Festivals are wonderful little things – echo chambers in the literal and metaphorical sense. Life Festival happens to coincide with the weekend that Ireland voted to repeal the 8th Amendment and grant cis and trans-women bodily autonomy. Despite the severe lack of coverage down at Belvedere House and Gardens, it doesn’t stop people peeking into tents to excitedly share the exit poll results at 4am on Saturday morning.
While women dominate headlines, they also play a large part in making Life the festival that it is (although it is worth noting that there are no female headliners). Male artists like Bugzy Malone strive to make their performance spheres safe and inclusive, with Bugzy, at one point, throwing a drink at a male fan for touching a fellow female-set-goer without her consent. Shortly after, “peace” was restored and he’s back throwing himself around the stage to Julio Bashmore’s Au Seve again. It’s a high-octane, highly enjoyable set from the 27 year-old grime man – with mid-tempo banger Beauty And The Beast emerging as the surprise highlight. It’s slightly marred by his call of “Dublin make some noise”. We’re in Westmeath, fam.
What should have been the perfect warm-up for godfather of grime Wiley ended up being an hour of tunes from Tebi Rex’s DJ R3D. Having turned up late to last year’s Longitude set and giving a bizarre performance at The Academy this year, expectations should always have been low. But his no show on Friday evening solidified his status as a the chaotic, violatile brat that he is. (No explanation was given for his cancellation, and his social media would suggest that the rapper wasn’t even in the country at the time).
Hannah Wants gallantly followed this up, not intimidated by a crowd who had largely been let down by her predecessor on stage. Super relaxed on stage, Wants delivered the house hit that most people were after as the darkness enveloped the grounds. Unsurprisingly, her mix of La Roux’s In For The Kill and Operation Blade invoke the biggest reaction from the young crowd. Beyond that, it’s all relatively smooth sailing – calm and atmospheric overall.
The same cannot be said for Dublin duo Versatile. Alex ‘Eskimo Supreme’ Sheehan and Casey ‘Casper’ Walsh are riotous on stage, as is the crowd that follows them – not bad for an act that is often sensationalized and rarely taken seriously mainstream media. Then again, with song titles like Ketamine and Done Deal Season, can you blame them? Versatile’s own brand of humour-tinged gangster rap has gone straight over a lot of old heads, which is why they’re the perfect booking for Life. There is an unparalleled energy – from both the act and the crowd – that, at times, almost feels overwhelming, though this is successfully reined in towards the end. “Who’s not afraid to say they’re on drugs?” They ask the crowd before inviting them to “take a sniff”. Your aul one would probably hate them, but if she the crowd, she’d probably contest that they’re doing something right. (Apparently, one of the pair is from Sandyford though – cultural appropriation, perhaps?)
On Saturday, women* continue to be the standout stars. After Honey Dijon, eh, tore a new one off Button Factory earlier this, her set at Life is highly anticipated, reflected in the huge crowd gathering outside the tent for her. It’s a good mix of disco, soul, R&B and banter from Dijon, providing festival-goers with some much needed respite after some heavy sets previous – a much needed tonic as the sun starts to set.
Despite missing rehearsals and busting her balls at count centres, MayKay makes her presence (and absence) felt during the entirety of Le Galaxie‘s main stage set. Anyone with any lingering doubts about her inclusion or the band’s new album would be advised to see them live in the near future. Between jokes about the Champions League final and some hilarious stage ambling, it’s a fireball performance from the band. L.I.E.S. – from most recent album ‘Pleasure’ – is a gift live.
Fatima Yamaha continues to build his supremely devoted fan base here in Ireland with his signature brand. That’s one thing that is consistent about the weekend – fan reaction, for whatever act, is always unrivalled. When they’re for a set, they’re giving their undivided attention. In one such instance, Sooty Clearwater, King Of Migration gathers everyone in beautiful fluidity at the District 8 stage, after several moments of tender, but bristling anticipation.
Playing his first Irish gig in eight years, Armand Van Helden puts his call out to the ladies of the night at Life’s main stage. The producer delivers a nostalgia-laden set to a crowd happy to lap it up – I Need A Painkiller is frequently thrown in by other DJs during their sets over the course of their weekend, but it’s a lot more satisfying watching Armand spin it. My My My also continues to stand the test of time.
Jax Jones lost favour with a lot of the techno devotees after scoring mainstream success with songs like Housework and You Don’t Know Me. Nevertheless, he draws a big crowd of revellers who are far from turning their nose up at MK’s 17 or otherwise. Again, it’s the female vocalists that have made most of his tracks – Raye on the aforementioned You Don’t Know Me and Ina Wroldsen on Breathe. However, these big ‘n’ juicy radio smashes do little bar highlight Jones’ own shortcomings – his less-than-slick stellar mixing, for example. It’s a grand set, but given the standard of the weekend that’s in it, follow-up act Fat Boy Slim looked set to wipe the floor with him.
And that he did. Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, should be on everyone’s bucket list after his storming set at Life. As gangs lined the hill to see him play the hits, his energy is unrelenting, swinging off the decks more than the jaws of his fanbase watching. It could be argued that Fatboy Slim’s belongs in the nineties and early noughties, seemingly out of place now in the age of hyper clean production. In reality, every other producer at Life got a masterclass in how years of hard work and a reluctance to go with the tide will ultimately pay off. Visually, it’s arresting – mad celebrity supercuts of clapping; looming variations of the Fabric Freak snarling out from the screen. Sonically, we get everything from snippets of the hits, to a Beyoncé mix, to a tantalising rework of the song of the summer, Childish Gambino’s This Is America. Intense, and yet so collected Fatboy Slim brings the masses to a jittering high, leaving them giddy to tell their friends about the spectacle just witnessed.