@Ken_Gok: My Electric Picnic
ELECTRIC Picnic takes place on the grounds of Stradbally Hall, County Laois. Originally an old Franciscan religious house, it was taken over by Queen Elizabeth I during the English colonial plantations that took place across Ireland in the 1550s. Often gifted to would-be landlords to maintain the monarch’s grip at local level, it’s not uncommon to see large ornate houses on huge plots of land in Ireland.
A famous but less lavish example is Father Ted’s parochial house. Stradbally Hall was no different. Queen Elizabeth I gave what was the now suppressed abbey to General Francis Crosby as a reward for the part he played in quelling the Irish people and for his role in the Massacre of Mullaghmast, which involved the execution of Irish chieftains by the English Army. In 1565, Crosby was appointed governor of Port Laoise, and seneschal of Queen’s County — the name County Laois was formerly known as.
Crosby’s direct descendants still own the house to this day.
Thankfully however, there was no sign of the turbulent past the house once had. Quite the opposite in fact. The most overriding characteristic from Electric Picnic is the sheer friendliness that envelops the entire festival. The ah-sure-whatever-you’re-having-yourself-have-a-can-they’re-mine-but-I’ve-loads-so-it’s-grand ethos is everywhere.
Freedom of expression and the ability to be yourself without question — encouraged almost — was the order of the day. I can recall a man dressed in full pirate regalia walking around without a single person batting an eyelid. On a bleary eyed Saturday morning when I walked around in my boxers en route to the toilet, people complimented me and said they liked my “hot pants,” It’s a long story. I’d do it more often but I fear I would get a different reaction on the streets of Dublin.
The staging and concepts were very impressive throughout, it’s evident that a huge amount of work went into developing and honing them. For example: Trench Town, Salty Dog, Trailer Park and Body & Soul areas all looked amazing. These are things that form the bedrock of the festival upon which all of the acts, vendors and revellers build.
Salty Dog had a distinctly nautical theme, Trench Town was like walking through a Rastafarian realm, and Trailer Park had a trashy feel that you’d imagine could be home to new-age hippies camped in the Nevada desert outside of Area 51 searching for E.T. Body & Soul is like a festival within a festival, it’s a visual labyrinth that begs to be explored and those who venture inward will not be disappointed. It’s a place you’ll find everything from outdoor hot-tubs, robots hanging from trees to hippies practicing their holistic methods and other such new-age trends.
I can recall a duo, Mary and Fernando, performing at the Body&Soul stage with a group of three audience participants in what they described to them as “a creative expression experience that challenges you to let go of your inhibitions,” This turned out to be the five of them dancing around chaotically without any obvious choreography whatsoever, but I digress, I was only too happy to buy into what they were trying to do.
Whilst on this subject it’s important to mention all of the art installations that are dotted around. Above is The Incredible Deprogramming Machine, by day this involves strapping unwitting passersby into a chair (top left) and ‘deprogramming’ them by removing all of the educational, religious and televisual influences they’ve amassed by ‘sucking’ them out of their brains. By night they play the catchiest tunes around and unleash their dance routines on the crowd. The set is full of really quirky old technology they borrowed from a local museum in Wexford, it’s a visual feast in itself to look at.
The Caravan Park, home of drag-queen Divinity and her dodgy black dress, was also great fun. Divinity entertained festival goers with the unique ability to do a handstand on anything — and I mean anything — among other things. The best part is all of these art installations are interactive and totally free. They add so much to the foundation of what gives Electric Picnic its feel.
Food plays a huge part in the makeup of Electric Picnic. Apparently over 100 street food vendors were handpicked from Ireland and abroad to offer festival goers a diverse mix of cuisines from the four corners of the globe. They did not disappoint. The choice was incredible and although it wasn’t cheap (€8–10 for a burger) the quality was excellent. This year’s must-have festival treat was definitely Pulled Pork, you literally couldn’t move for the amount of Pulled Pork! I suppose it exemplifies how far Ireland’s palate has come in recent years, the once exotic curry chip has been replaced it seems. A true Celtic Tiger relic, it gave us that at least.
There are plenty of options for accommodation at Electric Picnic, from ‘glamping’ to yurts to bog standard pitching your tent to mother Earth and hoping it doesn’t leak. I stayed in the camping area known as Oscar Wilde. There was a sense of comradery between fellow campers and as usual the oh-so-tired “Alan! Alan? Steve! Steve?” quote could be heard bellowed from every corner alongside the obligatory random cheering. One criticism has to be that despite the area containing upwards of 4,000 tents, each containing on average at least two people, there were only six rarely serviced portaloos provided to meet the needs of the male population. I won’t go into detail, but I can assure you it was not a pretty sight.
Electric Picnic plays host to some incredible acts and while music is certainly not the full story, it does play an integral part. Here’s a few that I saw: Blonde, OutKast, Annie Mac, Beck, Portishead, Spring Break, Foals and London Grammar. I’ll leave the long dissection of acts’ individual performances to someone else, but I will say this: London Grammar are as close to a spiritual experience as you’ll get at a festival and were my standout performance of the weekend. Staggeringly good, harrowing vocals from their front-woman Hannah Reid. The only problem being they ended so quickly. I could have watched them all night.
To me, Electric Picnic is a very special festival that has an atmosphere words are unable to encapsulate and do justice. You could wander around for hours and it’s like what they say about visiting London “you’ll never see it all.” It has the best of what’s great about Ireland and Irish people in one weekend.
It’s a wonderful place that everyone should experience.