Electric Picnic 2013 – Photos and Review
When I was a 10 year old boy, I went to my first concert. Bon Jovi in The Point; loud music, big hair, Roman candles, denim jackets, people on shoulders, hands in the air: thousands of perm-rocking, ballad-singing, cowboy-booted, prayer-living rockers rocking the fuck out.
I fell in love with it all instantly and from that day went to every gig going, dreaming as all music fans do, of what it must be like to be up on stage looking out over a sea of people. I tried and mostly failed, sneaking backstage to catch a glimpse of these gods & goddesses that stared down at me from the posters on my bedroom wall, before thick hands found my scruffy neck. That’s why this year’s picnic was special for me. At this year’s Electric Picnic, those same hands shook mine and even held the backstage door open for me. Made a 10 year old boy very happy indeed. They granted me the Holy Grail this year, those 3 little words that every die-hard music fan wants to hear: Access All Areas. When they asked me to be one of their official photographers for the weekend, I tried to be professional but the unrestrained little boy inside was almost impossible to hide. Almost. If there’s one thing that 30 years of rock teaches you, it’s how to at least maintain the appearance of cool.
There are some down sides of course to not experiencing the Picnic as a punter; I don’t get to see as much of the music, my friends or the bar as I might like but this is really a small price to pay because I get to see it all from a new perspective. I get to capture it, to document & record it for posterity; for those who couldn’t be there as well as those that were and of course, for those that can’t remember.
Friday night’s a tricky one. Half the festival is putting up their tent and the other half are stuck in standstill traffic somewhere between Stradbally and Car Park Z. The somewhat depleted ranks of the Wu-Tang Clan don’t seem to let this phase them though and they represent.
Chants of “Wu…Tang…Wu…Tang” reverberate around the Main Stage and these absolute legends of hip-hop (the term is bandied about far too much these days but surely applies to no one unless it applies to the Wu-Tang Clan) soak it up.
At one point Method Man comes to the front of the stage, arms outstretched and stares right down the lens of my camera as though to say, “You hear that?”. A shiver runs down my spine as the 14 year old boy in me stammers a reply: I do indeed, Mr. Man. I do indeed.
I’m not going to slate the acts I didn’t like, I’m just not going to mention them at all. Because if you’re at the Picnic, and someone sucks balls, you just move on to the next stage (unless you’re an established music journalist, like, I don’t know, say Jim Carroll, in which case you not only get to tear the band a new one but go on to launch a vitriolic attack on their entire body of work, instantly raising the question in the reader’s mind as to why you even bothered to review them in the first place as opposed to someone that you knew had at least 1 good song, although perhaps that drags you too far from the comfort of bean bags and wood fired pizzas in the VIP area). Suffice it to say that the only other highlights on the Main Stage that night were the fireworks.
R.S.A.G. to the rescue! Hidden away like an adventure in the forest, the Body & Soul Main Stage beckons and the glorious, wooden, horn-like sculpture above the stage summons festival goers like the pipes of the pied piper, drawing us ever closer. Rarely Seen Above Ground, a.k.a. Jeremy Hickey takes to the stage and the excitement ripples through the crowd. This man bangs a drum like we all wish we could, with total abandon, pulling something primal out of all of us. His sound explodes past you with atomic force and the amphitheatre becomes a crater carved out by the sonic waves that pulse from each and every driving beat. The aural assault is utterly unforgiving and entirely irresistible. The set crescendos perfectly as the puppet master behind the skins brings us ever higher and the crowd show their appreciation with what would be a deafening roar if our eardrums weren’t already ringing. In the aftermath of tunes like ‘Moon Moving the Oceans’ and the absolutely epic ‘This Winding Sheet’, people reluctantly wander off to find something to fill the silence, all sharing knowing glances and open-mouthed smiles that we witnessed something truly special.
Saturday morning and it’s not quite raining. The sheer stubbornness of the crowd to allow the clouds to darken their skies seems to work and the weather retreats, its tail between its legs. My first real new musical discovery of the weekend is Savages on Saturday afternoon.
By the time I get to the Cosby Stage, this four-piece, post-punk, London-based quartet already have the crowd whipped into a frenzy with their frenetic, bursting energy; guitars that rail through the songs like droning locomotives, drums that relentlessly smash and burst into the crowd like fists hitting a punching bag and lead singer, Jehnny Beth, bobbing and weaving at the front of the stage, her vocals screaming around the tent with the hypnotic power of a banshee.
Think Joy Division with balls and you begin to see why the excitement is building around Savages. The crowd go absolutely nuts with the rolling crescendoes of songs like ‘Shut Up’ and it seems as though we are going to be hearing a lot more from this band. So it’s a good thing they’ve actually got something to say.
The music acts on the various stages over the weekend are displaying a myriad of talents not limited to music.
There are some rather impressive contortionist poses from the eminently flexible Ellie Goulding, I for one never knew Bjork had a side line in 19th century magic, all tesla coils and fireballs from her fingertips and Eels have perfected a comedic stage show to rival anything you’d see in the Comedy Tent, complete with pantomime villain Stage Manager who comes out and tells them they only have 1 song left, greeted by a hail of boos and poorly aimed beer cups propelled from the crowd, ‘forcing’ the band into a wonderful mash-up of ‘My Beloved Monster’ with ‘Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues’.
Back to Saturday night and the highlight of my festival. While others were bopping along to Two Door Cinema Club or singing along with Ryan Sheridan, there was only one place I was ever going to be at 11pm on Saturday night. Earlier on in the evening I was privileged to catch some of Robert Plant’s set, the true Godfather of Rock, and I was honoured to experience the political folk rock of the legend that is Billy Bragg…
…but for me and the rest of the off-the-beaten-track-brigade, Rankin’s Wood Stage is where it’s at. Backstage, I watch in awe as Hayes, Bean & Shapiro walk right out of a 1953 Brando movie, like the gang that gives the band their name, as they bring Black Rebel Motorcycle Club back to their loyal fans. This is it. This is leather jackets, tight jeans and cigarettes. This is the music that makes other music feel inadequate. The sparse clicks of Leah Shapiro’s sticks, the hammering drive of Robert Levon Bean’s bass and the blues-soaked drawl of Hayes guitar herald the highlight hour of my Picnic. This is rock and fucking roll and the crowd devours it as though they haven’t eaten for weeks.
I hope you’ll forgive me if this review seems to wander from tent to tent like a slightly worse for wear festivalier in a bright yellow Pikachu onesie. Probably best not to approach the Picnic from a logical, linear point of view anyway. It’s a maze of an experience, a mish mash of memories, all slap-dash and haphazard. Probably one of the reasons we all keep coming back. Another crowd that can’t get enough of the place is The Dublin Gospel Choir.
These mainstays of the Main Stage on a Sunday morning are purpose built to shelter us from the storm of Saturday night and let a little light shine on our heavy heads. As soon as they start rejoicing, tents everywhere start to unzip and the disciples come running. First a trickle, then a steady flow, they come from tents & from tee-pees; from Oscar Wilde & from Jimmy Hendrix; from the Camper Vans and from Leave No Trace, the Elysian campsite that is blessedly litter free (book early if you want a space next year!). Songs like ‘Something Inside So Strong’ nourish our weary souls while festival favourite ‘Moving On Up’ brings the congregation to their feet. Hallelujah.
I decide to continue the day with the inimitable Enemies. This proves to be one of the more intelligent decisions of the weekend. The tent is packed, always an incredibly good sign during daylight hours at the Picnic. Enemies are a band of few words, almost none in fact as they prefer to let their instruments do the talking.
Their guitars and drums sing to each other in complicated harmonies that mesmerise the early afternoon crowd, wrapping them up in a blanket of sound that simultaneously lifts spirits and buries hangovers. The tempo of each tune weaves and flows like a river of sound, demonstrating a mastery of musicianship as well as a near telepathic sense of what each of them are doing. Songs like ‘Indian Summer’ and the scintillatingly good ‘Love Unlimited’ imbue us with the energy that the long night in the woods stole away and we are hungry for more.
Next it was a taste of Strype-mania with the four young lads from Cavan, already incredibly comfortable in their role as the next big thing and in complete command of the Electric Arena. They definitely have ‘it’ in abundance. What’s ‘it’? Take your pick; presence, chemistry, smooth suits, slick tunes, an intimate knowledge and understanding of rhythm and blues that far belies their age and an impressive list of fans from Jools Holland to Elton John, not to mention the hysterical hordes presently straining over the bulging barrier.
Destined for headline status, the only question that remains is whether or not they can remain true to their sound under the upcoming & inevitable onslaught of nervous A&R men, desperate to validate their ongoing existence.
The 1975 straddle a sound that is somewhere between electro-rock and synth-pop so needless to say they are going down a treat with critics and fans alike at the moment. As Matthew Healy sidles up to the microphone, hair akimbo and a bottle of wine dangling from his fingers, one would be forgiven for thinking their sound would be broody and impetuous but it’s just the opposite.
Silk smooth anthems delight the crowd, bristling with brightness, full to the brim with feel-good and building with more optimism than a John Hughes film.
Next up for me was Franz Ferdinand. I managed to talk my way on to the Main Stage with the help of my all-powerful pass and watched as Alex, Bob, Nick & Paul peered out from backstage onto an expectant crowd. They explode onto stage and get stuck right in. The instantly recognisable riffs of songs like ‘Do You Want To’ & ‘Michael’ signal that it’s time for the huddled masses to really let loose.
The highlight of last year’s Picnic was the rave that went on when Le Galaxie packed out whatever tent it was they packed out on whichever night it was they packed it. Anyone who was in that tent last year knew where they were going to be at the stroke of midnight on the Sunday night. Once again we find ourselves in the magical surrounds of Body & Soul. Le Galaxie take to the stage and it’s all in from the word go.
The natural amphitheatre is transformed into a cauldron of bubbling, writhing, pumping, smiling, sparkler waving, tops-off raving, glow stick wielding, inflatable dingy dealing madness that is utterly infectious and the essential embodiment of everything that is the Electric Picnic. It so utterly fitting that this piéce de resistance is provided by an Irish act.
The stage which is bathed in an all-encompassing white light, thousands of hands are thrust in the air and I capture the most important ingredient in the Picnic recipe: the crowd. Whatever about the all access pass, this is where it’s at and it’s the bands on stage that should be the jealous ones. Don’t get me wrong, from the stage it all looks very impressive indeed and I am honoured to have witnessed it. But from down here in the thick of it, from the belly of the beast, the beating heart of the crowd… Well, you fuckers look simply stunning.
Review and photos by Jamie Tanner