From Iceland — Waking Up in Wonderland

Waking Up in Wonderland

Published September 12, 2008

Photo by
Steve Ryan

After a two-hour drive from Dublin, a group of Electric Picnicers, myself included, arrived at Stradbally Hall in Laois County on Friday night. The countryside campsite was already packed but we managed to squeeze our tents into the tiny patch of grass left just in time for Sigur Rós. We had just toasted to our brilliant camping skills when we could hear ‘Hoppípolla’ in the distance, so we hurried along with the stream of anticipated festival-goers to the Main Stage where the band headlined the opening night of Ireland’s Electric Picnic Festival this year (August 29–31).
    A huge group had gathered in front of the venue for the last act of the night. They played a mix of old and new tunes, but it was the songs from their new more upbeat release ‘Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’ that got the crowd really moving. “They evoke so many emotions. They are just amazing!” my friend said to me as they finished ‘Gobbledigook’ and a very proud Icelander nodded agreeing while watching them charm every single soul in the audience. When listening to ‘Inní mér syngur vitleysingur’ I just knew this would be an unforgettable weekend.  After enjoying a long mesmerizing set, a very satisfied group of old and new Sigur Rós fans danced into the night. None of us could have prayed for a better beginning of the festival.

So Much More Than a Music Festival

In its fifth year, the three-day outdoor music fiesta has grown in size and popularity and the bill has at the same time become bigger and better. This year, the line-up –featuring big names such as My Bloody Valentine, Wilco, The Roots, Duffy, Franz Ferdinand, Crystal Castles, Turin Brakes and The Sex Pistols among countless of intriguing smaller acts – attracted around 35.000 music-fans, party-animals and families with small children. A very diverse group of concertgoers that all shared the same important mission: to make the most of the three days and say goodbye to summer in a proper anything-goes manner.
    The organisers’ aim is to cater to everyone’s taste. Whether you’re looking for good music, humorous theatre performances, poetry readings, movie screenings or all-night parties, you will find it at Electric Picnic. I soon realized that it wasn’t the international big-shots in the music department that drew the friendly bunch to the field. The majority were there for the whole mix and when such a diverse group of creative people put their heart and soul into making something unique for attendants to enjoy, the cocktail just can’t go wrong.
    When we got up on Saturday the campsite was already well awake. Hungry festival-goers queued for coffee or falafels at the many appetizing food stalls, stocked up on beer-supplies or peeked inside the numerous tiny tents, all featuring some curious happenings inside. Saying that I was amazed when walking around the area would be a huge understatement. I was awestruck! The atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
    The heart of the festival, the colourfully decorated Body and Soul village, was one giant art piece in itself, where in between concerts you could get a massage, view sand-sculptors and installations, watch fire-eaters and circus performers or just chill-out in the hammocks and chat about previous or forthcoming concerts. It was like being in a magical wonderland and all the costume-dressed (or non-dressed) people stumbling around added a good dose of confusion to the whole experience. The village boasted such a huge charisma that it was almost impossible to leave.

Not Such a Silent Disco

Picnicers were luckily blessed with good weather and thanks to environmental activists encouraging everyone to be concerned about the environment and use eco-beer cups and bin their empties, the area was surprisingly clean. The two eco-friendly days passed fast, and as much as we tried to hurry between acts, there was always something that caught our eyes and urged us to stop, even though we had to sacrifice the music. You can’t really walk past a sign reading ‘Get high on oxygen’ and not try it or spot a fun-ride and not have a spin. Can you?
    After lazily scouting the area we managed to see Warlords of Pez perform. The space-creatures, dressed in some extravagant animal costumes, had travelled from a galaxy far, far away just to please the large crowd gathered, and it was a total mayhem from the first scream, on-stage and off. I still have troubles wrapping my mind around the whole show. It was just too much craziness for my brain to handle.
    The night only went uphill from there and when the last acts finished on Saturday night the fun was only beginning. Concert-goers aching for some more partying moved the celebration to the many indoor and outdoor bars around so there was nothing left but to join the circus and dance! Late into the night, I found myself at the Silent Disco, watching a bit shocked as a huge crowd with wireless yellow headphones jumped around in a cramped tent while screaming their lungs out, with no music playing.  After putting on my headphones there was nothing stopping me from behaving just as lunatic as the others and although the DJ played some all-too-clichéd club-tunes it really didn’t matter. Taking off the headphones and watching the whole scenario was the best part though. Hilarious to say the least. Something Reykjavík’s bar-owners should definitely check out.

Knowing Conor Oberst

In desperate need of some fast recovery after last night’s dancing, coffee and a healthy smoothie proved to be just enough fuel to enjoy Hercules and Love Affair’s set, early Sunday afternoon. I have to say that the timing was a bit odd but that didn’t stop the band from winning the tired souls over nor the crowd from going wild when party-hit ‘Blind’ blasted from the speakers. The sexy Brazilians in CSS who played later in the afternoon didn’t fail to impress either, oozing danceable energy just as if performing at a sweaty nightclub way past midnight.
For me, I have to say the highlight, musically, was to finally see Conor Oberst live on Sunday night. While Chromeo played the next tent and Sex Pistols headlined the Main Stage, easy-going Bright Eyes fans looking for a more relaxed ending to the weekend filled the Crawdaddy tent and Oberst sure didn’t betray his many admirers. Where Sigur Rós had raised the bar high into the sky two nights before, Oberst followed easily in their footsteps with his unique fragile voice and incredible charisma. There was still plenty more partying to go but his set was such a perfect goodbye to an awesome festival that I decided to join a tired but happy group of Picnicers who dragged their tents back to the buses.  
    “This was some crazy weekend. I didn’t really see that many concerts though,” my seatmate said to me as we drove back to Dublin. “It’s so much more than about the music, you know,” he added. That pretty much summed up the weekend, a line I had heard repeatedly over the past three days. Electric Picnic is so much more than a music festival. It’s a weekend where music meets art in a glorious attempt to celebrate life, love and friendships and all the great bands are an extra bonus. Describing the whole event would be impossible, so with nothing left to say I strongly encourage you all to check out Electric Picnic next year and experience the madness yourselves.

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