Ballinlough Castle is, by now, a second home for many Irish music lovers. With Body & Soul consistently presenting a stellar card. Always full of the strongest Irish acts of the day, with more left-field headliners from Germany’s electronic scene. This years’ 10th edition was another delight, as beautiful weather on Friday and Saturday made for a carefree atmosphere.
It wasn’t all positive. A consistent drizzle on Sunday meant misery for many. It’s also highly unusual to arrive at a festival’s 10th birthday to find that the site has contracted. But that’s what happened this year, as the Reckless in Love stage was downsized and moved away from its natural amphitheatre to make room for more boutique camping. Hopefully it’s just a temporary measure to keep budgets balanced. It would be a real shame to see this bastion of Irish music grow ragged at the edges.
Here are our most memorable sets of the weekend:
“Cad de foc is happening Body & Soul? You’re listening to three scumbags from West Belfast!”
When you’ve got a festival to set alight, turning to a hip-hop act banned from RTÉ to open the weekend is a wise move. Ní chuir Moglaí Bap, Mo Chara and DJ Provaí aon ama amú as they got a packed-out Midnight Circus stage chanting “Mála móra ket!” at approximately 6:10pm on the Friday.
It’s these explicit references to drugs – taking ‘em, selling ‘em and the madcap adventures that result thereof that scared away the national broadcaster. However, the 3,000-strong crowd showed just what they thought of that on ‘Incognito’. “Ná focain éist le RTÉ” probably got a bigger response than anything the Sing Along Social crew could muster.
The energy was so charged that not even a generator failure could stop the craic. A five-minute halt was passed by way of stage invasions, crowd surfing and ólé chants. It would be easy to dismiss it all as a novelty gimmick of edgy bilingualism, but you can see how they’ve built such a keen following. Mo Chara and Moglaí Bap are effervescent dual frontmen, well able to both nail their bars and whip up a storm. Ignore ‘em at your peril.
The Murder Capital
There’s something about the earth at the Body & Soul main stage. The ground has a slightly hollow quality to it. This means that the right act can genuinely make the ground shake beneath your feet. This is exactly what The Murder Capital did – no hyperbole, just fact.
Early Murder Capital shows were incredible, all about frontman James McGovern’s intense, menacing, pacing, prowling presence. But with a solid year’s touring and support slots with the likes of Idles and Shame under their belt, the band have become more well-rounded. McGovern still captivates, but mustachioed bassist Gabriel Paschal Burke plays a fantastic dynamic counterpoint, doing a bit of stalking of his own. McGovern even feels comfortable to sit one jam out, opting instead for a contemplative smoke.
Shout-out to the person on sound here. A stunning mix meant that Burke’s bass really propelled us through shorter stomps like ‘More is Less’ and kept us hooked on more sprawling endeavours like ‘Green & Blue’. Their debut album is due in August and they’ll have an interesting scrap with good friends Fontaines for the Choice Prize.
We’re a lucky nation, there’s no shortage of great festival acts. Christy Moore was king in the early years of the folk festival movements and rockers like Ash and ASIWYFA are always unmissable. Now we’ve electronic acts like Le Galaxie and King Kong Company that can get a whole field bouncing on the same euphoric buzz. I’ve chosen to sling off the latter’s main-stage slot to see Australia’s answer to our party-starting canon.
Slightly controversial in their homeland, where their Splendour in the Grass performance was met with equal parts delight from those who like fun and spluttering “is that what you call talent” outrage from ageing white men – Confidence Man bring a sound that’s in thrall to the early 90s. Think Deee-Lite, or even Screamadelica, and marry it to an unmissable stage presence.
We’ve a live drummer and keyboardist in the back – wearing veils to conceal their identities as members of other Aussie acts – but it’s all about the power couple up front, Sugar Bones & Janet Planet.
The duo have a serious amount to do. Choreography routines, costume changes, spraying the audience with champagne – and all with a completely straight face. Even as they deliver lines like:
“I’m popular with all the guys/ I have to walk around town in a disguise”
They’ve been on a mammoth run of shows, but hopefully Irish bookers can tempt them back for their own headliner before they go to dream up another showstopper.
Nominative determinism can be a powerful thing, but sadly things weren’t to be for French house duo The Blaze. Instead, the heavens poured consistently for their main-stage Sunday headline set. If you were prepared for the deluge though, the atmosphere actually added to Cousins Guillaume and Jonathan Alric’s cinematic sound.
Indeed, their cinematography is so much a part of their overall package that they huddled facing each other over a slim workstation in the centre of the stage. Choosing to let projections of their own videos dominate the set.
While the tunes never get overly intense, the buildups and crescendos are always gorgeous. Hypnotic refrains like “You dance so well” (‘PLACES’) mean this certainly won’t be their last Irish festival headliner.
There aren’t many German electronic producers out there that spend their live shows wearing a cowboy hat & playing guitar. Festivals began in the 60s as a celebration of folk and psychedelia and it’s clear that blending these old-school sensibilities with the modern focus on dance music is important to Stefan Linck.
It’s an effect not dissimilar to that of Nick Jaar combining with guitarist Dave Harrington on Darkside – another previous Body & Soul headliner. The rain granted a packed Midnight Circus tent to Linck and what they got in return was a gorgeous, low-key blend of precise techno builds and hypnotic guitar.
It’s this kind of brave booking and scheduling that has made Body & Soul its name over its first ten years. Here’s to another decade.