Electric Picnic 2015 – The Magic Is Alive

©Peter Watson
©Peter Watson

For the life of me I can’t tell you why but I missed Electric Picnic last year; that is a mistake I will never make again. Once again the most inconspicuous piece of land in the wilds of Laois has provided one of the best weekends of my life. Anyone who has been reading my stuff for a while now will remember that my first trip to Picnic in 2012 was a less than stellar experience for me – and I have indeed seen online that others had a similar experience this year – but I am happy to say that those days seem to have been a minor hiccup on the path to EP becoming the greatest festival this country has ever seen.

Friday September 4th – Touchdown Without a Hitch

After the long haul down the M7 we arrive in the land once known as the Queen’s County. This wasn’t our first rodeo, we knew it wouldn’t be long before it’d be little fit for a queen. Due to the horror show of 2012, picking a campsite took a little longer than I would say my three compatriots – Peter, Kayleigh and Rachel – were bothered with but thanks to that experience the paranoia will likely never leave me. All’s well that ends well however and we got setup in a great spot, close enough to the toilets for convenience, floodlights and security but far enough away that gas masks and snorkels weren’t required. As per usual, we took things ham and cheesy – tent up, chairs out, start off with a few beers.

I have been to Oxegen 3 times and now the same for Picnic, I was adamant that this weekend would be spent mostly in amongst the music and not wasted at the campsite as I have been guilty of in the past. We were a little late finally getting moving in that direction (though we were a little late arriving to be fair) and we landed in towards the main stage in time for a good half hour of The Coronas. I’ll admit that I’m not their biggest fan by far, but I was more than aware of how strong of a festival reputation they have and on that front they didn’t disappoint. The ecstatic crowd join-in for “San Diego Song” was infectious and served as a brilliant “we’re here” moment to kick things off. From there myself and Peter parted ways with the others for a bit of a wander and stumbled upon Aindrias De Staic and the Lathikos  in what would serve as the first of the many Picnic discoveries. Taking in “Sugar Beat” – their “hit” as Aindrias himself called it – as they closed off the Earthship stage in Body & Soul there was a fantastic energy around the performance and I would see them again in a heartbeat (or the next day as it turned out).

After that it was all about some heavy-duty rambling as we headed out the Salty Dog exit to find some food via the various campsite stages. I’ve talked up Salty Dog ’till I could talk no more at this stage and if you’ve been to Picnic you know just how special a stage it is but I’ll say it once more for good measure – a pirate ship in a forest, End of. We were here for a reason though, and that was to see GANGS. This Dublin based quartet are around a few years now and for a while I had a keen ear on their material so I was quite surprised and impressed to hear that they’ve have taken yet another tangent and their music has evolved further still, moving away from some of the pop sensibilities that their earlier material was founded upon but going into something very interesting at the same time. On we went past the Dog into the Oscar Wilde campsite, for we had but one food on our mind. In one of the weirdest spins to come from Picnic, as well as great music, drink and banter, you will discover some of the greatest food you have ever eaten. Two years ago we discovered Rebel Burger, and there was no way we were going to make our first dinner stop of the weekend anywhere else. Bacon & Blue for anyone looking for my own personal recommendation, a glorious burger with a smattering of blue cheese, hot damn you’d eat it off the ground.

It was time then for a campsite regroup, recharge and refuel then back in once again. We were all gung-ho to see Underworld (or to hear “Born Slippy” at least anyway) and as a result we caught the tail end of Grace Jones. Look, not to be too ignorant about it but to me Grace Jones is Mayday and always will be; I just cannot take her seriously in any capacity if I’m being honest. Still, what I managed to catch of her set didn’t offend me. We stuck it out and got settled into Underworld’s first two or three tracks but really I’m not much of a house fan to begin with and in the wide open expanse of the main stage I felt like they were falling a little flat. We devised a flawless plan though – back to the tent, chill out, have a few drinks then come back for the final run of their set. The greatest plans of mice and men though….we fell asleep. Or at least myself and Rachel did. Yep, asleep before midnight on the first night of Picnic but in my defence; I’m old. I don’t know what defence Rachel was working off. Peter and Kayleigh flew the flag for the team though and tottered off to the Red Bull Music Academy stage or by its more affectionate title – The Rave In The Forest. I’ve hit up the rave twice before at previous Picnics and as I’ve already mentioned, house isn’t my thing, but that couldn’t be any less relevant when it comes to the rave. The simple sight of thousands worshipping the beat within their own euphoric state of delirium is something to behold. That said, when I saw the state the other two returned in and when I could simply feel the tiredness emanating from them the next morning I felt comfortable with my decision – there would be plenty of time for the rave.

Saturday September 5th – We’re Gonna Picnic The S**t Outta Picnic

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve wasted a lot of festival time in campsites. Saturday began with a purpose – that purpose was music. After taking in a rugby match that is. Yes I know, how un-Picnic to be any way concerned with watching a sporting event when we’re supposed to be taking the weekend off for music but myself and Peter are rugby nuts, it was always gonna happen. In what was considered a very unsporting move, the vape brand E-Lite kindly obliged with a large screen over towards the Trailer Park this year at EP. Beforehand we caught a song from Miriam Donohue in the Oxjam tent which would become our one song stop-off area for the weekend then it was E-Lite for 2.30pm, where we watched Ireland get an almighty drubbing from the English in the fairly baking afternoon sun. At least, we watched until half time anyway. With little to invest in on the big screen we went wandering and for the first time I found myself in the Comedy Tent. There we caught Steve Frost’s Improv All Stars and had a good old chuckle for a bit, before I rambled back to watch the rest of the Irish drubbing whilst Peter headed for the Science Gallery to see Newstalk’s Jonathan McCrea and Lara Dungan get talked through MRI scans of their bodies as part of Futureproof Live. I joined not long after having grown weary of Ireland’s performance and ticked off yet another Picnic bucket list item, I finally made it Mindfield. Not that I wasn’t aware of it already but this truly hammered home the fact that there are literally dozens of ways to do this festival. Keep it all arts and science in Mindfield if you like, head to Body & Soul for some free spiriting, head to Cocktail Cocktail to dance your soles off (more on that beautiful place later). It really is the epitome of diversity.

From there it was time for another campsite pilgrimage – regroup, recharge and refuel. Not before having another Rebel Burger though of course (seriously, get one now). All four of us were fairly determined to be back in the arena for arguably the event of the weekend. Yes folks, Mark McCabe in the Electric Ireland 90s tent. OK, I’m being slightly sarcastic here but as someone who was 11 when “Maniac 2000” was released the nostalgia around this event was rife for me. His set was good and solid and the moment itself, when that eponymous bassline kicked in was just brilliant, as a tent so packed it was spilling out the sides went absolutely ballistic. Before that too we made the first visit of the weekend to the Tiny Tea Tent in Body & Soul where once more a warm spicy chai served to bring me back to life as the day drew on. We also managed to catch the last few tracks from The Amazing Apples on the Earthship stage. Damn they put on a good live show and I’ll be keeping an eye out for them in the future. Aural popcorn of the highest order. We parted ways with the others once more and went wandering.

On the E-Lite stage John Gibbons was putting on a pretty crazy DJ set with a live band accompanying him, though I will say the overly commercial aspect of this stage was a little jarring amongst the homegrown nature of Picnic. So to counter that we headed straight to….the Heineken Sound Atlas stage. Claiming to bring us the new Tokyo sound, it was an interesting place to see but to me it was a little too cut off from the rest of the arena, too cut off from the vibe too. That and the fact that I’m an epileptic gamer and they had arcade booths in a strobe filled room. Can’t win ’em all. We tottered on to the Other Voices stage, taking in a song from Colm Mac Con Iomaire and his band. Good stuff, worth the detour though I think too long there and I’d have lost a lot of the buzz.

We swung back around to the main arena and got a few minutes of Parquet Courts in the Cosby Tent. Not really my thing and came across a little angry if you ask me, their frontman giving the crowd a “thank you for not going to see some big act who has made all their money and doesn’t give a shit”. A funny joke, if it were told that way; this didn’t seem to be. There was a more pressing issue at hand anyway – it was getting damn cold. Usually the buzz, the energy and of course the alcohol will do enough to keep you warm but the Saturday at Picnic this year was exceptionally cold in my book. I was kinda feeling it, Peter severely was and so there was only one solution – more tea! Back we trekked to Body & Soul via a bit of Sam Smith on the main stage. He wasn’t bad but again, not my thing. Far too downbeat of a set for that time on the main stage too if you ask me. No debate on the voice though, the man has serious pipes. With more warm spicy chais in hand we were joined once again by Rachel and Kayleigh and we found an extremely effective way to warm up  – Cocktail Cocktail.

I have seen an abundance of complaints about this spot, mostly related to it being right in your face as you enter the arena, and to a certain extent I can maybe see the reasoning behind it. It’s loud, it’s brash and it’s extremely un-Picnic. In other words, it’s fantastic. I’m all up for the chilled vibe of the Picnic but to me the greatest thing about it is that you can be at a place like this and in minutes you can disappear to something on the completely opposite end of the spectrum. For four tired and freezing campers however it was just what the doctor ordered. To give a rough idea of what we’re talking about here, think of those classic Miami beach parties, put one in a field in Stradbally and you’re there. It was mental. Though I could’ve stayed there all night, it was time for one of the few acts I was actually on a mission to catch a good chunk of, Blur. 

We headed to the main stage via a song in the Oxjam tent from Red Moon Bayonets. Good solid rock, nice bit of rapport from the frontman too. Then it was time for the big guns. I’m not an obsessed Blur fan by any stretch but the presence alone of themselves and Oasis throughout my childhood meant I just had to catch some of this show. Needless to say they were electric, though we were catching the greatest hits end of their set which I’m sure helped. Once they had wrapped up, back to the camp via Oxjam once more where we caught a song from Punch Face Champions. Fierce loud and that’s no bad thing, but the legs were failing me. We arrived back with half notions to hit the rave, but hit the hay instead. There was a long day ahead of us.

Sunday September 6th – We’ve Come A Long Way Baby

After charging the batteries with a breakfast bap and a coffee, our quartet achieved that most elusive of things – we made it into the arena for the Dublin Gospel Choir on the Sunday morning (1pm in the morning that is). They were their usual strong selves, unfortunately having the plug pulled on them after running over slightly. We stuck around for the next act, Legend, without realising who they were and suffice to say we were fairly pleased to find they’re a Bob Marley tribute act. After bopping away to them for a while we went for a wander, more specifically to introduce Kayleigh to the wonders of a falafel. Myself and Peter both had our first ever falafel wraps at Picnic two years and it is yet another major credit to the food on offer over the weekend that we were back like a shot for more, twice. Serious stuff. We took the familiar loop then, on to Salty Dog for The New Breadwinners who were giving a great afternoon show, entirely acoustic via one microphone as far as I could see too. We stuck a nose into Trenchtown then on to the campsite once more.

Heading back in we took in a few minutes of Ambience Affair before heading in for our final foray into Body & Soul. On the Earthsip stage we got a few tracks from Dublin based outfit Staring At Lakes before making our way into the Earth Spirit Garden. Again, three years at Picnic and I’d never even set foot in here; talk about a different world. Aside from the faint sounds of Cocktail Cocktail and the funfair you’d swear you’d left Picnic. One downside that I couldn’t recommend is the Earth Spirit long drop eco toilet – a wide berth attraction for sure.

Saying our goodbyes to Body & Soul (for the most part anyway) it was time for another pass to Oxjam for Ana Gog. Not much my thing if I’m being honest but they’d drawn enough of a crowd. Then…then it happened. I’ve mentioned Cocktail Cocktail a lot at this stage, and I’ve mentioned the mixed opinions it generated. That said though, on the Sunday with that “it’s nearly all over” vibe floating about the place, it was the greatest party on earth. We dove in head first to dance like lunatics to some of the best dance music of the last two decades played at insanely loud volume. It was exactly what the doctor ordered to kick the day into gear.

A quartet once again, we boogied on over to the Red Bull bar (I’m sure it had a proper name but it escapes me completely right now). More house music but at that point I didn’t really care, we were most certainly in full swing. Using Body & Soul as the main go-to area for the more quiet bar and toilet facilities it felt rude not to swing by the main stage every so often. As a result we caught a song from Buffalo Woman and to be honest I just couldn’t get past seeing their frontman on stage wearing a very boy band-esque suit, given that most artists in Body & Soul tend to be found wearing tribal clothing and Native American headdresses. Still, sounded good to me. Once we had boogied ’till we could boogie no more – and after an impromptu four person singing session by the main stage toilets wherein I tried in vain to remember all the lyrics to “The Sicknote” – we decided to make our way towards Florence + The Machine. I saw Florence way back in 2012 when she supported Snow Patrol in Phoenix Park and at the time I had thought the running order was backwards. Three years on though, I just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe initially I was able to get invested but as the set went on my interest dipped. Still, much like Sam Smith and The Coronas before, I definitely seemed to be in the minority so I’ll chalk it up to my weird expectations of gigs.

It was time for a wander though so we vanished off to Le Galaxie in the Rankin’s Wood stage and how I wish we’d managed to see more of their set. Lights galore, blistering noises, SEGWAYS! They put on some show and even for the brief time we saw them they easily pushed for my highlight of the weekend. Once we were done with Le Galaxie it was time to begin accepting that it was nearly all over. We detoured via the Trailer Park and browsed a little, then back to the campsite via Trenchtown for a great surprise – Synergy. At least I think it was Synergy, they’re the only band for Trenchtown at that time that I can think fit the bill of what I remember! Anyway, as we passed Trenchtown I could hear the faint sounds of the cover they were currently performing – the excellent “Santeria” by Sublime. It just felt like a perfect finisher to what had been a ridiculously good weekend. We danced what was left of our feet off and come the end we floated back to the campsite, very much working on borrowed energy at this point. We had great plans to hit up the rave, and eventually at about half two we did but myself in particular was needing sleep – I had a long drive ahead of me the next day. We returned to the tent, we slept and in the morning we undertook that most unforgiving task of packing it all up for another year. I will never understand how I managed to get the tent back into its bag if I’m being honest.

In the days since Picnic I have been observing everyone’s thoughts on the 2015 edition. Many feel the “magic” is being lost, some are swearing off it for life. Others had the best weekend of their lives and more can’t believe they hadn’t been before. Trying my best to give a coherent and level opinion of Picnic now I would have to say that yes, I do agree that it has changed in many ways. I can see some risky territory opening up in the higher than ever number of corporate tents/stalls/attractions. The capacity could be somewhat worrying if it keeps increasing without much increase in security/facilites/space. That said, Picnic costs an awful lot to put on, the corporate side of it is a necessary evil. As regards capacity, the sooner Festival Republic fully embrace the status of EP as Ireland’s Number One Festival the better, the increases require other increases such as entry points to the venue, toilet facilities etc. The escalation, if you ask me, can be a good thing if managed properly. For all the bodies present this year there seemed to be a considerable lack of trouble and nonsense as far as I could see. Yes I’ve seen the stories of theft and tent break-ins or vandalism but then I had plenty of those tales to tell three years ago, no such thing for my group this year. It seems as though that type of thing will just always be a present factor. Still, taking Picnic at face value it really is a surreal experience. Normal life is nothing but a struggle once you leave the magic behind you, everyday tasks become arduous chores. As I alluded to earlier, I cannot for the life of me remember why I gave Picnic a miss last year, but I know that isn’t a mistake I will make twice. The saving has already started, Electric Picnic 2016, let’s be havin’ ya.

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Bachelors Degree in Arts from NUI Maynooth. Double Honours English & Philosophy.

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