[B]Ellie O’Byrne on the fabness of Florence, the tricky debate about drugs, and the waste mountain
Florence and the Machine proved the ideal closing mainstage act for Electric Picnic 2019. Launching herself onto the stage with all her usual energy and staggering stage presence and opening with songs from her 2018 album High As Hope, Florence Welch’s uplifting set brought a throng of loved-up punters to the main stage.
Less than a third of the way into the set, she unleashed ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and the crowd went wild.
The weekend was bookended by two huge powerhouse female acts: Billie Eilish’s early Friday set was memorable as much for the teen’s phenomenal and abrupt popularity and her status as a true artist of the new millennium as for her street style stage presence, husky vocals and mesmerisingly dark visuals.
On Saturday in the Electric Tent, Charlie XCX got one of the best crowd reactions of the weekend for a set peppered with her catchy pop hits, and she was also joined by Christine and the Queens for a duet on their single ‘Gone’.
In trying to be all things to all people, from the 50-year-olds happily dancing at the Who Let The Dads Out stage to the 19-year-old first-timers having their socks knocked off by Billie Eilish, Electric Picnic makes itself the huge, dazzling, sensory overload that it is: a feast for, and at times an assault on, the senses.
You could spend the entire weekend watching cookery demonstrations over in the Theatre of Food, (as an aside, we hear TV chef Derry Clarke, above, gamely cooked dinner at 1am for The Strokes after their Saturday night mainstage set) or you could spend it singing rebel songs around a fire with crusties, or bopping away to the commercial thump at the heaving Casa Bacardi and Heineken stages.
Or you could wander happily from one to the other, catching a little of the best of everything.
Calls for a new harm reduction based drugs policy at festivals that embraces the Real Politik have been growing, but despite the glaringly obvious fact that drug consumption is a widespread reality at festivals, including Electric Picnic, an official policy of “zero tolerance” remains the standard at the festival.
A Welfare tent manned by volunteers from the Ana Liffey Drugs Project offered advice and assistance to revellers this year but stopped short of the trend for drugs testing booths seen at European festivals. A heavy Garda presence and an increased emphasis on searches formed part of an attempted clampdown on drugs this year, with roadside checkpoints also doing alcohol and drug testing for drivers.
Events on Sunday came with decidedly religious undertones that could lead one to wonder if Irish people have an ingrained need for their Sunday worship. Irreverent ceremonies with a twist included Father Damo (Joe Rooney) delivering a Father Ted morning sermon in the My Lovely Horse area, to the Dublin Gospel Choir opening the main stage in uplifting style, to Waterford party posse King Kong Company pulling out all the stops in the Electric Arena, with an 18-piece choir singing in Latin and an eight-foot crucifix.
Despite offering a zero-waste campsite named after Climate Change activist Greta Thunberg, beseeching campers to take their gear home to avoid the tent-trashing of previous years, and stating that the festival has single use plastic free intentions, Electric Picnic still have some way to go in tackling the waste mountain that makes them one of the festivals with the highest quantity waste per punter.
Deposit return booths for plastic cups closed too early in the evening and the supposedly reusable cups were too flimsy.
At the bar in the Three Made By Music stage in the woods, a can of beer or cider was €6, and drinks were dispensed into a plastic glass, presumably so people didn’t stand around looking at their drinks and saying, “I just paid €6 for this can.”
A new and expanded layout saw an entirely new area called Freetown emerge, complete with a Latin-themed maze of little streets called Providencia, a rough-and-ready folk and trad stage called Spike Island, which drew such numbers at times that bouncers had to restrict entry, and the new Terminus dance tent, a massive draw over the whole weekend.
Despite a few grumbles that the new layout meant an even longer walk to the main arena for some campers, and the quibble that partiers at the Salty Dog and Trenchtown stages weren’t able to bring their own beer due to their inclusion in the main arena, the overall conclusion was that the new area was a win, and a chance for Electric Picnic to expand still further on this year’s 60,000 attendees.