Sinead O'Connor joins John Grant to end theElectric Picnic

Electric Picnic 2013 review

published: Thu 5th Sep 2013

around the festival site

Friday 30th August to Sunday 1st September 2013
Stradbally Hall Estate,, Stradbally, Co. Laois, Ireland
189.50 euros - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 32500
last updated: Tue 27th Aug 2013

Waking up in the relative calm of the Janis Joplin campsite, after a chilly night’s sleep and many conflicting weather reports, it’s a blessed relief to have the sun greet us, especially when we look at our itinerary for today and realise that yesterday really was just a laid-back taster session for the full festival.

There’s nothing better to wake you up slowly than a stroll around the Greencrafts village. The clue’s in the name, all types of arts and crafts are celebrated and taught here, you can buy a hand-knitted hat or scarf or if you’re brave you can knit or crochet your own, kindly teachers explaining things step by step. It’s like a trip to Hobbiton of The Shire, a maze of thoughtfully-laid sawdust covering gnarled tree roots, seeming dead ends revealing handmade wooden xylophones laid out for anyone to use, huge carved faces watch over us as we are taught to make our own tree spirit or dream catcher. Three children wrinkle their noses in concentration as they play Chess on a handmade wooden chessboard as families are painstakingly taken through beginner origami, making butterflies and boxes for loved ones back home.

The most intriguing thing about this place is the closed stalls, signs erected telling us when the next workshop will be. A life-sized carved Wookie stands beside a sign promising the next WyrdWood chainsaw demonstration at 6pm, and Clodagh’s faerie crown workshop will be back tomorrow at 11am. You can even make a St. Bridget from shipwrecked timber and a quick walk past the bicycle-powered forge reveals that those weird and wonderful old-style bicycles are not just part of an installation, you can try a unicycle of you wish, or take a turn about the arena on a tandem. The need for exercise takes us to the hula-hoop lessons which entertain us and someone there tells us that there’s a full-on wake-up exercise class in the Dancergy tent, on its sustainable dancefloor. Yes, after a one-off appearance last year Mr. Motivator of GMTV fame has been granted a residency, three classes a day that are packed out with families enthusiastically “butterflying” their arms. 

We cringe a little when Ocean Colour Scene tell us about tickets going on sale to see them in panto in Dublin in December. Are they joking? No-one is quite sure. We are sure about the tunes though, the 90s coming back to us vividly as they play all the hits from Moseley Shoals, ‘It’s My Shadow’ a thoughtful moment in a mostly singalong set. Simon Fowler’s grizzled voice is still capable of a rousing clarion call, ‘Profit In Peace’ prompts the audience to carry on singing which they do, and could do so indefinitely. Great songwriting never ages, touches of reggae adding to the lazy day feel as everyone lies back on the main stage grass and dreams to ‘The Day We Caught The Train’.

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon’s an interesting guy, right? Always good for a laugh and a soundbyte so we call by the Hot Press tent to hear him talk about his other project, The Duckworth Lewis method, a band that sing entirely about cricket. On their second album tour, we expect cricket anecdotes which we get in abundance but what we don’t expect is for his co-star, the spectacularly top-hatted Thomas Walsh of the band Pugwash to steal the show with some very witty asides that go completely over the heads of the children present, thank goodness.

You expect a lot of things from a Californian female two-piece, but a Led Zeppelin ‘Immigrant Song’-style scream is not one of them. If Russ Meyer’s Supervixens had a band, Deap Vally would be it. Growling, squalling singing over the dirtiest of 70s rock, all barely clad with bra tops and denim shorts with flawless makeup and hair, even while playing the drums. Each move is honed to provocative perfection and audience heads nod in unison stopping short of an all-out headbang, some men just shaking their heads in disbelief at the sexiness of it all. A perfect hangover cure.

It’s all a bit Coldplay meets Depeche Mode with Hurts. The synth choruses have that Goth edge, a darkness to it that the euphoric piano complements. Everything is dramatic here, recent single ‘Somebody To Die For’ ringing out like an epic Christmas number one, ‘Evelyn’ matching The Damned’s ‘Elouise’ in pleading tone. It’s slick and cool, monochrome outfits striking and while the boys are at Deap Vally, the girls are here for the eye candy. The weakest thing though is probably Theo Hutchcraft’s lead vocals, tuneful enough, but possibly a little too boybandish and simplistic to match what they are trying to do musically. Still though, the hands-in-air crowd don’t mind.

Ellie Goulding is riding on the wave of her current number one single ‘Burn’ with an extremely busy main stage audience in front of her. With the Picnic’s penchant for slightly more off the beaten track acts, such a recent hit is almost unheard of here, and the younger audience members are terribly excited. It’s an understated set, Ellie in a T-shirt and shorts letting her singing do the talking. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a strong voice at the best of times and she’s hoarse today from her recent touring but this doesn’t dent the enthusiasm of the audience who aren’t here to judge the voice, they’re here to hear the songs and she has a considerable amount of hits despite being in the public eye for only a relatively short time. Nothing deters her, being attacked by and apologetically killing a wasp mid-set, she gives it her all, clearly delighted to be there with a crowd who want to sing along. Finishing with ‘Burn’ it’s not memorable but simply a pure poppy festival experience, tinges of mainstream dubstep filling the musical gaps and Ellie even playing a little guitar to rapturous cheers. 

Little Green Cars manage to pack out the Fritz Lang’s Metropolis-themed Electric Arena, the Picnic’s second largest stage. This is no mean feat for a Dublin band who play the south of Ireland regularly. It’s an unusual set-up, the five piece sharing lead vocals between Stevie Appleby and Faye O’Rourke depending on the song. Faye’s songs ‘My Love Took Me Down To The River’ and ‘Please’ pack an especially strong punch as she possesses an unusually heartfelt, throaty voice that makes every word drip with importance. That’s not to denigrate Stevie or the others as these guys really are a group in the true sense of the word, creating harmonies that are so close in construction that they come close to Fleet Foxes, with the exception of subject matter. Close to ABBA, in fact with their male-female harmonies and their songs of breakups and heartbroken folk hiding from the world watching TV. It’s incredibly pretty yet still rocks, their finale getting everyone clapping and dancing with glee. 

It all gets a bit postmodern when people raise their cameraphones to take photos of the “Please do not take photos” sign Björk puts up on the screen prior to her performance. The sign causes excitement, mention of the set being immersive and hoping the audience will not be preoccupied with recording let us know we’re going to see something special. Her fourteen piece choir appear first, ladies who auditioned and were hand-picked by Björk herself, as you would expect from an artist with such a unique vision. Björk wears a dress that’s probably meant to represent something, but all we can say is that it’s a shiny blue dress with comically oversized breast and hip pads which, although they make no sound she continues to beat throughout the set as if they are percussive. Obviously concentrating on most recent album Biophilia all the hallmarks of the tour are there, the Tesla Coil mesmerisingly used as a musical instrument on ‘Thunderbolt’ but the choir brought on board for that album have been trained in all the albums, melody lines removed from backing tracks and performed by the choir a capella and exquisitely, minimal military dance routines adding to the beats in a hugely effective manner. In ‘Army Of Me’ they give us permission to rock out, fourteen swaying goddesses led by their blue captain, elementally female organised chaos, a spectacle for us to watch and mimic. 

You’ve got to feel for ex-Czars singer John Grant, clashing with Björk on the main stage and political stalwart Billy Bragg. It’s a healthy crowd he’s got over at the Rankin’s Wood stage though, the deadpan depth to his voice taking us through ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’. The audience reel noticeably from his announcement that Sinead O'Connor will be joining him onstage to recreate the backing vocals she provided for Pale Green Ghosts and her aggression complements his flat bitterness perfectly, especially on the vitriolic ‘Glacier’. Slight mistakes and technical hitches make her tense, shyly endearing while Grant takes it all in his bemused, bear-like stride but when it goes right we see a glimpse of her as the 90s rabble-rouser she was. 

More crazed than day 1, a late night jaunt through the Body & Soul arena brings a smile to tired faces, a samba band glow in the dark and are attracting rather a large conga line behind them, jugglers and characters in Victorian dress befriending those too shy to approach. A long night of partying lies ahead.


review by: Elizabeth McGeown

Friday 30th August to Sunday 1st September 2013
Stradbally Hall Estate,, Stradbally, Co. Laois, Ireland
189.50 euros - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 32500
last updated: Tue 27th Aug 2013


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