If last year’s Body & Soul was a high watermark for Irish festivals, this year’s event surely wasn’t too far behind. Perhaps a little unfairly losing ‘points’ for intermittent showers between the scorching sun, the organisers would be doing well to do anything about it but what they do control is the setting up of what is clearly the best laid out festival we have. From the spacious and hassle free campsites to the amazing Walled Garden there isn’t much the people behind this beautiful little festival can do to improve it. Furthermore, they have managed to find the one weekend a year when this rainy little rock can be fairly sure it’ll see the sun. Some festivals are bigger, some boast bigger acts, but what Body & Soul has is more character, heart and soul than the rest combined. Arriving on Friday is literally a crapshoot for all involved; arrive early and you’ll beat the traffic but you’ll probably find yourself snaking through a field for some time. Arrive late and you face exactly the opposite, it doesn’t matter though… by the time State arrived (late) and set up shop we had only Talaboman to find before we could fully relax.
The union of John Talabot and Axel Boman is a strange one. Noted for their unorthodox and dark soundscapes, the odd jolt of frenetic euphoria is as alarming as it is joyous. Generally speaking, State leaves EDM to the people who know it best but sometimes you have to just tell it like you see it. A jam-packed tent on the first night of festivities and two savagely innovative, inventive producers making for a remarkable first night. If you managed to squeeze into the tent we’re sure you’ll agree. Sweaty, slightly inebriated and full of joy we spent the remainder of the night in the Absolut Art Bar – a fresh addition to the festival and perfectly designed. The Absolut Art Bar is half under a tent and half under the sky and all centred around a fairy-lit maypole. Shaped like a welcoming harbour, the DJ list – curated by Arveene – was serious enough to be a proper weekend destination in its own right, and yet the sounds were warm and welcoming. It was where we started and would be where we rounded-off the festival – draining the bar of ginger ale and other mixers in the process of dancing the first and last energy of the weekend out (if you didn’t catch the acrobatics display at the maypole on Sunday afternoon you need to make it a priority next year, trust us).
Dragging ourselves away was hard enough but dragging ourselves back into life the next morning was another story altogether. Thankfully, Body & Soul houses some of the best festival food in Ireland. Many of the vendors can be found at many other festivals but there are a few tasty little nuggets to be found if you’re brave enough to think outside the breakfast roll. Revived, and as Saturday’s sun battled with the fitful clouds above, State was back on the horse and heading for Austra. There was a lot of hype surrounding these guys when we first saw them at Forbidden Fruit a couple of years back. They aren’t in any way underwhelming, but compared to their performance at B&S this year they have become some kind of monster. Funky, rhythmic, tight and effortlessly cool, the band are nothing short of jawdropping as the sun finally wins out and shines down on us. Still dancing and producing beautiful harmonies, we can only hope that their festival appearances here keep up the pace they started with as they are well worth taking the time to sit in front of with a cold pint of whatever you’re into. Already, there is a sense of calm around this place that you’ll rarely find elsewhere – part elation, part relaxation and entirely worth celebrating. And, what better way to continue the celebrations than with GOAT. Quite what GOAT are though is something of a mystery. The Swedes have been making waves for some time now and aren’t without their plaudits, but their shady, voodoo and witch doctor shtick possibly masks a stunning band underneath the masks. Ok, their tribal dancing and generally weird stage get-ups are great fun and make for a great spectacle, but when all of that stops there is a group of very accomplished musicians to hear. Their appearance at B&S was already being spoken of in hushed tones on Friday night but when they take to the stage and fire into their set on Saturday evening, pretty much everybody at the Main Stage has new heroes. It doesn’t matter if it was the music or the madness that keeps you here.
When we finally got it together enough to get a wiggle on, we found the perfect match. Sohn sits dark and hooded, front and centre while flanked by two similarly brooding guys who together raise what was a relatively unmemorable album into a pulsing dusky electronic blanket. His voice exists in a cross gender pitch and sounds so solid in the mix. He provides an aural theatre, dropping the sounds and lifting them into a much wider space live than he could on the album; a wall of sound that never gets overbearing, or reliant on volume, just texture to get lost in. As is the programming and artists selection process for Body & Soul, we haven’t long to wait before everything changes once again. The weather, the atmosphere, the crowd – everything seems to morph and adjust to what’s going on at the time. You’ll probably laugh but the impact of Sohn’s music can leave you nearly missing him when he’s gone. Alas, the best way to get over a Sohn performance is to get under a Super Furry Animals one. The return of Wales’ favourite psychedelic export has long been rumoured but die-hard fans were genuinely starting to worry that they’d seen the end of SFA. Between solo albums, collaborations, beer making and tracking fabled Welsh explorers across America, the Furries haven’t released an album or toured since 2009’s less-than-wonderful Light Years / Dark Days. Their performance at B&S is as if they’ve never been away though. Playing songs from right across their life-span, Gruff Rhys and co. are right on the money.’God, Show Me Magic’, ‘Drawing Rings Around The World’ and ‘Mountain People’, not to mention the Power Ranger masks, yeti costumes, theatrics and a brilliant ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ are all present to ensure their place in State’s heart for years to come.
Sunday, as ever, is Sunday. With nowhere to celebrate mass, we instead celebrate the masses and it’s off into the fray for another gawk at the weirdos and hard-core crustys who have made Ballinlough Castle home for the weekend. They may have been slow to life on the last day, but like the sun they came out shining. Five minutes before Kiasmos were due on stage there were about 50 people in the tent but like a warm, electronic tractor beam, the tent was wedged long before the beautiful palms-up peak. Infectious to look at, Arnalds and Rasmussen bob around their desk, expertly pulling together the parts of one of last year’s best albums, plus some newer tracks. It heats up, then it fizzes as our grinning friends all gather at the tent-pole we have agreed to meet at, heads bobbing, arms reaching up. It’s daytime outside but as they finally reach the midnight-peak of ‘Bent’ you wouldn’t trade your spot in here for anywhere in the world. Skyscraping happiness in through the ears to the heart and the grinning muscles. The ridiculously soulful Nightmares on Wax are also here somewhere and, unlike State – we’ll freely admit, are showing no signs of fatigue. George Evelyn has been doing this for over 25 years and looks as if he’s still finding new things to be delighted about as his bleepy, staggered techno diffuses the threat of rain above our heads. A short enough set, by his own standards, but definitely worth finding your way towards if you get the chance again. Anyway, off we go as it’s time again for a wander.
At the far of the Walled Garden in through the forest, is a sail-like canopy over the wanderlust stage. A perfect place to find a bench and sip a beer. We found this moment of calm when seeking out Ambience Affair. So assured, and moved beyond ambient, there’s proper weight in the songs – enough to glue us to our seat. They are still calming – maybe there’s some melancholy in there (or it could be our day-three fear) – but whatever it is they plucked the right heartstrings, and looked up and out and strong from the small stage. It was like they understood this afternoon and this garden and that was worth its weight in gold. Tasked with the job of closing the festival proper, Leftfield make no mistake in showing that they are more than capable. Hidden from view for the most part, the band are literally being begged not to leave as the curfew rolls around. Their apologies only serving to increase the demand. They want it, the crowd wants it but it isn’t to be. Leave them wanting more, the adage goes, and no more prevalent than in instances like this. We’re spent, emotional and severely satisfied with the goings on this weekend, and perhaps gluttons for the punishing regime of festival life, but we’re safe in the knowledge that State will be here again next time around. And the time after that, and after that. We’d be foolish not to.
Additional reporting by Simon Roche.
Body & Soul photographed for State by Leah Carroll