Having committed the ultimate festival faux pas of neglecting to bring wellies, State stands submerged an inch deep in the sodden marsh that is O’Connell Park, Michelstown. Downwind, on the Bavaria stage are THE MINUTES: official openers of this year’s new, improved and hugely expanded festival. The band treats us to some great ‘festival foreplay’ and manages to draw in an early crowd with their robust, indie-rock. Songs like the high-hat rattling -Highway 51’ pump some much needed energy into the windswept crowd while giving us a decent taster of their new material.
The first afternoon continues in much the same vein, providing some fantastic indie acts like 202s whose tunes abound with synths and thick, distorted bass and give a nod to 70’s rock, followed by the energetic melancholy of VESTA VARRO who impress with the creepy -Headlights’ and give a perfect showcase for new album, Exit Here.
State’s first venture into the Cyprus Avenue tent results in a brief glimpse of POCKET PROMISE, which assures us of a great set that’s very much in tune with the day’s indie environment. Belfast’s PANAMA KINGS fail to draw an initial crowd but succeed in pouring out soaring vocals and euphoric synths. Tremolo guitar on -Where’s Your Sense Of Urgency’ enhances the band’s perfected garage style while the song -Clues’ exemplifies their overflowing onstage energy and displays the type of hard-edged indie we’re sure to be hearing a lot more of.
Although HEATHERS unleash their trademark pitch-perfect harmonies with the usual gusto, they fail to dominate the stage. The tent soon fills with casual, chatty festival-goers and although the girls manage to enchant a few audience members with -Remember When’, State can’t help but suggest that they would have been far better suited to the more intimate setting of Red Bull Village.
Come six o’clock, a sudden change comes over the festival site – the crowds gather; the clouds disperse and big name acts begin to appear. HAM SANDWICH manage to attract the first real crowd to the main stage, putting as much energy into entertaining the delighted audience as they do into their music, while over at the Cyprus Avenue tent MESSIAH J AND THE EXPERT have everyone jumping heedlessly around the place (new single -Geography’ goes down particularly well).
FIGHT LIKE APES take over and come bearing the good news that R.S.A.G., who appeared to have abandoned the festival altogether, is due to follow after. The intervening set however, proves sufficiently captivating to make us forget about R.S.A.G. for the moment as May Kay and co. twist, shout, scream, stomp and fight karate style. -Lend Me Your Face’ and -Battle Stations’ prove favourites while -Megameanie’ even gets a second playing.
RSAG manages to keep the momentum going, albeit with a much smaller crowd – the rest having scuttled off to see OCEAN COLOUR SCENE. The mesmerising beats and video art backdrop gives one of those rare festival experiences where everyone seems to all at once, throw caution to the wind and start pulling all kinds of crazy shapes: after a full day of heaving drinking and trudging through mud, people no longer care and leave it up to the boundless talents of Jeremy Hickey to carry them, flailing limbs and all through the mind-blowing performance.
Sunday gives way to that awful, morning after the night before feeling so it’s lucky that the soothing vocals of Gillian Verrecchia are on hand to ease us into day two. Although much of the crowd is simply using the Cyprus Avenue tent as a shelter from the unrelenting rain, they’re still won over by the strong, soulful vocal melody of -Everything But You’ and the bluesy guitar of -Summertime Girl’. The uplifting set is an instant hangover cure, helping tremendously to lift the spirits of the sodden and downtrodden audience.
Unfortunately the festival site proves an overpoweringly miserable place to be on this saturated Sunday afternoon and things don’t really pick up until evening when FRED make their entrance on Bavaria Stage. There’s always something so infectiously cheerful about their performances and this occasion is no different. Opening with -Lights’, the band instantly win us over and that home turf confidence shines through in every song that follows. Sticking with their most upbeat tunes like ‘Running’ and ‘Summer’s Coming’ and finishing with ‘Skyscrapers’ sheds a glow on main stage that even the incessant Irish climate can’t diminish.
Not long after, DIRECTOR play to yet another sheltering crowd back in the Cyprus Avenue tent, without seeming to realise that most people haven’t come for their mediocre melodies and lack of stage presence.
WIGGLE, however turns out to be the complete opposite type of performance as some loyal fans show up, having trudged through tractor furrows to get to the distant, exposed Red Bull Village. The band justifies the journey though and before long everyone is packed in, dancing under the tiny canopy.
And so we come to the festival’s final act, SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: those of us who’ve endured the wretched weather are rewarded for our perseverance with a performance worthy of any other European rock weekend. The band takes a humorous approach – cue cards saying things like ‘applause’ and ‘Danke’, held up by an apparently serious Gruff Rhys. The band served out their customary rock, fused with a little electronica to a positive and receptive audience – with ‘Hello Sunshine’ proving a particular favourite.
To say that the fun ended here would be a massive injustice to the new campsite (located on the local GAA pitch). Both nights allowed plenty of time for camper camaraderie and even a soccer match (Cork vs. the rest of the country) on the Saturday night. Campers even took control of the pitch’s scoreboard, resulting in plenty of ridiculous messages.
Perhaps it was a little rough around the edges – attendees would surely have a few suggestions for next years proceedings – but the fact remains that the festival was a resounding success overall. It will surely stand, beacon-like in future in the intermittent musical wasteland that lies between Oxegen and Electric Picnic as an infallible showcase for new and up-and-coming Irish acts. This year the festival marked itself out as one of the big players and is certain to pull in the crowds next time around, all beaming, boozing and brimming with indiependent spirit.