This year, Body & Soul celebrates 10 years of fun and frolics on the grounds of Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath.
A decade of arts, music and cheesy bread later, fans are still enamoured with the weekend, despite the numerous cancellations from top tier acts in the run up (including Santigold and Princess Nokia). There are also minor gripes with the decision to move the Reckless in Love stage into the confines of the main arena, though these are also quickly eased thanks to some deadly curation.
As ever, there’s a noticeable commitment to sustainable revelling from organisers and punters alike – note the many children gleefully collecting plastic cups for pocket money, while tins of water are flogged by food vendors.
Body & Soul might not always bolster the best recognised mainstream line-up, but it’s one where exciting new musical discoveries are made by each and every attendee. Long may it continue.
One of this country’s finest pop talents, Rushes is shafted with an early set at the Woodlands Stage. He does well performing over the general hustle, bustle and movement of people through the forest. Vocally, he delivers on every track: a mellow blend of pop, R&B and ambient sounds. Sober remains his standout hit, its rollicking memories sounding as fresh as the day it was released
Bringing out long-time collaborator and fellow Plec Picks nominee Jafaris for their uber popular track Still Water, Rushes rallies the troops for a sing-song of the ages. Their camaraderie is evident, as the pair act as each other’s respective hype-man.
Rushes shows off his falsetto on closer Wave, his most contemporary release to date. It’s early days for the Cork native’s career: those present will count themselves lucky to have seen him in such a small space in years to come.
Talos returns to Ballinlough Castle in support of his sophomore LP ‘Far Out Dust’, and seeing Eoin French’s outfit on the Body & Soul Stage, you’d be forgiven for feeling like no time has passed at all.
Talos embodies everything that Body & Soul is about – movement, emotion, a deep connection to the world and its surroundings – intertwining with the music and the visuals (neon seashells are in, by all accounts). There’s a magic in the simplicity of French’s writing: deeply introspective, yet so enveloping. Closing in classic fashion with This Is Us Colliding, he sweeps the crowd under his spell and across the sea of sound that so few can navigate as successfully as he does.
Pride is a protest, and no one knows that better than Pillow Queens. Dublin’s premier alternative four-piece have been giving audiences something to shout about for three years ago – it’s no wonder they’re already regulars on this year’s festival circuit.
Anyone unfamiliar with their wares prior is immediately greeted by a wall of noise from the powerhouse quartet – all while looking suitably joyous – and their already well-established loyal legion of followers.
As always, Gay Girls is the tune that remains ringing in ears for hours, and a prime example of why it’s so important to platform LGBTQ+ artists. Pillow Queens are going to give us something to shout about for years to come.
British-French rapper Octavian drives the intensity up several hundred notches at the Midnight Circus, with production and visuals to set off even the soberest witness.
He’s a frenzied, fizzing force on stage, delivering his hit single Bet before his blistering performance later on over the weekend. But it’s Lightning that threatens to upend the ranch and bring things to a grinding halt as the energy builds and swells (and made it on to FIFA ’19, by-the-by). If you call yourself a fan of the genre, Octavian needs to be your next ‘need-to-know’ rapper.
2FM Live Presents: Classical Collision
“This is just the Jenny Greene thing rebranded, right?” is the initial train of thought at the Body & Soul Stage on Saturday afternoon as the masses await the RTÉ 2fm Live: Classical Collision performance.
Following the success of The Story of Hip Hop and Jenny Greene’s concert orchestra tour, Classical Collision sees the concert orchestra blend classic composers with the artists that are currently firing their way up the charts. An example – the band leads in with Chopin, they’re then later joined on stage by Wyvern Lingo’s Karen Cowley to sing Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy.
It’s an interesting concept that works in places: guest vocalist and former Plec Pick Erica Cody is particularly strong with her rendition of Lizzo’s ‘Juice. The Killers’ classic Smile Like You Mean It is also immensely elevated by the live band. However, the constant switching between vocalists, pulling them on and off stage, doesn’t make for the most fluid performance in the world. Some tweaks and it stands to be an extremely interesting show going forward.
While Lana Del Rey was cosplaying as Maria Bailey down at Malahide Castle, Wyvern Lingo were doing their best security personnel impersonations in striking orange get-ups, bringing a well-needed injection of colour to the day’s proceedings.
One of the hardest working bands in the country, Wyvern Lingo are nothing if not consistent, especially when it comes to their live shows, always delivered with a polish beyond their years as a touring band. Sweet Life Ruiner‘s slinky chorus is always a winner, as is their cover of Drake’s Passionfruit, a perfect fit for that first feeling of a hazy summer ambience that Irish people will probably only experience once this summer. If in doubt, Wyvern Lingo always bring the heat.
Ibibio Sound Machine
Ibibio Sound Machine‘s set prompts the question: “How are artists still not schooled on Irish geography before playing here?” Greeting “Dublin”, vocalist Eno Williams comment is largely ignored by a crowd who are looking to get down and dirty.
The electronic Afro-punk outfit move from one song to the next effortlessly, to the point where it feels borderline introspective from the band’s position; like the crowd has caught them in the middle of a rehearsal. A chaotic energy lingers; like anything could happen at any moment.
It’s peaks and troughs of brass and expressive percussion – Wanna Come Down is the standout from their time on the Body & Soul Stage.
King Kong Company
In a similar vein, King Kong Company’s energy is unrelenting. They are a constant on Ireland’s live scene, ready to knock the stuffing out of punters at any moment.
Old (and some new) fans gathered at the Body & Soul Stage to witness a show like no other, as the lads beg those in attendance to”free your pagan soul” (standard, really). It’s all killer, no filler as KKC fly through the hits, and it must be said that Scarity Dan and Donkey Jaw slap differently in the setting of Ballinlough’s natural amphitheatre. Lord knows how any of the parents attending explained ‘Donkey Jaw’ as a concept to their kids.
For a group who haven’t released much in the way of new music over the last while, the reaction to their set should convince them that the appetite is there. Next album, please!
German electronic duo Modeselektor have an absolute nightmarish time closing out the Body & Soul Stage on Saturday. On two separate occasions, the music cuts out, leaving them with no choice but to exit momentarily. Initially, they pass it off in a tongue-in-cheek fashion: by the second time, they are audibly frustrated.
There’s no explanation offered by any party, and eventually the night rolls on, but it’s incredibly hard to regain momentum for a set such as this – thick ‘n’ sticky electronic. Paired with their obscene production and a cameo appearance from CATNAPP, The Mover is one track that’s worth being at the barrier for – that is, if they plan on coming back to Ireland after so many false starts at Ballinlough Castle.
Trust Soak to bring the people of Ireland solace from the deluge with one of the most stirring vocal performances in recent memory; enough to lure people out of their leaky tents. Her most recent record ‘Grim Town’ builds on the songwriting foundations of her first – haunting and reflective – while expanding instrumentally.
Maybe is raucous (for SOAK, at least), a tune which should prompt any sane person to throw their head back with the brass and the beats. Pillow Queens join her on stage for YBFTBYT, a song about checking in on your sesh mot mates. Their (albeit brief) appearance amplifies the album’s love letter to friendship, its intricacies and the duties we must fulfil as humans.
There’s an understated rendition of Sea Creatures, a song in which the lyrics still threaten to wring the heart of any man, woman and child in attendance. Everybody Loves You‘s dual acts of a lover’s indifference to vulnerability on the extreme makes for beautiful listening.
SOAK’s live show solidifies her position as one of this country’s most compelling artists.
You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes at any hastily written Kate Tempest bio online right now, especially for those who use the word ‘snowflake’ as an attempt to insult younger generations. However much you may want to keep your music and your politics separate, it’s impossible in this day and age – something which Kate clearly understands.
While not positioning herself as a messiah at a lectern, Tempest freely speaks out about topics as broad as capitalism and racial inequality. But it’s her latest work, ‘The Book of Traps and Lessons’, that uplifts her audience; examining her own relationships, past and present in the most minute detail. It would feel invasive were it not so stunning.
This year’s Love Island contestants could do with giving I Trap You a spin – a song which examines toxicity in relationships with the added benefit of hindsight. Tempest’s lyricism, paired with frequently menacing dubstep soundscapes that make so compelling and so well lauded.
Junior Brother packs out the tiny tipi of the Orchard Lounge, transforming the tarp structure into another outdoor sauna coupled with the teeming rain. Junior Brother – aka Ronan Kealy – is in flying form, understandably chatty and enthusiastic about the crowd that have made their way through the swamp outside to see him.
Castle Bridge is a jovial joint – accompanied by Tony, formerly of The Young Folk parish – as people sit, chant, clap, drink and shout; only short of slapping their knees and kicking off a ceilí (though they’d struggle, given the fact that space is already tight).
Junior Brother’s ‘Pull the Right Rope’ has a lot of standout moments, but The Back of Her is the obvious highlight. Kealy’s unusual vocal style lends itself to this style of songwriting and musicianship; gorgeous and eerie as fog creeping over a cliff edge.
Despite a desire to make music without justification or validation, a stuffed-to-the-brim tent proves Junior Brother is doing something right.
As the weather turns apocalyptic, The Blaze suffer a similar fate to Modeselektor, with two technical cuts within the first twenty minutes on stage (not ideal, given the many cinematic elements to the French producers live shows).
Initially, the pair are enveloped by screens, as scenes from movies and their own music videos set the stage for what truly feels like something rapturous. Territory comes midway through the set – a surprise, perhaps, for some fair-weather fans unfamiliar with the rest of their work. But no matter – a balance of light and shade remains, which feels apt as they close out the festival’s 10th anniversary. Where Rise threatens, Heaven makes peace as everyone comes together on the one journey (although, once again, there is that tiny issue of them telling the crowd, “We love you Dublin!” that widens the gap made between artist and fan).
It’s hard not to be enthralled by the drama of the live vocals, the extensive builds and the solemn crashes. If you’re going to watch any bad in the rain for over an hour, let it be The Blaze.