It’s no exaggeration to suggest that this year represents a sea change for the Electric Picnic. Reaching your tenth anniversary is no mean feat in the current climate and to do so with sold out plastered everywhere is a further achievement – although the death of a young man on Friday night will have to cast a shadow. With the alternative element completely gone from Oxegen, the Picnic is left flying solo as Ireland’s premier event. The changes behind the scenes are noticeable out front, with the feeling of two separate gatherings starting to creep in – the main arena and tents on one side, Body & Soul and a much more improved Trailer Park area on the other. Yet for every Fatboy Slim, there’s still ten new and interesting artists to be found down the bill. Here’s what caught our eye over the weekend…
Arctic Monkeys – Main Stage, Sunday
Seven years ago, Arctic Monkeys looked and made music like typical teenagers, except they had a lyricist who could articulate the mundane detail of an everyday life in English suburbia with wit, charm and alarming precision. They wore their normality proudly then, but today Matt Helders’ trackie bottoms stand out amid the teddy boy hair, sharp suits and drunken Alex Turner’s droll northern showmanship. “’ave you got a little bit of energy left for the Arctic Monkeys?” Turner wonders before breaking into ‘Dancing Shoes’, that most sadly accurate ode to the peril of being a teenage boy in a nightclub. He knows the answer, of course; he’s known the answer his entire adult life, and that sense of all-knowing cynicism punctuates the set but fails to puncture it.
The gig’s mid-tempo second act comes closest to falling flat, although ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and a misplaced ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ save it from feeling as if the band have gone off course, while ‘Do Me a Favour’ and ‘Cornerstone’ get somewhat lost among the band’s lesser tracks. Of the new material, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ and ‘R U Mine?’ go down best, but it’s left to ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ and the ever-gorgeous ‘505’ to fully engage this massive crowd once again. (George Morahan)
The Beat – Main Stage, Saturday
Opening up the main stage on a Saturday of the Picnic can often be something of a poison challace, the act left with a small, lethargic audience still easing themselves into the day. Much as we love the Beat, they’re hardly slap bang in the festival’s target audience so we fear that the 2Tone veterans may well join the club. Instead they turn out to be one of the day’s highlights. As incongruous as it may be to be singing ‘Stand Down Margaret’ in 2013, their general message of peace and unity will never go out of fashion. Neither will ska music and as such the growing crowd are soon hopping about like mad things. Only Ranking Roger remains from the original days (joined on vocals by his son, the splendidly named Ranking Junior) but in truth it matters not, especially when ‘Ranking Full Stop’ explodes into ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’. For a band used to playing fairly low key club shows in Ireland it doesn’t get much better than this. (Phil Udell)
Blind Yackety – Salty Dog Stage, Saturday
So you’ve spent all of Friday afternoon cursing out whoever made your useless tent, and the rest of the day binge drinking and trying to get ‘Right Here Right Now’ out of your head. Do you have any hope of a Saturday resurrection? Blind Yackety might be able to help you out. The Irish octet draw from their excellent 2012 debut Fences and Furnaces to offer up a fantastic set of world music inspired indie. Opening up the Salty Dog stage, there is a surprisingly large crowd awaiting them. The klezmer rock of ‘Easy Days’ and the eastern melodies that carry the ecstatic ‘Glorious Days’ are the kind of world music inspired pop madness that Zach Condon would make if he wanted Beirut to be a party band. Kitted out in a dress and lampshade/hat, frontman Kevin McNamara’s wild energy and crowd commanding delivery make him seem positively shamanic. The whole group belt out tracks like ‘Black Rain’ with such skill and joy that it’s impossible not to be sucked into their merry, manic world. Even in a weekend crammed with hidden gems and surprise highlights, Blind Yackety truly stand out with a sound that very few others could pull off. Here’s hoping they’ll be winning over bigger crowds this time next year. (Cormac Duffy)
Björk – Main Stage, Saturday
The belief that Björk is some cute Icelandic oddity to be wheeled out for our amusement has been getting a worrying amount of play online and around the EP camp in the run up to her headlining Saturday night set. She doesn’t help matters with a costume seemingly made of repurposed Christmas baubles and tinsel, but the militaristic bast of ‘Hunter’ should be enough to blow any misconceptions away. There’s still work to be done with the new material as this is the first Irish show in support of 2011’s Biophilia, but it’s a mixed bag. ‘Moon’ starts to lose the crowd with its lullaby-like procession and ‘Crystalline’ looks to be going the same way until Björk takes a flare and fires it to her right, setting the crowd off and signaling the song’s batshit industrial-electronic climax – the first of many this evening.
The visual accompaniments are largely environmental and even educational as ‘Jóga’s “emotional landscapes” are brought to life and ‘Mutual Core’ gives a lesson in the ways of plate tectonics. The all-female choir, meanwhile, sound spectral and pure when required to sing and are frenzied when breaking out their dance moves during an unrecogisable rendition of ‘Hyperballad’. This set, much like the choir, finds the sweet spot between moments of lush beauty (‘Hidden Place’, ‘Heirloom’, ‘One Day’, ‘Jóga’) and harbingers of the coming rave apocalypse (‘Mutual Core’, ‘Army of Me’, ‘Hyperballad’).
By the time Björk and company return for their encore there can be no mistaking who and what she is. That’s a lie, actually. ‘Declare Independence’, with its one-armed salutes and call-and-response that could easily be misheard as “Racist flag! Heil! Heil”, looks like a Nazi rally. However, Björk is no fascist, she’s merely one of the finest artists of our time. (GM)
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Electric Arena, Sunday
After David Byrne paired up with Annie Clark (who had just a career high with the marvellous Strange Mercy) last year, the unlikely duo dropped a record that managed to fuse their two idiosyncratic styles into something that stood on its own. And just as Love This Giant hinged on their supporting brass band to give it its essence, so too is their live show brought to remarkable highs by the supporting players. Numbers like ‘Who’ and ‘I Should Watch TV’ are brought to life by the ensemble’s undeniable stage presence, the bandleaders slotting neatly into the groups synchronised, hypnotic dance routines. While their own material is daring and catchy, it’s certainly unfamiliar to a large swathe of the crowd, and it takes the obligatory Talking Heads covers to truly kick it off. The choices are superb, with the giddy ‘Wild Wild Life’, the agitated ‘Burning Down the House’ and the down-right gorgeous ‘This Must Be the Place’ giving a macrocosmic look at the band’s canon.
It’s a real shame that Clark’s dips into her back catalogue aren’t met with the euphoric recognition that Byrne’s are, but her dazzling renditions of ‘Cheerleader’ and ‘Cruel’, complete with her tense, warbling guitar work, are the neglected gems of the set. When the band first stroll off stage, there’s a palpable tension as the crowd wait for the encore, with a dozen conversations in earshot offering up a dozen Talking Heads’ songs as suggestions. Returning with an uncontainable rendition of ‘Road to Nowhere’, Byrne and Clark immediately cement their set as the one to have caught at this festival. (CD)
Disclosure – Main Stage, Saturday
Having played most major European festivals this summer and becoming a legitimate mainstream concern with the release of Settle, it feels like we’ve been waiting for Disclosure to play in Ireland for a long time – a DJ set in Belfast in April doesn’t really count. It’s quite incredible to think that they get to close the Main Stage on their live Irish debut, but they come up with a tight set that hits all its marks. Of course, there’s little that can do to make their set feel ‘live’, but they do pretty well with the percussion and other variable elements to make it feel like more than your average house show. What’s disappointing is the lack of vocalists. It’s not like they can drag Jessie Ware, Aluna Francis and Eliza Doolittle along with them on tour, but Sam Smith played earlier in the day, and it’s a shame to see that they couldn’t convince him to stick around to lend his arresting voice to set-closer ‘Latch’. Alas, ‘When a Fire Starts to Burn’, ‘Confess to Me’, ‘You & Me’, ‘White Noise’ and the remix of Ware’s ‘Running’ get everyone moving, making for an assured introduction from the house-pop brothers. (GM)
Duckworth Lewis Method – Main Stage, Saturday
A delightful oddity amongst the slickness of the main arena’s offerings, DLM nonetheless strike more of a chord than might be expected. Neil Hannon is dressed as a character from Zulu, Thomas Walsh sports a courageous beard / top hat combo and the band don cricket whites but nothing can detract from the quality of their pop music. The cricket element adds a welcome twist (State enjoyed the audience giving the band the finger, although not in the Dickie Bird and not disrespectful sense) and what once seemed like a novelty now feels part of the scenery. (PU)
Eels – Main Stage, Saturday
Mark E. Everett and co. are probably the perfect afternoon festival act. They have enough of a profile to draw in a core crowd, and the simple immediacy of their music is enough to keep anyone new to them intrigued. For anyone who saw either of their excellent Olympia dates back in March, it’s all very familiar, from the condensed set down to the rote-learned, though admittedly funny stage banter, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. The band knock out some great bluesy numbers like ‘Open My Present’ and ‘Fresh Blood’, and are a hilarious sight in their matching mobster tracksuits. After a pantomime worthy exchange with a roadie who informs them they only have time for the one more song, they finish up on a mash-up of two of their best-loved songs, ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’. It’s a wonderful ending to a tight set, and there’s nothing better than hearing a festival crowd singing “You’re goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day!”. (CD)
Ellie Goulding – Main Stage, Saturday
If any act on day two reflects the new dimension of the Electric Picnic, it’s Ellie Goulding. Despite her often quite interesting music, she’s very much in the pop star mold and attracts an suitable young and excitable audience. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though and we’re delighted that our own younger companions (daughter division) have a more positive role model to focus on than some. Her voice – never the strongest anyway – is in bad shape but Goulding soldiers on regardless and, if it does seem as though she’s singing the same song for an hour, the sizeable crowd couldn’t be bothered less and we find ourselves joining in on more than one occasion. We’re finally sold when she gets chased around the stage by a wasp and then grabs an electric guitar for the climax of ‘Burn’, looking completely in the process. If this is the future of the festival, we’re along for the ride. (PU)
Photograph by Ste Murray