A weekend at Electric Picnic always throws up a few questions. The will it/won’t it rain? (it won’t, much.) The are Ride playing Friday or Saturday? (Friday). And the which route will get us on site without having to sit in traffic for an hour? (None). The biggest question is really what on earth do we plan to see? This year at EP is a particular embarrassment of riches. Every moment of the weekend yields goodness at multiple places and even on the quieter Friday we have to keep moving to stay up with the pace of the main acts, while the fringe events are always there to fill in any gaps.
Given the year they’ve had (as well as their recent track record at this very festival), it should have been no surprise for Ham Sandwich to find themselves on the main stage. You might even suggest that the opening slot is a little junior for them. Even so, they seem so delighted to be here that it borders on astonishment. Podge in particular is like a hyper active toddler, which is entertaining for sure but maybe could have been played down a touch – particularly when this is a band so at the top of their musical game it’s unreal. They’ve grown into the Stories From The Surface material as the months have worn on and are clearly born to play stages like this. You just hope they know it. Mind you, Podge’s final, epic crowd surf is pretty cool.
After we launch ourself onto site from our base at the Oxjam tent (of which there’s more to come in a separate post) it turns out to be one of the only times we get to wander aimlessly, and with Ride being delayed we get a chance to duck into the Heineken Sound Atlas: Tokyo quarter. Despite the heavy branding, it’s a serious effort in creating clubland within a festival and the theme means that we can play some video games, some ping pong, and enjoy good sushi as our first festival meal. All centred on a mirrored crystal DJ booth there’s a feeling that when night falls it’s going to come alive. A drift through Mindfield and, though quiet enough, we’re drawn to An Puball Gaeilge. When we creep inside the folds of the tent we see Kíla absolutely killing it on the tiny stage. A total surprise to most of the 50 or so people there; it is a perfect discovery and an instant shot in the arm.
The early ’90s would pop up at various corners of the festival this weekend but none as bright or credible as the reformation of Ride. They disappeared just before Britpop staggered in and left a seeing-them-live hole in the lives of many. But a day early, and half an hour (or 20 years) late, a beautiful echoey guitar shines out as ‘Leave Them All Behind’ lands. Fresher and crisper than you can imagine, there’s a sizeable younger crowd singing along, and plenty of another generation shedding a silent tear. The sound is faultless. And then all the best days of college long gone are rolled together and handed over in a package that is ‘Vapour Trails’. Loz Colbert’s drums getting into your core. It’s still light outside the tent and we’re already blown open.
Passing My Morning Jacket, they have a hefty tent busy with a sound much bigger and beefier that we’d have expected. Jim James has the presence of a mountain and it’s a committed crowd he draws. Alas, another human mountain calls, although Grace Jones (pictured) is not a human like you or the pasty members of State. We think of her more like a Sphinx. Ageless, multigendered, 50 foot tall and has more energy than an Olympics. She gives it all, including between-song obscure banter but you’d be disappointed if she didn’t seem like she is the last remanent of a lost race. A slave to the rhythm while the rest of us can just gape at the endless costume and hat changes, the hula-hooping through an entire song and the finest moment of dancing under a spinning spotlight in a mirrorball bowler hat and jacket, firing off beams as the northern lights cascade over her back. Much later that night she will wake up a friend in a hotel room beside her by screaming at Rafael Nadal on TV in the middle of the night. There are 6 billion people on this planet. And THEN there is Grace jones.
Unlike some acts working in the genre, we’ve always found Daithí’s brand of dance music a more attractive prospect live than on record so it’s a pleasure to report that he’s given his stage show a tweak and come back even stronger; more in control of the gig’s musical destiny. Sinead White has joined Elaine Mai in the vocal roster and the whole thing feels like it’s moved up yet another level. The audience response would seem to suggest as much, with the Body & Soul amphitheatre a happy, jumping throng.
Had you taken a trip across the line between the arena and the spookier woodland side of the picnic and you’d have seen a sea of bodies and a pirate surrounding the Salty Dog pirate ship stage as The Redneck Manifesto give them what they want. As we are dragged back into the arena they’re flying off the handle and we half expect the ship to lose its moorings and fly across the site, gathering revellers and converting them along the way.
We’ve come to expect a lot of things in Body & Soul over the years, but a circle pit isn’t one of them. Then again, the area has probably never scene anything like Ho99o9. The duo pretty much spend their 45 minutes at full pelt and, while it’s an exhilarating experience in small doses, you possibly wouldn’t want to put your feet up and listen to it at home. One we’re glad to have ticked off though.
Out of the undergrowth, through carnivals of light and bars selling air (oxygen bars can seriously fuck off) we arrive at taste again. Underworld are bringing good typography and an on-form Karl Hyde to the main stage. Techno that can get into your soul as much as any song, ‘Dirty Epic’ is built for Friday fields. “And we all went mental, and danced…”, the cinematic bass drops and Hyde cavorting around. We struggle to find a space without 21-year-olds on their narcotic rite of passage stepping on us, but the closer the better and we reach a comfort zone at a perfect distance. ‘Rez’ is beautiful and the stage explodes in white to ‘Cowgirl’. A huge treat for us as the happiest song we own, ‘Scribble’, breaks out. Time to excuse yourself from your friends and let loose like Mr Hyde.
As ‘Born Slippy’ sees us all right, it’s off into the pre-capacity crowd, spacious Friday night. The State stage still going full tilt. We enjoy few more cold beers, then a leisurely walk through the site. Late eaters grabbing food and all ending in the ever reliable party at Together Disco we leave on a buzz that can’t quite be quashed by a crazy dearth of taxis, the frustrated taking to dark roads to walk distances and the Gardai trying their best to keep order. But when all said and done, Friday night wasn’t found wanting for dazzle and dancing.
Reporting: Simon Roche & Phil Udell. Photo: Olga Kuzmenko