It was with feelings of apprehension that State returned to the Life Festival this year. Now in it’s seventh year, the festival had a lackluster outing in 2011, falling behind Body & Soul and Indiependence in medium sized festival market. This was mainly to due to poor booking decisions which ignored its core followings need’s, a big rethink was crucial and the 2012 lineup in comparison was far more inspired. A look at the weather forecast a few days prior sealed the deal however, and we joined the pasty ranks donning shorts, shades and sun creme bound for Belvedere Gardens, Co. Westmeath.
The prize for the most imaginative stage went easily to the new Emergence Arena, which took a leaf out of Body & Soul’s book in constructing an intimate tree-shaded enclosure. This stage was powered largely by vibing house riddims throughout the weekend and had some accomplished Djs playing over the course of the weekend whom. However, the sound system in this arena often failed to match the quality of the artists performing on it, particularly in the case of the excellent Cosmin TRG on Friday night, and as a result we often gave it a wide berth.
One stage which was not lacking for sound was the ever impressive Hertz-U Soundsystem powered Liquid Tent. Given a difficult pitch slot between the much larger main and psytrance stages, it’s chest-boxing array of Funktion-1 subs and speakers powered easily through the crossfire and was where we spent the majority of the weekend. The tent focused on bass driven music, and the lineup reflected a tendency towards integrity over populism.
On Friday night Kryptic Minds showed why they are the masters of dark, halftime dubstep and reminded me over the course of 90 minutes why we love this sound and how it can get monotonous if over done. Distance’s set in contrast on Sunday retained the same swarming tension, but channeled energy into the dancefloor in a much more constructive manner and with great effect. Loxy delivered a techy drum and bass oriented set on Friday, with heavy hits and swamped up basslines that was one of the the best of the weekend. Similarly Kasra, who brought things to a close in the Liquid Tent on Sunday was similarly very impressive.
Many quality Irish Djs played in and around the headliners over the course of the weekend. Ste O’Brien played some well thought-out blends and classic selections and Major Grave showed why he’s a grime-lord for life through his own productions. Interesting and difficult selections were rolled out by Executive Steve, Defekt, Drokkr and Matik. Djing standards slumped in places, but were also brought to higher levels, particularly by the superior moves of Djs Bob and Unadog, repping for the Standard and Jungle Boogie crews respectively. Mad skills on these boys.
Deep in the woods, the Rootical Soundsystem tent, provided a welcome break from the more frantic music with no less emphasis on the lower end sounds. Irish reggae luminaries like T-woc, Cian Finn and the impressive Worries Outernational crew. The Irration Steppas impressed on Saturday night: good vibes abounded.
The main stage was the most ambitious area at any Life festival to date. The headliners were well considered and delivered the goods in some cases but not others. Jamie Jones provided a spectacularly under-whelming performance on Friday night. DJ Marky’s dazzling turntablist skills did little to make up for poor drum and bass selections. On the up side, Blawan, Planetary Assault Systems and Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann delivered, filling out a well rounded techno lineup. The later pairing closed the festival with a three-hour set showcasing a synthesis of the two German’s sound: varied, somewhat restrained, somewhat banging, but quality throughout. This also provided one of our favourite moments of the weekend, when after three days of pounding heat, rain began to fall on hundreds of sunburnt, dried-out and grateful ravers in a rare existential moment. Equally impressive but poorly attended were the Ramshackle Dub Collective on Sunday evening rolling out the techy breaks great effect during another personal favourite of the weekend.
The Life festival seems to be back on form due in no small part to a move away from the more mainstream bookings of 2011 and concentrating on what it does best, taking in a little bit of everything from the underground. Putting on festivals in the age of austerity is certainly not an easy task but we wouldn’t be surprised if the weekender gains ground again in 2013.
Photo: Oliver Kehoe Smith