FESTIVAL REPORT: The Electric Picnic 2013

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Ody Smith reviews the annual arts-and-music festival at Stradbally Hall in County Laois, Ireland. The big one on the calendar, the last hurrah of the summer, and this year a 10th birthday party. The Electric Picnic has become an essential part of Irish cultural life, with a sold-out crowd, a cerebral weekend and a chance to go wild. It has been described as “bringing to life a microcosmic cultural experience where music is just the tip of the iceberg". Pictures plucked from Instagram.

When Electric Picnic founder John Reynolds shook hands with Thomas Cosby to strike a deal to use Stradbally Hall for a one-day festival at the end of the summer of 2004, neither man could have predicted what was to come. However, Festival Republic and John Reynolds have been locked in a court battle over money this year. People are sympathetic to the guy who came up with idea of the festival being sidelined. The same people are very precious about this festival. They don’t mind if corners are cut in order to save money if it ensures that the festival survives another ten years but they don’t want it to lose its very essence. They worry that the accountants might say the likes of the Mindfield section has to go eventually. The Mindfield area offers cerebral rather than narcotic stimuli. In 2013 there are readings, theatrical performances and displays of scientific ingenuity; Mary O’Rourke presides over the Electric Picnic Parliament; and Miriam O’Callaghan hosts brunch.
Have there been cut backs?
The comparatively weak line-up and corner-cutting don't impinge on a great weekend's entertainment. It is well worth the discounted loyalty ticket price. Subtle changes this year remain a cause for relative concern. One level down from the headliners and the line up was a little light.
2013 was apparently sold out but this festival hadn’t seen a sell out since the start of the recession. The festival lost money last year. In the final week people were convinced that the organisers were going to release an extra few thousand tickets and that the sell out was just a marketing ploy to create hype. It’s announced that 82% were repeat purchases - so that would imply that 82% of sales were for the early bird/cheaper ticket.
Despite all the moaning the simple fact remains that if the original Electric Picnic went on sustaining losses like they did in 2011 and 2012, it would not have been in existence in 2013. The fact that there were nearly 10,000 more people there this year meant the stages were very well attended. I went to see Van Dyke Parks here last year and there were about 10 people there.
Flushed with the success of the three-day event over the weekend, festival director Melvin Benn says he would like to increase capacity next year. He says that he would be talking to both the council and the gardai about the possibility of another 5,000 people. On to the music....

BJORK MAIN STAGE, Saturday 9.00pm
scared the life out of her audience when she shot two flares from the middle of the stage. She had a Tesla coil, a crazy mosh pit of young blonde choir girls and a crystal lampshade on her head. The sound during 'Army of Me' was a bit skewed but ‘Hunter’, ‘Hyperballad’, ‘Thunderbolt’, ‘Joga’, ‘One Day’ and ‘Declare Independence’ rocked. The 14-strong choir have unearthly voices at times and huge energy for drum and bass dancing as well. She generally ends each song with a thank you in Icelandic before asking what thank you was in Gaelic. It’s not easy for 20,000 people to say 'Go raibh maith agut' in unison but she tries to understand it and say it back. Bear in mind she sings “Protect your language!” in the song ‘Declare Independence’. Some audience members are irked when protestors pull out a huge "Ban Fracking" flag during the concert obscuring the view of scores of people standing behind them. Is Bjork’s set indulgent or challenging? Is there too much ‘Biophilia’ and too little ‘Debut’? With just two musicians onstage it really is quite a minimal sound. The visuals for MBV were cool but the Bjork visuals are mind blowing. I spend ten minutes watching a dead sea lion being eaten by underwater worms on a huge screen. This could be just my imagination but that’s what it looks like. Two Door Cinema Club (Main Stage, Saturday 10.45pm) seem even more pedestrian than normal having to play after Bjork. Those twin firework/flare things she used during Crystalline were pretty cool!

You have to make a decision to watch all of Bjork or leave halfway and catch JOHN GRANT. John Grant wins out for me because everyone loves a sing-along. Midway through the set Grant introduces Sinéad O’Connor– who provided backing vocals on the new album – and things get a little crazy. O’Connor wears a long pink woollen jumper. She is looking really well and has lost a lot of weight. Grant is clearly thrilled to have his hero on stage with him. O’Connor’s vocals on the John Grant record are quite low in the mix but here she really lets rip and it’s amazing-particularly on ‘Glacier’. They both have wonderful voices but when you hear O’Connor’s in conjunction with Grant’s you really are bowled over. Grant made a huge change in his sound between the first and second albums. Some of my Midlake loving electronica-phobic friends are upset by that change in sound but he is triumphant tonight. He’s also the best lyricist in the world right now. I hope he still finds time to play his ABBA cover ‘Angel Eyes’ as his career progresses though – it’s absent tonight. Second best act of the weekend.

was all about the brilliantly deranged warm-up man. Did he only appear at the Electric Picnic? Will all bands in the future get a cross dressing bearded Swedish aerobics teacher to warm up their audiences? The problem is he’s supposed to act as a warm up guy but The Knife are then slow to take the stage and get going. Their set divides the audience some think it a spooky, ethereal creepy, primal dancing trance whilst others reckon it’s a bit like ‘Stomp’? I initially thought it was Karen Drejer, as she likes to wear beards in some of the videos. During the Knife show they bring out a picture frame, which turns out to be a video screen showing a blond haired man with a beard, this is in fact, Karen. Strange.

The fireworks before FATBOY SLIM (MAIN STAGE, Friday 10.30pm) to celebrate the tenth anniversary were excellent-an unexpected treat. He attracts a huge crowd, perhaps the biggest of the weekend albeit on Friday none of the other tents are open. He may feel a bit awkward when the crowd don't seem to respond to his command to get down to the ground. With the possible exception of last year's set from The Killers, I've never witnessed so many people at a single show at Electric Picnic.

In true Irish festival form, the heaven's briefly open for a rain shower just prior to the WU TANG CLAN's arrival on the main stage. The sound is iffy. There is serious towel action. I mean fecking loads of towels. Why do they need so many towels? Do people at a festival having received a towel thrown to the audience by one of them carefully wrap it in cellophane and keep it forever. Perhaps one day showing it to the grandchildren and remarking, “A man pretending to be Cappadonna threw this at me when I was in a field in Laois once”.

ROBERT PLANT AND THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS (MAIN STAGE, Saturday 7.00pm) noodle around a good bit. It’s nice and pleasant but you wish he would play some Led Zeppelin but then when he plays some it doesn’t sound that good. The 65-years-young Plant asserts that he is in his forties. He plays 'Four Sticks', 'What Is and Can Never Be', 'Whole Lotta Love', 'Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You', ‘Black Dog' and finishes up with ‘Rock n Roll’. He looks like a benevolent lion. Led Zeppelin’s old PR guru BP Fallon watchs Plant's set from the side of the stage. This festival scooping Robert Plant this year is an amazing feat considering his gigography over the last two years shows that the only other festival he has only played was Womad.

JOHNNY MARR (ELECTRIC ARENA, Sunday 5.30pm) has the best intro music of the weekend (the theme from The Persuaders). The Fall now exit the stage to the Thunderball theme tune. The Fall used to come onstage to the Zulu theme tune. John Barry is alive and with us. Johnny Marr's voice sounds a little bit like Tim Burgess. I think he might dye his hair. He plays lots from his acclaimed new LP, The Messenger, but he also throws in a few Smiths songs too. 'Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before', ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', 'Bigmouth Strikes Again' and 'How Soon Is Now?' prompt mass singsongs. He also plays the Electronic classic "Getting Away With It". It’s hard to believe that it took the 26 years since the Smiths’ break up for him to finally release his first solo record.

THE DUCKWORTH LEWIS METHOD (MAIN STAGE, Saturday 4.00pm) attract a very small crowd. They don’t get too upset about the small audience and are true professionals. It is however a scheduling mistake not having them in a tent. Not quite as bad as Gavin Friday on the main stage in 2012 though. Thomas Walsh (aka Pugwash) is hilarious in a Q&A in the Hot Press tent earlier on the Saturday afternoon. Their main stage gathering is made to seem even smaller when Ellie Goulding takes to the same stage later on. There’s no accounting for taste because their catalogue of songs about cricket are not without merit.

DAVID BYRNE / ST VINCENT (ELECTRIC ARENA Sunday) are a funky, brassy act and they are the best performance of the weekend. Annie Clark (as she is known to her mother) looks a tiny bit like Scarlett Johansson and she has a trademark shuffle onstage which she uses to great effect in what is probably the most mobile performance of the weekend. Byrne and Clark indulge in robot fighting over the theremin during 'Northern Lights'. Byrne leads a marching brass band around the Electric Arena Stage and the entire band sings ‘Wild Wild Life’ in a reconstruction of the performance from the ‘True Stories’ movie. We also got ‘Road to Nowhere’ and 'This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)' from the Talking Heads back catalogue. 'Burning Down the House' was, as per the title, incandescent. Byrne’s old collaboration with X-Press 2 provokes the most dancing in the audience during their set. Is 'Road To Nowhere', really about the meaning of existence in a godless universe? Material from Byrne & Clark’s collaboration Love This Giant is slightly less convincing than the Talking Heads standards but solo St Vincent songs like ‘Ice Age’ and ‘Cheerleader’ are terrific. Their marching band/conga line finale is fantastic.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (MAIN STAGE, Friday 9.00pm) probably should be playing in a tent. Gigs in tents beat main stage sets every time. David Byrne is playing in a tent and he’s probably a bigger act. Is the sound full of mud and distortion? Yes. Is it meant to sound that way? Probably. Is it very loud to begin with? Yes. For a main stage act it is really loud. It seems to get a little quieter as the set goes on because the holocaust section at the end seems relatively tame, or your ears had just acclimatised to it. Some of the families with children who were sitting in the stands are shocked by how loud it is. What is particularly interesting is listening to the seamless blend between the tracks from Loveless and this year's offering MBV, especially given the 22 year gap between them. I was in front of the sound desk. It was awful - and not in a subjective fashion - just plain awful, and all you could really define in Soon was the rhythm section - which kinda ruins the whole shoe-gaze repeated/layered guitar motifs thing. It sounded like Westbam- 'Alarm Clock'
The MBV gig really seemed to divide people. A lad I was with is a sound engineer and he loved it. I talked to some people who preferred it to the last time they played and some people who didn't like the gig at all. It was a massive stage though, you could have just moved to where the sound was better.

This four piece are from Cavan and they’re aged from 15-17. In the mid-afternoon they draw one of the biggest Electric Arena crowds of the weekend. They can play their instruments but they have yet to master the art of growing bum fluff. Their music bears the hallmarks of The Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks and Dr. Feelgood. They’ve received praise from the likes of Elton John, Dave Grohl, Roger Daltrey and Paul Weller. Their debut album 'Snapshot' is released soon.


Is Alex Turner a little bit drunk? He is however looking very dapper and bequiffed. The influx of Sunday ticket holders meant that the Arctic Monkeys play to a very large assembly of fans.

Rumours abound that the Sunday night secret act in Body & Soul was going to be Daft Punk featuring David Bowie. The rumours are incorrect. It’s MOUNT KIMBIE and I dance more to them than anyone else during the whole weekend when they play The Little Big Tent.


The Trad Disco was my idea. I had it years ago and now somebody has nicked it and copyrighted the name. It’s a great idea though. Somebody playing tunes from the first Sharon Shannon album through a sound system is the way to go. Add a wooden board for Irish dancing and away you go. On the plus side it’s in aid of Trocaire. In fairness I wouldn’t have done it for charity.
The Electric Picnic remains the best Irish festival.
There are pretenders to the throne but like Highlander "there can only be one"-the second best festival would be a toss up between Bundoran's ‘Sea Sessions’ or the ‘Body and Soul’ standalone festival. ‘Longitude’ isn't a festival-if people don’t sleep in tents or chalets it’s not a festival.

The poet Seamus Heaney’s death overshadows the festival.
The Mindfield area of the site is dedicated to "the word and memory" of the Nobel laureate. Billy Bragg delivers a heartfelt tribute to Seamus Heaney and then reads some lines: “History says, don’t hope, on this side of the grave, but then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave, of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.”

Terri Hooley (Good Vibrations record shop owner) drinks brandy from the bottle.
He thinks Hot Press is a shit U2 dominated publication. He is shadowed for most of Sunday by Andy Kershaw. 'Good Vibrations' is a great movie about heroic failure. Terri Hooley is an inveterate self publicist. His DJ set a little shambolic by all reports. Sinéad Gleeson has to sit dumbfounded for a VERY long time as Terri talks about the irony of letting a man who left school illiterate headline the literature stage.

Irish language speakers are supremely laid back.
When Raidio Na Life fecks up the showing of the All Ireland Gaelic Football semi final between Dublin and Kerry they don’t scarper or apologise. It starts so well too. They get two random crowd members to do a pre match commentary in Irish. Both Irish speakers are great but the lad from Kerry is super cool. His Irish is perfect. He clearly knows lots about Gaelic football and he doesn’t let the whole thing interrupt him from his Thai food. They show a stream from RTE on a T.V. and about five hundred people cram into a tent. When the streaming packs up at around 44 minutes into the match they simply stick on RTE Radio 1 instead. We salute their balls.

SOAK chatting with Dylan Haskins about her lesbian sexuality in front of her dad in the Leviathan tent.
Bridie Monds-Watson – aka SOAK – is a seventeen year old singer-songwriter from Derry and her song ‘Sea Creatures’ melts hearts. I do worry a bit about the gigantic fissures in her earlobes though. The name, SOAK, combines 'soul' and 'folk' - "strange", she says, "As my music is neither." Some of the thrill here is simply watching wise "adult" observations coming out of the mouth of a kid. Bridie is close to her family: she came out to her parents at 14 – and doesn't think that was particularly young, or particularly old, or particularly interesting at all. She’s signed to Warner Bros.

A maze of washing machines is very impressive but it’s also kind of oppressive and smelly.
It was cordoned off during the evening and it might have been a bit dangerous at three washing machines high.

Other general comments...

-“The organisers have raised the time from 10pm to 11pm before you are allowed to bring drink in from the campsite. This isn’t fair”.
-“Bring back the cinema tent and ditch the Funderland fairground”.
-“I think you definitely need to look at putting an age limit on your ticket sakes with proof of I.D. when buying them. It would be a shame for the festival to get a bad name like Oxegen”.
-“There are a big shortage of bins in the campsite. No bags have been handed out for people to throw away things. The place is filthy and this is encouraging the crazy wasps”.
-“There is not enough security on parameters with people climbing over the fence and getting in for free”.
-“Many of the younger audience seem happier to stay on the campsites for hours on end rather than come and explore the shows; hence the big queues to get into the arena from 7pm onwards”.
-“If you expand the capacity any more you’ll turn your boutique (as in boutique festival) into a big shop”.
-“The day tickets for Sunday ruins the vibe. I hate the people who arrive for the Sunday only. They're all so CLEAN. And they’ve so much energy. I barely exist by the Sunday, I'm just a shadow and they're shining their light on me .Okay, maybe not so bad, but do they have to look so fresh - could they not roll around in shít for half an hour to fit in?”.
-“Why don’t they officially release timetables before hand? EP don't to make money off people by selling programs and laminates. It’s unfair. Trying to screw people into buying programs (which would have been printed a week before the festival) yet not releasing the times like previous years is a dick-ish move. Every other festival releases the times. “
-“Disclosure weren’t worthy of the big Saturday night slot. It was disappointing that they had no guest vocalists especially with Sam Smith playing earlier in the day. I agree about Disclosure not being a Saturday closing act but they do make a nice sound, just not a visual spectacle like Chemical Brothers, 2ManyDJs or Orbital."
-“Feel really sorry for Indians in the Little Big Tent who have four people in the tent watching them. Everyone here is nervously eyeing each other to see who will be the last to leave and leave this poor bastard playing to the sound desk.”
-“ Knackers, scaldies, scumbags...call them what you want.. But there's no doubt that the demography has changed.”
-“There just seems to be more tacky stuff in general all around the place. It’s still good but just a little dumbed down in places.”
-“Just one year of ‘Oxegen lite’ would kill this festival forever.”
-“the lighted cube entrance to the main stage, is a brilliant installation “.
-“Queues for ATMs are huge on Sunday some people waited 2.5 hours. Are these people unaware that Stradbally town is 30 minutes away? “
-“When one of our neighbours came back to his tent late on sat night and started pumping up his air bed a loud roar came from a nearby tent -"Can somebody call security that man is stabbing his wife with some breed of a tin whistle" .”
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