Every year at Eletric Picnic there are a number of highlights that stand out for good and bad reasons. Festivals can make or break an artist, because there is simply so much music available, meaning that they have to bring their A game. For an audience, a festival is a unique experience, as a mixture of sleep deprivation, temporary alcoholism and bizarre combinations (Grace Jones immediately after My Morning Jacket, for example) can create a unique experience. Here are some of the highlights from this year.
Tent you’d want to live in:
When this line-up was announced, one of the immediate standouts was the James Murphy/2manydjs super-group Despacio. What made this holy alliance all the more tantalising was the fact that they’d have their own tent that be open for six hours every day. The duo said that the idea was to take DJ-ing away from its superstar culture and bring it back down to a grass roots level. As you danced to an inspired mix of techno, hip hop, soul, disco, funk and industrial you only had to turn your head slightly to see the former LCD Soundsystem frontman consulting his vinyl collection.
Did the best with the worst time:
Finding out that you’re going to be playing at three in morning is going to be daunting for even the most seasoned of performers. That’s a time when people are either going to be tired to the point of indifference or up for it to the point of aggressiveness. The bottom line is that to win over both of these crowds, you have to be very good. Newcomer Shamir proved adept at doing just that. The Las Vegas teenager made his Irish debut touring behind his under-listened debut Ratchet, an album that was designed to be played live. Synths and drums reminiscent of early Michael Jackson, prime Madonna and peak Prince combined with a unique voice meant that everybody who left the Body and Soul area as the sun was coming up was desperate for the party to continue.
Most underwhelming act:
Blur drew what was easily one of the biggest crowds of the entire festival, and rightly so. They boast some of the best hits of the 90s, they’re touring behind a well-received comeback album [Well, not everybody was bowled over… – Ed], and they brought a horn section and a choir for extra oomph. They didn’t bring something, though. Its hard to put a finger on exactly what, but the Britpop superstars proved immensely underwhelming. Damon Albarn’s revelation that he’s 11% Irish felt like he was just going through the motions. The charisma that radiates off Blur’s records sometimes seemed totally absent, and Albarn seemed to border on parody at times. Graham Coxon, singing Coffee and TV, a song about social anxiety, seemed more genuinely into proceedings than his frontman. Odd.
Act you’d want to hang out with:
What Albarn lacked, Mac DeMarco brought in spades. Anybody that got to the Rankin Woods tent a bit early got to see the singer-songwriter and his band soundcheck, amble off the stage for about two minutes, and then come back, big gap-toothed smile and waves galore. 6pm was perhaps not the best time for DeMarco’s relatively chilled out jangle pop, which would have been the perfect hangover cure, but the singer’s goofy, infectious joy meant that everybody was glued to the stage. DeMarco seemed truly happy to be there, jumping into the crowd on a number of occasions, and regularly showering the front row with cigarettes. The only disappointing thing about that was they weren’t Viceroys…
Real good, but annoying because it should have been great:
A serious coup this year was FKA twigs sub-headlining the Electric Arena, the second biggest stage, after only being scheduled to make an appearance on the intimate Body and Soul stage last year. In many ways, that shows how good the past 12 months have been for the London-based singer. She infamously cancelled her scheduled debut at Electric Picnic at the last minute, and in that time her stature only grew, with debut album LP1 appearing on most end of year best-of lists, and her proactive live shows quickly becoming the stuff of legend. Her inaugural showing in Stradbally turned out to be…. pretty good. Muddy sound mixing meant that her very ethereal tone risked literally being blown away a number of times, and many of the songs seemed to just tumble into one another. The size of the stage meant that the technique and skill behind her dance moves where dwarfed at times. By all accounts she threw herself into her performance, and more than made up for missing last year, but there was a feeling that something, something, could have made it hit harder.
Proof that hip hop can work in a festival setting:
Hip hop is gradually starting to become more prominent at festivals, and Electric Picnic was no different. Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def, gave a relatively boring performance in the Electric Arena, refusing to play any of the hits and preaching as much as he rapped. This seemed all the worse when contrasted against Jurassic 5, who stormed the main stage early on Sunday. After the Dublin Gospel Choir eased most people through their hangovers, J5 made it their business to get everybody moving again. Bringing an unprecedented amount of energy, charisma and musicality to the stage, they made everybody feel like the performance had been tailor-made just for them.
Funnest crowd to mosh with:
Every festival worth its name needs to have an act with live instruments that enable you to jump around with reckless abandon. This act generally needs to have two things; 1) relatively simple songs that you can immediately remember, and 2) enough energy to put a six-year-old to shame. Florence + The Machine had the hits, but unfortunately the sound wasn’t mixed strongly enough for this to really hit home. Parquet Courts have both the tunes and the energy, but there songs are so short that the whole thing felt a little bit stop-start. Hitting that sweet spot, somewhat unexpectedly, was Canadian indie band Alvvays. Influenced in equal parts by Oasis, Pavement and, er, Celine Dion, they combined raw, aggressive energy with infectious melodies. Singer Molly Rankin sings and plays guitar way more aggressively live than the records would suggest, and guitarist Alec O’Hanly seemed to go through guitar string after guitar string. By the time they reached their finish, the excellent ‘Marry Me, Archie’, every single person in the Cosby Tent had been converted.
Underworld‘s presence at the top of the bill on Friday night – on the main stage, no less – is something that you could certainly be forgiven for raising an eyebrow towards. The veteran dance group answered this in the best way imaginable, putting on a show that people will be talking about for years. The area in front of the stage wasn’t as packed as twee indie pop outfit Belle and Sebastian were on at the same time, which resulted in optimal room for dancing. There seemed to be at least three generations in attendance, and nearly everybody could agree that the near 30-year-old group was getting better with each song. The group went silent and threw the lights on at the very end, illuminating the low mist and drizzle hanging over the crowd. Far from being the end though, it just gave everybody a chance to take everything in, before the angelic opening chords of ‘Born Slippy’ started. When people talk about having a magical moment at festivals, this was exactly what they mean.
Featured Image Credit: Electric Picnic Facebook page