I’ve been to a marvellous [picnic] party

Electric Picnic.
33,000 people being very silly in the grounds of Stradbally Estate and some of them were the St John’s Ambulance.

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Three days of music, art, comedy, unexpected literature strikes, people in costume, people on desperate quests for tea, for coffee, for wellies, for the hurling score, for someone who knows where they left their girlfriend, their boyfriend, their mates, their wee sister, their tent, their dignity. Dancing in the rain, spinning at the main stage in sunshine, chasing round the arena in twilight, roaming the woods in the dark, making elaborate lists of everyone you want to see and getting to about a third, braving the Long Drops, untangling your neighbours from the wreckage at 4am, sharing chips with people you’ve never met before and will never see again, facepaints and glitter and never enough layers.

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Electric Picnic was set up mostly because Thomas Cosby is that special kind of madman who looks at things like Oxegen and Glastonbury and Latitude and thinks ‘I have 600 acres to play with, I bet we could do that. Only nicer! And raise money for charities! And have real food! And art! And be greener! And have more toilets! And a circus! ALL THE THINGS!’ and starts phoning people and ends up with the festival equivalent of Tom Dunne’s Pet Sounds and All Songs Considered going drinking with Pete Tong. The whole thing is adorably earnest and layered in the kind of deep surrealism that you only get when an event is family friendly but run by completely warped people, so announcements are made reminding parents to write their mobile number on their child, in permanent marker please, so the Childcatcher can get hold of them. 

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I am not rational about Electric Picnic. I walk in the gates and turn into this ridiculously zen person full of love and joy and point derangedly at lights. I was slightly stoned by association at eleven on Friday night (everyone is stoned by association by eleven on Friday night, it’s that kind of crowd), quietly tipsy in Body & Soul at one on Saturday afternoon, still sitting up in Andy Warhol at five on Sunday morning, reeling gently from exhaustion and arguing about A Game Of Thrones in the queue for the Dublin bus at the very end of the end, staggering into work on two hours sleep and as much coffee as Clements would give me on Monday morning. Sheer soggy bliss. 

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Last time I went with my sister and we kept being accosted by incredibly lost people who wanted the rugby score, got accused of being Scottish twice, ate unwise quantities of really amazing chips, Glen Hansard made everyone at the dearly departed Big Tree Stage sing ‘Skylarking’ at 3am and when my phone got a text a nice young man plaintively informed me that ‘I wasn’t looking, I’m a gentleman, but your arse just lit up blue and I know I’m high but I’m not that high.’ This year I went with friends, which made me suddenly grateful that my sister doesn’t tend to wander off. Or at least she only wanders off as far as the nearest shiny thing. If you turn your back on the boys, they disappear and then lose their phones. My sister also doesn’t communicate mainly in film quotes. We got a name for ourselves as the ones who kept shouting the ‘She has a strong heart!’ bit from The Abyss.

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I got down late on Friday, having got myself completely turned round at Connolly and rescued by a newspaper man (I think he had been doing this all day) who kindly pointed me back at Busaras. Where the staff were hugely entertained by the hordes of picnickers and making no secret of the fact they thought we were all mad as they counted us on to the buses. Then, in the interests of winding up the incredibly gullible French boys, the bus driver stopped mid-headcount, wagged a finger at me and said ‘Now, none of that bad behaviour like last year, young lady!’

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It’s a long old drive out to Stradbally. And a hike to the nice people with the big clamps for your wristbands. And a serious hike through to Andy Warhol. But because my friends are awesome, when I finally got there they had put up my tent. And their tents. And were being vocally offended by the existence of the two hipster boys across the way who had the same hilariously floral Cath Kidston tent as Sarah. They offended us in the way that only people who need glasses and those who love them can be by people who wear empty frames. And then I attempted to fix the zip on Sean’s tent, failed, went to lift my raincoat, discovered it missing, discovered I am a lot more attached to it than I thought and proceeded to lose my mind while Keith tried to convince me that I hadn’t had it in the first place. Then Sarah looked at Sean (who is a good six inches taller than me) and observed, in tones of mild confusion, that he had two raincoats on. We have no idea how he managed that.

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And so we detached the abducted coat from Sean and proceeded to the main arena to see PJ Harvey and all the pretty lights. This is my favourite thing about Electric Picnic, they’ve realised that it’s best to mark and light the entrances, but because they’re wonderful crazy people, they have giant tulips and fairy lights and Chinese lanterns and banners and random lit art installations and trees full of CDs and circus tents instead of floods. It looks gorgeous. 

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PJ Harvey and her amazing bird hat was also looking good. And sounding fantastic if a bit faint, which was an issue with the main stage all weekend, sadly. I have a soft spot for anyone who wears a bird on their head in that kind of weather, never mind the fact that she is quite stunningly talented and I want to be that cool when I grow up.

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And then Gareth looked round and said ‘Where’s Sean?’ The boys abandoned Sarah and me to Interpol and went looking for him. Interpol weren’t bad, but they’re a band I’ve seen plenty of in better sound circumstances and have no desperate urge to keep watching if the sound is suffering, so Sarah and I held hands like P1s and ran round the arena for a bit, until we realised this behaviour might be a sign of badly needing fed. When the boys returned without the wanderer, they found us sitting happily under a tulip in gleeful possession of noodles.

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And then Keith managed to lose his phone while exuberantly hugging Gareth. That’s just the kind of thing that happens at Electric Picnic. We had to institute a rule that the people without phones were to stay with people who did. We did find Sean eventually, faceplanted in his tent, dead to the world. The nice thing about his tendency to wander off if you leave him unattended is that he will reliably find his own bed. So Sarah went to sleep and the rest of us went off to catch the tail end of DJ Shadow, get excited about the Arcadia stage shooting fire and play in Body & Soul.

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Body & Soul is the Hippy Ecological Corner, with all the pretty light installations and a boat in a tree, where the baby bands play and people are slightly stranger than the average and they keep the compost toilets and hot tubs and massage tent and there is All The Tea. It smells of turf and woodsmoke and incense and sounds like drumming. Its very existence makes me happy.

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Somewhere in there, the tail end of hurricane Irene finished her whiplash across the Atlantic and it started to rain. And blow. And did it all night, adding an extra edge of fury to the yells of ‘Get off the tent!’ as the last revellers crashed through the site on the way to bed. Around 4am, someone landed on the girls behind me in such a way as to completely flatten their tent, then bounced off onto mine. They went over all Northside, I went over all South Armagh and I think we scared the guy sober. There was a scene of polyester carnage Saturday morning, between the tents that had been hit by people and the tents that had been hit by wind and the ones that were just really unwisely pitched beside the toilets. The lesson here, children, is to use your guy ropes and leave a torch on. And don’t pitch beside the toilets.

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Oh the toilets. There were two kinds on Andy Warhol – the old-school portaloos beside the food stalls and up towards the car park where we were, the environmentally friendly, incredibly slippery when wet (and it’s summer in a field in Ireland, they’re always wet), Long Drops, which are as the name suggests, huge tanks with toilet seats over them. The level slowly rises. Inevitably, there was an Incident. We will never speak of it again. We’ll just look at Sean and giggle hysterically.

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Eventually, once the wreckage was surveyed, the absence of Sean’s phone established, Meteor informed and the stragglers conscious, there were ostrich burgers for breakfast and Gareth and Sean being really entertained by the mushroom carvings. They are very easily entertained. On the other hand, I got very intense about, in order, coffee, a bag and the Ferris wheel. My moral high ground is under water. Mostly because my natural state of mind is completely distracted, so when you give me lots of shiny lights, spinny things, music and no sleep, I revert to five. Even if I was the designated grown-up.

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Another glorious thing about Electric Picnic is that while there’s a whole section for wee people, with the dressing up and the face painting and the drawing and the science, bits of it spill over into the main arena. Sarah and I, after watching Ardal O’Hanlon being very Ardal O’Hanlon-ish in the comedy tent, spotted people with faces painted in glitter and interesting patterns and being magpies, got ours done. Then we got Keith and Gareth to do it. And failed to make Sean to do it, for he is rubbish and was talking to people and mocked us all for the rest of the weekend. I must also point out that even if the words ‘How did you get more masculine face things than me? How?’ were uttered at some point, they picked them themselves.

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Then Sarah and I foolishly trusted the boys to go see Disconauts and not lose each other. Oh we were fools. But one gig. One. So we went off to see Mundy, who was, as always, chatty and laid back and roping in stray members of other people’s bands, blasted through the usual suspects and dedicated July to the little girl in the pink jacket on condition her dad put his hands over her ears for that one verse (they were adorable), and gave us a vote between Mexico and Galway Girl that Mexico won. I go see this man so I can dance to cheerful songs about the harsh realities of having a love life and navigating urban areas under the influence and he delivers every time.

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And then we rang the boys and were told they were in Body & Soul. Which they patently weren’t, because we were. So we found ourselves a seat on the giant picnic table beside a little glass box with a band in and once the singer had finished the ritual wild gesticulation at the sound desk to get the vocals up, they were really good. I have no idea who they were. This happens. There’s about six baby bands that I saw this weekend and I haven’t a clue what any of them were called. Someone will patiently reconstruct and post the map of who played where eventually. All I know is there was a very nice sunset and the music was lovely.

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Somewhere in there, we got pounced on by a hyper Spanish guy who took pictures of us, babbled incoherently and was apologised for profusely by his friend before getting distracted by the dinosaur. As were the band – ‘Look! Dinosaur!’ There was a dinosaur skeleton wandering around, chomping on children and occasionally sagging alarmingly as a puppeteer went off-course. Genius.

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We had another go at finding the boys, and then decided that they were almost certainly big enough and ugly enough to look after themselves for another hour and went off to Lykke Li and Arcade Fire. That was…interesting. Arcade Fire were brilliant, smart-arsedly kicking off with Wide Awake and endearingly pleased about being back at Electric Picnic ‘We were here in 2005, that was our big start and now we’re backand you guys are awesome, you know that?’ Unfortunately, the audience were apparently raised by wolves and I got lifted off my feet multiple times by people failing to comprehend that when the folk in front tell you there’s nowhere to go, they aren’t being mean, there really is Nowhere. For. You. To. Go. So we lit out to the side where it was much more civilised and I wasn’t having horrible visions of a giant disaster happening. It’s something I’ve noticed in the past couple of years, venues aren’t policing pits, bands aren’t policing pits and the punks and people who remember what happened at Roskilde are now outnumbered by the kids who haven’t a clue how dangerous it can get and just want to charge to the front, so the pits can’t even police themselves. I was honestly scared. I don’t want to be scared at Electric Picnic and I don’t want to see it going feral like Oxegen, but equally I don’t want to it to have to go super-strict in the way of Slane (which is like that for very good reasons involving a 75 degree incline). Thing is, the very we’re-all-adults-if-you-don’t-take-the-piss-we-won’t-have-to-notice-what-you’re-smoking attitude that makes the Picnic worth going to also means it’s way too easy for it to get hairy in there and eep. Just one ‘Let’s not be idiots, here’ announcement from somebody with authority would have been useful. I was quite angry about it, actually, especially with wee ones in the crowd. 

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My anger turned rapidly to hilarity, however, as the next round of hunting turned up Gareth, but no Keith and no Sean. Given Sean’s phone had gone the night before, we gave him up as a lost cause and entered into round one of many games of ‘Where are you? We’re at the swings. THE SWINGS. I can’t hear you’ with Keith. It was eventually established that he was at the Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel being on precisely the opposite side of the festival to the swings and carousel (they have a carousel, I love it). Keith would like to make it known that it’s a dirty trick to put the fairground attractions in two separate places. We went on the swings while we were waiting for him. It’s great how both the age range and the pitch of the over-excited squealing rises as darkness falls.

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Back at Andy Warhol, someone had started the ‘Alan!’ ‘Steve!’ back and forth that would go on all night. Or at least until someone sat on them. God, they were annoying. Our own wanderer had found his way back via the wanna-be-bare-knuckle-fighters in the woods. He was a bit wide-eyed about that one. Sarah and I faded somewhat at that point, although I did make it out to Salty Dog, the old boat in the woods, to see Annie Nightingale do an extra DJ session. She retired from Radio 1 this summer, last of the old guard and she’s still the best thing in music broadcasting after the late lamented John Peel. The boys went to Chemical Brothers. And returned in a state of high dudgeon because the Chemical Brothers are bad bad people who think it’s really funny to troll a drunk/stoned/high/sleep-deprived/delete as appropriate audience with a GiantCreepyClownFace. They didn’t get much sympathy. We’d have done it too if we’d had a 30′ back projection screen and a captive audience.

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And then it got cold. Into the low single digits, oh god I can’t feel my feet, not enough layers in the world kind of cold. At some point, Sean stuck his head in my tent and informed me it was actually warmer outside and since I wasn’t sleeping I came and sat out with all my clothes and the nefarious burglar gloves on. As did most of the rest of the site, by all accounts. Seriously, it was cold. Gareth and I caved to the reality of impending hypothermia about 4am and went and got coffee and cheese toasties for everyone. The pair running the stand were cheerfully slagging each other, the customers, the DJ on the radio and the DJ over in Trenchtown, while flying through orders given by people so cold they were barely coherent to produce toasties so searingly hot that they’d just cooled to edibility by the time we got back to the tents. Best toasties I’ve ever had. And Sunday afternoon, after several hours of pounding rain when everyone took the opportunity to get some sleep, turned out lovely.

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It did pour again during Joan As Policewoman, but the nice thing about Crawdaddy is that despite what the worrying amount of gaffer tape would suggest, the roof is watertight and there’s a bar in it. And we got a rainbow. Good gig, too, despite the sound check taking forever (apparently if you want a tight soundcheck, you need to arrange your line-up so that people with vaguely similar settings are appearing in order, as opposed to the delicate dance of shared audience that the Picnic timetables around). I like her voice and I could watch the shoulder shrugging raised eyebrow interplay between the keyboardist and drummer all day. They were really very entertained by everything. They’re on my buying list now.

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Beirut were great too, although my huge soft spot for bands with built in brass sections may be talking there. But it was lovely mellow music to sit on the grass to or spin round to, or queue endlessly for ostrich to. Oh dear, the ostrich burgers. I think Sean is addicted. He nearly cried when the grill broke and he was confronted with the prospect of no ostrich for his tea. In fairness, the nice English dude in charge of it was also quite close to tears, but resisted actually kicking the thing, despite immense provocation and all the peanut gallery’s recommendations. I got bored enough that I stole the sunglasses and took a picture through them just to see if it would work. They got it started in the end, Sean got his ostrich and I got All The Coffee. These are important things in life.

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Somewhere in between sunset and Pulp, we went for another wander and I made sufficient puppy-dog eyes to get people to go on the Ferris wheel again. I adore Ferris wheels. Sarah, on the other hand, hates heights and can’t think of anything worse than spinning round in mid-air, and sat down at the fence with immense finality. So we left her there and went ahead and according to Keith and Sean I got this hilarious look of glee and awe and astounded happiness.

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And then there was Pulp, on the last night of their reunion tour, laser projected queries about the weather and ‘Do you want to see a dolphin?’ on the banner across the stage. They were on fire. Jarvis Cocker was as skinny and angular and weird as ever, dressed like a raddled geography teacher, reciting chunks of Oscar Wilde on general principles and providing running commentary while the unfortunate Mark got sorted out with an amp socket that worked – ‘Are we working? Oh, you’re over there now. Fair enough’ – and ricochetting off the amps and speaker stacks and probably giving the stage manager heart failure. It was amazing. And they played all the usual suspects, Something Changed, Disco 2000, Underwear, Hardcore (I want to see Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon get in a sleaze-off, it would be epic), Misfits took on a whole new edge courtesy of economy and location, E’s & Whizz was strategically re-lyriced and they ran through at least one thing off each album and looked incredibly pleased when people knew them. I think somewhere during group-hug-jumping-dancing I did my ankle in. Grand finale was, of course, Common People. ‘We might not ever play this here again, but if we don’t it’s a good one to go out on!’ It was. Oh it was.

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They pretty much ruined everyone for anything else. I had to go get a bus anyway, but once Sean had delivered me to the bus queue, going by the incoherence of Sarah’s final text, I think they all crashed too. We dissected the show in the queue – general consensus, Pulp = amazing. Somehow this morphed into a very intense discussion of A Game Of Thrones between seven or eight people who’d all read to different points and have you any idea how hard it is to work out how avoid spoiling that many people at 1.30am? There’s a nice boy from Trinity who is now really, really confused. Mind you, by the time I got to Dublin, fell onto the 3am Belfast bus – ‘Electric Picnic, was it, love?’ ‘Nrrgh.’ – and made it into work at nine, I was so confused I was walking into things and one of the interns made me coffee because he didn’t trust me with the machine. I don’t remember much about Monday, but it was worth it. It was completely worth it. Marvellous party.

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