With so many festivals adopting a grab-all approach towards their line ups it’s refreshing to see Life Festival sticking to a theme and curating a bill that offers some old favourites while giving lesser known talents a share of the light. Now in its eighth year on the stately lakeside grounds of Belvedere House in Westmeath, the electronic music festival has found its niche as the go to outing for dance-heads.
The setting and layout of the stages gives proceedings a laid-back feel which is missing at larger festivals and also means the more ambient and experimental acts that have been flourishing in Ireland over the year such as Toby Kaar and Lumigraph can shine unperturbed by unce-unce-unce crowd pleasers on the main stage. Not that there is much in the way of the mainstream at Life.
Each night’s headliners are worthy of their billing, particularly Laurent Garnier, whose set on the Saturday showed just why he’s still capable of pulling out a big crowd after 25 years on the scene. The Frenchman’s mix wove together every trend in techno and electro over the last two decades with a dexterity and relentless pace that would have satisfied a crowd many times the size of the 5,000 or so at Life. The following night Berlin duo Modeselektor’s multi-genre sound fittingly closed the festival with their set serving almost as an index to all that had gone before.
One half of Leftfield, Neil Barnes still performs under the name and maintains the group’s reputation for loudness with an absolutely pulsating DJ set that shows why the group were such a powerhouse in the 90s and 00s. The vitality is even more pronounced since it follows a particularly anaemic set from Frankfurt duo Booka Shade whose melodic take on things never catches fire with the crowd.
On the opening night, Belfast pair Bicep fare better warming up the crowd with an enjoyable if not terribly interesting set before Seth Troxler turns in the first huge performance of the weekend. As close to royalty as you can get in house music at the moment, Troxler wears his crown comfortably turning in an upbeat set that provides the tone for most of the three night stay.
Away from the main stage and deeper into the grounds’ forest, the Psy Village stage was a curiosity for most – showcasing set after set of unnervingly hypnotic rhythms that attracted a crowd of, let’s say, a shared disposition. It’s worth noting that despite the bad wrap a certain gig in a park last summer gave to dance music the security and police presence at Life was minimal and unobtrusive, despite what was clearly a crowd who were happy to maybe ignore half a law now and half a law later.
The secondary area this year is run by the Red Bull Music Academy and on Sunday plays stage to one of the stand outs of the festival as Eglo Records take over. The eclectic label has built a reputation for providing a panoramic view of the London underground for the last few years and the label’s four main acts live up to the hype. Fatima, Alexander Nut, Funkineven and Floating Points all stand on their own merits but one after another they are most exhilarating, providing a refreshingly varied mix of everything from hip-hop, deep house, electro anthems, g-funk, dubstep and some stuff they haven’t even come up with a genre for yet.
With a lineup that aims to shine a light on so much of the underground there are times when it’s hard to know which acts warrant attention but Life serves as a reminder to bookers of other festivals that it’s better to cater to a specific audience than clutch at a few.