Music festivals at their core, are usually quite chaotic things when you really stop and think about it. You bring together a group of people, some young, some old and put together a line-up consisting of everything from hardcore trap rappers to seasoned DJs playing retro deep house for hours on end. Now, this isn’t to say that they aren’t fun, they’re tonnes of fun (usually), but they’re also extremely disjointed and somewhat half hazard as almost diametrically opposed groups from all different walks of life are forced to occupy the same space. Therefore the rule is that festivals are almost always doomed to exist in a state of enjoyable disarray. We use the word ‘almost’ because Body and Soul shirks convention and proves itself to be something entirely unique and, yes, tonnes of fun.
Once you’re on the festival grounds, you’re almost able to forget that you’re standing in a massive field in the middle of Meath. The festival finds a perfect balance giving an encompassing atmosphere that doesn’t swing to any extremes. It’s inviting, distracting and just stunningly beautiful. Well mostly at night, during the day it can be a bit ‘meh’.For those used to the more major events, however, the way of doing things can take a little while to get used to – especially if you normally find yourself zipping around between live acts, trying to tick off all your must sees. While this does make for a more relaxed experience, there are times earlier on in the day when it feels that not a great deal is happening. Friday certainly and understandably takes a while to kick into gear and Too Fools are not the only band forced to deal with the expanses of the main arena and a lot of empty space between the stage and the grassy banks behind the sound desk. Surprisingly, Talos – a band you’d have thought were built for more cosy, darker surroundings – work incredibly well in this environment and fill the field with gorgeous sound.
The woodland area, with its natural intimacy, once again proves to be the real heart of the festival site. The Pagoda Stage is a handy, if slightly ramshackle, place to catch an interesting range of new acts (NC Grey‘s smooth soul is a standout) and it was this place, this time last year that Katie Laffan made her festival debut. Moving up to the Woodlands Stage doesn’t prove a problem, however, and her charming disco pop pulls a huge crowd through the trees. Things take a dramatic left turn with the minimalist, neo-classical Mario Batkovic yet somehow it works – actually more so than Metronomy on the main stage who, for all their stylish presentation, leave us a bit cold. There’s a charm missing, something that Le Boom – promoted to a last minute slot on the Body & Soul stage – have in spades.
Day two and it’s a particularly warm Saturday afternoon, not the kind of heat that slowly drains you as the day progresses but rather the type that instils an ineffable sense of childlike excitement. The perfect festival conditions in other words. As we make our way through the grounds, navigating between all manner of plaided shirts and intricately designed shorts, we stumble upon the Wonderlust stage and Cumman Rhyme With Me, a poetry troupe consisting of a number of staples of the Irish spoken word scene such as Lewis Kenny and Raven, as well as some exciting newcomers. Together they breathe life into a calmer section of the festival, as patrons sit around cross-legged and allow their minds to be taken on a journey of nostalgia, humour and just general good vibes. Longing for excitement we make our way to the Midnight Circus tent. A sea of blue lasers and lights submerge us and rest of the listeners as the Gash Collective provide some of the heaviest and booming drum and bass sounds to be found at the entire event.
The Main Stage is still proving an atmospheric vacuum, however, and the relaxed performance from Lambchop doesn’t help. They’re good, just not particularly captivating considering the circumstances. Fortunately, that’s what we find back at Wonderlust as Katie Kim collides with the Crash Ensemble and then Farah Elle provides a soul-rousing, spiritual awakening, earth-shattering performance that really displays both her vocal range and songwriting.
As darkness begins to descend upon Body and Soul, the festivals transform into an entirely different beast, one that expertly wields neon lights as a means of accentuation that injects an entirely new perspective into everything we’ve seen thus far. The Body & Soul stage, a testimony to wooden architecture and nature, now becomes an almost fairy like structure that’s been pulled directly from the pages of a fantasy novel instead of the slightly dead daytime space. There’s nothing magical about Sleaford Mods but they are quite brilliant in an abrasive, funny and exciting way. It’s the performance of the festival so far and one that kickstarts the night perfectly.
From there on, Saturday night comes to life. The Absolut Bar isn’t a hotbed of live sets but Bon Voyage stand out amongst the DJ set with their mixture of house and hip-hop. It’s the same in the Reckless In Love arena, where Bantum is plying his trade and is clearly pouring heart and soul into it. Everything from his damn fine recent album is dialed up to 12, bass punching hard and testing the speakers (and they delivered right to the chest). Rectangles light up and a live video mixer is stood beside him, raising the visual game by ten fold. Warm, punchy electronics bringing a sparkle to the evening and capped off with a second appearance of the night from Farah Elle. Full marks.
Bonobo’s considered and beautiful recent album is a mellow and plaintive rebirth and it’s parts are moulded into a bombastic set. The main stage full of musicians, brass, a flute, and a full backing band – it’s no mellow affair but a belter – into the night, the new, impressive stage lights up and Simon Green’s project is just perfectly placed to raise the evening up on its feet, hands up. Emotionally lifting like a skipping stone. A masterclass in bringing subtle electronic sounds to a midnight festival place.
As with the Electric Picnic, Sunday brings a shift in gear as a large number of day ticket holders add a new energy to proceedings, just as the those who have been here since Friday are perhaps starting to flag. There’s a definite sense of fun about the place early on, not least on the Woodlands Stage during the now traditional Singalong Social – which seems to have pulled people from all over the site, certainly in comparison to the rather dull Austra on the main stage (when it comes to theatrical pop music, AE Mak did it much better earlier in the day). Round the corner, Megacone are squeezed onto the Pagoda Stage – having to play in a line like a hairy Status Quo tribute band, but are as ever marvellous.
The news that Songhoy Blues had pulled out of the festival very late in the day had been a real blow, but one band’s loss is another’s gain and so it’s left to The Beat to step into the breach. It’s a smart move, with the growing crowd getting down to some of the best tunes from the 2Tone era. Sure it feels a little sedate at times but when ‘Ranking Full Stop’ merges into ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ there’s no better place to be. Well, perhaps the Lighthouse Cinema tent where we decide to see out the night with the genius that is Spiceword The Movie, a gloriously shared experience that finishes with the crowd losing themselves to ‘Spice Up Your Life’.
As a whole, Body & Soul is something that can’t quite be put into words. It so expertly traverses the lines of so many subcultures that describing it’s actual atmosphere is something that eludes us, and simply saying that it’s enjoyable would be a massive disservice. At its core the weekend exists as diametrically to the usual festival fair. It is, in many ways, the embodiment of harmony.
Reporting: Dafe Orugbo, Phil Udell, Simon Roche
Katie Laffan photographed by Olga Kuzmenko