It's a big one for Electric Picnic. Ireland's first boutique music festival held in the sprawling grounds of Stradbally Hall, County Laois has reached the grand old age of ten, with at least ten more years promised to us by organisers. It's a festival with a loyal fanbase, those loyal subjects being rewarded with discounted tickets to those who can prove their attendance there before, the biggest discount offered to those who have attended three times previously, these early bird tickets flying off the shelves.
Some efforts to make the tenth birthday fall flat though, efforts to launch a stage time app with times being announced in a slow drip feed during the weekend causes much ado on media outlets, non smartphone owning attendees wanting to do the old-fashioned thing and print out a timetable in advance. Thoughts of having to pay for a lanyard are not well met and whether because of this pressure or not, the majority of times are released the day before the festival, the famously fluid Body & Soul area having neatly printed and laminated schedules up beside all of their stages - gone are the smudged chalkboards of old. Perhaps also because of this negative attention a surprise tenth birthday present is announced, a free birthday cake voucher for every attendee. The cake turns out to be a very healthy ( or unhealthy, depending on which way you look at it) giant cupcake for each person, the birthday tent staff working tirelessly putting candles in 35000 of these treats. A fireworks display is also announced for the Friday night at the main stage, so naysayers appeased, it's time to begin!
On first arrival to the site it's clear that improvements have been made in preparation for a sold-out crowd. Free shuttle buses are laid on to take people nearer to their entrance point and campsite of choice, security and volunteers are incredibly informative and friendly, if they are stumped by a question they waste no time finding a superior who will definitely answer your query. A new campsite is introduced to deal with camping overspill, the Janis Joplin, and although it's probably the farthest out of the campsites, a solid ten minute power walk will take you within sight of the big wheel and carousel, the entrance points to the main arena. As well as the usual arena fairground, busiest campsite the Jimi Hendrix has it's own collection of rides, waltzers, a fun house and the usual high-rising, fast-spinning collection for those too lazy to walk too far from their tents. Speaking of tents, you can always depend on the kindness of strangers here, everyone helping each other with tent erecting and spare tent pegs being shared around. It sets a good vibe.
A reduced line-up on the Friday night gives people time to pitch their tents and find their way about, a relaxed evening of acclimatising rather than a clashing baptism of fire. With the late cancellation of Giorgio Moroder for health reasons, it's looking even barer, but we still have some big hitters so the lack isn't really felt. As the Wu-Tang Clan repeatedly and vociferously urge us to "bring da motherfuckin' ruckus", some of us do, while some of us choose to chill and watch families play hopscotch on chalked squares on the grass. We don't know if they made the chalk drawings or if it was part of the grand plan, but this adds to the mysterious beauty of Electric Picnic. Those who feel the need to avoid the ruckus have the option of going into the Hot Press tent, in which Hot Press magazine have scheduled band interviews and acoustic sessions throughout the weekend. Right now it's the turn of SOAK, Derry singer-songwriter who at 17 is disarmingly honest, talking of her songwriting influences, school bullies, family and treating us to a hushed version of '24 Windowed House', her singing voice a striking whisper.
My Bloody Valentine are known for their dreamlike sound but their live show is nothing less than all-out assault, the aggression overpowering Bilinda Butcher's vocals to such an extent that if you couldn't see her and were unfamiliar with the line-up, you would assume they were an entirely instrumental band. Known as being one of the loudest live bands in the world they more than live up to this, a punchingly brutal 'You Made Me Realise' matched with visuals of a forest speeding by leaving us breathless and it's rocking, but still, something is missing.
It's hard to tell if it's just because of the lack of Giorgio Moroder, or because they have been enticed by the impressive fireworks display (one attendee was heard to exclaim "It's better than America!") which brings the entire arena to a standstill, cameraphones held aloft en masse, but for whatever reason, every single person at the festival seems to be there for Fatboy Slim's set tonight. 'Right Here, Right Now' begins slowly and orchestrally building as the excitement builds and the food queues move as one towards the main stage, beginning to sway to the beat. Norman Cook himself is onstage alone, clapping along to his own music like a delighted monkey and delighted he should be as the audience lose their minds. Visuals are mesmerising, Cook appearing as a number of facepainted versions of himself, both amusing and at times disturbing yet still managing to be taken seriously. The screen tells us what to think and do, namely, 'Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat' and even though we know it's just a gimmick we are more than ready to obey.
As the main stage closes at midnight, it's apparent that the nightlife has no intentions of stopping. A lone man wanders the festival with a shopping trolley and a neon umbrella. Closer inspection reveals he is the 'Glow Depot', taking care of all your glowstick needs and he is soon inundated with customers who aren't ready to sleep yet. Sleep comes later. Rave and repeat right now.
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