LCD Soundsystem and Fever Ray highlights of Electric Picnic 2010 (4 stars)

LCD Soundsystem and Fever Ray highlights of Electric Picnic 2010

Stradbally, Ireland, 3-5 Sep 2010

The Picnic is one of two major events bookending the Irish festival season, and it feels like all of Ireland has turned out for summer’s last gasp. Which, as it turns out, is a rather wet one. But no matter, for the craic is good, the pies are hearty and warming, and all but the main stage here are under canvas.

Although this year’s band line up included some very tasty morsels, it’s obvious from even a cursory glance at the programme that Electric Picnic is about so much more than just the music. While many festivals try to introduce other strands with varying degrees of success, EP seems to have more ‘extras’ than any of them, plus they’re actually worth seeing and, due to the compactness of the site, accessible when you fancy a quick break from bands. There’s the comedy tent where we catch sets from Reginald D Hunter (ever the gentleman and the pro), Steve Frost’s Impro Allstars (delightfully silly) and Ardal O’Hanlon (still trading on the back of ‘My Lovely Horse’, but then who can blame him). Then there’s the Green Crafts field with its workshops, woodturning and knitting. In the Mindfield it’s all about the word, and there’s talks, panel discussions, a Speakeasy, a bookshop, a full theatre programme, interview tent, science gallery with interactive music and sound-based experiments, ongoing interactive Mad Hatter’s tea party and goodness knows what else. The Body and Soul arena provides a venue for extra sets and low-key performances from lesser-known Irish acts, as well as being full of intricate sculptures and ingeniously crafted cosy seating nooks. Added to this there’s a Silent Disco, Spiegeltent, full size Big Top with free circus shows several times a day, environmental exhibits, film screenings, stations to charge your mobile by riding an exercise bike… and everywhere there’s food. Lots of it. It’s expensive, but on the whole a cut above your usual festival fare. If there’s one thing there seems surprisingly (and irritatingly) little of around the festival, it’s bars, and once you find one, for those not accustomed to Dublin’s eye-watering prices the beer doesn’t come cheap.

But then you can’t have everything. And at a festival that featured a Saturday night of back-to-back, dizzyingly excellent sets from Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem and Caribou, chemical intoxicants were hardly necessary. Aside from that holy trinity, there’s a line-up best suited to the discerning but eclectic music fan. Friday offers rousing, attention grabbing Belgian techno from The Subs, a sadly almost inaudible set from Laura Marling (sound problems and a head cold conspired, to disappointing effect), a solid but somewhat passionless outing for Modest Mouse, predictably brilliant oddness from Jonsi, some rather trying piano ballads from Roxy Music, and a whole lotta love at a great, exuberant set from Stars.

Saturday starts for us with an aural assault from And So I Watch You From Afar, the Northern Irish foursome who make what other people do to guitars look like mere tickling. Irresistible, instrumental, and angry. Robyn is the consummate entertainer later in the afternoon and has the crowd eating from her hand, while Hypnotic Brass Ensemble seem to be trying just a bit too hard to achieve the same effect -- rather silly when their infectious funky brass jams could do the job alone. Also on the main stage but a day later, on Sunday afternoon, are the stunning Bonobo, who provide much needed respite before an early evening spent being pummelled between the neighbouring Crawdaddy and Cosby tents, which play host to the equally loud and equally enjoyable but very different Big Pink and Archie Bronson Outfit.

It’s not a night for tender ears as later on Fever Ray takes us on a mystical and thunderously loud journey to the other side of weird. Having spent the first 20 minutes of her allotted time filling the arena with a thick cloud of smoke (which is never allowed to clear), she eventually appears on stage, surrounded by a band of Uncle Fester lookalikes and wearing what can just about be made out as a black shroud and a pair of giant chequered ears/insect eyes, as a laser and light show kicks off around her. It’s as sublime and ridiculous as it sounds, and seems designed to stun rather than engage, but for fans of her pristine, unsettling, groove-ridden musical spells, it was always going to be an experience worth having.

The line-up, then, is juicy enough to take you through the weekend with barely a duff note, but Electric Picnic’s greatest quality right now may be its balance of size and variety: there’s more than enough to do and see, but it isn’t overwhelming. Long may that continue.

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