Review of Electric Picnic Festival 2018 (31st August – 2nd September)

2018 has been an interesting year for festivals in Ireland. We have seen the beginnings of some, the comebacks of a few and the complete failures of others.

Despite it completely selling out and the sheer cosmic growth it has undergone, (Trenchtown now has 4 stages ?!!) the country, at times, seems to have a love/hate relationship with Electric Picnic.

Final line-up announcements and timetable issues all cause a stir in the weeks leading up, and people seem to develop a bitterness of having to share the experience with 58,000 others. Veterans are jumping ship for the likes of All Together Now and you’d be forgiven for thinking that EP might not have the same magical, unique atmosphere it once had.

That being said, as the time draws nearer and the FOMO looms, those without tickets become desperate and the excitement builds for the grande finale of Irish festivals.

Friday

As Friday afternoon turns overcast and cars pile up to a standstill in poorly signposted ‘car parks’, The Pearly Whites take to the Trailer Park Stage just inside the main arena. The 10 piece show band draw a bigger crowd with each passing tune and the explosive four piece brass section lifts spirits impressively for such an early hour of the weekend.

The Other Voices church in the woods plays host to a number of Irish acts over the weekend and is popular for its intimacy and secrecy. David Keenan, playing his first set of three, is joined by a string section and vocalist Laura Quirke for a gently haunting affair. Quickly gathering recognition through his commitment to gigging this summer, the crowd is made up of appreciative fans and the friends they’ve convinced to come along with the promise of great things. Keenan doesn’t disappoint and is very deserving of the excitement and praise surrounding him of late. 

Chvrches are no EP virgins and they look right at home on the main stage. Lauren Mayberry’s sweet vocals ring out with impressive force as she bops around, glittering blue under the accompanying lights show. As they tease out the intro to The Mother We Share, the crowd are gunning for it and thus wraps up another successful, yet safe, performance for the Scottish trio.

Then it’s on to the Electric Arena, the biggest tent on site, which has hosted some truly unforgettable performances through the years. King Kong Company have become a staple act of Electric Picnic and packed out this very same tent last year. They’re back with just as much energy and enthusiasm, having dropped a brand new single last week. An LED back wall, masks, cardboard boxes, stilts, CO2 guns, an Aretha Franklin tribute and laser beams make this ensemble’s live show a cut above the rest. “We can go on a mad one now, or we can save ourselves for Picture This..” – no prizes for guessing which way that one went.

As the sun goes down on Stradbally Hall, three very different acts with one thing in common all come out to play. Dublin rappers Versatile, notorious for teetering on the edge of novelty and genius at the same time, attract both young and old in a bizarre co-existence. They’re bold and outrageous and aim to shock. Gathering fame at an alarming rate through their youtube videos (their latest entitled ‘Ketamine‘ – need I say more?) these boys and this performance are not for the feint hearted. Whether you agree with it or not, 10’000 people packing out a tent is something to behold at the very least. Take a bow lads. 

Meanwhile on the Hazel Wood stage young rap duo Kneecap, who could easily be mistaken as a Northern Irish Versatile, are spitting out their equally as incredulous and scandalous rhymes. So what’s so special about these two Belfast lads then? Irish, my friends. They are rapping in Irish. People are actually chanting “Fuck RTE” and “Tá na baggies ar an talamh”, showcasing just how well Gaeilge can and should be done – Coláiste Lurgan we’re looking at you.

The inevitable first drops of rain eventually begin to fall as people flock to the main stage for the headline slot. Kendrick Lamar is greeted by a sea of anticipation and is miraculously only 15 minutes late. With a sense of having little to prove, his set is a rather minimal offering. Kung Fu Kenny visual interludes, flamethrowers and orange lights ordain the performance with no surprises coming our way. He delivers the goods anyway with most people more interested in busting a rhyme themselves than paying attention to the happenings on stage. ‘DNA’, ‘King Kunta’, ‘Swimming Pools (drank)’ and the long-awaited encore, ‘All The Stars’, leave the crowd satisfied despite the nagging feeling that maybe the hype was too much. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s nothing special.

Saturday

Saturday morning brings a glorious bout of sunshine and a fresh delivery of toilet roll and hand sanitiser to all port-a-loos. After a successful first day, late comers and early risers are eager to get out and about for a packed schedule.

Following her packed-out secret set at the Other Voices church earlier in the afternoon, the sweet sounds of Sigrid can be heard coming from the main arena as she commands the attention of thousands. Her modesty is humbling and her smile infectious. She has a child-like innocence that makes her nearly impossible to dislike despite having a vocal so unique and pure it should make us all writhe with envy. The Norwegian singer is note-perfect as she delivers High Five, Strangers and Don’t Kill My Vibe and the crowd gush when she is moved to tears. (Not to rain on your parade, but it’s a regular occurrence guys.)

Immediately after, home-grown rising star Dermot Kennedy kicks off his set with the heart-wrenching An Evening I Will Not Forget – a bold move bringing out the big ballad first. But he can more than hold his own and his popularity is staggering despite not yet having released an album. His introverted mannerisms and painfully poignant lyrics give his set a level of intimacy you feel privileged to be witnessing. Belting out Moments Passed, Glory and After Rain with such conviction (and a helping hand from the Dublin Gospel Choir) leaves no doubt that this man is destined for great things.

The early evening sees an array of Irish talent take to various stages. Katie Laffan and her band play the Salty Dog, Mick Flannery joins the Jerry Fish Electric Sideshow and Gavin James gathers troops at the main stage. It’s Le Boom however, who are causing a stir in the Cosby Tent. The electronic dance duo have toured a hefty festival circuit only to end up here with their distinctive vodka bottle percussion and echoing vocals. Energy is never in short supply with these pair and with it they have blown the roof clean off the place.  

In just one of the many unfortunate timetable clashes, some picnickers are forced to choose between Dua Lipa and Jungle. The vast majority seem to opt for Dua. Her crowd spans as far back as the eye can see, drawing people of all ages to see her pop-tastic, sass-filled, heavily choreographed set. Despite the many families present, it’s anything but PG. The pop queen wears her signature bra and trousers combo as she and her backing dancers strut around the place shunning all the men who have come before and most of the men still to come. She puts any doubts of her A-list status to bed with an all-singing all-dancing star quality that never falters. IDGAF spans almost ten minutes where everyone is united in a surreal moment of empowerment, before launching in to the eagerly awaited New Rules and needless to say, she smashes it.

Jungle meanwhile are brewing up their own storm. With probably the most perfectly crafted light rig and the most perfectly blended sound of vocals, keys, drums and brass, this neo-soul group give the performance of a lifetime. It’s all about the music. There are no added frills or distractions, but they still look incredible. Every move is so slick and cool and every beat and synth contributes to an irresistible rhythm and groove. Busy Earnin’ seems show-stopping until Time really steals the show and an hour just is not long enough.

Another band who take slick and cool to a new level are La Femme. The psych-punk band from France are everything you’d expect and more with hair wax, waistcoats, moustaches, leopard print, two drum kits and sex appeal that at times sees jaws dropping to the floor – typical Parisians. It’s a very niche but very charismatic performance with Antitaxi allowing lead singer, Clémence Quélennec, to abandon her keyboard and get up close and personal with the crowd – which nobody complains about.

As the night grows older, people disappear into the woods and back to tents. Ben Howard causes some upset by playing mostly new material. Though his guitar playing is undeniably great, his singing takes a back seat as he stumbles over words and lets timings slip. He smiles knowingly as he restarts I Forget Where We Were. It’s not the liveliest of sets, and were it not so late in the night, with NERD tempting from a distance, people might just have had more patience with it.

DJs Nina Kraviz and Mall Grab take things into the early morning with boisterous, dynamic sets, lending themselves to the festival vibes. King Kong Company deliver another outstanding surprise performance on the Salty Dog stage, even without their LED back wall, to pull the curtain on day two.

Sunday

On Sunday morning people stumble out of their tents a little worse for wear. The impending hangovers are desperately kept at arm’s length while Monday morning looms ever closer. But it’s not all over yet folks and some of the best are yet to come.

Sorcha Richardson opens Rankins Wood stage, which is no easy feat for the Dublin singer-songwriter who is naturally quite shy on stage. But, as people start to wander in, she grows more comfortable and calls the crowd closer to her. Her band provide her with great support, casting aside the stereotypical ‘girl with guitar’ feel, and the unique, well rehearsed sound fills the tent. The stories in her songs are easy to  relate to and her lyrics are beautifully simple, Lost being a personal favourite. Always appreciative, she is never over-bearing despite her obvious talent and her understated set is a perfect fit for a hungover Sunday afternoon.

By half one, a crowd has gathered around the Trailer Park stage to admire the care free, high spirited Dublin Ukulele Collective. The incredibly diverse, self-proclaimed “feel-good” group of over 35 members have mustered more energy and enthusiasm than the rest of Electric Picnic put together. As they fly through their set of all time classics, including Fix You, Counting Stars and All These Things That I have Done, they build an atmosphere as hot as the sunshine.

The much talked about Wyvern Lingo have been playing with each other since the tender age of fifteen. Three piece indie-rock girl bands are a rarity but these girls have been making waves. From their bold style to expressive music they demand to be heard, as Karen and Caoimhe pass the role of leading vocal between them. Although slightly disjointed at times, they play with familiarity and pull together most notably for I Love You, Sadie. They appeared early in the day on the cavernous Electric Arena stage. A smaller, more intimate setting may have suited them better and resulted in a more memorable appearance (that we know they can produce), but this placement was through no fault of their own. Bigger and better things to come from the three Bray natives.

Casa Bacardi has developed a reputation for being a powerhouse of dance tunes and on Sunday afternoon Kelly-Anne Byrne steps up to the plate to take over. The Today FM DJ has a loyal following for her feel-good disco sets and she’s a master on decks at this stage.

Speaking of feel-good disco, it’s time for Nile Rodgers and Chic to grace the main stage. Arguably the set of the weekend, Chic top their Malahide Castle performance from earlier in the summer and it’s clear there’s something special going on here. Kimberly Davis is mesmerising on vocals while Jerry Barnes is outstanding on bass. Rodgers as a frontman is both humbling and awe-striking. As a band, they are super-tight. Every step, every dance break and every extended outro is an important ingredient in the perfect mixture. It’s a trip down memory lane for most and a dance fest for all. The only complaint you could possibly have is that an hour went by too fast.

The Body & Soul stage hosts David Keenan for his third and final set of the weekend. He is joined by a full band, the Unholy Ghosts as they’re know, and he seems much more at ease than he ever has before. A smile teases at the corners of his mouth as the heavens quite literally open on us and he seems to find the lyrics “Rain, rain go away. I’ll come down another day” hilariously amusing.

The lovely George Ezra  unsurprisingly managed to keep a crowd at the main stage despite the torrential rain with pop-gold singles such as Blame It On Me and Paradise. His deep voice is just as rich and velvety live as it is on recordings and he addresses his fans with disarming likability. Shotgun has been the official number one in Ireland for 10 weeks now, which he acknowledges graciously before an exuberant crowd take almost all singing responsibilities away from him. His set gathered pace and momentum as it went on and it was perfectly fitting that the sun should break through the clouds just as the opening lines of Budapest filled the arena. Ezra has since stated that this was “hands down his favourite show of the summer” and honestly George, you’re welcome back any time. 

Fontaines DC (Plec Picks 2018) are ones to watch over the next while, having just signed to Partisan Records. The Dublin boys give post-punk a new lease of life and have both stage presence and image nailed. But it’s not only that they have to offer, their sound is powerful and forceful. They’re authentic and old-school and their live shows are gripping. Stand out tracks are Liberty Bell, Boys In The Better Land and Hurricane Laughter. 

It’s been left to The Prodigy to close out the main stage. The crowd are eager to go out with a bang and are open to whatever the band are willing to throw at them. Even the mistaken call out to Dublin (there’s always one) goes relatively unnoticed and is completely forgotten in the wake of ‘Voodoo People’ and ‘Firestarter’. They put on a hefty show with some welcomed nostalgia and it does the trick nicely.

And just like that, it’s all over. As people pack up and head towards cars and buses with thoughts of work in the morning, or drift off into the woods desperate to find the last few surprises before it all ends for another year, it’s almost hard to remember what life on the outside world is like.

Electric Picnic has truly become a monster and, with capacity set to increase by 2,500 next year, it will surely be the subject of many complaints and criticisms from those yearning for “the good old days”. Like it or not, with early-bird and loyalty scheme tickets selling out in minutes this morning, Ireland’s answer to Glastonbury is going nowhere anytime soon and will surely continue growing until the bubble bursts.

Just bring your tents home next year lads, yeah?

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