drop off, there wasn’t really any space for them there, so there should have been a designated spot for artists and musicians to park. Shift over I hot footed it to the campsite to rest up for an hour and a half.
Crewdson, Ancient Alien, Mr Devitt – Liquid Tent 8 pm – 11 pm.
And now for the music, after getting that much needed rest I received a text from Kevin that he had started his shift in the arena, so I made my way to the drum n bass / dubstep stage, the Liquid tent. I was thinking to myself what a lucky sod to land a shift at one of the stages. The music was mighty, the selection of DJs playing over the next hour or two there were playing some rootsy dub reggae dubstep stuff, the pumping Hertz U sound system emitting jaw dropping bass that was like a magnet for those in search of deep bass. I caught a bit of Crewdson’s set and Ancient Alien.. Mr Devitt followed playing some really amazing dub reggae with a touch of wub wub subtly applied. In fact one of the things I missed from last year was the Rootical Reggae tent, but I realised that most stages at some point will play some anyway, most of the music stages crossed into dubstep/reggae with their mixes at some point during the weekend.
Ben Pearce – Main Stage 11.30 pm
I caught a little bit of this set but I was more distracted by the sheer size of the main stage, the diamond shaped screens on either side and the massive screen backdrop. Ben was playing some nice hard techno and a massive crowd had gathered shaping the air with their moves. I could see the Red Bull Arena from where I was standing and it looked rammed to the gills, there was no way I was going to push into that madness, I preferred the ambience of the main stage and the sound Ben Pearce was blasting out.
I went for a quick trip to the Psy Stage as I wanted to get a night shot of the stage, Lah Narrad was cutting up the floor with his frenetic psy trance, while the listeners flailed about, jumped and waved their arms to the pulse of the beat, yes, the original synthesis of Life festival still seemed to be in tack. I also strolled into the Chill Out / Lectrosoul Tent for a little while, some laid back reggae sounds were blasting out of there with the most gorgeous lasers etching the beautiful tapestry of cloth on the inside of the tent, I had to take some photos.
Seth Troxler – Main Stage 1 am
Making my way back to the main stage, the side screens were all lit up and making random graphics to the pulse of the music. Troxler was playing a kind of minimal techno and looked to be having a real good time on stage. Its one thing to walk on stage and switch on your laptop and press play, some musicians and DJs looked bored out of their minds, but at Life they chose the DJs well. Troxler looked in top form and was always doing something or dancing to his sounds, pumping the mixer or whatever, but not once did I see the crowd diminish, he had them rooted to the spot dancing frantically. I took the time to shoot a video trying to take in the whole of the main stage which required me to walk a good distance back..
I headed back to camp after that as I wanted to settle down, have a few cans with Kevin before hitting the hay, I was starting my next shift at 8 am , so I wanted to be in decent shape.
Saturday 25th may
It was tough getting up at 7 but I had a tub of proargy with me, a multi vitamin health drink which set me up for the day, when I turned up at the office at 7.40 I was told that my shift had been put forward to 10 am, so I seized the opportunity to grab a coffee and breakfast roll and relax up at the campsite. When my shift started I managed to get a different one from the car park, I was sent with a squad of six volunteers and the supervisor Diarmuid Fleming to do campsite duty.
Me and Oisin were assigned to do the gates that pass through the entrance of the second campsite behind the main stage. Our job was to open the gates for oncoming traffic and block the gaps so that festival punters wouldn’t stray in front of vehicles, we had to keep the traffic flowing. It could get very busy sometimes, such as the tanker that needs to fuel the generators for the main stage or articulated trucks taking in stage equipment. In the case of Life Festival, like any dance festival, you are going to get the odd person that doesn’t know their limit and they will take far too many drugs and this is usually exacerbated by a stupid amount of drink too. Anyway, at least on two occasions we were required to ensure the swift movement of ambulances to pick up casualties.
There was one or two occasions too where young lads lost the head giving out about something, if this attitude is used unreasonably at security or volunteers, security are instructed to cut off their wristbands and eject them from the arena, One lad required five security to calm him down, seemingly it was a tiff over his girlfriend where he demolished three tents near him. I have to hand it to security, they done their job well, they used the least amount of restraint to subdue him until the van came to collect him. I not saying this was rampant, this was an isolated case. The vibe is mostly relaxed and lively with beats flooding from all directions urging you to dance and express yourself.
By the end of my shift. Cian who took over from Oisin and myself were a dusty mess, as for most of the day it was dry and vehicles passing to and fro would kick up some amount of dust, so when I finished, that can of Bavaria went down a fine treat back at the camp.
Booka Shade Main Stage – 8.30 pm
Now I did not actually go to this show, as I was still resting up at the campsite as my feet were burning up, but its not as if we had to venture far my tent practically overlooked the main stage anyway. At one point me and Kevin questioned if anyone was on the main stage, at first it sounded like one of the stages in the distance, a low thud with some synth keys. Then bang! The music became crystal clear on the main stage, Booka Shade just suddenly came into our consciousness, this has to be one of the coolest intros ever. Booka Shade is a pleasant ambient techno sound with some live drums too, I wanted to head into the arena to catch some of the set but Kevin wanted to finish his beer because of the security check into the arena, so while I was waiting I opened another can and so did Kevin, so by the time we made it to the arena the Leftfield DJ set was kicking off on the main stage.
Leftfield DJ Set – Main Stage 10 pm
Leftfield put on a fairly good set, they played mainly an industrial techno set of unknown tunes sprinkled with recognisable Leftfield sound effects. I was hoping for some of their familiar tracks or maybe Cheshire Cat toasting to some of their more chilled out reggae numbers. But the lads were relentless with their beats, pummelling us with their fast noisy techno, the only thing missing was earth growling bass. I thought the set could have done with louder bass, considering I saw them at both Rockness and Electric Picnic in 2010 with the band, they were always revered for their sound system. Still, they done a good job and finished with the only familiar track Phat Planet, the grand daddy of that frenetic Psy trance sound, what a great way to go.
Laurent Garnier – Main Stage 12 am
Laurent Garnier done a mammoth three hour set covering many phases of his career with a stunning light show, sound and a packed main stage arena. He looked to be in fine form enjoying his performance, the biggest reaction he got was when he dropped his most famous track The Man with a Red Face, he even done some scatting along with his music, clocking in a solid performance. I left half an hour before the end of his set as I was completely worn out.
The last hour was spent with Kevin and a few cans as being on your feet all day can be tiring stuff.
Sunday 26th May
I got up a little early to take a few daylight shots of the festival installations, art and some of the stages.
Much of the afternoon was spent lazing about the campsite catching up with the banter of our campsite neighbours, it was eventually the rumbling of my stomach that decided me to make the trip to the arena with Kevin in search of something to eat.
Dusty Tonez 2.30 pm – Chill Out Tent / Lectrosoul Stage.
Went into the chill out tent for a while to sit at the back which was adorned with carpets and cushions, Dusty was playing some classic house which he mixed into Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue. This was a nice laid back tent and surprisingly the noise from the Psy Stage never spilled into the chill out tent even though it was only across the path.
I finally got a chicken sweet chilli wrap from a stall called Get Stuffed, after talking with the lads working there it turned out this was their first venture into working at the festivals, so best of luck to them and I hope to see them at other festivals as they make delicious sandwiches.
Kila – Human Stage – Lakeside – 4.30 pm
Kila took their time to get started, their sound check seemed to be going on forever, well, at least about half an hour into their supposed time slot. When they did get started it was a glorious cacophony of familiar Irish music, although there is no recognisable jigs or reels in Kila’s repertoire they make a harmonious hippy hybrid interpretation of it all. There was a lovely rhythmic bass from Ronan O Snodaigh’s bodran that kept everyone else together and there was a general hooley pandemonium going on around the front of the stage with everyone trying to do Riverdance steps.
Kevin had to get it together to check in for his night shift so I walked back with him to the volunteers office where originally he was going to be sent to work at the car park, but that was changed to working in the arena, which meant he could still see some of the headliners while still working his shift.
While Kevin went off working I relaxed a while in my tent, I couldn’t help noticing that a full on domestic row was starting in a tent beside me, it sounded like the guy was dumping his girlfriend, he had, had enough, apparently she disappeared for hours on end and so had the mans supplies. Festivals are strange things, love blossoms sometimes and sometimes love falls apart, staying together in a tent at a festival can be, I suppose very much a testing ground for couples.
1200 Micrograms – Psy Stage 8 pm.
Now I have not reviewed much Psy Trance artists who played that particular stage, so I used this opportunity to properly catch the buzz of a Psy trance blow out, I filmed a piece where the camera veers of the path and leads into the side of the Psy stage, I film the audience for about a minute and then zoom into the DJs 1200 Micrograms. Just as they drop the next set of beats I whipped the camera around to catch the frenzy of the audience, I worked my way through them until I am filming at the back of the crowd. The music was as frenetic as the psy trance can get, build ups, notes soaring and straight back into bass throbs and galloping rhythms. As I said before, my attention span for this sort of music is about fifteen minutes tops and then I’m off somewhere else again which is exactly what happened. What can I say though, 1200 Micrograms done a damn good job and they had a very packed stage extending the length and breadth of the meadow, plus they were having a ball, almost as mad as the audience themselves.
I also took a trip to the Liquid tent before settling for some of the main stage action, Greaney was doing a nice drum n bass and break beats set with a decent gathering getting down to the sounds.
The first main stage act for the day for me was White Collar Boy, two DJs and a female vocalist, they were playing a kind of ambient techno sound with the girl singing soulful vocals over the mix, they reminded me a wee bit of Donal Dineen’s Parish, soft funky soulful pop, although Parish have a more bluesier world music feel.
Amon Tobin – Main Stage 8.30 pm.
Amon Tobin kicked off full steam ahead with some in your face drum n bass, the energy was palpable all around the audience, this is exactly what they wanted, Tobin head banging up on stage to his own beats. Drum n bass wasn’t his only forte, he played some nice funky ambient techno too, although not too soft, rough enough to keep you moving. Tobin done a decent enough job warming the crowd up for the German nutters Modeselektor.
Modeselektor – Main Stage 10 pm.
There was a few late starts today, firstly Kila and now Modeselektor, they did not come on to the stage till 10.25, but perhaps they were using their own sound engineers and were perfectionists, so they wanted to get the sound right, plus they had brought along their own visuals. One largish screen behind them and a smaller screen to the side held together by what looked like poles criss crossing below the DJs. When they did get started, my god, they absolutely blew me away. I have looked at video clips of them before, but to hear them in the flesh it was astonishing. Its hard to actually describe their sound, there is definitely dubstep there but used in a completely different way, the dubstep has a grimy fuzz about it and the way they connect the synth keys to match the rhythm. They opened with Grillwalker from their Monkeytown album released two years ago, this has to be one of my favourite tracks of all time, its just completely loopy, I can only describe it as corclinkity bloinkity madness, but you can dance to it or even do an elephant walk to it. Another track that set the mood for the summer for me was Blue Clouds, the guitar like synth notes created this gorgeous melody that also reminded me of Modeselektor’s side project with Apparat, Moderat, who are releasing an new album in August. so hoping for Moderat for the Picnic.
There was many selections from Monkeytown and various other albums that I have to familiarise myself with. One of the tracks involved one of the DJs shaking up a bottle of Champagne and letting it flow over the first few rows of the audience, no doubt they were all there with their mouths gaping open to get some free alcohol. Sometimes the music would veer into drum n bass and sometimes techno and sometimes there was softer more melodic numbers such as Berlin featuring the lovely vocals of Miss Platinum. Their visuals were incredibly psychedelic, the backdrop would show scrambled graphics and then more precise graphics, the bars below the DJs lit up, it was a sort of tube lighting structure that could be intensified to function as lasers, making the whole thing an absolute visual feast. But as quickly as they came on they came to their final number, a Moderat track, A new error, I can’t help thinking that if they weren’t delayed we would have got at least another two tracks from the set. I was hoping they would drop Kill Bill Vol 4, but what a way to end, Modeselektor, the perfect main stage closer. Just as the group departed the stage it started to rain, so back to camp for me and Kevin.
I would have loved to explore more of the festival after hours but as it transpired the rain got heavier and heavier, so we just stayed in the tent for the night. There was times we were tempted to take a trip to the arena, but the thought of wading through the muck after thousands had passed through put me off the idea.
Well, that’s another Life festival over and although I missed some of my friends who attended previous ones I had an amazing time. Life is really a unique festival, its in a different league from the likes of Tomorrowland, the newly christened Oxegen dance festival, more in the vein of Glade festival specialising in electronic rather than just commercial dance music. It seems RTE Pulse is trying to present it as a commercial dance event, too much coverage I felt was given to the Red Bull stage. Now this stage done particularly well and was always wedged, but I felt it detracted from the other stages sometimes, more attention should have been given to the Psy stage and the Liquid Tent and the Main stage for that matter. Roll on next year.