Image: Electric Picnic
For a certain type of person in Ireland nowadays, the passing of a year is no longer judged by traditional milestones in the calendar such as Christmas or St Patrick’s Day.
The time in which one stops for a moment to think solemnly to themselves, “Christ, is it that time of year again?” is no longer that of religious tradition, but is nonetheless a pilgrimage, of sorts, in which the young and eccentric descend upon a large field in Stradbally, Co. Laois for a weekend of depravity.
Electric Picnic has come and gone again, and the year-long, nationwide countdown to the next one has begun.
The bright and colourful throng that had spent the weekend undertaking in activities of extreme impiety are now grappling with all manner of unholy internal demon, all in a valiant attempt to regain the sense of functionality that they possessed a mere few days ago; all as various music publications attempt, in vain, to explain what the fuck actually happened this time.
And with that in mind, let’s press on.
Image: Electric Picnic
The main headliners this year were LCD Soundsystem, Lana Del Rey, The Chemical Brothers, and New Order, but as always the immensity of these names stood merely as a backdrop to the nuance and absurdity of the rest of the festival with its bewildering arenas and set pieces.
As is tradition, the Body & Soul arena stood as the bright and colourful epicentre of madness within the festival; a world somewhere in between a utopia and dystopia. The dystopian aspect to the place was most apparent when strolling around through the harsh and brutal weather conditions.
All around you, groups of people – temporarily feral people, escaped from the realities of the real world and in somewhat tribal states – are huddled together in clumps, attempting to get warm by simple campfire, or by taking shelter from the terrible rain in man-made wooden or wicker shacks.
The sense of utopia takes over though when actually engaging with these seemingly animalistic people. You are met with big, wide smiles and messages of love and well wishes.
These people are intoxicated – intoxicated by love and music and colour and light and... other things. The place is a maze of illumination, full to the brim with beautiful lunatics.
In one corner lay a keyhole, big enough to fit a person, which, as one walks inside, transports them into a sort of Alice in Wonderland world – a strange place with rabbit holes and secret hideouts to confuse and entice.
Elsewhere stood the Peace Pagoda - a small, circular venue which generally hosted ambient music and visuals for its inhabitants to trip out to, but which also occasionally hosted yoga classes, or, most surprisingly, a bit of late night disco dancing. Generally at night though, the place sounded dark and looked trippy. That is the clearest explanation of the Pagoda available.
In terms of the bands on the Body & Soul Main Stage, Irish groups TooFools and Overhead, The Albatross were the highlights. TooFools were a sexy, groovy time – a great Friday night gig to get the hips gyrating and to release a bit of randiness out into the air. It was, quite simply, terrible fun.
On the other side of the spectrum, Overhead closed the Body & Soul Main Stage on the Sunday night with a set which is very difficult to describe as “fun”. It was intense.
Image: Electric Picnic
That word really does get overused with regard to music, but it really was very, very intense. The band have just released their debut album Learning to Growl, and there’s a very definite buzz surrounding them that was felt pulsating throughout the crowd.
It’s genuinely difficult to prevent your mind from wandering to subjects and plains that can be labelled as “profound” when the strobe lights start flaring and the band does what it does. Their set feels almost like racing through some strange and spiralling tunnel, and then finally emerging in heaven. Or something like that.
Anyway, outside of Body & Soul, there was a great deal more ground to cover. The Trenchtown arena in the woods released a constant stream of reggae and dub throughout the weekend.
Its relentlessly mellow soundtrack by day engulfs its stoned occupants into such a stupor that it’s questionable as to whether or not they even remember that there’s a wider world outside the treed fortress they’ve found themselves in.
Or even that there’s a wider festival beyond those tall trees. At night though, the atmosphere turns a little wilder, with higher tempo dub and jungle thumping out of the soundsystems, luring a steady stream of energetic types to kick some movement throughout the place.
Image: Electric Picnic
A new addition to the forest was the Hazel Wood - a sweet, treed hideaway containing a modest stage and a number of stalls and tents providing workshops and demonstrations. It was a charming little place, very much for those looking for a calmer time of it all. Also new to the festival was the Red Bull Tropical Garden - essentially a big greenhouse which had Mr. Scruff playing for four hours on Saturday night. It was fun.
There’s obviously a plethora of acts and arenas and anecdotes to discuss, but there aren’t enough words to play with that could effectively capture the whole festival, so we’ll round up this rambling drivel with a few words of the big performance tents and the Main Stage.
One of the best gigs of the whole weekend occurred within Rankin’s Wood Stage, when, on Saturday evening, Glass Animals were met with tremendous noise and excitement by a crowd of people unable to keep hold of their shit. It was a fantastic gig, with a sound mixture of songs from their first and recently released second album which provided possibly the biggest reaction of the whole festival.
LCD Soundsystem and New Order were predictably two favourites of the Main Stage. There really is nothing like experiencing 'Blue Monday' in the flesh and then watching as the remnants of Joy Division close the set with 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'.
As overheard from one spectator: “It was like watching musical history unravel in front of my eyes.” If we’re to take one small qualm, it would be that New Order were pencilled in before Lana Del Rey, who closed the Main Stage on Sunday night. It seemed a little more natural that New Order be given the later set, but this is but a small niggle to take away from an otherwise impeccable weekend.
So now here we are again, shell-shocked and broken, with tickets soon to go on sale for the next one and a whole year to live before most of Ireland returns to that same field in Stradbally.
People will change throughout this coming year; things will occur that may alter the face of the world and society in which we currently live. But it is a great comfort to know that Electric Picnic will be there again next year, and that strange and magnificent things will occur there that no words will ever fully capture.
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Like this? Read our Sundown Festival 2016 review