Republic of Ireland | 17 September 2009
Electric Picnic has real parallels with Glastonbury but on a much smaller scale and this year it has once again redefined itself as a great music and arts festival, writes Lonan O'Neill.
It’s a truly unique Irish festival, set amid the rolling lawns of the Stradbally Estate, Co Laois - a beautiful 400 acre estate just 50 minutes drive from Dublin and approximately 3 hours drive from Belfast.
There are just fewer than 40,000 campers between the four main campsites and it’s easy to get lost as the festival site is positioned in the middle of a forest, but this adds to the fun…
First up is Lykke Li on the Crawdaddy stage in her black cloak and bandana. She’s an image of jerky dancing and drum smashing as she sings favourites 'Dance, Dance, Dance' and 'I'm Good, I'm Gone'. Following a new song, she asks, “I hope that wasn't too slow for you?” well aware from the crowd's screams that they have been delighted by it. The one questionable moment though is when she prefaces 'Breaking It Up' with a rap chorus of “get your motherfucking hands in the air,” though nobody seems to mind, waving their hands around in exultation. After a dance-worthy performance, the young Swede finishes up with slower number 'Let Me Go', and is waved off with a roar of adoration.
MGMT are the talk of the festival playing on the main stage at 9pm leaving plenty of time to browse the arena. The Body and Soul Area is the best it’s ever been, a sanctuary you can easily stay in for the entire weekend. And while the age-old festival criticism still stands (forego some of the fancy decorations for a clean loo please), the picnic is packed full of fun and, above all else, fantastic music.
The food options are good; there are plenty of different options from pie to paella. The only problem is that it’s hard to find value for money with most options priced at £10. Although the festival offers quality it does feel as is you’re are paying for it.
The main stage is packed as MGMT glide through their popular hits ‘Time to Pretend’ and ‘Electric Feel’ over the first few tracks. For such a popular band they don’t transmit the power of their music live and fail to move the crowd.
Tonight’s headliners Orbital are next on the main stage and it’s as they’ve never been away. The brothers Hartnoll are fantastic even their classic ‘Belfast’ goes down particular well with the Stradbally crowd despite its name. The organisers have really improved the sound and lights on all the stages this year but this is particularly evident on the main stage
It’s an early start on Saturday morning with The XX in the Electric Arena. The line up in this tent today is fabulous with Roots Manuva, Jape, Bat For Lashes, Klaxons and seventies disco favourites headlining Chic all to follow.
Quite a large crowd has gathered to see recently hyped London foursome The XX. Their clear electric guitar sound is wonderfully piercing and their harmonious boy/girl vocals are divine, though not one of the four had any more stage presence than a gnat. Clearly uncomfortable, their lack of enthusiasm spread through the crowd, and though their songs are strong, people begin talking amongst themselves and paying little attention. It all meast that the whole performance became a little samey, despite the presence of great tracks like 'VCR', 'Islands' and 'Basic Space'.
Following on Roots Manuva don’t disappoint with one of the highlights of the weekend. With two rappers and two DJs - one providing thrilling scratches over ‘Ice-cream’ – are brilliant as is the bass-tastic ‘Witness the Fitness’. The crowd love them and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Next is a trip to the Bacardi B-Live tent to sip on a refreshing beverage and groove to A Skillz who bangs out one of the most unexpected DJ sets of the weekend. This guy is by no means an A lister in the DJ world but he has at least 1000 people going nuts to a selection of cross genre party beats mashed up to perfection and it’s only 6pm.
Eighties band A Flock of Seagulls have finish on the Crawdaddy stage without playing classic track ‘I Ran’ but it is soon made up by a lcd soundsystem dj set. It’s pure disco, funk and soul as usual and the unassuming crowd love them. Next on the menu are Klaxons back in the now full Electric Arena. They debut one new track and also old hits such as ‘Golden Skans’ among others. Then it’s time for Chic and they are another wonderful surprise showing true musicianship on ‘Le Freak’.
On the main stage Brian Wilson is playing Beach Boy classics including a beautifully heart-wrenching 'God Only Knows' and attempted crowd singalong to 'Good Vibrations' which is utterly hilarious. A cover of 'Johnny B Goode' is the start of a rocking and rolling segment of the show before he launches into 'Surfin' USA'.
And to finish the day once again it’s another electronic duo 2ManyDJs. Just like Orbital the previous night they really get the crowd bouncing and after a long day of festival action it’s just what the doctor ordered.
As predicted Sunday is a slow start for many especially after heavy overnight rain and a little party exhaustion. First up for though is Florence and The Machine with the Electric Arena running severely overtime. But the tent is packed to the gills with fervent fans, roaring Welch's songs back to her with glee.
With barely enough space in the largest tent on site to breathe, it is quite difficult to spot the shape of Welch's vivid red her and black net dress. The hits came flooding one by one - 'Drumming', 'Dog Days Are Over', 'Howl', 'Cosmic Heart', 'Blinding' and even Florence's cover of Candi Staton's 'You Got The Love' – each one powered by Florence's epic cry. Finally finishing her set with single 'Rabbit Heart', Welch seems genuinely overawed by the massive response, saying, “Irish audiences are the best.”
With the weather and tiredness is spoiling the atmosphere a bit Royskopp prove truly brilliant. It’s a live set up with a various key boards, electric drum machine, talk boxes plus a bassist and a female vocalist. The crowd are transfixed for the whole performance with ‘Epel’, ‘Happy up Here’ and ‘The Girl and the Robot‘ getting the loudest applause. The Flaming Lips wave Electric Picnic off with a triumphant, almost spiritual set that takes the roof off the Electric Arena to a packed tent is with massive queues outside too.
Electric Picnic is so good it’s hard to pick any with the organisation and promotion being top notch. Sure the Irish weather lets it down a bit and it’s a bit expensive but for the most dedicated punter this is an amazing experience.
By Lonan O’Neill.
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