Electric Picnic 2010 Festival Review
Electric Picnic, Stradbally Estate, County Laois, Ireland. Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th September 2010
Friday started out with the most amazing sunshine that the festival has ever experienced, it only took about fifteen minutes from the bus drop off point to reach the Jimi Hendrix campsite, only the queuing to hand ticket and get wrist band being the time consuming part of it. The general trek to set up the tent though couldn’t have been more perfect setting up next to a sound Wexford contingency, I was surrounded by people from the sunny South East, they must have brought the weather with them. So out with the boogie box and the cracking open of a few cans to make new friends with my camping neighbours.
Main Stage: The Jolly Boys 4.45 pm – 5.30 pm
What better for the second main stage openers to complement the fantastic weather with excellent sunshine reggae. The Jolly Boys are old timers who have be entertaining for sixty years with their brand of classic ska reggae covering some of the recent hits like Blondie’s The Tide is High, Amy Winehouse’s Rehab and New Order’s Blue Monday. It would seem that EP had broke the tradition of the Sunday afternoon skank by having it on the Friday instead, but all it meant was they had increased the amount of reggae bands, which is not a bad thing at all, considering that Fat Freddy’s Drop and Dennis Alcapone were booked for the Sunday afternoon and evening. I could not find a Youtube of the Jolly Boys at EP, so settled for a clip from this years Bestival festival, England’s version of EP the following weekend.
Onto the Body & Soul area to enjoy some mellow chilled out music, I chanced upon the Amphitheatre stage and soaked up the sound of Que Pezon for a good twenty minutes, a South American collective of musicians who merge funk and rock with native traditional music.
With the heat build up I started to get a headache, silly me decided to drink too many cans in the heat and have the banter with new found friends that I forgot to eat. It was here your intrepid reporter had to go for a rest and in the process miss, Janelle Monae, the Waterboys, Modest Mouse, Marc Almond, Jonsi, Laura Marling, Paul Brady among others, not a great start for a music reporter. I awoke again at 9.45 pm still feeling a little woozy but immediately set out to find the nearest steak sandwich and espresso bar. fully refreshed again I set out toward to catch some of PIL and Roxy Music
PIL – Electric Arena: 10.45 pm – 12.00 pm
Having always wanted to see Public Image Ltd, I headed for the Electric Arena where the band were rocking through the Flowers of Romance, Lu Edmonds playing some ferocious guitar during this. PIL are remarkably tight still sounding fresh and riotous, the explosive but intricate drumming of Bruce Smith coupled with the precision bass of Scott Firth, but especially the fine fettle of Rottens vocals. The band plough through the classics such as Warrior, Bags. The incendiary Religion II gets an ecstatic audience reaction when Rotten announces that the Pope protects Peadophiles in the light of the Popes forthcoming visit to the UK. Yep! PIL were always an angry bunch with an angry sound and the nearly three quarters full tent is lapping it up. The band also play a blinder with a storming version of their first single Public Image Ltd, Firth recreating the pummeling bass of Jah Wobble perfectly, its amazing how fresh this track still sounds after 32 years. Its here I take leave to sample some of Roxy Musics current set on the main stage.
Roxy Music: Main Stage 10.30 pm – 12.00 am
In between PIL’s set I took in a blast of Roxy Music, Roxy Music is a band you can love and also hate, this relationship for me is between their cool 1970s era and their sophisticated glossy pop of the 1980s, the 1970s stuff being my kind of thing. Luckily when I caught them they were blasting through Do The Strand at one point and through another blast, Lets Stick Together, Bryan Ferry still proving that he’s got it, as the silky voiced front man of this strange eccentric troupe, every exact note down to the rasping sax recreated for our loving pleasure. Then the band goes and spoils it by playing Jealous Guy, with a band of Roxy Music’s stature they will have to play some of their greatest hits, but Jealous Guy was just too much of a slow down after the jizzy Lets Stick Together , so it was off back to catch the final bit of PIL’s set in the Electric Arena.
Because part of the night was wasted sleeping I endeavoured to make use of the after hours entertainment, namely the Body & Soul area and the Rave in the Woods. Met up with an Efester and EP boardie Window_Licker and explored the Body & Soul space, Donal Dineen and friends provided some mellow vibes from the Body & Soul main stage, Dineen putting nearly five hours into his set from 10.40 pm to 3.30 am in the morning, cool easy going chilled ambient music, but lively enough to keep you moving.
It took a while to find the Rave in the Woods which involved traipsing through two camping areas to find, many wandering about the Body & Soul waiting for the Rave in the Woods to materialise in front of them. Needless to say this was the first time it was investigated, another stage with drapes, dry ice and lazers. The place was fairly packed with ravers and was a bit too wild at times, the music was so so, Im a fan of some psi-trance music, but the stuff on offer was not highly appealing and anyone that did appreciate it was completely off their nuts. Myself and Window_Licker called it a day and split, got back to my tent and my sleeping bag at 4 am.
Woke up and off to the Crepe van for a ferocious Americana coffee and a bacon and cream cheese baguette, today I was going to sample some more of that Body & Soul atmosphere.
Ciara O Driscoll: Love Letter Stage (Body & Soul) 2.00 pm – 2.30 pm
Ciara O Driscoll and her band is giving it welly with the fifty or so punters gathered around the stage, she sings Billie Holliday covers with a tight jazzy funk band in the making. I would not call her traditional in a Billy Holliday sense, but more a cross between Maggie Bell (Stone The Crows), Janis Joplin and Mary Coughlin.
Time for a pint, so off to the MR Heineken bar to drink some, um, Heineken, there is not much choice of drink available to the 240 euro paying festival punter, bar the Bacardi tent and the Crawdaddy stage (Southern Comfort). I decide against a pint as there are no eco-cups, plus its too early in afternoon to have a pint yet, not wanting to repeat yesterdays fiasco. So I decide on a mojito at a hefty 8 euros, expensive to say the least but delicious.
On the main stage the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble has a steady amount of people grooving to their sound in the late afternoon, the band being very prolific this year touring Ireland and having played both Glastonbury and Sea Sessions in Bundoran on the same weekend. Their infectious jazz with hip hop grooves creating a good time feel, the only criticism being the groups MC who overdone it with trying to get an audience reaction, when he really should just blow that horn sometimes.
Crystal Castles – Electric Arena: 5.15 pm – 6.16 pm
The Crystal Castles slot was pretty riveting, Alice Glass was on her best behaviour this time around only jumping into the audience 3 times but with the security effortlessly getting her back to the stage without a crush ensuing, like their aborted RockNess set. They done a storming version of Doe Dear and various tracks from both albums with a particularly burning version of Alice’s Practise. They even performed a brief version of I am made of Chalk which was very interesting, at first you could not make it out but when Ethan Kath plays the sombre keyboard sequence it stands out as a good live track. The stand out highlight track of the night for me was Baptism and one of the finest gigs of the weekend.
Seasick Steve – Main Stage 7.00 pm – 8.00 m
Caught a little bit of his set where he was making a fine racket on the main stage with just himself on guitar and vocals and drummer, Dan Magnusson rocking a gathering crowd. Seasick Steve delivers his own brand of the blues which often develops into a breakneck bottleneck guitar frenzy, his guitar style reminding me of Mick Moody (ex-Whitesnake). He played a selection of new stuff from the Songs for Elizabeth CD and a selection of his best known tracks, Walkin Man and a humorous tale about ankle bugs called Chiggers, most of all he was an apt choice by the Electric Picnic team to warming up festival goers for tonight’s entertainment.
LCD Soundsystem – Electric Arena : 10.45 pm – 12.15 am
Hot Chip was just finishing off when I arrived to catch a bit of LCD Soundsytem, they are sounding in amazing form and I wished I had caught some more of their set. Having got a nice place in the middle for the gig the LCD kick off with selections from their Sounds of Silver album, Get Innocuous!, Daft Punk Is Playing at My House, their most recent single Drunk Girls going down a nice treat. At this stage the tent became uncomfortably crowded and stifling, so I watched some more of the set from outside the tent, a practise I have been doing quite a lot as I can still appreciate the show standing at the apertures of the tent, plus the weather was nicer for Friday and Saturday too so that added to this too.
Time for a quick for a quick bite and a few cans from my tent in preparation for the Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77, I decide on an Eddie Rockets classic burger which does not disappoint.
The Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77 – Little Big Tent: 12.45 am – 2.00 am
The Bloody Beetroots hit the Little Big Tent stage for 12.45 am and wasted no time in blowing the Irish audience away, Warp 1.9, Have Mercy On Us and Cornelius belting out of the speakers heralded some of the tracks from their dizzbuster album Roborama. The crowd went absolutely apeshit when the band performed Shitdisco – 72 Virgins as they appeared with guitars and these Italians can seriously rock, the music becoming a metal / techno hybrid. Again the tent got really uncomfortably packed and I withdrew to watch from the side of the tent, watching at least three quarters of the set. Another reason for watching outside of the tent was because of drink or piss was being flung from the back of the audience to the front.
Leftfield – Main Stage: 12.30 am – 2.00 am
I caught the last bit of Leftfields set as I had the pleasure of seeing them in their entirety at RockNess, so I was just in time to catch their last two numbers, Phat Planet bringing their set to a suitable close, what a monster sound.
After seeing a whole bunch of stuff today I retired to the tent for a couple of cans and some sounds on the ipod, hitting the hay about 3.30 am.
Hangover bad today, I think I need one of these pricey mojitos, which I duly did purchase. Spending a bit more time at the campsite I decided to meet some more of my neighbours and to do some quality chilling, deciding not to go into the arena till about early evening, the weather being a deciding factor here with the rain starting.
Friendly Fires – Main Stage: 5.30 pm – 6.30 pm
Caught a bit of the Friendly Fires set who have a great indie sound that distinguishes them from the usual indie twaddle and with a good brass section too, they also pulled in a sizable number despite the drizzle which was getting progressively heavier as the evening wore on.
Unkle – Electric Arena: 7.45 pm – 8.45 pm
Some more chilling at the campsite and back into arena at about 8ish, I decided to go and check out someone I had no clue about, using the EP tradition of new discoveries. Unkle was my new discovery, having read reviews from previous performances at EP, I was pleasantly surprised. A cool electronic indie sound, I cannot tag them to any other groups sound so this is a good thing, they had authenticity, a good vibe and energy and some nice surprising riffs to their sound.
The National – Main Stage: 8.45 pm – 9.45 pm
Caught a bit of the Nationals set on the main stage who had a great rock and pop energy, the rain becoming fairly heavy at this stage, but this did not seem to diminish the Nationals fan base in what turned out to be an entertaining show and another nice discovery. Matt Berninger the groups singer even thanked the audience for tolerating the weather and showing their support.
Fed up with drinking beer at this stage I sampled a mega after breakfast smoothie from the smoothie stall which was delicious and put me in a nice fruity mood for another discovery, Fever Ray at the Electric Arena.
What can I say, Fever Ray almost takes the crown here from Aphexs Twins set at RockNess, simply by their use of very different types of lazers.
Fever Ray – Electric Arena: 9.30 pm – 10.30 pm
As the growling sub bass of If I Had a Heart ushered in, about thirty old fashioned lamps dotting the stage flickered to the beat while two thick green lazers appeared from the centre top of the stage, as the song progressed both single lazers opened up like the petals of a flower to reveal a lattice network of lazers that spread out like giant wings for the duration of the song, simply bloody amazing.
Fever Ray although an essentially an electronic act has folky textures sometimes and makes great use of beautiful ambient electronica textures that is quite like nothing else on earth. Their use of vocal is really strange too, getting unbelievable bass tones with Karin Dreijer Anderssons vocals working a brilliant counterpoint with her higher vocal. In tracks like the sombre Concrete Walls and Dry and Dusty she uses voice manipulation and pitch shifting to startling effect to go with the dark sparse electronics. But with Fever Ray, its not all dark, there is poppy and quirky uplifting numbers such as Seven, Triangle Walks and Im Not Done which reminds me of the Cocteau Twins from the mid 1980s.
For the first few numbers I was trying to work out where the hell she was on the stage, the group was cloaked in copious amounts of dry ice and at times I mistakened her for one of the glowing lamp shades dotted around the stage. When I got a bit nearer, I could see she was possibly the one with the strange hat or head dress on her head. It plagued me to some extent that I could not see some of the members through the set, but realised that this is what they want to do, to be as anonymous as their excellent music, another highlight was When I Grow Up which gives you the sense of Swedish forests, especially with the squealing electronics in the background which sound reminiscent to wolf cries and flutes. This is probably the best show I have ever experienced at the Electric Picnic.
Massive Attack – Main Stage: 10.30 pm – 12.00 am
By now it was a hard driving wind and rain, but I was still impressed with Massive Attacks main stage set closer, generous amounts of classics were revisited such as Teardrop, Angel and Unfinished Symphony as well as a smattering of tracks from the new album Heligoland. Their light show used impressive bright digits that raced across the screen with some heavy propaganda messages, but sometimes my enjoyment was interrupted by the wetness, when I was forced to seek shelter. Needless to say it was an early night in the tent after this due to hurricane winds and lashings of rain, the tent was still in one piece in the morning thank god!
I enjoyed this festival immensely, there was only a few criticisms this year.
Although the skanger element was down in the campsites, pint throwing in the audience was more noticeable this year, numerous times during Crystal Castles, Bloody Beetroots, leftfields and Fever Rays sets I seen various pints and objects being lobbed into the audience, this is new to EP and I dont like it. During Fever Rays set a heavy object was thrown at my head which completely killed my buzz and changed my mood somewhat it took me 10 minutes to get into the set again.
Also coming back into the arena for Fever Ray my wrist band became a bit slack from wear and tear, the security was going to send me back around to the box office to get it tightened again, I asked whats the point in that the festival is almost over, but he pointed out to me that if you can get three fingers under the band, then it can be removed, he eventually managed to tighten it a bit more, so didnt have to do that again. Still its a good sign as it means they are thoroughly checking that there is no fence jumpers, with security doing random checks in the campsite too. Roll on 2011.
Oxegen 2010: Sunday 11th July Festival Review.
With both Friday and Saturday being utterly miserable days of wind and rain, I was hoping that my day trip from Dublin to Oxegen for Sunday would bring better weather and as luck would have it, it was a dry day although cloudy. Being a veteran of Electric Picnic I wanted to check out the Punchestown festival just to see what it was like, but mainly to catch the dance / rock group Faithless. Surprisingly the festival arena area is much more smaller than the EP arena area and considering that Oxegen has more than double the amount of people this is rather bizarre. There is no chill out areas, just mainly food stalls, clothes stalls, bars and a small carnival, but most noticeable of all is the age group, mainly teenagers and folk in the early twenties. I must have looked an oddity amongst the audience being one of the few 45 year olds, I certainly felt old anyway lacking the energy of my younger neighbours.
Main Stage: Earth, Wind and Fire 3.15 pm
This being the second opener on the main stage was a blast from the past, my memories of Earth, Wind and Fire, the funk /pop group from the late 70s doing Boogie Wonderland on Top of the Pops took me right back. Not only do they sound the same but look almost identical to what they looked like back then, apart from say a few grey hairs here and there. Saying that they gave a great performance of good ole 70s funk in their glitter and glam outfits, they certainly did not make me feel out of place, but I can imagine that the young folk of Oxegen probably were wondering who the hell they were.
Time to get an early lunch and pint perhaps and meet some people, Oxegen does have the same abundance of food stalls as EP, but it seems Heineken still rules the bars like EP so I had to settle for a watered down pint of lager to wet the whistle. When I went near the main stage again, Newtown Faulkner was just finishing off the last number of his set, a cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which he tackled with superb aplomb. Just a voice, dreadlocks and an acoustic guitar, or so we thought, it was when Faulkner got to the heavy metal bit of the song his guitar exploded into the loudest riffs you could possibly hear, leaving me wishing I had caught more of his set.
Main Stage: Paolo Nutini 7.00 pm
Paolo Nutini and his crew set the mood for the day with the Toots and the Maytal’s sounding 10/10, a sunshine reggae number that sums up the relaxed mood of Oxegen’s only dry day. Nutini was in suitable festival form and was the perfect antidote for a relaxing Sunday evening and much more preferable to the machine sound of rapper D12. He played a healthy selection of hits and tracks from both his albums and a stunning cover of MGMT’s Time to Pretend which went down a treat.
Fake Blood – Dance Arena 7.15 pm
Snuck over to the Dance Arena to catch about twenty five minutes of Fake Blood’s set, his sonic and hard driving techno sounds guaranteeing that the dance arena was at least three quarters full with frenzied dancers. Fake Blood makes good use of his bass and at times his sound became a bass buzz drone, a heavy electrical static sound that helped pump the beat, drifting from dubstep to pounding techno. He sampled the Crystal Castle’s Suffocation to startling effect on the track Mars, similar in some ways to what the Bloody Beetroots do with syncopation and reversed sound, creating if you like, a pleasure groove. The Crystal Castles seems to be a popular choice at the moment in DJ dance sets, having heard Fat Boy Slim and other DJs on 2FM’s Oxegen Friday coverage using the same sample and samples of the groups Celestica.
Faithless – Main Stage 8.35 pm
Faithless kicked off with a few numbers from the new album The Dance an gave us a chance to hear the recent collaborations with Kubb singer Harry Collier, the 2006 single in particular Bombs getting a huge reaction from the audience, his light tenor a perfect balance to Maxi Jazz’s bassier vocal tone. The band also used hints of dubstep adding to their ice cool techno sound, when the band ploughed through classics such as Insomnia and We Become 1 the place went positively ballistic, so much so that this old timer had to retreat farther back from the heaving fans to fully appreciate the band. Oxegen having a very young sort of age group, it was hard keeping up with the energy of the audience. Special mention has to go to the Faithless light show of gorgeous spotlights that matched a perfect balanced sound.
Broken Social Scene – Red Bull Academy Stage 9.05 pm.
With a mere few hundred in the tent Broken Social Scene tore up the floor of the place, their sound a quirky type of indie rock with a sparseness of pastoral folk thrown in, it almost seemed that BSS was misplaced at Oxegen rather than playing at the Electric Picnic, in much the same way that Fever Ray in the previous year was placed in front of a few hundred in the Dance Arena, compared to the other stages at Oxegen the Red Bull Academy had the most Electric Picnic vibe of them all. Although the band drew a small crowd it was a very appreciative one and probably more due to the fact where the tent was placed which was nearer to the stalls and camping entrances than the busiest part of the main arena.
The Prodigy – 10.15 pm
If there was ever a super close to my festivities, the Prodigy are the perfect band to use up your last reserves of demented energy, this was my first time seeing them and they definitely live up to their image of a punk techno band. It was a pity that the Vodafone main stage area was a swamp from the weekends downpour, but many were glad for the space while the rest of the festival was watching Eminem. Perhaps the Prodigy were not impressed with the mere few hundred gathered in front of them, but they did not show it as they performed a fine sprinkling of new material and classics such as Smack My Bitch Up, Firestarter and Breathe to the up-for-it crowd.
Despite some of the peoples reservations about camping at Oxegen, I would recommend a day trip to the festival, although the festival arena as generally small it is well organised with an abundance of good food stalls and bars and there is always something for everyone in some of the various stages to make it worth your while. I also found locating the Dublin Bus no problem with the areas well signposted and helpful stewards directing you. Saying that it was an expensive day at 99.50 euros for a day pass and about the same equivalent spent in food and drink during the day, but an enjoyable one at that.
Sea Sessions 2010, Bundoran, County Donegal, Ireland 25th – 26th June.
Exploring the festival site as the gates opened at six, I found the area to be quite small but compact with two large marquees, the Main Beach Stage and the North Beach Stage and the smaller dance tent, the Reach Session Stage. In amongst all this is clothes and food stalls, a bar and still enough wide open spaces to chill out after being subjected to constant amplification. I was very pleased to see the Eco Bus from the Electric Picnic and their delicious steak sandwiches, their reggae sounds serving to act as the Sea Sessions unofficial chill out area. There is also the Relentless Performance Arena showcasing experts of danger sports, add the majestic view of the open Atlantic Ocean and the Bundoran fun fair to the side of the site and you have the workings of an open air music festival.
Kudos to Declan Madden and that lads for thinking of the idea of placing a festival next to a carnival and the sea, most bigger festivals always have a ferris wheel but Sea Sessions has a fully fledged carnival that adds to the festival ambience especially when the lights come on at night. So on with the music.
Main Beach Stage – Jester 7.00 pm
Jester, a rock group from Thurles, Tipperary opened the main stage at 7 pm. Their music is of a hard driving rock style veering towards 1980s new wave punk. The rhythm section of bass player Eoin Ryan and the guitars of Mark O’Dwyer and Tom Maher is very tight and precise whilst Johnny Gleeson the drummer proves he is the teeth of the group, using nice dynamics in his playing. Colly Dempsey gives a strong performance on vocals and creates a nice rapport with the audience, the group playing tracks from their forthcoming debut album including Swimming, Silent Disco and their recent single Maria.
Main Beach Stage: The Dead Flags 7.45 pm
The Sligo pop punk band the Dead Flags hit the main stage at 7.45 showcasing tracks from their recently released album Gentlemens Club. Their energy at times reminded me of the Early Jam or Arctic Monkeys and blistering pop rockers like I cant Be Held Responsible and Lets Start a Fire. The craftsmanship of Kevin Lowery on drums, Dave Power on bass and Billy Fitzgerald on vocals, keyboards and guitar make for a very tight unit indeed and one worth investigating on their current tour around Ireland for June, July and August.
North Shore Stage: Dark Room Notes 8.50 pm
I only managed to catch the last four songs of this Dublin groups set, but the combination of two keyboard players and a guitarist created a fuzzed out electro pop, Dark Room Note’s music at times reminded me of the keyboard textures of Booka Shade. It has to be said, a good electronic bass has a strong pulling power for a potential audience and with the techno pop of Lets Light Fires and the doom-laden eerie gothic Electrocoin pulling a sizable number into the tent. The pulling power along with the electronics and guitars is the excellent vocals of Ruari Ferrie and Arran Murphy, a nice set of good edgy songs with electro ambient and sometimes, disturbingly bassy keys.
Main Beach Stage: Fun Lovin’ Criminals 9.30 pm
Caught a few numbers from this US group who play a rocky country blues with a touch of rapping, Huey Morgan on vocals, Fast on keyboards, bass and excellent horns and Frank Benbini on drums cruised through the hits like Scooby Snacks and Crazy Train. I liked the sound but grew bored after a few numbers as they began to sound samey, once you have heard a few numbers it all sounds the same. Personally I think Alabama 3 do this style far better because they have soul, funk and a bit of dance to their sound.
Main Beach Stage: Andy Weatherall 11.30 pm
Old school techno DJ Andy Weatherall closed the main stage with a 90 minute set of banging techno tunes and an up-for-it crowd dancing wildly to the beats. I had a chance to witness some of Weatherall’s peers at the RockNess festival in Scotland, namely Aphex Twin and Dave Clarke who also put on amazing shows, but Weatherall was on fire tonight with some truly mind bending electronica sounds while lasers raked the tent ceiling. A fine way to end the proceedings and a rare chance to see a legendary DJ who rarely tours at all these days.
Reach Session Stage: Genie Mash Up Set, Jay Dub Techno,Mick Pressure 7.00 pm – 12.00 am
Throughout the evening I kept calling back to this tent to sample the different Djs, many different genres of dance and beats was covered in this smallest of the venues, often the much needed release of glorious reggae music permeated to give a rest to the relentless bpm sonic assault. Genie Mash worked at hip hop textures, reggae and good techno, Jay Dub Techno continued the with reggae and techno themes, but the master of ceremonies was the closing DJ Mick Pressure and his ramblings into dub step and other stuff. I also thought the laser show from this tent was far superior to Andy Weatheralls lasers on the main stage.
The day started with lovely sunshine and continued intermittently through cloudy conditions throughout the afternoon, drizzle set in afterwards although we were spared a downpour.
North Shore Stage – Battle of the Bands 2.00 pm – 5.30 pm
Having only managed to catch the last few bands in this competition namely Red Brick House and a bit of the Wicklow ska band, Bocs Social. Bocs Social gave a rousing ska set and a perfect antidote to the hangover Saturday afternoon to get you partying again, but it was the Sligo band Red Brick House who scooped the first prize and opened the main stage for the evenings entertainment. Listed simply as Patrick, Les, Peter and Danny in their myspace page, the band have recently acquired a female vocalist with an extraordinary range of vocal, who helped them scoop that first prize. The power pop group has the makings of a Goldfrapp / Bat for Lashes sound.
North Sessions Stage – Alistan & Gally (Roots Soul) – Cignol Live 3 pm – 5 pm
I paid two visits to this tent during the afternoon, the first set by the Djs Alistan & Gally set the mood with some obscure dub and sunshine reggae. I’m quickly of an opinion that the North Sessions Stage had the best sound system, as the bass was like a magnet for the dancer and a much needed diversion to the bad main stage sound that would later plague Paul Weller and his group.
If memory recalls, the following DJ, Cignol continued with the reggae vibe but also mixed in some funk and soul, creating a kind of blaxploitation techno and guaranteeing that the tent packed with revellers.
Main Beach Arena – Trojan Sound System 6.00 pm
The Trojan Sound System comprise of two Djs and two toasters, toasters being the Jamaican term for someone who speaks or raps and sings over popular reggae and dance floor hits, Iroy and his brother Uroy being successful examples of toasting and sampling. The Trojan Sound System had some infectious good time reggae sounds but the toasting got a bit much sometimes, they clutter up otherwise incredibly good reggae music. The last straw being them covering UB40’s Red, Red Wine. UB40 later stuff never appealed to me and Red, Red Wine would be one of the worst examples of Trojan Sound Systems tribute to reggae. They still seemed to pull a good crowd though, but they weren’t exactly my cup of tea.
Main Beach Arena – Hypnotic Brass Ensemble 7.30 pm
This was one of the festival highlights for me, the nine piece group which consist of eight sons of Phil Cohran, all play horns. Cohran himself was the lead trumpeter with the Sun Ra Arkestra and the AACM. Hypnotic Bass Ensemble are augmented by a drummer and play a hip hop fusion of their jazz roots and to a fairly packed tent this evening. Having seen them also at the Electric Picnic last year they are perfect for that early evening slot at any festival. They are currently collaborators in Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz and the album Plastic Beach.
Main Beach Arena – Paul Weller 9.00 pm
Paul Weller gave a nice tight set, although he was plagued with sound problems twice during the performance. The set was mainly a greatest hits selection from his solo career with only one track featured from his new album Wake up the Nation called Trees. We were treated to storming versions of Sea Spray and You do Something for Me. Weller also revisited
the Style Council with Shout to the Top and tracks from the Jam period, Start, That’s Entertainment and A Town Called Malice. The tent for this performance was wedged and with a band of the pedigree of Steve Cradock on guitar, Andy Lewis on bass, Andy Crofts on bass and Steve Pilgrim on drums, Weller proved he was a force still to be reckoned with.
Main Beach Arena – David Holmes 11.00 pm
Now David Holmes was billed as a DJ, but he actually came across more as a radio dee jay playing his favourite selections, which is all very well as he had the tent packed out with revellers, but to be billed as a techno DJ is a bit much. I would hardly call a ten minute extended version of Talking Head’s Once in a Lifetime with a dance beat, dance music. Yet this was exactly what David Holmes set was, a disco set and not a DJ set. So off to the Reach Session Stage to hear some proper Djs.
Reach Sessions Stage: Eamon Doyle D1 Records, Droid and Slug 90s Set 11 pm
The last hour and a half was spent here dancing away to the fantastic sound system, the bass resounding to the other side of the festival. Both Eamon Doyle, Droid and Slug weaving effortlessly between electro, techno, drum and bass and dubstep. Perhaps it was the basic tent itself, but the most primitive of structures of the festival had the best sound set up and the best laser show of the festival. The only complaint being the early close at 12 pm, but then again it is easy to forget that Sea Sessions is slap bang in the middle of Bundoran, had it been out in the country perhaps there would have been a later closing of the festival.
Reach Sessions Stage – Rootical Sound System 4 pm
Sunday seemed to be a designated reggae and funk day at the tent, kicking off with the Rootical Sound System and their wonderful selection of sunshine dub reggae and ragga music. This was recommended to me by my friend Gavin who caught them at the Life festival. If there is one thing I know I want it is to own the Rootical Sound Systems record collection, wonderful obscure reggae of artists I have never heard of and a perfect way to start to a skanking afternoon for Sunday.
Main Beach Stage – Cathy Davey 5.45 pm
This is the first time I’ve caught her live having missed her at the last few Electric Picnics, despite having a microphone sound problem the band performed brilliantly, Davey showing her multi-instrumentalist skills, playing drums at the start of the set, guitars, banjo and what a great voice too.
She performed her new single Little Red and various tracks from her new album The Nameless including the title track and Lay Your Hand as well a tracks from her other albums. But the stand out track was her version of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back which tore up the main tent, a worthy addition to any festival.
Main Beach Stage – One Man Party 8.30 pm
One Man Party started off promisingly enough with some good banging techno but eventually started to sample bits of Cyndi Lauper and various other hit artists, so the set became samey like David Holmes the previous night, this seems to be a trend started by 2ManyDjs where they mash many different artists. But at least 2ManyDjs have a style and a technique that marks them out, Holmes and One Man Party are just pandering to the masses playing top radio hits with a jigged up dance beat.
Reach Sessions Stage – Collie Funktion D n B set, Jay Dub Techno, Mad Dog Techno set 8 pm – 11 pm
The last few hours were spent between food stalls, the bar and the Reach Session stage, where Collie Funktion battered out some drum and bass fused with funk and soul, beats that rip up shreds of ground beneath your feet and a truly earth shattering bass. Jay Dub Techno continued the trend fusing dubstep with techno and keeping a steady amount of dancers rooted to the floor. Mad Dog Techno closed the night with some truly mesmerizing techno with bass notes acting as hypnotic drones that seem to attract an endless stream of revellers, but alas the fun was cut at the strike of 11 pm and so ended another fun filled Sea Sessions festival for this year.
RockNess 2010 Festival, Dores, Inverness, Scotland June 11th – 13th.
My tent pitched at the efest commoners camp in the Yellow campsite by 12.30pm, all in attendance was Gavin,Haley, Louise, Harry aka Disco_Fudge Paul, Kowalski, Poleski,Wee Steve and many others. There was nice weather but cloud threatening enough and many including myself with our ipods assembled making the soundtrack for the weekend, a selection of sounds including Aphex Twin, the Bloody Beetroots, Boys Noize and one of my own choices Fensters (Dublin DJ) Breakology set from the Life Festival in Galway, Ireland from 2008.
Main Arena: Crystal Castles 7.00pm – 7.50pm
The arena bars were chaos with no order or a queuing system to it, comprising bar staff who took your orders and separate till operators that made the waiting more time consuming. Most of the crew making for the Crystal Castles opening set on the main stage, although we missed half the set because of the bar situation. The Crystal Castes is a combination of dance beats, live drums and hard driving electro-funk, the lead singer Alice Glass is one live wire of a girl who screams demented punk over the cacophony of sound. Glass had more than a few sups of a bottle of JD during the gig and was taking many bouts of stage surfing the front rows of the audience, eventually annoying the festival security to an extent that it became a health and safety issue. This caused the bands power to be cut three or four times, the fourth time the power never returned. An enjoyable show but very brief .
Clash Arena: Booka Shade 7.40 pm – 8.40 pm
Sauntered into the Clash next, looking at a duo behind a bank of keyboards, they seemed to influenced by the German Krautrock of Kraftwerk and Can as well as techno artists. I realised I was looking at the German Electro House group Booka Shade which was a nice little discovery. Having missed them at the Electric Picnic last year it was good to catch them. Many tracks were featured from the new album More and some selections of the groups back catalogue. The sound system in the Clash arena was very impressive, a great sound of bass booms, Booka Shade is extremely talented and makes seriously kicking music going from a few hundred listening punters to a packed and banging tent.
Main Stage: Friendly Fires 8.20 pm – 9.20 pm
On the way back to the campsite I caught a bit of the Friendly Fires set on the main stage which was not bad, this is the first time catching them live, quite catchy indie-pop.
Fat Boy Slim – Main Stage 9.50 pm – 23.50 pm
Caught a bit of the Fat Boy Slim set and became transfixed with the focus on Iggy Pop who was on slow motion synced to Slims music, some of his set was familiar to the famous hits and some of the material was new, a great sound from the main stage sound system.
Clash arena: Pendulum 10.40 pm – 23.40 pm
Went over to check out some of Pendulums set, the Australian group came across as a cross between the Prodigy and MGMT using a nice set of visuals on the back screen and an elaborate light show. The group give off a good energy combining elements of electro with indie and metal music, showcasing tracks from their new album Immersion.
Main stage: Fat Boy Slim
It was back to the main stage for the last bit of Slims set where he was going through a downbeat version of the Rockfeller Skank and culminating with a remix of Praise You which he also started his show with.
Arcadia Afterburner: Optimo V Subculture 12.00 am – 2.00 am
Some great sounds coming from the Arcadia Afterburner courtesy of the Subclubs favourite Optimo vs Subculture which insured that many people were getting on down to the filthy beats, the Arcadia signature of fire and lights delighting all around.
Had an early night hitting the sack at 1.30 seeing that I could not really sleep the night before because of the excitement about going to the festival. An excellent start to the Rockness festival on Friday all around.
Saturday 12th June
Decided to check out a bit more of the arena with Gav and Haley in the early afternoon, coming across another crepe stall with the proper coffee machines and had a nice latte, after some more investigation we eventually located the pizza stall which made excellent pizzas and shared a pepperoni pizza, I found out that the same stall also does the Electric Picnic festival, so will be seeking this out in September.
Annie Macs Tent: Burns 1.00 pm – 3.00 pm
The first music of the day for me was at the Annie Mac tent and a DJ called Burns who had only about 50 people around the front of the stage, the music being a kind of rocky techno, not a bad start to the Saturday by any means.
Went for drinks. discovered that you could get Barcardi Breezer, so had a few of them as I was not in the mood yet to go drinking beer so early in the afternoon.
Main Stage: Alabama 3 4.15pm – 5.15 pm
The first proper set I caught was that of Alabama 3 who were tearing through their first number on the main stage when we arrived at about 4ish. The full band was on stage and kudos again to the sound engineers as the main stage sound was fantastic with super ultra bass, especially when Woke Up this Morning started, many classics from their back catalogue was covered including Im Johnny Cash. This was the first time I had seen the band quite close on the stage, they certainly got the feet moving and were a great warm up for the ensuing festivities.
Clash Arena: The Dub Pistols 5.30 pm – 6.30 pm
After a pint of Carling it was off with some of the efesters to the Clash tent to catch some of the Dub Pistols set. The Dub Pistols have had Terry Hall from the Specials singing with them in previous times, but the current singer T.K. Lawrence can more than hold his own wit the group singing ragga with ska and iree vital sounds. The groups sound is essentially ska but using rockier sound with a nice smattering of rock, electronics and horns. They played to a small crowd at the start so there was plenty of room to boogie about, but by mid-way through their set the tent eventually started to fill up a bit. I left before the last number as I wanted to eat and chill at the campsite in preparation for the Aphex Twin set at the Clash arena at 8.30 pm.
On the way to the Clash arena I looked to the main stage from the side where 2ManyDJs were holding a large crowd there with a repeated set from the last few years, one of the things that captivated me about their set was the trillions of bubbles generated by the bubble machine or was this confetti that another reviewer remarked at.
Clash Arena: Aphex Twin 8.30 pm – 10.00 pm
At the Clash tent the excitement was impalpable for Aphex Twins set, many people including myself had never seen him live before. The music was a lot more subtle than his previous outings which I have heard from previous recordings from T in the Park and Oxegen 2008. the new material still uses some of the trademark drum n bass and gabba bits, but he was really using some nice esoteric sounds that created a nice balance to the whole thing. There was use of visuals such as the familiar Aphex Twin logo and psychedelic colours in the back screen projection that washed with his musique concrete.
Then came the lasers which need a special mention alone. pink, violet, spectrum, lime green, yellow, red and white stripe, yellow and blue striped lasers coupled with amazing spotlight colours that truly made this particular gig a momentous occasion. I was delighted that he revisited Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92 and the second track Tha, a musique concrete masterpiece using submarine sonar sounds, heartbeats and bass analogue synthesizers, the underlying beat being industrial clanks that almost become the heartbeat and reminiscent to something quite like the early Tangerine Dream from the 1970s. I cannot wait for this new record of his to come out and will lap up these new tracks which got the full set treatment tonight. Another rambling into his back catalogue gave us the Fingerbib track from his Richard. D. James record, a visually and audially stunning set from the Aphex Twin.
Main Stage: Leftfield 10.30 pm – 12.00 am
This was one of my other highlights, the sound alone deserves a special mention, earth moving bass, amazing vocalists and a good chunk of Leftism to boot. One thing I worked out is that Leftfield are not just another dance band, their music incorporates many different styles, there is a love for dub reggae in their sound and they do as good a downbeat track as both Portishead and Massive Attack. Song of Life kicked off the proceedings in gargantuan style, having never saw them before but only on video clips they truly rocked the boat. Tess on vocal for the second track Original was a knock out, wrapped in a gorgeous silver catsuit she recreated the vocals of Tony Halliday effortlessly, the bass from this track created what felt like earth tremors. The visuals used were not amazing but they still were effective enough to be unique.
I think on the track Afro Left which featured the bloke rapping in African was a pivotal moment for me, because it was quite unlike anything else on earth, fascinating. I cannot remember all of the tracks but I thought it was a perfect close to the main stage for Saturday night, especially with the final number Phat Planet.
Campsite and frolics with efesters getting suitably in the mood for the arena, but mainly in shelter as there has been a fine rain for the last 10 hours. Crepe van for coffee and steak sandwich, the rain not as bad as I thought it sounds worse inside your tent.
Clash Arena: Rob Da Bank 4 pm – 6 pm
Myself Gav and Haley made for the Clash tent so that we could dance to keep warm and dry too, unsure who was on stage at the time, either Rob Da Bank or Gavin reckoned, FartBarf! Strange funky music, first track sounded like a ragga singer on helium and then some timely vintage reggae which was absolutely perfect for this moment in time, a Jamaican version of Floy Joy! This made up for the lack of reggae or a proper chill out area for that matter. But the set did seem like a Dee Jay playing his favourite selections rather than a DJ mixing, so I opt that it was Rob Da Bank.
Main stage: Blondie 6 pm – 7 pm
Wandered over to the main stage where Blondie was ploughing through Atomic, the sound was not great for this gig, but I suppose the festival will run into problems from time to time. Not taking from that the band looked very tight and energetic on stage and Debbie Harry not looking too bad for 65 years of age. The band played another few tracks from Parallel Lines ending their set with the number one smash Heart of Glass, it was then preparations were made for the Bloody Beetroots set at the Clash Arena.
Clash Arena: Bloody Beetroots 7.15 pm – 8.15 pm
When this group started there was a few hundred of us around the front of the stage, about approximately 1 and half minutes into the build up of Warp 1.9 the whole tent was a thriving mass pumped up by that first 1234 Screeeeeeeeeaaaaammmmmm! This Italian group is one amazing buzz, they were not just amazing mixers and DJs with the most mind bending electronic sounds, they were also amazing musicians on guitar, drums, spiderman masks and boundless energy leaping about the stage like acrobats. In short they put on a dazzling display of a new music, banging techno punk rock. One of the most refreshing bands to emerge from the dance / rock scene in ages.
Radio Soulwax Tent: Soulwax 9 pm – 10 pm
Managed to catch the last few numbers of the live group version of 2ManyDJs, having grown a bit fed up with the latters repeat performance it was refreshing to actually see them as live muiscians, the stage show had incredible bright spotlights which almost blinded me but the music was really good electro funk, I hope the group Soulwax would do a gig at EP rather than their DJ version.
Arcadia Afterburner: Aeroplane 10 pm -11.30 pm
The music was pretty funky and with great resounding bass that made the tshirt vibrate, but this was the second DJ to sample Cyndi Lauper I think ( Rob Da Bank earlier too), some of the music was fairly cheesy so I went a wandering towards the Clash Arena and Main stage.
Clash Arena: Dave Clarke 10.15 pm – 11.45 pm
Not knowing much about this DJ and since I came to the festival in mind to check out the different artists in the dance scene, Clarke had some good banging techno keeping a hardcore audience occupied in the Clash Arena. But it came to the point that my eardrums was overloaded from numerous gigs during the day that the bass vibrations became quite irritating some times, so went out to the main stage to get a breather on the hill side.
Main stage: The Strokes 10.30 pm – 11.50 pm
Not knowing much about the Strokes either I took in a few numbers, the Strokes have a good time feel of indie-pop-rock, Casablancas onstage patter was quite warming and he communicates well with his audience, a bit of timely rock to close the proceedings on the main stage, Ive know idea of any of their songs as they are one of these bands that has never played at the Electric Picnic, usually playing bigger fests like Coachella, T and Oxegen, but I enjoyed their basic heads down indie rock n roll.
Closing of the festival – Fireworks display 12 am
Seemed to be more briefer than the video clips of old, but an nice end to the to the proceedings.
Walking back up through the Arcadia Afterburner and the Rizla stage it seemed to be ominous with no sound bouncing off your cranium, so much for the two extra hours of entertainment promised as well as Sat and friday night too. Anyway was absolutely shattered and called it a day, conking out about 30 mins later in my tent, time possibly 1.30 am. Still I will be keeping in mind RockNess 2011 and watching with eager eyes the line up additions for next summers festival.
Night Noise Team Launch Debut Single The Wee Red Bar: Edinburgh College of Art: £5 Admission. Saturday November 28th
The Wee Red Baris tucked in at the back of Edinburgh College of Art and its one of these places where you have to be in the know, of where the hell you actually are. Edinburgh indie-pop rockers, Night Noise Team were launching their debut single, Menolick and the venue was fairly packed for this 45 minute performance of new material and tracks from their album Ronde De Nuit . Having seen the band previously, almost exactly two years ago at Bannermans, I was dying to see how they have honed and crafted their sound.
The band kicked off with The Gift a punchy uptempo number that utilised the drumming skills of sticks man Mike Walker to a fine zeal. As I’ve emphasised before about this group, Walker, like their previous drummer Keith Kirkwood is the teeth of the group and it’s his driving force that keeps the group a tight cohesive unit. Where do they get their drummers from? The next number Deadport comes across as heavier and faster live than in their studio version, singer Sean Ormsby more than holding his own as the group’s front man and vocalist. His voice having tinges of Bowie and Ian Curtis or even dare I say it, Billy MacKenzie, but on a much lower register and without the twee keyboards of the Associates. Billed on their Myspace page as French pop, NNT comprise of the songwriting skills of Northern Irish man Sean Ormsby and French producer Fabien Pinardon who plays bass with the group. Fabien and guitarist, Marco Morelli from Milan give NNT an euro edge that gives them a distinction amongst other indie groups in the Edinburgh scene. There was the pacier, slower numbers too such as Nouvelle Vague and new track Canonmills Gothic which created a nice balance to their more energetic ones, slow builders with tons of wallop. Canonmills Gothic using funk and touches of reggae in its construction. The tempo picked up again for Slow Release, a fast punky number that ensured the odd head wagged here and there. NNT finally closed with Menolick, their debut single which also packs a fine punch, NNT taking some of the elements from great indie pop bands like the Smiths, Nick Cave and Joy Division, but a more guitar-based set up. The audience giving them a huge roar of approval. This suggests to me that this could be a band we will be seeing a lot more of in the future.
Sean Ormsby talked about the release and reaction to their debut single Menolick and his reactions to the gig and their plans for 2010. “ The reaction to the single has been very good, so far. Actually it will be released on Monday, Saint Andrew’s Day on the 30th. The preamble is that there’s been a lot of positive feedback, we’ve had Radio One play it, we’ve had various podcasts and we’ve had a review in the local press. So we’re hoping that will continue on, when the single is released, that we will get a bit more coverage and that will give it a good push world wide, I hope.” I asked him about his reaction to the single launch at the Wee Red Bar on Saturday Night 28th November. “ I really enjoyed the gig, we all thought it was really successful, it was the first gig we put on ourselves, so there was an added little stress to that. We were doing the door, hiring the place and setting up the gear and all this sort of thing and choosing the support band. It all worked out brilliantly, we got a brilliant turn out, cold night, an Edinburgh winter night, but a brilliant turn out (despite the weather).” I asked him what the group’s plan for 2010 was and if there was going to be a new album in the offing. “ The plan is to continue pushing this single and trying to get publicity and coverage for it and release another single in the spring, followed quickly by our second album.” You can buy and download Night Noise Team’s new single from iTunes or from their record label’s website Permwhale. Sean Ormsby interview
The Steve Hillage Band / Gong – HMV Picture House, Edinburgh 22nd November 2009
The great crazy rock band Gong was coming to town with an new album 2032, this being their first tour in Scotland anyway since 2000. But this time round was a truly unique occasion, Steve Hillage the band’s erstwhile guitarist from the mid-seventies was playing with the group for the first time in 30 years and many considered this to be an event not to be missed. It wasn’t just Scottish people in attendance, many had traveled up from as far as Berwick-On-Tweed and Newcastle, anywhere that the Gong tour schedule didn’t touch, within the radius of Edinburgh. The Steve Hillage Group hit the stage at 8.15 pm with an amazing wide screen style backdrop that brought the lucid images from the group’s 1970s era to life. This was courtesy of the Japanese animators Mood Magic, who created the wonderful water images of the Fish Rising album. Hillage kicked off with a reworked version of his classic Meditation of the Dragon track from his 1979 album Live Herald. His band consisted of Mike Howlett on bass, Miquette Giraudy on synthesizer and Chris Taylor on drums. The tracks I did know came from the Fish Rising album from 1975, in fact half his set was fish Rising. The band settled into the groove of Aftaglid, ignoring the first four suites, they went into a instrumental workout of the Lafta Yoga Song followed by scorching versions of Glidding and The Golden Vibe / Outglid. They closed their short set with an energetic version of the Salmon Song. The How to Stay Alive video projected onto the backdrop, heralded the arrival of Gong. This was more or less the same line up but with the addition of Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth and Theo Travis on sax and flute. There was a fine smattering of tracks from the new record 2032, stand outs being How to Stay Alive, Waccy Baccy Banker, Portal and some of the quieter Gilli Smyth tracks like the Yoni Poem and Wave & Particle. Considering that both Allen and Smyth are in their 70’s, they still have a boundless energy and good singing voices. Theo Travis replicating former Gongster Didier Malherbe’s sax and flute to a fine zeal. Then of course, there was the classics from the Radio Gnome Trilogy. Tracks from Camembert Electrique (1971), Flying Teapot (1972), Angels Egg (1973) and You (1974). Stand out tracks were Zero the Hero & The Witches Spell, You Can’t Kill Me, Flute Salad / Oily Way. They even had time to play an obscure unreleased track called Barnyard, probably one of Gong’s wildest and heaviest tracks But the real whizz-bangers have to be the tracks from You, Masterbuilder was absolutely mind-blowing and I’ve a sore neck to prove it and the set closer You’ll Never Blow Your Trip Forever. All in all, a wonderful nostalgic night of good time space rock.
Bat For Lashes – HMV Picture House 20th October 2009
Natasha and her troupes took to the stage starting off with a haunting version of Glass, Natasha has a stunning voice as well as an amazing stage presence and this opening to her Two Suns cd proved to be no exception. There was copious amounts of tracks from both of her albums. The stand out for me being The Wizard, having listened to this about hundred of times over the last few days, it was a joy to hear it live. Natasha has one of the most remarkable voices in rock, many compare her to Kate Bush, Bjork and Tori Amos, but I believe it goes much farther than that. I can see the Bush comparison with a song like The Moon and Moon but there are so much more influences to her music. I would add Sandy Denny, early Melanie (Lovin Baby Girl), the lush pastoral sparseness of Liz Frazer (Cocteau Twins Victorialand) and the ambient iciness of Edith Frost, Julee Cruise and that is only the tip of the iceberg. What Natasha has done is she has taken elements of all these and made them truly her own, a stunningly refreshing and new original sound that harks from the ancient earth. I got a surprise with her version of Horse and I, she started singing this without the familiar harpsichord intro, fooling me into thinking it was another song, but it was just a new arrangement with her incredibly tight band and its only when the drums kick in that you hear that familiar sound. Sarah Jones proving to be a powerhouse of a drummer and the combined interplay of Charlotte Hatherley and Ben Cristophers on guitars, bass and keyboards. Natasha’s most powerful stuff are the slower numbers like Siren Song, which starts off sounding like a slow retrospective piano piece, until the chorus kicks in with waves of crescendos and delicious bass electronica, this is where Bat for Lashes power ultimately works. Other highlights of the set were Trophy, Tahiti, Sleep Alone and the hits Daniel and Pearls Dream sounding livelier and heavier on stage. The single from the first album, What’s a Girl to Do for some reason reminded me of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper crossed over with Jefferson Airplane. I’ll sign off the review with John Peels description of the French / British group Gong, which I think applies to Bat for Lashes too. “Its very good to have gan…. I was going say gangs, Its very good to have bands like Gong around, but perhaps gang would be a better word. Because we need a few people to throw a bit of confusion and wonder into an all too predictable music situation at the moment.” (John Peel BBC 1974).
Electric Picnic 2009 Festival Review. Friday 4th September – Sunday 6th September.
Having arrived at the car park with Gavin and Jerry at about one thirty in the afternoon, we had the long arduous 2 kilometre walk to the festival entrance, through soggy mucky fields. By the time we had our tents up at the Jimi Hendrix campsite it was about three. So no complaints as we were in good time for all the music.
The Jimi Hendrix Campsite Apart from the holdup at the main entrance for about an hour, everyone seemed to be in good spirits and looking forward to the entertainment. I was not too bothered but seeing a bulk of the artists on the bill, being more excited that some of my mates from Galway, Jerry ODea and Gavin Grennan had made it to the festival for the first time. This being my fourth visit to the event. We discovered a reggae mecca just before the main entrance called Trenchtown which deserves a special mention. Set in a small clearing in the woods, Trenchtown was decked in Rastafarian flags and canopy, Djs on the main stage spinning copious amounts of obscure reggae sounds, stalls offering fresh Caribbean fruits and Blue Mountain coffee Mmmmm.
The first group I was aware of on the main stage was the Michael Nyman Orchestra, who played surreal trippy classical music, much like the 70s group the Third Ear Orchestra. Some thought it was an odd way to start musical proceedings, but I thought it was a perfect way to start the Picnic’s always, oddball line up.
After this we wandered about the main arena for a while, I took Gavin and Jerry to the Body and Soul area, a wonderland in its own right. Lots of small stages and tents, the smell of woodsmoke and artistic fun characters. At night time the whole place was lit up with lights and projections. So back and forward we went between the campsite, Trenchtown and the Body and Soul area. Only Gavin had the timetable for the groups, so we missed a whack of stuff for the early evening, only venturing into the main arena for eight.
First stop was to catch this human beatbox called Beardyman, having seen him on Channel 4 from Bestival 2008, I was very impressed. So off we go to the Bacardi tent which is totally packed, with lines of people circling the outside perimeter, very uncomfortable, lots of people completely drunk. But what the hell, its a rock festival. Horse Meat Disco, a bunch of DJs and keyboard players, or should I say laptop players are kicking up a storm in the Bacardi tent, the trashy rich kids swilling their cocktails and hyperventilating to the beat. By 8.40 we realise that there is no sign of this Beardyman and have had enough of this clubland atmosphere, we make for the main stage for a bit more space.
MGMT did not really impress me that much, indie pop electronica, but very commercial sounding and the PA system did not do the group any favours either. I felt they belonged to the bigger festivals for a younger audience, much like Oxegen and T in the Park, rather than the eclectic melting pot that is normally Electric Picnic. I vaguely recall that we were on or way to the Electric Arena to see Seasick Steve, but the sound emitting from the Little Big Tent stopped us on our tracks. Buraka Som Sistema were blasting the tent with their brand of Kudoro electronic hip hop. Two full kit drummers, someone on electronics, a spin master and three rappers, they made a delightful racket and a wonderful little discovery for me, which is the beauty of the Picnic, it gets you into new sounds.
Some more time was spent in Trenchtown, as it was the only place besides the campsite where I could drink my Guinness, that being one of the drawbacks about the festival. The fact that Heineken were the corporate sponsors and that there was only two kinds of lager served at the festival bars with a ban on cans in the arena till the 10 pm bar closing time. To heck with it, I managed to smuggle a few in with me anyway. The final act we caught tonight was Orbital who were amazing. That was for the first hour anyway, interest waned after that, the light show was interesting and the music was good enough, but once you have seen the Chemical Brothers do it, your left wondering, what’s so amazing about this lot. I suppose its just not being to familiar with their stuff. If anything I think it was the Electric Picnic light engineer, who done a deft job matching the lights to the beats. That looked terrific, looking back on the gig it was actually pretty good. I was probably just tired out, having not slept a wink the night before. So the final hour or two was spent between the Body & Soul and Trenchtown, Body & Soul becoming a visual paradise at night time. Then home to the campsite for a good nights rest.
Saturday 5th September
Saturday was spent seeing the least amount of bands, as we were moving between Trenchtown and the Body and Soul area. Mainly enjoying the chilled out areas that had more space as the main arena could get really crowded. Met Salim and Amina from Dublin and a few old Galway heads, Dave deserving a special mention. Everyone was right into their reggae sounds, so Trenchtown became the focal point for most of Saturday. When we did go through to the main arena we caught most of the Madness set on the main stage. I was not particularly fond of their new material, it was like as if they were going through the motions. But when they wheeled out the oldies they still came across as timeless and they could still play with an incredible energy.
2 Many DJs closed the main stage, I was fairly impressed with their set, especially when they done the Gossip track Standing in the way of Control, the energy, lighting and visuals were stunning and the crowd highly charged. Like with Orbital though, the novelty wore off. I got fed up with the Belgian DJs playing covers of everything else, it would be nice to hear them do some of their own original dance music. But thats what 2 Many DJs are all about, mashing, they mash up popular originals and re-invent them again in a new crazy digital dance style. After an hour and a half I got bored with it, probably because I was getting blinded by the lights, My interest slightly flared again when they covered Ac/Dcs Dirty Deeds done dirt Cheap, although I would have preferred to have been transported back in time to thirty years to have seen the original Ac/Dc.
Still, it was a very enjoyable day with the early hours spent rebounding between Trenchtown and Body and Soul. I finally hit the sack around 4.30 am.
Sunday 6th September
Sunday was a late enough rise for me, I did not wake up till 10.30 am and considering the noise around the campsite at Irelands second biggest rock festival, I must have fairly indulged the night before. Today was the worst weather of the weekend, it was an absolute downpour, I stayed in my tent till 12.30,when Id had enough, the hunger was getting to me. First stop, the Bagel van for a bacon and cream cheese bagel and off through the thick watery muck to Trenchtown for my Blue Mountain coffee. At least at Trenchtown the covering of trees provided some shelter from the rain. Myself and Jerry endeavoured to catch more stuff in the main arena today, considering we only watched two main acts on Saturday, it was also about exploring other parts of the festival site too. The Mindfield was the first port of call, a sort of arts and craft area, similar in feel to the Body and Soul. There was some nice sculptures and installations here, the Hot Press tent, the Poetry stage and Theatre stage among things, there was also the comedy tent nearby.
There was many things to take in around the whole arena. The first music of the day was the soundtrack of the Sugarhill Gang performing the Rappers Delight, well at least I thought it was the CD that was playing from a stall until we chanced upon the Electric Arena (second largest stage) where the actual Sugarhill Gang were performing the Rappers Delight, the final song of their set. These guys have sure lost a lot of weight since the last time time I saw them on TV in 1980. They appeared to be going down well with the audience anyway and had a fully integrated band, as opposed to a bunch of fellahs rapping over a Chic single.
When passing the Cosby stage we couldn’t resist a peek at a group called the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who were blowing the audience away with their brand of mind blowing jazz. They are one large family, in Wikipedia it states that they are a jazz group featuring 8 sons of Phil Cohran and they all play horns. They weren’t strictly jazz either, they had elements of hip hop and rap in their music and their energy was impalpable. Check them out if you ever get the chance.
After walking between the main arena, Trenchtown and the Body & Soul area, my friend Jerry got a migraine and had to go for a lie down in his tent, whilst Gavin had still not woke up from the night before, this been at five in the afternoon. He had stayed up all night till eight this morning, so I went off exploring the festival myself. Back in the main arena at about 6.40 pm, Alabama 3 were just about ten minutes into their set. This is a band I have always wanted to see, having always been a big Sopranos fan. The sound was explosive from their performance and some members were dressed in white suits and a very classy set up indeed. Of course, as luck would have it I missed them performing the Sopranos theme tune Woke Up This Morning which they opened their set with. Alabama 3 came across as quite spiritual with a few American style folk / country numbers almost in a kind of Johnny Cash style, they actually paid a tribute to him. I used to think they were kind of like, ZZ Top with a dance beat, but after witnessing them live, there is a lot more to them than just a Southern fried techno beat.
The Cosby Stage was the next stop where the Dublin progressive rock band The Jimmy Cake were making a delightful sound. The Jimmy Cake were standing in for the Dan Deacon Band who had cancelled only a few days before the festival had begun. The Cake came across as a cross between Rush and an indie Pink Floyd, but their sound even tighter with a dash of Stooges energy at times. I recall that they had very vivid red spotlights creating a hot boiling atmosphere to the visual backdrop. The clip Ive posted is from their performance at the Vicar St Club in Dublin from 2008.
I thought it was time to go back to the campsite for a while to do a bit of quality chilling, meeting up with a just woke-up Gavin. We took in a bit of Trenchtown to listen to some laidback reggae sounds, a few cans of stout and a coffee or two. There was no talking Jerry into coming out of the tent, his headache was in full flow, I probably added to this by saying that he missed one of his favourite bands, Alabama 3. I did text him three times from the main stage, but unbeknowst to me, his phone battery was dead. On to the final act of tonight, this was Gavins choice, as he was right into his dub step.
The final act for the weekend was Magnetic Man aka Skream & Benga. Now Dubstep would not be my forte, having just got into it recently, but this lot made a serious sound. Their type of dubstep has sort of reggae textures, but is used in a kind of electronica dance style. Some of their samples reminded me of early Dub Syndicate, when they fused industrial sounds into reggae. So the music came across like a punky techno kind of Kraftwerk thing. I need required time to fully soak this music up before I can write properly about it. The backdrop screen showed an impressive array of excellent visuals and films that complemented the Skream & Benga sound. The night been only ruined slightly by some eejit in the audience letting off a smoke bomb and clearing off half the of people in the tent in the process. Unbeknowst to me, the bass system for the gig blew in the first 10 minutes before we came in, so I was very impressed with the performance despite this problem. When the gig finished I was absolutely shattered, the thought of having to trek through more muck seemed to daunting, so I retired for the night and said goodbye to the 2009 festival.
The Skatalites 11th December 2008 Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh
For musicians whose lifetime of playing together spans almost fifty eight years and the forming the group the Skatalites, whose lifetime spans forty four years, their music is still simply a delight to the ears, considering nine members of the original group have died over the last thirty odd years, their influence to the Ska world and encouraging young blood into their ranks never ceases to diminish. During the group’s first creative period in the mid-60s, they played with the likes of Prince Buster, Toots and the Maytals and released their debut album Ska Authentic which influenced the origins of the Ska boom. When the group split up in 1965 it wouldn’t be till the early 80s that the group came out of retirement to play at the Jamaican Sunsplash festivals. Since then the Skatalites have been pretty prolific and this gig tonight at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh proved to be no exception. The current lineup of the Skatalites numbers nine people, the solid core of four brass instrument players young and old (well at least two of the players looked to be the age one would imagine a Skatalite to be), featuring Lester ‘Ska’ Sterling on alto sax, Kevin Batchelor on Trumpet, Vin Gordon the son of the original Skatalites trumpeter Don Drummond, also on trumpet and Cedric Brooks on tenor sax. The group’s solid rhythm backed by solid drumming and one of the originals, Lloyd Knibb, who utilises great cymbal work more like jazz drumming than reggae style but can still give that great Kingston steel drum clobber when required, the dub bass heavy style of Val Douglas who, standing in the background, gave the Skatalites sound a modern sheen but not detracting from the originality of it. Natty Frenchie on the guitar, again nodded towards the jazz sound, almost sounding like a light Robert Fripp, playing out of the normal scale of notes and the keyboard playing of Ken Stewart gave the Skatalites that approved Kingston sound beloved of sixties reggae. Special mention has to go to female vocalist Doreen Shaffer who gave a lovely light calypso soul feeling to the Skabop with her singing. The group went through selections from their new album The Right Track, fleshing out some of Shaffer’s talent in songs like The Right Track , Bye Bye and rip roaring instrumentals like New York Minute and Shock Trail as well as revisiting their extensive back catalogue with classics like The Guns of Navarone, Garden of Love, Stampede and Mesopotamia which ensured that the tiny floor in the Liquid Rooms was heaving with skankers, no one letting up till the last note. The strange thing I notice with this music is how close it is to jazz, is groups like the Skatalites masquerading as jazzmen under a reggae disguise or is it the other way round. I’m left with the impression that if the lads are not playing reggae, one particular night, they’ll go off to the local boozer and join jazzmen in fleshing out Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie numbers. I’m not a fan of straight jazz, but of some of the variants, such as jazz fusion put to psychedelic music and of course, Ska and dub reggae music which always put empahsis on horns. the Skatalites proved without doubt tonight that they are the pioneers of Ska music, and this can only whet the apetite for those lucky few who will snap up tickets for the forthcoming Specials reunion shows early next year. The Skatalites succeeded in bringing the Jamaican sun into an otherwise, cold December night in Edinburgh. They are really worth checking out, one of the most original of Jamaican groups in existence.