Usually, I'm not one to go in for tribute acts in general especially at a festival. However, I have my arm twisted and we set off towards the Trailer Park to catch a Neil Young tribute act called Harvest. The Trailer Park itself is a new area at EP since my last visit, designed with multiple small stages it is as you'd imagine designed to resemble a trailer park with small stages for everything from brass bands to tribute acts to panto. A strange but wonderful place for a meander around throughout the weekend.
As far as Harvest go, they did exactly as you'd imagine. 'Rocking in the Free World', 'Old Man', 'Ohio' they reeled out the hits and the atmosphere was top. As anyone who has seen Neil Young will testify you don't know what you're getting. My last experience was over wrought guitar solos and few hits. With Harvest its very much the opposite and we are very thankful for it.
The Scottish three piece Young Fathers were one of the first bands to take to the Electric Arena on Friday. In their short life span the Mercury Music Prize winners have already established themselves as one of the most vital bands in the UK. Last year they were playing alongside Massive Attack to large stadiums, in an almost passing of the torch to the new guard.
The explosiveness that earned them that opportunity hasn't dissipated either as this performance shows. The three-man verbal attack is enhanced by a live drummer adding to their straight up no-nonsense live shows. Incorporating a variety of influences, we heard hip-hop, grime, R&B all the way to barbershop esque melodies all tinged with a dark age and a frenetic energy that makes you sit up and take notice. As they peel away at their set list the crowd in the Electric Arena grows ever larger and more entwine with the band. Fiercely political, undoubtedly angry, forever soulful, they may not be for everyone but there is no doubt Young Fathers are one of the most important acts to come from the UK in a long time. A fine performance.
Vince Staples is next up in the Electric Arena, we've already been gripped by abrasive hip hop so we thought we may stay for more of the same. The LA rapper performs onstage alone on an orange background with just his black silhouette pulsing with his raps and background music. It doesn't sound like much but he has enough energy to have a significant portion of the Electric Arena moshing. This is no mean feat not only considering the disparate stage presence, but also the fact that the music switches between sluggish guitars, abstract electronica and all other manner of directions besides. Within that weirdness does lay the core of many party anthems and these are eked out by Staples with an expertise of someone with a depth of experience.
Bicep take headline duties in the Electric Arena and they are good value for it. It feels weird seeing the duo headline the biggest indoor stage at a festival, having seen them cut their teeth in dingy basements around Ireland over the years. This is very much a different beast that the one I heard years ago, edgy pulsating techno beats still underpin their music but there are more layers than ever before. As if John Carpenter fucked Orbital and with a polished light show and production set up to boot. An act on the periphery of becoming the next big electronic act. Watch this space.
Stompton Brass Band are the latest act to check out in the trailer park. Dublin based but very much New Orleans influenced, they are perfect festival fodder. Feel good renditions of popular tunes is just the ticket for a crowd clearly liquored up and in good spirits.
On the periphery of the trailer park there is also a Pogues tribute band playing a tiny stage that already looks overcrowded, that's not deterred us in the past. Pogueology have everyone going bananas on their small stage and it's about half way through the performance that the sheer buzz of the crowd makes the stage basically collapse. One too many foot stompers see the bar collapse and the Gardai come to put an end to the performance. A good time to call it a day as any.
A lot has been said of Touts the teenage sensations from Derry have rose to prominence in the past year. Having signed a major label deal and supported the likes of Kasabian it's all going well for the three piece, but are they more Kylian Mbappe or Federico Macheda? They take to the Cosby stage at EP.
There are many things to like about Touts. The hooks, the sheer passion when playing, the incredible musical tightness of a band in their infancy, or the fact that they are one of the few new young bands unafraid to show their political side. Righteousness has never been so underrated. It's punk rock that doesn't shy away from pop influence, an understanding that the two work so well together and played at a blistering ferocity. 'Bomb Scare' and 'Sold Out' are two beasts that signify a bright future for the band. In-between songs they already show an ability for showmanship and wax lyrical about everything from the migrant crisis to the repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland. The future is bright, the future is Touts.
I'm not sure how many festivals I've been to at this stage, but it's a hell of a lot and I've no idea how Madness have managed to escape me this long. They take to the main stage of Electric Picnic in an array of dapper suits and the aim to please. A 'festival band' if ever there was one. Young and old alike are in great numbers to hear the likes of 'One Step Beyond', 'Our House' and 'Baggy Trousers' of course go down an absolute storm but credit must also be given to Suggs and his band of merry men (especially the Saxophonist who is a wildcard throughout the entire performance.) A sure-fire antidote to the miserable weather that descends upon Electric Picnic for the next 12 hours.
Run the Jewels are fast becoming one of the greatest hip hop acts of all time. This was my sixth occasion seeing them and despite there being a fair similarity in terms of set list and the repetition of the exact same stage patter it doesn't take away from the sheer energy and focus of their live shows. Wonderfully crafted and executed by Killer Mike and EL-P, the fact they're best mates doesn't have translate and the sheer enjoyment they have onstage for each other is infectious. That's of course helped by the fact that they have a cannon of absolutely barnstorming tracks ripe for a festival. In between the cartoonish demeanor of the duo and the tracks lays a political beast fighting for everyone who goes to see them. More proof that music is regaining its balls.
I'm not usually one to frequent the comedy tent at festivals especially when it has such a great musical lineup. But I've been a Bill Bailey fan for years and have never had the chance to see him. Of course, the tent is packed out and we have to watch him in the pouring rain on the big screen outside. However, it's worth the drenching to watch this comedic master in his element.
His ability to switch between styles and topics is to be marveled at. He flicks between Brexit to absurd observational humour with the odd deftly funny musical interlude. He's touring again in 2018 and worthy of your money.
Japandroids were arguably the highlight of Primavera festival when I seen them in May and are well known for their live performances. Tonight, is no exception as they take to the Cosby stage. It's raw as fuck and loud as a bomb. The two-piece run through their set at a blistering pace leaving no time for anyone halfhearted. Your either all in or nothing with Japandroids and it's reflected by their live shows. They are especially adept at loud hook filled beer swelling anthems. The perfect inclusion into any festival. A band who've earned their stripes and then some. They deserve to be on a much higher platform. However, in the meantime I'm a willing follower of their wall of noise wherever it may be.
The main reason I went to the festival was to catch A Tribe Called Quest. The 90s hip hop legends recently returned with an album that sits amongst the best in their discography. In what turned out to be one of their last performances, also turned out to be one of the most disappointing festival experiences I've experienced. In contrast to RTJ earlier that evening, ATCQ were a hip-hop act devoid of collective spirit. It seemed like a bunch of individuals who didn't really want to be around each other and who'd not shown any interest in rehearsing. A still mighty act, but an ungracious way to bow out.
Thankfully, the mighty Interpol were headlining the Electric Arena to round the night off in style. Performing their album 'Turn on the Bright Lights' in its entirety on the year of its 15th Anniversary. I knew it would be good, but not how good. The grandeur of the album is realised live, a special album that may go down as one of the finest of the 21st Century. 'Obstacle No 2' and 'PDA' reserve special mention for the roar they evoke from the crowd. Paid note perfect, the only shame is that original member Carlos D hadn't been part of the show.
The rain arrived early Saturday evening. It was torrential, it was severe gale force winds and it didn't let up until Sunday morning. The site is a muckfest and bloody baltic but as they say the show must go on. Sunday seems a good time to go around some of the smaller stages and the little nooks and crannies of EP.
The Mindfield is almost a world removed from the actual festival itself with all sorts of events happening over the weekend. We go into the Irish language stage - An Puball Gaelige which has events from theatre to comedy to music in it throughout the weekend and all in the Irish language. Great to see such an initiative at the festival and we were lucky to join it during a good old fashioned trad session.
In the Leviathan stage, we have Blindboy Boatclub from the Rubberbandits on stage. It's probably hard to imagine a guy who wears a shopping bag over his head is one of the most important voices in modern day Ireland but he is. Addressing cultural and social norms that the country faces and all the while funny and poignant as he does it.
Another walk around the trailer park sees some of the silliest panto I've ever seen draw a joyous crowd. Nothing like a bit of nostalgia. If you can't enjoy a bit of panto at a festival, then maybe festivals aren't the place for you.
That's the thing with Electric Picnic for a site so small there is around 30 different stages of varying sizes to get your teeth into. There really is something for everyone. However, with that comes a problem. The noise bleed throughout the weekend is horrific. There are at least half a dozen stages playing generic non-descript house music that bleeds into most things you go and see. This could surely be better served in one place. It has even filtered into the Body and Soul arena which is usually a festival within a festival away from the madness.
Despite these emerging issues which in the next few years may become more and more prevalent there is a great deal of quality music on the lineup still. New York punk act Parquet Courts keep up the good run of quality in the Cosby Stage throughout the weekend. The crowd are anything but subdued for this and at times it borders on putting your life in someone else's hands the closer to the pit that you get. This is probably the most striking realisation of the weekend. Despite it being my first Irish festival in years, the Irish crowd remain the best value for money you can get.
It's a long journey home and so we trudge through the muck having seen a great deal of musical quality, with a hyper up for it crowd but wondering if it's a festival that has lost its direction in an attempt for mass appeal.
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Electric Picnic 2017 Review