Forbidden Fruit is an odd one. In the five years since its inception, the Kilmainham-based festival has welcomed just about every genre of music imaginable (okay, maybe not skiffle) to its grounds. We’ve had turns from The Flaming Lips (twice), Chic, Kasabian, Crystal Castles, Public Enemy, Fuck Buttons, The Rapture, Grimes, Death Cab For Cutie, Bloody Beetroots, Aphex Twin and many more. While the festival has always had one foot firmly entrenched in electronica, a clear, distinctive identity remains curiously absent.
The 2015 edition offers another revamp of sorts, largely focusing on dance, hip hop and R&B. Guitars, drum kits and traditional choruses are in short supply so let’s attempt to find a way to make about 10 different DJs sound distinctive from one another…
Wait, sunshine? What madness is this? While those who made the trek to Slane would ultimately find themselves battling torrential rain (and if you shelled out for that wretched line-up, you deserved all you got), those who flocked to the grounds of the Royal Hospital were met with a welcome blaze as Disciples took over the Original Stage. Opening honours at these things are often tricky with most acts trying to break through the haze of punters gathering their bearings but the London outfit meet their task with relish, deploying electro-pop like giddy teenagers and garnering a strong reaction from hit single ‘They Don’t Know’. The selfie stick should be hurled into the nearest bin, however.
Though the Someplace Else Stage will mostly host comedy across the weekend, it falls to Valerie Teicher’s Tei Shi project to kick things off. There’s a terrific presence about the Argentinian-born vocalist, one that eventually wins over a chattering crowd that wouldn’t sound out of place in a beer garden. In truth, Tei Shi suffer from placement, their smooth ambient lullabies better suited under cover of darkness sequestered miles away from Mark Knight‘s throbbing bass emanating from the Original Stage. It’s too bright, too early and too scattershot and yet Teicher and her bandmates break through, finishing brilliantly with the irresistible ‘Bassically’.
As all this went down, Fatboy Slim held court in the Hot Press Speakeasy, where some young brave soul, live mic in hand, took it upon himself to ask his girlfriend a question and not the superstar DJ. Yep, a proposal. With no ring to hand – seriously mate, what the fuck? – Mr Cook duly obliged, lending his own band for The Big Moment. Astonishingly enough, she said yes. Best of luck, kids…
As for Monsieur Slim, we’re still not quite sure how to feel about his mention of ‘watching on from The Mainland’ in relation to the Marriage Equality Referendum. Did he mean France? His main stage performance was much less eyebrow-raising as Norman offered up a fairly predictable but nonetheless enjoyable mega-mix. Let’s be honest, there is a time and a place for ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’. Usually, it’s during the last few minutes of a particularly tough run but it’s hard not to get swept up in the commotion as it pierces through in the opening seconds. Mostly, it’s business as usual; The Big Hits spliced in alongside Marvin Gaye, Talking Heads, et al. Nicolas Jaar also gets in on the ‘pepper the set with some old standards’ act, closing off his Undergrowth Stage appointment with Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, which is as good a way to drop the curtain on night one as any.
“In case anyone doesn’t know who the fuck I am, my name is Kelela. I specialise in vulnerability, heartbreak and… love.” – Kelela
It’s been said before but it bears repeating; The Choice Music Prize judging panel dropped quite the clanger in omitting God Knows and MynameisjOhn‘s Rusangano / Family from their shortlist last year. Now re-christened as, er, Rusangano Family and joined by the propulsive MuRli, the Limerick collective have significantly raised their game and surely will not be ignored next time out. It’s a lively set from the off on the Live Live Stage, the site’s smallest enclosure managing to loom large as many punters (myself included) look to shake off the cobwebs. Much like Tei Shi, Rusangano Family are dealt a difficult timing hand and though they gamely rise to the occasion, you can’t help but wish they were positioned much later in the evening and gifted a larger audience. Time should prove them right on that score, you feel. Later, during a public interview, they’ll be asked, repeatedly, that most burning of questions – ‘Are any of you single?’ – by a keen young lass in the front row as she applies lip gloss which… well, let’s not comment any further, eh?
Back to the Original Stage and a bunch of ‘characters’ are engaging in a lazy game of Ultimate Frisbee as the James Vincent McMorrow-approved Booka Brass Band bring the noise. Shout-out to the guy with the golf umbrella hat milling about like he’s fuckin’ Sully from Monsters, Inc. as the Dublin crew’s take on ‘Cry Me A River’ plays out. Perhaps naturally enough, this writer is reminded of catching Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on the same stage a couple of years prior. As such, it’s a real ‘night and day’ situation. Booka Brass are well-versed with their chosen style, but there’s a distinct lack of quality from their original efforts while vocals aren’t really their friend. Nor is a lengthy bongo-off (ugh) that provokes eye-rolling. The many covers, including ‘Survivor’ and ‘Smooth Criminal’, are fine enough even if a horrendous blast of ‘Jump On It’ calls to mind VANN Music stinking up the joint with their lame Bowie cover last year. A pub band writ large, is what we’re getting at here.
A quick trip to the Undergrowth Stage sees Ejeca fail to make an impression with standard, unadventurous house action so we opt instead to hit the Live Live Stage once more to catch Rocstrong. It’s hard to know what they’re going for, to be honest. At one point, the person to our left observes, correctly, that their songs “don’t sound like songs“. There’s the sense that frontman Andre J.P Bangala is trying much too hard here and he’s hardly helped by incessant microphone feedback at the beginning and a woefully out-of-step backing singer throughout. As we take our leave, we pause to give it one last try, noting that something approaching a Hendrix moment of raw, kinetic inspiration could well flicker through. Cue, somewhat bizarrely, a bargain bin Hendrix guitar line and us getting the hell out of dodge. A mess.
The Lighthouse Stage is strangely empty about five minutes before Kelela is due onstage, with one fan seemingly distressed at this lack of respect. The Los Angeles singer has drawn comparisons to Cassie and Aaliyah in her short career thus far but, clad in an outfit that the costume designers of The Fifth Element might scoff at (the stiletto runners are an especially nice touch) and armed with charm, composure and sheer unadulterated cool, she very much strides her own path. It doesn’t take too long for a healthy audience to emerge and those who take the punt are treated to one of the finest performances of the weekend. She’s a siren, capable of moving from a careful whisper to a considered shriek in the blink of an eye. Her brand of soulful R&B proves genuinely captivating but there’s an edge here too in the form of glitchy gunshot percussion as provided by one of the more enthusiastic backing DJs in attendance. Give it a few years and you’ll be reading ‘the new Kelela’ on blogs galore.
Speaking of someone destined for the biggest stages, Joey Bada$$ keeps it real by kicking back in the Hot Press Speakeasy and engaging with a packed crowd, most of whom remain enrapt as the morons in the back repeatedly shout ‘JOEY!!!!’ in his direction. Fascinating when in full flow, he compared the music industry to a house once promised to him that he ultimately found himself shut out of. “I found a way, though. I’m levitating!“, he notes with a chuckle. It’s all too much for one fan who, when given his own chance to rock the mic, calls for a calm, personal moment. Several times. Nervous tension builds as this young gentleman finally manages to ask Joey’s opinion on “writing music about girls and relationships and such…”. The amazing, to-a-tee response? “Yo, check out the Irish Drake over here!!“. As for his Original Stage turn, Bada$$ fares a good deal better than Earl Sweatshirt, who flits between reductive clichés and drone-like beats before finally kicking things up a notch as his laboured set draws to a close. Bada$$ is at least more into the idea of meeting a large outdoor crowd halfway, attacking his vocals in more fierce fashion than on record but we’re kinda distracted by a guy wearing a Cookie Monster hoody. You see, the garment is slung back over his shoulders in such a way that it’s actually a little distressing, those distinctive signature eyes aiming skyward, flashing untold pain and horror. Poor little buddy.
In between all that, Baths aka Will Wiesenfeld and his companion cut a hypnotic, rhythmic and occasionally screamo swathe through a receptive enough Live Live Stage crowd with ‘Ocean Death’ registering as a predictably terrific high-point. Fatima & Eglo will later offer a clever mix of light and dark groove – assisted with some always welcome dual percussion – as a grey sky turns black. With both Groove Armada and Jamie XX‘s respective DJ sets proving impossible to get into due to overflowing tents, a large question mark hangs over tonight’s main event, namely; just which Wu Tang Clan will show up? As it turns out, it’s the Europa League squad equivalent with no RZA (who has filming commitments), Method Man or Raekwon in sight. It’s a bit of a damp squib all told, the likes of ‘CREAM’, ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and most notably ‘Gravel Pit’ feeling all kinds of phoned in. The crowd don’t seem to care, though.
“I gotta say; it gives me joy and it makes me laugh to hear a crowd singing that chorus every time. It may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever written, but thank you” – El-P
If there’s a loose connecting theme today, it’s tinted green. One of the final, arresting images of the festival comes in the form of t-shirt donned by Run The Jewels’ DJ Trackstar which reads “CASH BURIED EVERYTHING ABOUT MUSIC” in large white font for all to see. Earlier, Swiss DJ Cyril Hahn revealed in a live interview that while his label certainly don’t approve, he’s actually quite for illegal downloading, having grown up with Napster and of the belief that music should be exposed to the largest available audience. East India Youth‘s Will Doyle also pointed out that records just don’t generate as much cash as they used to. “It’s not 1986 anymore“, he notes. Ah, 1986. What a year. I was two.
It’s not exactly doom and gloom where these utterances are concerned, more a matter-of-fact ‘this is how things are now’ put forward by leading lights in their respective fields who seem genuinely happy to be performing for their fans. Doyle in particular is an amusingly deadpan character, and though he attempts to shatter the bubble of backstage mayhem by revealing that the most rock star thing he’s done lately is to play chess with Wild Beasts, we can’t help but think that that sounds like a pretty fun time. Strangely positioned on the festival’s smallest stage, the East India Youth set makes for glorious revelry. Culture of Volume is one of the most interesting listens of 2015 and Doyle, looking for all the world like Patrick Bateman if he chose to focus on experimental music rather than Wall Street and possible murder, devotes a fair whack of his hour to it in often dizzying fashion.
‘The Juddering’ sets the tone, all manic energy to the point that we suspect the extra from Human Traffic to our right who’s getting very into it will be disappointed when Doyle moves onto something more conventional. Sure enough, he’s nowhere to be seen as ‘Turn Away’ melts through quite beautifully. ‘Looking For Someone’ and ‘Beaming White’ are highlights and while it’s a touch disappointing not to hear ‘Entirety’ (tailor-made for this crowd, you feel) or the poignant ‘Manner of Words’, Doyle is never anything less than stellar, regularly hunching and bouncing over his station like a man possessed and getting more from those gathered with a simple ‘come on’ beckon from his hands than most acts receive all weekend long. Truly superb.
But hey, we’re skipping ahead. On a day in which this scribe felt a touch delicate, Sleep Thieves provided the perfect musical method with which to ease into the home stretch on the Live Live Stage. There’s a cinematic quality about the Dublin trio and the Chromatics vibe is so strong at one point that you wish, once again, that a later timeslot had been available for them. Still, their sound is alluring and in Sorcha Brennan they boast a frontwoman with fittingly bewitching glamour. Earlier at the Original Stage, the Trinity Orchestra cemented their reputation as one of the more esoteric-yet-mainstream-friendly festival staples as they entered in a lively tribute to Sufjan Stevens, complete with impressive revolving vocal performances. German house pair Booka Shade followed suit as we watched on, a tad bleary-eyed, from the comfort of the top of the hill as an increasingly large crowd drank it all in. In truth, it’s difficult to really connect to a lot of the spinners today and as such Booka Shade, Matador, Maya Jane Coles and the aforementioned Cyril Hahn all kind of blur into one big thumping and/or minimalist melting pot.
With a name like ‘Whilk & Misky‘, we’re curious to see if the output rivals the moniker in the ‘terrible’ stakes. A lazy, hazy London two-piece armed with keys and, yes, what appears to be a guitar, they fall into the ‘not that bad, actually’ category. One of them sports a flower crown, which we guess is more of a Stradbally thing as there’s a shocking lack of them floating about over the three days. Good. They’re awful. Not as awful as the boys’ sun-kissed cover of ‘Glory Box’ which you’d think stands out as A Song That Really Never Should Be Covered Ever and brings to mind Newton Faulkner‘s unfortunate butchering of Massive Attack‘s iconic ‘Teardrop’. Name aside, these two are mostly harmless and some of their arrangements are quite intriguing. Later, as East India Youth draws to a close, we ponder, briefly, sauntering over to catch a bit of Richie Hawtin but having missed out on Run The Jewels when they hit Dublin in December and a mounting concern that the Undergrowth Stage is going to be packed to the proverbial rafters, we opt to head straight there and push our way as far forward as possible.
The short journey of polite manoeuvring and multiple apologies is worth it. There’s a superstar aura about Killer Mike and El-P. They’ve always been great in solo form but this project has reignited them in such a way that you question every other hip hop act out there (yes, even Kanye). There’s no lull here, no fatigue, nothing ever approaching sleepwalking territory as a busy hour dominated by both Run The Jewels records unfolds. What’s more, they’re clearly delighted to be present and honestly appreciative of the full house that came to play. The sound is ever so slightly muddied but hey, it’s a festival. Nonetheless, ‘Run The Jewels’, ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’, ‘Early’, ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ and ’36 Chain’ all land like years-old Greatest Hits. ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’ gets a monster reaction even without the final Zack De La Rocha verse. It’s a set of supreme focus, little in the way of sermonising – odd, considering how outspoken both men are – with the emphasis on relentlessly cranking out as much as possible. ‘Love Again (Akinyele Back)’ draws the filthiest refrain of the weekend and the above giggled confession from El-P before ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ and a quick encore of ‘Angel Duster’ fades out, that second album cover blazing blood red on the video screen as we collect ourselves, warm in the knowledge that we witnessed something undeniably special.
So long for another year, Forbidden Fruit. Stay weird.