Electric Picnic excites after dark on opening evening

Electric Picnic 2012 review

published: Thu 6th Sep 2012

Friday 31st August to Sunday 2nd September 2012
Stradbally Hall Estate, Stradbally, Co. Laois, Eire, Ireland
230 euros
daily capacity: 32500
last updated: Thu 30th Aug 2012

Traffic problems (although closer to the hometown than to Stradbally, County Laois, home of Electric Picnic) meant that we arrived at the festival with the most important thing on our minds being pitching our tents while it was still daylight. This mission completed - thanks entirely to a pop-up tent which really is idiot-proof and does all the work by itself - in the surprisingly spacious Oscar Wilde campsite, the strong (and friendly) presence of the Gardai minding our tents, we set out for the main arena. Electric Picnic's layout is reassuringly familiar to repeat visitors. You can be sure the site map you printed out and painstakingly memorised in 2006 will still for the most part be relevant today. The second biggest stage; The Electric Arena will always be in a royal blue tent with lighter blue tips, the carousel will always be beside Fossett's circus and the Body And Soul area will always be situated around a dip in the ground, a dip that serves as a stage with amphitheatre-style seating tiered above it, often in the form of logs.

It turns out our campsite is just a ten minute walk away from where it all happens, directions helpfully posted on quaint little signposts scattered throughout the forest because Electric Picnic really is in a large clearing surrounded by woodland. Arriving at the music area just in time to hear The Maccabees finish with a delightfully clear version of 'Pelican', harmonies all present on correct and easier to pick out live than on record thanks to the clever sound manipulation here in the Electric Arena the sun finally completely sets and the arena light up beautifully. The flashing fairground draws the eye first. What started off as a lone carousel at the beginning of this festival and graduated to a Ferris Wheel in 2007 now hosts a ghost train that some punters are heard to exclaim is "Actually scary!" and dodgems to name but a few, with the obligatory candy floss overdose option lurking amongst the nearby food stalls.

And after dark really is the time to explore the Body And Soul area. Recently being promoted to having a festival all its own its birthplace was here in Electric Picnic. Steeped in spiritualism and - dare we say - slightly hippieish, what seems quirky and mystical by day is magical in the dark. Strange structures rise out of the ground, twisted lumps of wood and metal that closer inspection reveals to have cogs or a face seem charmingly homemade but also worryingly alien, the modern and ancient coming together in a way Steampunk can only dream of. Gnarled trees are used to great effect, Mary's Wishing Tree in particular with ribbons and wishes tied to its branches, and is that a papier mache shark we see over in the corner? Variations on the plain old tree stump can be found all around from simple seats to much more puzzling paraphernalia. It's not all installations though, this area has a purpose and that purpose is relaxation. Here you can take a Shamanistic Journey, attend a workshop in yoga, get reiki, have a foot rub, a mud bath or a good old massage. Massage beds and tents are laid on, a much more alluring prospect than the head massages that are being offered in the walkway directly facing the main stage and right beside an ATM queue. Body And Soul is basically full of nooks and crannies, raw and organic food, fortune tellers, wishes and dreams, a place to float away and leave the rat race behind.

Speaking of the rat race, it's in full flow everywhere else here at Electric Picnic. Food vendors of every kind peddle their wares: chocolate specialists, falafel, tapas, a hog roast, cupcakes, Thai food and the terrifying 'Chunky Chip Shack' which manages to still get custom despite the ear-splitting screeching beats pumping out of it. Henna tattoos and face painting are offered along with the baffling 'Your Name On A Grain Of Rice' stall. It's impossible not get caught up in the excitement permeating everything, tempting smells, sounds emanating from every stage and neon lights aplenty mingling to create that festival feeling.

It is a music festival though. For the serious musos Sigur Ros are headlining the outdoor main stage and it's something special. Singer Jónsi's made an effort; black military-style jacket with red piping and showy tassles. His voice pierces the crowd and prompts much imitation, his choirboy's vocal range mimicked -with varying degrees of skill - back at him by thousands of fans, sounding eerily like the most moving football chant ever, the made up 'Hopelandic' providing a language barrier that comes crashing down through sheer audience will and familiarity with the songs. At times introspective but never downbeat, the band and audience really come alive when the songs reach their crescendo, the crowd nodding their heads trancelike and punching the air at the peak of 'Glósóli' as if at an orchestral rave while Jónsi bows his guitar like a madman and shakes his ponytail excitedly. After they leave the stage an extended roar of "One more tune" prompts all eleven musicians on stage - including strings, percussion and brass - to reappear from the wings and take a gracious arm-in-arm bow.

And so it's time for bed for some of us, the reassuring crackle of police radios near the tents letting us know we're in safe hands. The only real problem this first night is trying to find the party at the Forest Stage, signposts seeming to lead in a circle whilst rave music taunts from nearby. Eventually some intrepid adventurers set out to "follow the sound" and the rest of us sleep.
review by: Elizabeth McGeown

Friday 31st August to Sunday 2nd September 2012
Stradbally Hall Estate, Stradbally, Co. Laois, Eire, Ireland
230 euros
daily capacity: 32500
last updated: Thu 30th Aug 2012


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