After an impressive first installment last year, the Body & Soul festival once again sprung up in the grounds of Ballinlough Castle in Westmeath for a two-day feast of great music and good vibes. The festival grounds were much the same as last year, with a few minor tweaks augmenting the experience. It remains a tiny festival, though one with enough nooks and crannies to get lost in, should the need to retreat from the music arise.
After queuing in the rain for a spell before pitching a tent, the first act a rather damp State catches is youthful Dublin four-piece Cloud Castle Lake. After some sound issues in the first song, their brand of epic rock shines through. Three songs is all they get but the addition of brass and strings to the usual line up is a welcome change, providing a grandiose edge to their sound. Up next on the main stage is Donal Dineen’s Parish project. Dineen’s ability to embrace party music from all corners of the world was fully on show as he and his multi-cultural band of musicians rocked out a set of heavy dub-style jams with the odd Burial/Four Tet sample thrown in for good measure. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable set, though it may have been more suited to a later stage time as the still-arriving crowd is a bit sparse and static. One of the oddest decisions of the day sees Darkstar performing in full daylight. Their brooding sound is completely underwhelming in that atmosphere and an ill-advised cover of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’ cements the set as a pretty pointless endeavor for both band and fans.
After a quick break in search of some food and a wander around the grounds, an act much more at home in the sunlight took to the stage. Delorean are probably the finest purveyors of Balearic pop to be found anywhere in the wold and the songs from last year’s debut album, Subiza, go down a treat, though it is ‘Deli’, from their Aryton Senna EP, that is the absolute highlight as the last of the clouds melt away.
The night really begins to kick off as darkness descends and Holy Fuck bring their analogue madness to the main stage. Buzzy synths and heart-attack beats are the order of the day and the Canadians’ set is the first really great performance of the festival, setting the field up nicely for the next couple of hours. The excitement on site for Plaid is palpable and they do not disappoint, capitalizing on the buzz in the air after Holy Fuck. The IDM veterans bang out the beats with unerring precision and unrelenting force. At this stage, the atmosphere at the main stage is jubilant but The Field take things to another level altogether. Their super-smart techno is perfectly suited to the late-night festival air and the haze of light and sound makes for an intensely brilliant performance. After that, it’s off to dance in woods for the for a while before the comfort of the tent begins to play on the mind and a bit of shut-eye is required.
Sunday morning starts with the feeling of genuine heat on the face and a gourmet sausage setting us up for a long day of great music. First to pique interest on the main stage is The Jimmy Cake, whose intense post-rock leanings are probably a bit too much to take for the very chilled and seated group who have struggled out of their tents to see them. The somewhat whimsical, folk stylings of Lisa O’Neill are considerably easier to listen to as her smart lyrics and entertaining stage banter earns her a deservedly warm response.
Sunday afternoons provide a great time to get a feel for the grounds of a festival like this and a few hours spent exploring the woods and orchard result in stumbling upon some really happy children in the Soul Kids area, super-relaxed vibes in the Bog Cottage and truly tempting array of organic foods from all over the globe. It’s the little things hidden away like this that really make up the Body & Soul experience and people’s personal interaction with these aspects are always different. Wherever you find yourself wandering, there’s always going to be something interesting along the path.
Toro Y Moi is certainly one of the most talked about acts of the weekend and there is quite a crowd out to see Chaz Bundick manifest his chillwave credentials. Unfortunately a patchy set does little to refute the idea that the glo-fi aesthetic is a difficult beast to get right in a live environment. Some songs work particularly well, with those that drift more towards straight disco being the strongest, while others sound flat and messy.
Fat Freddy’s Drop certainly could not be accused of sounding at all lifeless as the huge crowd laps up their straight-forward soul and funk. It’s far from original but that wasn’t going to bother anyone a jot and it serves as the perfect way to warm up for the appearance of the original Upsetter, Mr. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. His set is exactly what you’d expect from the man credited with inventing dub music, cranking out jam after jam of top-quality reggae. The legend himself is adorned in his usual sparkling costume – crown included – and his band are super cool and super tight. Truly none more dub.
Due to some sort of passport trouble in Vienna, Mount Kimbie are forced to cancel at the last minute. Despite this sizable set-back, party master Donal Dineen once again appears on stage to tide people over with a banging DJ set before Nicolas Jaar takes to the stage. Touring on the back of last year’s Space Is Only Noise album, this is Jaar’s first visit to Irish shores and the the 21-year-old has brought his full band with him to close out the festival. It’s a patient set, with the band taking time to assert themselves, building a mood that suits them before starting to drop beats with increasing regularity. As they grow into the set, the band begin to show just how talented they are as individual musicians, extending and twisting songs from the album and dropping in new sounds, all under the careful eye of their young leader, who acts more like a conductor than the star of his own show. The set is extended to make up for the absence of Mount Kimbie and the final 50 minutes are a relentless blast of super-intelligent dance music. Live, Jaar combines the soul and development of jazz music with the four-to-the-floor beats and immense sub-bass of techno and it all works perfectly in the wee hours of a Monday morning in Westmeath. The title track from the album is a real standout and the set as a whole is certainly one of the best of a weekend that’s been well-organised, invigorating and thoroughly enjoyable. All that’s left to do after the last note rings out is to drag tired legs back to the tent and try not to think about having to leave in the morning.
Body & Soul has grown in it’s second year and no doubt will do so again next summer. If those in charge can continue to combine their truly boutique feel with a stellar line-up then there’s no telling how successful this festival can be in the future.
Photos: Sara Devine.
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