Vantastival was better suited to dinghies than vans due to the torrential rain and meters of mud in 2015. Perhaps, by way of recompense for being such a stroppy wagon last year, Mother Nature put her best foot forward this year, delivering a weekend of blue skies and high temperatures for Vantastival ‘s inaugural weekend in its new home on the beautiful estate of Beaulieu House, Drogheda.
The three-stage festival was very much a family-friendly affair with lots of children and dogs bounding happily around the estate. Ironically, the warm weather conspired against some of the acts with crowds opting to lie on the grass outside the main stage and listen to, rather than observe, many of the daytime acts across the duration of the festival.
Whilst others opted for the shade and Midsummer Night’s Dream-esque surrounds of the GoldenPlec stage – a natural amphitheatre constructed in the estate’s forest, complete with fire pit, which burned long into the night.
The line-up consisted mostly of young or mid-level Irish acts striving to be the next big thing to break through from Ireland. As a result, there wasn’t a large amount of household names on the bill, but there was plenty of talent.
We Eat Electric Light
The first act to grace the beautiful woodland setting of GoldenPlec’s own Vantastival stage are We Eat Electric Light. A duo still very much in the early stages of their career, they do plenty right. Guitars, synths, and a platoon’s-worth of loops and effects get the sun-soaked festival off to a finely chilled start. You feel it might get a better reaction later in the evening, but no complaints for an opening set.
Maurice O’Connor, three-foot tall hair and all, is in Ireland for Vantastival for what is essentially a flying visit, and plays two sets here in the early evening. A man and his acoustic guitar with all the laid-back confidence in Louth, he marshals two mics and a raft of pedals to produce his quietly forceful sound. Highlights include Proud, and Purple Laughter from his recent EP ‘Collison’. The crowd is still sparse yet appreciative, and can’t diminish either O’Connor’s swagger or his sound.
The world has known what Jinx Lennon is about for a while now. The Dundalk man and his guitar, aided and abetted by a selection of suitably abrasive effects, provide the guttural punkish mayhem the crowd know and expect. The first song GoldenPlec subjects itself to is a semi-musical headbutt in the form of Lennon’s Fight Diabetes, the word ‘fight’ replaced by a louder, ruder word beginning with the same letter. Subsequent tracks have a go at FÁS, building houses, and anything else you fancy. It’s loud, purposely chaotic, and in certain mindsets, pure irreverent craic. Not everyone’s pint of ale to be sure, but that is, of course, the point.
Third Smoke, a quintet from Vantastival’s old home in Dundalk, give it welly as the evening starts to heat up. Their set offers little in the way of surprises. The floor tom at the front is thumped loud enough, and the vocals given enough force, to point out where the group sees themselves on the anthemic indie crossover axis. They are impressively dexterous at times, piano and speedy-as-anything lyrics giving the group a decent sheen. Songs like People Are Messy linger in the mind, even if the set as a whole has trouble breaking out of the middle ground. Few complaints though.
Dundalk pedalboard enthusiast Elephant aka Shane Clarke returned to Vantastival for a stripped-down performance of material from his ‘Hypergiant’ album. The chilled out nature of Clarke’s material seemed slightly at odds with the late night timeslot, nevertheless Clarke managed to keep the crowd onside with his gentle selection of loops, acoustic guitar, his soothing fatherly voice and a myriad of guitar effects. This performance was definitely helped by the woodland setting, which seemed to heighten the atmospheric elements of Elephant’s music with the aroma of wild garlic and woodchip helping to accentuate the earthier elements of the set.
The first time at Vantastival for an act themselves barely a year old, Saint Sister’s stand-out set merely underlines why they are heralded as one of Ireland’s finest new acts. The vocal interplay of Gemma Doherty and Morgan Macintyre, complimented by Doherty’s harp and Macintyre’s synth, is among the great forces of nature in Irish music. The pair’s ethereal songcraft is rooted in folk but transcends it. The biggest crowd of the weekend so far are rooted in rapt admiration, and well they might be. Madrid and Versions of Hate are among the best tracks you’re likely to hear from a young band in any field anywhere this summer, and the opening evening by the Boyne belongs to them.
The Inishowen Gospel Choir
Sometimes festivals provide unexpected moments of unadulterated pleasure and The Inishowen Gospel Choir brought pure joy to Vantastival. An overlong changeover with the previous act meant that the mainstage headliners the Hot Sprockets had almost finished their set before the choir began and as their set went on the good vibes sucked more and more people into the carnival atmosphere. The set of mostly predictable covers such as Take Me To The River and Road To Nowhere had everybody on their feet dancing and singing and it soon became hard not to be swept along by the enthusiasm with which the choir delivered their repertoire. The female singers outshone their male counterparts at every turn but even the less vocally precise moments could be overlooked due to the pure adulation of their delivery.