Thursday, September 9, 2010

ELECTRIC PICNIC Festival 2010 (StereoDan)


Well in a nutshell isn't Ireland a lovely little country. Upon arriving customs officials greeted us with a friendly smile and asked how long I'd be staying for? There was no line up, no fuss, just wander down to the bus station and wait for our transfer to Portlaoise (historically spelt and pronounced Port Laoighise). Once we arrived there we headed to the local supermarket to grab some snacks. I decided not to purchase any alcohol as being hung over in a tent at a noisy music festival wouldn't be a particularly good mix for me!

On the transfer bus to Electric Picnic people were nattering away to each other like budgies.  I was quite content to just sit back and take in the charming Irish landscapes and scenery passing before me. Bec got chatting to some friendly girls from Dublin and before we knew it they had adopted us into their friendly tribe. Walking through the festival camping area the girls found a suitable spot next to the service road in the "Oscar Wilde" camping grounds. I had originally planned to meet some friends over in the more distant and subdued "Charlie Chaplin" area but with a little persuading stayed with the group we'd just met (and I would find out in the future that was a good decision too!).

So with my tent erected thanks to some help from the girls (I'm really useless at doing it myself) I was ready to go see what Electric Picnic had to offer. Surprisingly the sun was out in all it's glory which I hear is reasonably good luck for those living in Ireland. People were chilling out, lying back on the lush green grass and just generally looking like the cats that got the cream. I wished I'd taken a few photos around this time as by the mid afternoon the sun was gone and replaced by a misty layer of thick cloud.... oh well it was nice while it lasted.

So I went my own way from the group to go get a taste for what was going on around the festival. I was immediately struck by just how vast the site was and how much variety there was. My first stop was the "Crawdaddy Stage" where I was met with the rather 80's sounding, synth pop-duo Hurts (picture below left).  They had a distinctive synthy pad sound that was well supported on this occasion by a guest opera singer. 

Next stop was the "Little Big Tent" which is where all things good and electronic would be! Starting a early festival riot was electro collective The Subs (picture below right) who describe themselves as "Belgian beatbastards." The Subs are Jeroen De Pessemier (singer/producer), Wiebe Loccufier (from the dj-duo Starski & Tonic) and Stefan Bracke. Not ones to hide behind laptops, these fellas were jumping around on stage and twisting those knobs like there was no tomorrow. With songs like "Fuck that Shit" and "Bang Bang Bang" you certainly knew what you were in for. Most of the audience was dancing around like maniacs as the trio worked the crowd into a feverishly hot sweat with their well produced bouncy grooves and bleeps.

Ducking out of the tent before I turned into a disco dancing droid I was met with some fairly interesting sights and sounds. the 360 Afterburner (picture below left) is possibly the most fantastically bizarre festival structure that I've ever seen at ANY festival! With synchronised pyrotechnics launching out from each of its corners and an eerie mist pouring out of various holes this was indeed a bizarre structure to behold. Not only that it sounded incredibly solid for an outdoor dance space which kept people grooving well past their bed times and into the early morning.

The structure was designed by a company called Arcadia who combine skills in engineering, sculpture, performance and special effects to create mind-blowingly insane party environments for live events and festivals. I had barely taken in what was going on when to the side of the Afterburner stage two Electric Men wandered out onto a level platform and started shooting lightning bolts across the stage. It was very amazing and visually spectacular stuff. I managed to get a few more cool photos so have a look at my facebook page if you're interested.

Throughout the first day/night of the festival I managed to catch more then my fair share of musical acts. Those not already mentioned included: Roxy Music (felt a bit old and daddy rock to me), Modest Mouse (great collection of instruments), Jonsi (amazingly brilliant as always), Public Image Limited (You've got to love it or hate it... i loved it!), Booka Shade, Sneaky Soundsystem and Sebastian Leger.

As you can imagine I was please with my progress for the day and headed back to my tent. After my car experiences in Coachella I carefully made special mental notes before leaving so as to be able to find it in the dark of night. Upon arrival I jumped promptly into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.


Scattered around the festival grounds was a multitude of random and interesting objects. It was nice to see that people were respecting most of these items and not vandalising them. My personal favourite was the doorway.... a portal to another dimension? A space within a space? or just an arbitrarily door to confuse or bemuse? Either way people were interacting with it and having their photo taken as they passed through it.

Their were other interactive and musical treats including a communal piano if you fancied an Irish sing along and the very zen Gamelatron (pictured below right) which claims to be the worlds first fully robotic Gamelan Orchestra. According to the website the Gamelatron is "Modeled after traditional Balinese and Javanese gamelan orchestras, the GamelaTron is an amalgamation of traditional instruments with a suite of percussive sound makers. MIDI sequences control 117 robotic striking mechanisms that produce intricately woven and rhythmic sound." If I had my way I'd love to stick a bit of drum n bass sequences into the thing and let it rip!

My first band to see at Electric Picnic Day 2 was Dublin based band "Redneck Manifesto." Acting on a local's tip off I was impressed with the musical skills displayed by this strictly instrumental band. I did feel it was a shame not to incorporate some kind voice or singing into the performance but perhaps they'll reconsider this in the future and get in some vocal collaborators? Their infectiously funky grooves were very danceable and everyone seemed to be getting into the swing of things. Interestingly the band has rejected any traditional record label support, preferring instead to remain fully independent.

Slipping across to the adjacent tent I discovered These New Puritans performing on the Cosby Stage. Intrigued by the hanging chains and small woodwind section I decided to stick around for a bit and see what they were about. Their sound was very artistic and somewhat reminded me of a cross between The Cinematic Orchestra and Patrick Wolf, but minus the diva. I would definitely be interested to see them again and was interested to note they have recently come from a tour of Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and main land China. 

I briefly watched Crystal Castles perform at Latitude Festival and their live performance and stage show antics were very entertaining! So it was great to get a better vantage point closer to the stage at Electric Picnic and snap some pictures. The photographers were relegated to side stage for some unknown reason and for the first few songs I felt sorry for anyone with epileptic tendencies as the strobes fired of in rapid succession. During the set lead singer Alice Glass spent more time crawling around on her hands and knees, curled up in a ball or hanging out in the mosh pit then she actually did on stage. I heard criticism that most of the vocals were lip synched or mostly backing track which is not an unfair comment (although I didn't even notice this and usually I would). It didn't really matter though as I think the majority of people who turned up for the set were simply there for the spectacle of it all.... well I know I was at least!

Everybody around the campsite was talking about Seasick Steve (pictured below left) who was back at the festival by popular demand after playing at last year's Electric Picnic. It's hard not to like him and his music as he approaches his performance with a sincere honesty and relaxed humour that's impossible not to like. Described as one of the world's "Greatest living Bluesman" he's lived the life of a hobo and has injected his very soul into his music. There was a line of girls holding "pick me" signs in desperate hope that he would pull them onto the stage and serenade them with his authentic songs.

In a completely different style of music hiphop duo Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip tore up the Little Big Tent with their electronic beats and spoken word rhymes. After sorting out some technical issues with their onstage rig they spent no time mucking around and jumped straight into crowd favourite "The Beat That My Heart Skipped." The duo consisting of Daniel Stephens (aka dan le sac) and David Peter Meads (Scroobius Pip) formed back in 2006 when dan booked Scroobius to play at one of his promoted gigs in Reading at the Fez Club (now known as Sakura). I don't think I've ever felt my head being so pounded by the levels of sub bass in the tent and even with ear plugs I could only bare it for a short while before moving a more safe distance away from the speakers.... ie 100 meters down the road outside the tent. Even then it was still bloody loud!

After the bass pounding on my ears I decided it was time go for something a little more organic. I headed over to the Body & Soul Arena which seemed to have some interesting alternative entertainment. It's nice to know that with all the technological distractions available in this day and age, people still enjoy a good old fire gazing session. I noticed one caveman lookalike had made it his day's mission to ensure a perfectly consistent bonfire to be enjoyed by all.  Continuing on with this slightly tribal theme was a large drum ensemble that was so popular the gathered crowd refused for them to leave without them performing "just one more song." After 3 encores the poor lads must have been completely knackered but it was all in good fun.

You can't say you've been to an Irish music festival if you haven't seen The Frames. Well it was my first time and I'm happy to report it was the highlight of my day. Most of the audience was there for nostalgic reasons and to sing along with the songs, however for me it was all new and fresh. Prior to meeting Glen Hansard at Byron Bay's Bluesfest I'd never really heard of them, so I'm glad that I actually got the chance to see them perform live.... better late then never I suppose. Apart from some minor glitches with a faulty or an incorrect guitar (wrong tuning perhaps?) the set was pretty flawless and displayed the bands effortless talent. Things were never overly dressed up any more then they needed to be and it was refreshing to hear good old fashioned songs performed by seasoned musicians.

Happy and content with the music that I'd heard for the day I headed back to the campsite. However I'd been told about a 'secret rave' which was apparently going on somewhere in the scrub. The advice I'd been given was simply to follow your ears but I'm glad I was also carrying a mini LED torch as I would have most certainly broken my leg multiple times trying to find it in the dark. Upon arrival I was greeted with a nice serving of grimey dubstep remixes and light show. For a rave out in the jungle it was pretty well stacked technically and people were trickling into the area in dribs and drabs. I hung around for a little while before heading back to the campsite to enjoy some inter-tent banter.


Overnight there had been a moderate amount of rain but things seemed to be relatively dry. Our camp mates were all in good spirits, albeit a little seedy from the previous late night. Curiously one enterprising individual had set up his own little shop selling five cans of beer or cider for 10 Euro. It was a pretty good deal (relative to festival price of 5 Euro a beer) so I took them up on it.... twice... sharing a few of them around with people.

For the final day of music there were plenty of great acts to see for the day. Most of these bands are very well known so I'll keep this section of my blog short and sweet!

First up I saw Two Door Cinema Club which musically are very much a favourite of mine at the moment. A lot of their live performance relies on backing tape but if it gets the sound just right then that's ok by me. Friendly Fires performed a conflicting set with Two Door Cinema Club and consequently had a very thin audience standing before them at the commencement of their set. It did however progressively fill up as people arrived from other parts of the festival to be greeted with Ed Macfarlane over the top dancing. I took a quick video of it which I'll upload later...

Australian audiences are no strangers to Mumford & Sons (pictured below left) having been given massive amounts of airplay on Australian radio and featuring throughout Triple J's Hottest 100. That's certainly no reason to ignore them so I was quite happy to go watch part of their set on main stage before it got too crowded by overly enthusiastic middle aged women. The Horrors performing on the Crawdaddy Stage were a less commercial alternative and it was very interesting to see the live. I know them for their earlier indy thrash punk rock work (i.e. Death at the Chapel and Sheena Is a Parasite) so it was interesting to see that they've mellowed out a fair bit since then.

I watched a few songs by U.N.K.L.E. which was a pleasing way to segue from The Horrors to something more uplifting. As a band there has been some serious metamorphosis over the years and the results can be heard in the diversity of their productions. I love the variety of lush samples and atmospheres used in their music.

I've now seen The National (picture below right) quite a few times at the various festivals we've been to recently, and I'm still really enjoying them! The low vocal register of singer Matt Berninger is very soothing to the soul and over time I've gotten to know the band's setlist well. At Electric Picnic I was delighted to edge a little closer to the front of the stage to catch a glimpse.

The big draw card of the day was of course Massive Attack with their super-dupa LED light show extravaganza! Their compositions over the years have honed in on a blissful disregard for traditional electronic music formulas. More akin to classical music their use of epic crescendos and string flourishes is perfectly counterpointed by looped bass lines and well produced orchestral arrangements. So the hour long wait in the pour rain surrounded by drunken chanting Irishmen and women was worth it!

Sopping wet it was time to head back to my pool, I mean tent, which due to the continuos down pour of rain was starting to degrade literally in front of me. Any sensible person and with accommodation on the other end opted for departing the festival. I on the other hand had little choice and setup my umbrella above my head so that at least it might be semi- dry. It was a good idea in principal, and might have worked had it not been for the howling winds which continued all through the night. I didn't really sleep much at all that night and I swear that the bass coming from the secret rave party had become much louder than previous nights. I was not a happy bunny and by 7am sharp the next morning I was ready to catch the first bus home and wished my Green Tent good riddance.  

Overal Electric Picnic was by far the best festival I have been to on this experience thanks largely to the very kind hearted and thoughtful locals. There was such a multitude of things to do, look at and listen to that even people with an ADD attention span wouldn't get board in the space of the festival. Musically Ireland has quite similar musical tastes to Australians and I think as people we get along well. I've never seen people drink and smoke so much but they seem to be able to handle it no worries. 

Post and photos by StereoDan

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