Festival season for me came to a close with Electric Picnic this year. Having only been to Oxegen previously in the nine years EP has been running, I was curious to see what Stradbally’s annual festival had to offer. The majority opinion is that you won’t go to EP looking to see a plethora of bands you’ve been dying to see, or to go on some sort of bender like you would at Oxegen. No, the picnic is all about chill; taking in some new music you may not have given time of day to otherwise and spending your three days just kicking out and unwinding. Well, for the most part, this was true but; before my near trademark negativity kicks in, let’s talk about the pros of the picnic first!
Arriving earlier than expected, our group set up camp in the Hendrix campsite. First order of business was of course, tent up and chairs out. After sitting for a few and doing that aforementioned unwinding, we decided to head in. The first thing that struck me about the place is that, even though it is half the capacity of Oxegen, it is still a pretty huge space the festival is held in. First up in the arena after exiting the camp site was the Body & Soul area which would become a favourite spot for the weekend. We were headed to see Cavan band “The Strypes”. Though they look far too young to be playing slots at EP, let me assure you this is a band to be watched. They are four incredibly talented musicians and to be so far ahead at such a young age is all the more in their favour. After their set we then took a bit of a ramble and I was brought to what was definitely my second favourite spot at picnic, the forest! For anyone that hasn’t been, you leave the noise and madness of the main arena, and suddenly you find yourself on a forest path walking beneath fairy lights and you’d swear you were a couple of miles away from where you only just were. In the forest there is three music areas; Trench Town, Trailer Park Stage and, my favourite, The Salty Dog which as the name suggests, is a massive as hell pirate ship that houses some of the most random music on offer. I don’t think I could name a single band we saw on the Dog over the course of the three days, but that’s the point. You can just ramble on through, take in some tunes, and keep on going. It seems to never stop so all night you’ve something different to take in. Fantastic.
Later in the day we took in the tail end of Gavin Friday’s set, finishing with a pretty solid rendition of Bowie’s “Five Years”, and then we headed on to Crawdaddy for the legend that is Christy Moore. To be fair, it wasn’t an ideal set from the Newbridge man by any means. It was quite similar to what he hauls out for his own gigs and to be honest, it wasn’t tailored for a festival crowd with drawn out ballads like “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” losing the crowd very very quickly. The sing along for the likes of “Black Is The Colour” and “Joxer Goes To Stuttgart” however made up somewhat. A good showing really. After Christy it was time for some much needed sleep so we headed back to the campsite. Which is exactly where the cons begin.
You see, as I said already, I had been to four Oxegen festivals previously and the worst part was always the apprehension over the safety of the tent. I was expecting picnic to have none of these issues, but it seems the security do too, to the point that they monitor the site horrifically. At around 4am on the first night I was woken by my girlfriend Sarah screaming that there was someone in our tent (so chivalrous that I had to be woken, I know I know!). As it turned out, someone was indeed on their way in with a flashlight in hand and upon Sarah screaming they shone the light in her face and zipped the tent and fled. It all seemed a little too odd to be a tent mix up. The next day we woke to discover that every tent around us had the same midnight mystery visitor, and that he had been quite successful in other tents. One of the girls woke just as he had his hand on her handbag and she luckily warded him off. Another one of our group was not so lucky and had his spending cash stolen from his wallet as he was sleeping. His wallet was in his tent, beside his head as he slept in order to be as inaccessible as possible. This guy was no randomer, he was a professional dreg. Some checking up on the likes of Boards.ie and Facebook revealed that there were multiple complaints of a man with a Liverpool accent creeping into tents who, if disturbed, claimed to have the wrong tent and left. Queue a weekend of apprehension and paranoia that we all could have done without and to be honest, it put a dampener on the whole festival. Worst of all though is the fact that Picnic had adequate security, but what was the point in them all being centrally located on the main walkway? Oxegen at times felt like a prison camp there was that many stewards and Gardai walking amongst the tents, but damn it if it didn’t make me feel safe and secure. The other issue is that the entire camp site is not illuminated. Any area not under a main spotlight is only lit by the flimsy fairy lights running along the walkway. In all there was some serious planning issues to be seen.
Day two and admittedly, we were guilty of a little too much chilling by the tent, but it was definitely worth it and helpful. After spending most of the daylight shooting the breeze by the tent we were Main Stage bound for Canadian outfit Crystal Castles. On Sarah’s recommendation I had listened to them somewhat in advance and the obvious feature that most take to straight away is the indecipherable, primal scream that comes from singer Alice Glass. Whilst this has its unique spin on record however, live it is another story. Whilst the musical side of their set is incredible live, Glass just doesn’t seem to serve a decent purpose on stage. She is not being heard as more than a garbled scream and at times if I can be honest, she can get in the way of the music. One point we both agreed on however is that they would have been better served in a tent as opposed to the large main stage in broad daylight. It was also slightly baffling when they departed the stage a good 20 minutes early, with no mention still of why this was. One to see in; their own environment would be my recommendation. After their set it was time for another ramble through the forest (seriously, the place had me obsessed!) until we finally settled back into Body & Soul for another random band watch. This time it was New Zealand band Orchestra Of Spheres. Listening to them setup it was clear they are different. Providing a plethora of instruments from synth, to a very homemade guitar/banjo hybrid they definitely stand out from the rest. This was furthered even more by their first track which, like most of their material, features random bursts into what I can only assume are Maori traditional dances/chants. It is great coordination from the band when they launch these segments a adds a great unique edge to their style. From there we caught the tail end of The Cure and though they sound fresh and good as ever, they just aren’t my thing unfortunately. For those that wanted it tough, they were fantastic.
Time then for the second night of the great outdoors and, unfortunately, the night visitor antics of the first night were still in full swing. Once more, woken in the least manly fashion possible, by Sarah letting a roar out at them, we had someone try to enter our tent. Obviously it is not possible to know if this was the same as the previous night and whether it was indeed a single person who was behind all of the interferences, but what I do know is that once it happened, all sleep was off the cards for me leading to me being in a pretty bad way on the Sunday and well and truly p**sed off at all of it.
Day three and we were starting to fade. Between lack of sleep and too much activity it was decided that we would float the main arena and not be forcing ourselves to be in X spot at X time. First main act of the day we stuck around for was Elbow who, as much as they are festival favourites and do have some tracks that are ideal for riling the crowd; to be honest they fell a little flat for me. There is a certain melancholy that comes with Elbow and it can sometimes go against them. When you churn out foot stomper like “Grounds For Divorce”, you cannot follow it up with a half and hour then of slow and mopey material. Credit to them however, for if you were a devout Elbow fan, it definitely looked like this set was all for you! With a little left in their set we decided to abandon Elbow and head back to the usual retreat that is Body & Soul. After the adequate time spent relaxing non stop in B&S we headed for the Electric Arena to an artist who I had pegged entirely wrong. Bat For Lashes. Natasha Kahn aka Bat For Lashes is one talented musician who hails from London and through her set showed some serious neck and she sang as well as the rest in a market where female singers are now the done thing. The plan stood at waiting around for Hot Chip but of course it wasn’t to be. Unfortunately Picnic caught up on us and we headed back for the tent, where we could hear clear as you like the set from The Killers which was just a perfect way to doze off; and where once again, we had a visitor.
Now I know there will be plenty who will argue about how hard it is to keep an eye on absolutely everyone and how you should not bother with having unnecessary valuables at a festival, but it was neither of these that were causing us problems. No our only problem was just the simple principle of not being all that keen on some scum feeling it ok to go browsing in our tent. As much as you like you can brag about how free love and togetherness are the basis for your festival, this doesn’t in any way stop undesirables coming into the festival with an eye on nothing but theft and vandalism. As I mentioned above, the annoying part was that the security was there, just in the wrong places. I still have no word from the Electric Picnic organisers in relation to my complaint so for now I will have to speak for them. They will likely acknowledge that this has happened but that does not change the fact that it is unacceptable when it is something so easily spotted.
All in all, EP is now for sure, and probably was to begin with, the best weekend festival in the country. When we weren’t in constant panic worrying for the safety of our tent, the quality of music along with the variety, and particularly the effort in the layout and design in Body & Soul especially, it is 100% an experience all must have. Just maybe consider the camping situation, or invest in a serious padlock. Your call!