Electric Picnic still has power to perplex and please

Kaly and Rachel Farmer from Cork arrive at Electric Picnic in Stradballly, Co Laois, yesterday afternoon

Pop priestess Grace Jones, dance veterans Underworld, and student disco icons Belle and Sebastian were among the highlights as the Electric Picnic music festival began at Stradbally, Co Laois, Friday night.

Ahead of the sell-out event — with some 47,000 attending, this is the largest Picnic yet — much curiosity had focused on 67-year-old Jones, who has been performing in the nude, streaked in blue bodypaint (critics have described the look as ‘demented Smurf’). In an era when pop stars are more interested in selfies than pushing boundaries, her presence was a reminder that music has the power to scandalise as well as distract.

But the opening evening was by no means a one-woman affair and, true to its tradition of eclecticism and artistic curiosity, the Picnic presented a feast for the senses. Quirky embellishments included a 3D art instillation by graffiti tagger Maser (described as an “imaginarium where adults can indulge their inner child”), a petting zoo exclusively populated by three-legged dogs, and a ‘rave in the woods’ — which, as per its name, is a dance party amid the foliage.

Electric Picnic still has power to perplex and please

Happy campers at Electric Picnic yesterday.

One returning favourite was the Body and Soul Arena, outfitted with low-slung tents and meditation zones (Electric Picnic is the kind of weekend where nobody bats a lid if you announce you’re stepping out for a shamanic journey) and chai tea outlets as far as the eye could see. Other accoutrements include a gothic ‘funeral home’, a Las Vegas marriage chapel and a half-buried London bus.

This is the 12fth year of the festival, which has grown steadily since 2004, when less than 20,000 attended. This year, it features in excess of a dozen stages and some 2,000 performers, including such Irish acts as the Sultans Of Ping FC, the Coronas, and Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats. However, the larger attendance has made for increased traffic and afternoon arrivals faced long-tail backs before accessing the site.

Electric Picnic still has power to perplex and please

Adelina Hmeleska sports an outfit made out of ringpulls as she arrives at Electric Picnic yesterday.

As ever, the Co Laois fest was notable for its diversity of attendees. With darkness settling over Stradbally, parents carried toddlers wearing cutesy earmuffs while tattooed teenagers embraced and men sported native American headdresses — despite the style rapidly becoming derided as a form of blackface at US events.

Elsewhere, festival fashions remained firmly retro with hipster beards and daisy-chain head adornments popular, along with the ubiquitous wellies. In keeping with the Picnic’s tie-dyed sensibility, the atmosphere was laid back and, with a little determination, it was possible to make your way to the front of even the main stage.

Electric Picnic still has power to perplex and please

Caoimhe Macdonnell gets a lift from Conner Kennedy and Jamie Tarpey.

Thousands more will make their way to Stradbally today for Saturday headliners Blur and Sam Smith. On Sunday, marquee acts include Florence and the Machine and Interpol.

Good, if not quite spectacular, weather is predicted, with temperatures of around 15 degrees and rain expected to stay away.

Electric Picnic still has power to perplex and please

Music Fans Colin Mahon and Alex Walker arriving to Electric Picnic in Stradballly this afternoon

 

Eclectic pick n’ mix

SATURDAY

Blur:

The Britpop flagbearers are back with a surprisingly accomplished late-career album, Magic Whip. However, their set is packed with such 90s staples as Parklife and Girls and Boys.

Sam Smith:

The London crooner, has conquered the world with his nuanced falsetto and grieving heart — an irresistibly soppy formula that has seen him feted globally.

Hot Chip:

“Dance music you can cry to” is as good a description as any of Hot Chip’s downbeat electro pop — throwaway music for the feet and the soul.

The War On Drugs:

The provocative name is counter balanced by a laid-back 80s rock style that suggests an art-house revisiting of Tom Petty and Bruce Hornsby.

Chvrches:

Singer Lauren Mayberry has attracted attention for her outspoken views on internet misogyny. The Glasgow electro-pop group will shortly to release their second LP.

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Roisin Murphy:

The Co Wicklow disco-diva recently put out a watery comeback LP. With her Lady Gaga-style outfits and pouting state presence, it’s in concert that her punches truly land.

Battles:

Equal parts influenced by progressive jazz and the sound a thrash compactor makes when chewing on an especially delicious car chassis.

Parquet Courts:

Buzzy New York punk funk act keep alive the spirit of CBGBs, Talking Heads and The Ramones.

SUNDAY

Florence and the Machine:

Flame-haired pop maven Florence Welch follows her stunning Glastonbury headliner with a much-anticipated return.

Interpol:

These gloomy indie rockers double as the best-dressed act at EP, with slick suits and studied pouts.

FKA: Twigs:

Best known as Robert Pattinson’s girl-friend, Tahliah Barnett deserves better than to be a side-player in the celebrity circus. As FKA Twigs she produces gorgeous, electro-pop.

Low:

A mormon mom ‘n’ pop duo from Minnesota.

Paul Kalkbrenner:

The German producer and sometime actor has just dropped cracking album 7.

Girl Band:

The scuzzy Dublin four-piece sound as if they are constantly on the brink of collapsing in on themselves yet somehow never do.

Lapsley:

This Liverpool singer grafts a sweeting singing voice to loopy structures.

Son Lux:

Electro musings from an artist who isn’t afraid to wax weird.

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