It is often hypothesized as to when exactly the Irish will fall out of love with festivals. The market is saturated with festivals of all shapes and sizes fighting for your money, and while choice is wonderful there is no doubt that the abundance of options has had an impact on the quality of line-ups. Many festivals opt for big name nostalgia acts as headliners rather than the hot crop of acts currently on the go, by default rather than design.
Two of Forbidden Fruit’s three days were sold-out but, it wasn’t until the Bon Iver curated Sunday that Forbidden Fruit really felt like a festival at all. A strange vibe permeated the previous two days. Saturday was a scrotty affair with a much younger audience, whose novice festival attendance shone through thanks to their foolhardy “when in Rome” approach to drinking, with many teenagers vomiting on themselves in plain view from as early as 3:30pm.
You will no doubt see the “rain failed to dampen spirits” cliché rolled out for the soggy Monday with Bon Iver, but Saturday was much more of a case of “Music Failed to Dampen Drinkers’ Spirits” with the bar rather than the stage the primary destination for many who went for the craic rather than the music; which is a pity, because many in attendance will have missed fine performances from the likes of Barq, Giggs, Bonzai, Jafaris and Le Boom.
One welcome addition to this year’s Forbidden Fruit was the all Irish stage which did a fine job in promoting the multiculturalism of modern Irish music, with 19 Irish acts playing across the festival – 7 of which were current or former Plec Picks.
Barq continued to cement their reputation as one of the best new acts in Ireland with a fiery performance of their self-styled agro-soul. Singer Jess Kavanagh is slowly but surely developing into one of the finest front-people in Irish music. Infinitely watchable, Kavanagh oozes stage presence and backs up her bravado with a beautiful, dexterous vocal delivery, which is as comfortable tackling the Aguilera/Houston diva-sphere as it is delivering a witty hip-hop verse. Standout moments include single Gentle Kind Of Lies and their groovy interpretation of Little Dragon’s Wildfire. There’s more than enough here to indicate that Barq will be biting mainstages soon enough.
Jafaris is best known for his role in the Golden Globe nominated movie Sing Street, but that should change in the next year or so as his music career takes off. With a tight-ass band at his disposal Jafaris (real name Percy) is free to get his peacock on onstage. The soulful singer fuses R’N’B with hip-hop, tackling the big issues of the day, from race to religion, with sensitivity. Jafaris is a force of nature and a real advertisement for the new generation of hip-hop in Ireland. As with many young acts Jafaris is better live than on record, but once he learns his way around the studio like he has the stage, expect big things.
Strong female characters were certainly a big factor in Forbidden Fruit this year and Bonzai brought the heat to both her own set and Mura Masa’s the following day. The Dublin-raised rapper let slip to the crowd halfway through her set that this was her “home town” but she already had anybody who was unaware of that fact in the palm of her hand by then. One of the unexpected aspects of Forbidden Fruit this year was seeing how local hip-hop acts faired in comparison to the more established international acts on the bill, and for the most part the Irish acts exceeded expectations. But when it came to Bonzai that question must be flipped to whether these international acts are good enough to share a stage with Bonzai? And the answer in some cases is a clear no. Bonzai is streets ahead in terms of stage presence and vocal delivery, and as she proved with Mura Masa, she’s ready for the main stage.
Nao provided a welcome distraction from the Grime-heavy line-up with impressive vocals and smooth, clean groves from her debut album ‘For All We Know’ on the main stage. Nao’s music takes its cues from the early hits of Janet Jackson and feel-good, old school hip-hop and songs such as Happy, Fool To Love and Girlfriend proved the perfect foil for the evening sunshine in Kilmainham.
Giggs laid down the marker for solo MC’s at Forbidden Fruit with a powerful, relentless performance which demanded the full and constant attention of the crowd. Unlike many of his counterparts this weekend, Giggs earns his payday spitting rhymes, spitting them hard, and spitting them fast. There’s no backing tracks carrying the weight and conning the crowd during this performance (you know who you are). It’s not surprising that the likes of Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Drake are lining up to collaborate with Giggs. After all, game recognises game, and Giggs is the real deal.
Booka Shade & Craig Walker
Booka Shade and Craig walker continued the feel-good picnic in the park vibes started by Nao. Dubliner Craig Walker has had quite the journey from his Irish song-writing beginnings with Power of Dreams to joining German duo Booka Shade for 2017’s ‘Galvany Street’, including co-writing 2014 dance smash, Fade Out Lines. It’s a journey that’s taught Walker how to navigate the blueprints of synth-pop with aplomb, and tonight’s performance with Booka Shade is an indicator that Walker’s co-writing skills will remain in demand for some time to come.
Irish duo Le Boom didn’t disappoint with their high energy set in the Irish tent. The duo are never still on stage, bouncing constantly along to the high tempo of beats and loops that they are creating. Drummer Aimie’s passion on stage is a joy to behold, as is singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris’, and it doesn’t take long for their infectious personalities and music to transfer to the crowd who start to bounce along one by one. Chris’ exuberant high-pitched vocals float perfectly over the uptempo parade of beats they create on songs such as What We Do. If you get the opportunity to catch Le Boom live, take it.
Dance legends Orbital brought their legendary beats to the main stage for a nighttime blast of nostalgia. The production value for the set was extremely high with a very intricate and impressive light show. The duo were perched on a hastily-installed platform that was so high the assembled press photographers had to go into the crowd to get usable shots of the Hartnoll brothers. The main problem with such sets is that with the lack of movement onstage, no matter how good the light show is, the spectacle of two lads standing on a platform DJing becomes two lads standing on a platform DJing no matter how hard you try to disguise it. Thankfully for Orbital they have the tunes to back it up, but it was easy to see why many headed to the tents to investigate what else Forbidden Fruit’s headliners had to offer.
Grammy nominated American ambient producer Scott Hansen and band delivered a fine performance of happy/sad instrumentals. Imagine The Cure took a post-rock detour circa 1994’s ‘Wish’ with Robert Smith’s bleak voice replaced by electro beats; your imagined results won’t be far off the output of Tycho. Bathed in darkness while an impressive array of visuals illuminated the tent behind them, Tycho succeeded where many bands fail by making their lack of movement or crowd interaction work in their favour. Tycho are definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of bands of the ilk of Boards of Canada.