The deal for an Electric Picnic ticket was acting as a driver for Dublin based electronic artist Adultrock. This meant collecting him and his girlfriend (who I sort of know) on Friday evening and dropping them home on Sunday night. While this would mean having to do a ridiculous amount of driving to and from the festival, as well as dictating when I would arrive and when I would leave, it would also mean a free ticket to a sold out festival. The festival was in Co. Laois, which is not too much of a trek from Cork, but I would have to drive past the festival to go to Dublin on a Friday evening to get the cream of rush hour traffic and then drive back down to the Picnic in even more heavy traffic (rush hour traffic plus festival traffic multiplied by I've been driving for three hours already). The only way this situation could be tweaked to perfection is the addition of an overheating engine. The handy trick if one notices an overheating engine is to turn on the heating and fan full whack and then bring the vehicle to a garage as soon as possible. This trip to the garage had been postponed and procrastinated with about three months now, as I had exchanged sound mechanical advice for the vain hope that whatever was going wrong under the bonnet would magically fix itself if left alone for long enough. I applied this same logic to an inguinal hernia a few years back, and can still remember the horrified look on the specialist's face when she asked: "So when did you notice something was wrong?" "About a year ago." "?!?!?!?" So I gunned Greta Greenbus (the Groove Space Hiace) down the motorway for three hours with the heating up and the windows down while the sun blazed through the windscreen. Fortunately the needle stayed out of the red and the engine refrained from spewing out plumes of smoke and steam. Naturally I deluded myself and said that there is nothing the matter here, I just happen to be driving a four wheeled air conditioned sauna, that's all.
The other worry was that I didn't really know the couple I'd be ferrying to and from the Picnic, and if they turned out to be insufferable arses, the relatively short drive from their gaff to the festival could turn out to be painfully long and drawn out. Fortunately they were the world's nicest people, and when we arrived onsite, I went my separate ways as I didn't want to contaminate their inherent loveliness with my own insufferable arsiness. My game plan for the the festival was not to have a game plan and just wander around, soaking up the atmosphere, hoping to happen upon something tasty. There was only one group I HAD to see that weekend, so it was nice to have a loose timetable for the bulk of the time, as the real festival experience consists of finding unheard of groups and djs on the periphery and having life affirming moments as a result. So after a good aimless wander, I hit upon a bayou tinged, blues-rock three piece on the trailer park stage. The singer had the look of the exact type of person you want on your side should a brawl break out in a biker bar. Long hair, arms like tree trunks, hands like hams, a beard that could have given birth to ZZ top and a gravelly voice to match. He belted out variations on the theme "I feel fucked up and am drinking far too much since you walked out on me" (presumably because he had been drinking too much to begin with). The band was tight, and having just three pieces meant that their lean and mean sound had the right amount of raw grit that really hit the spot. I saw the singer onsite later on that weekend accompanied by what appeared to be his partner and young child, which made me question the authenticity of his blues.
After more wandering around, I found myself back at the trailer park stage witnessing the awesome spectacle of Dundalk's finest comedic funksters "The Trampz". I had caught them previously at the Volvo Ocean race in 2009 and had enjoyed them enough then to stick around for their show. The majority of the band were kitted out in smoking jackets, shades, polo neck shirts and tacky gold chains, and in the middle of this uber smoove style was a feral young man wearing nothing but a pair of ragged jeans, rocking out as if his life depended on it. When they finished up whatever song they had been playing (I'm relying totally on my dodgy memory, so lots of details will be missing) the singer addressed the crowd in a thick Dundalk accent: "We are the Trampz. This is Electric Picnic. And this, this is a man with no shirt. Man with no shirt, you have earned the respect of The Trampz, now be gone." The singer then caught his feral accomplice by the scruff of the neck and flung him forcefully off the front of the stage. If this was Hollywood, he would have been caught by the cheering masses who would have borne him aloft and crowd-surfed him to safety. As this was a field in Co. Laois, he landed facedown in the mud where he lay motionless for a wee while as onlookers looked on worriedly. "This next song is called Sex Machine. (Huge Cheer) It's not the James Brown song. It's a song about having sex. With a machine. Yeah, a sex machine!" The humour of their lyrics and onstage getup was underscored by incredibly funky and danceable grooves, with the percussionist occasionally interjecting with Kiedis-style rapping reminiscent of the socks on cocks Chilli Peppers (before they went under the bridge of credible and intelligent song-writing). Later on in the set the singer reached in to the crowd saying "Hee-yor Batman, let's be havin' you". He then pulled up a skinny guy in an Adam west style Batman outfit, who lacked a cape so wore a crappy grey zip up hoodie over his shoulders, and whose saggy navy bat nappy suggested that this Batsuit may once have been owned by Adam West himself. He danced about onstage with the band for that number and just like the shirtless man, Batman was forcefully ejected from the stage. Fortunately this ritual humiliation was accompanied by the drummer and bassist playing the 60s theme tune, so that makes everything alright.
There was a bit more wandering and I spent a wee while in Trenchtown soaking up some disco-boogie courtesy of Mr. Whippy. At around one o'clock I decided to call it a night and head back to the van where I would inflate my mattress and turn in for the night. This is what I was really looking forward to, as there would be none of the hassle of setting up a tent, and as I was in the crew car park I was far from the revelling masses and would be guaranteed a good night's sleep. This was upset greatly when I walked down past the row of cars to a hiace with the back door left wide open. As it was dark it was unclear what colour it was, so I was praying like a motherfucker that this was someone else's van. When Adultrock had played at the Body and Soul festival earlier that summer, he had the misfortune of having his laptop stolen. This had turned out to be something of a blessing, as he now to had to make a new set using a synthesiser and sequencer which was more physically involving and aurally satisfying than working with Ableton Live and a midi controller. A synthesiser and sequencer that he had assumed would be safe in my van which had been left unlocked, unattended and wide open with a few hours now. Who knows, maybe if all his gear gets stolen again, this would also turn out to be something of a blessing, right? A quick scan inside showed that both of his cases were still there and had not been interfered with. The only thing that had been stolen were a few cans of cider which really shows that you do get a different class of scumbag at Electric Picnic.
All that was left for me to do was pump up my mattress and get some sleep. I awoke about two hours later to find myself lying uncomfortably on a fully deflated mattress on the hard plywood floor. Thinking perhaps that the problem was not tightening the valve properly, I reinflated the mattress and got another two hours sleep. Realising now that there was a puncture, I toyed with the idea of pumping it up every two hours, as I would only have to do it twice more to clock up a respectable eight hour sleep. Instead I opted to take my duvet and pillows up to the front of the van as it would be like sleeping on a sofa. A sofa that is a wee bit too short and not all that comfortable. A sofa that has a gap in the middle for the handbrake and gear lever, who would take turns over the course of the night to try to sodomise me. A sofa that is located directly in front of a huge curtain-less window that would give me the full benefit of the morning sun in a few hours. Yeah, this ought to suffice.
After confirming that nothing had been stolen and safely transporting the gear to the lock up, I got on with the extremely important business of wandering around Electric Picnic on Saturday. At Trenchtown I found a slightly foggy Mr Whippy listening to Marcus Valle and making a brew on a camping stove. After a lengthy conversation which was largely comprised of double entendres and outright obscenities, he invited me to hop on board and spin a few. Not having brought any records with me, it was a bit of a thrill to try and piece together a set from someone else's collection, using only the finest of guess work to figure out what would go well with what. Being able to pull off a reasonably cohesive set that largely consisted of songs that I was unfamiliar with, exemplifies why I'm one of the most respected selectors in my city, or is conclusive proof that I am undoubtedly one of the greatest bluffers to ever get behind a set of 1210s. After doing this for an hour or so I had to wander on, as the Whippy Wagon was too small to contain my immense talent. That is bullshit. The reality is that I'm too tall to stand upright in the ice-cream van, and being hunched over was taking its toll on my posture (which had already taken a beating at the hands of my van's seating). Saturday afternoon was reasonably aimless, I caught a wee bit of Kevin McAleer doing a set as Gaeilge, and did my best to try to find which stall had the nicest tea (every cup of tea of the weekend was just a little bit too dusty for my tastes).
My only must-see act for the festival was Waterford's "The Dead Heavys" who were playing the mainstage in The Body and Soul arena. It would be admirable to hype them up here and give them a favourable write-up as ones to watch for this year (all of which would be true), but my main reason for wanting to see them is that my identical twin brother is the bass player. I say identical, but really we look nothing alike, and when I say twin, he's actually two years older than me. When he first told me that he was joining an indie rock group, I ate the ear off him for having no ambition. Surely for a bassplayer that's as fine and funky as he is, joining such a group would be a step backward? My words have since been eaten and nicely digested several times over, having heard the wondrously groovy psychedelic pop that has become their trademark sound. Their sound was good and their set was tight, and it was great to see lots of people stop by to see what was happening, then stay on to get down. By their last song the natural amphitheater was full and heaving along nicely with the group. After their set I hung out with Jim, wandering around and chatting about this and that. I don't go home all that often, and as he has a partner and two young children (Jim "Family Man" O'Brien) we don't get to have too many extended conversations. To give him his due, he is the one who turned me on to funk, and my first experiences of DJing were opening up for a band he was in many moons ago (they had many name changes and were essentially the forerunners of The Dead Heavys). When we walked back to the campsite so that he could get a hoody, I realised that it was cold, that I was tired, and that I had enough fun for one day. I said goodbye to my brother as he turned towards the festival and I headed back to Greta. Turning in shortly after Cinderella time would give me a hell of a nights sleep, and would ensure that I would be super fresh for Sunday's meanderings.
After clocking up a respectable nights sleep, Sunday morning greeted me with a pounding headache. I drank about a litre of water, got a bit more shut eye and came to two hours later with the headache gnomes still beating my skull with their little mallets. Adultrock had texted me asking if I could meet him at the lock up to put his gear back in my van. That he still trusted my competency after the previous escapades shows how much of a better person he is than I. Had the roles been reversed, my response would have been along the lines of fuck you and your van, I'm walking back to Dublin and carrying all this shit by myself, please stay away from me forever you incompetent fucktard. After loading the van and triple checking that all the doors were locked, I took a spin in to Stradbally to score some panadol and find a porcelain bowl to squat over. I won't go into a detailed description of how bad the portaloos were at the Picnic, but when a filling station's jacks seems heavenly and inviting, it's fair to say that one's standards have been lowered considerably.
As I made my way back from the carpark towards the festival, I bumped into the ever affable and extraordinarily talented Jus'me, who was waiting for the rest of the Unscene Collective to arrive so that he could check his gear in. As they were all coming from different parts of the south and west of Ireland, they had all rendezvoused in some god awful town not too far from the Picnic, had some car swapping antics and now half of them seemed to have gone AWOL in the fashion of a rural Irish hip-hop Spinal Tap. The rest of the collective seemed remarkably cool and collected about the affair which suggested that this carry-on happens a lot. In need of my first cup of tea of the day (I don't care how dusty it is, I need my tea) I wandered on saying I'd catch their set later. After numerous cups of tea, some very good vegetarian curry and a festival standard burrito, I settled down at the Comedy Tent where Eric Lalor made me laugh aloud the way a comedian should. Saturday's meanderings had involved a few stop offs at the comedy tent, where I witnessed household name comedians deliver tragically unfunny sets that verged on anti-humour (there will be no naming, shaming or bad mouthing, being a piss-poor comedian is its own punishment). Eric is a graduate of Des Bishop's Joy N The Hood, but his comedic talent has certainly matured with a well wrought set where the punchlines were sneaky southpaws that hit with alarming regularity. He was followed by an obnoxious household name comedian, so I took this as my cue to shuffle on.
The Unscene Showcase really hit hard. It began with Deviant and Mikey Fingers scratching tastefully over beats. A lot of turntablists dedicate years to perfecting tricknology that is devoid of musicality and is wankier than the wankiest jazz. These west coast deck monkeys kept things sensible, musical and groovable and only pulling out the fancy scratches when absolutely necessary. Seeing Deviant hold down a rhythmic baby scratch while Mikey did some fader-licking cuts on top showed two artists who had immense respect for their audience and were completely unconcerned with the show-boating and one-upmanship that has been dragging the arse out of hip-hop for far too long. Spekulativ Fiktion and Jus'me took the stage next, and it was a relief to see an MC who was happy to be himself on stage. I have no problems with personas or onstage characterisations, but there are far too many middle class white Irish rappers doing their darndest to look street weary and pepper their rhymes with stateside parlance that just doesn't fit their flow. Spek Fik looks and sounds like an ordinary twenty something from Cork, and his subject matter includes getting let down by confidantes, and giving out about wankers in pink polo shirts and v-neck jumpers. No bamboozling verbal juxtapositions or extravagant wordplay and rhyming schemes: just straight-up, well-enunciated storytelling. I took a break from the intensity of MC Sebi C to see if I could catch the tail end of King Kong Company on the B&S mainstage. Upon arrival I was greeted by a departing audience and sound techs wrapping up cables which meant I missed the blaa land's finest beat factory. In true OCD fashion I decided that I would not walk directly back to the Earthship stage for the rest of the Unscene showcase, but would take a circular route through the B&S area to see what I could see.
One of my main complaints of the weekend had been a lot of the DJs I had come across did not do anything for me. Not that any of them were bad, but I felt that most of them veteran DJs who were just going through the motions. Again, there were no dodgy transitions, or even bad music, but nothing inspiring, nothing that was making me lose my shit and wonder what the f*ck is this!?!?!?! It had been heartening in a way, as I had been down on my own skills with a while and seeing one too many DJs putting the meh in mediocre made me realise that I'm not so bad after all and maybe I have something to offer to the world. These thoughts (and many more, I have never been one who was short on thoughts) were carouselling through my mind as I approached the back of the Peace Pagoda. There was an immensely energised crowd getting down out front to some really dubby dancehall and I was curious to see who was manning the controls. What I initially took to be an incredibly petite woman working behind a laptop and controller, was in fact a little blond girl, too young to be a teenager but definitely a wee bit older than my eight year old nephew. Turning on my cynicism to full beam, I rationalised that the crowd thought this spectacle was cute, and were dancing along to be encouraging to the wee thing. The tune was kicking though, really quality stuff, and I couldn't deny that. Maybe this was the one good track she had, that this was a stroke of luck. The more I hung around, the more apparent it was that this girl was seriously on pointe. Every track she dropped was gold, and her selection and programming were flawless. Theo Parrish maintains that it takes ten years to master selection, so by Theo's logic this girl must have been DJing since shortly after birth. The ecstatic tears of joy running down my cheeks and the broad grin permafixed across my face were tell-tale signs that I was losing my shit and I just couldn't help dancing maniacally and idiotically. At the end of her set, Donal Dineen got on the mic: "Give it up for Little J, the best DJ at this festival and an unbelievable selector!" Although my inner cynic wanted to believe that he was just humouring her, he was right. There was nothing condescending in his tone or language, and he was treating her with the respect she deserves. I was seriously hyped up at this point and even typing about it now is giving me shivers. When she finished her set, I approached the middle aged man who was tidying up her gear as I wanted to find out more about what I had just experienced. He was her Dad, this was her second outing (her first was at Body & Soul earlier that summer) and she was 11 years old. DAMN!!! If you are a seasoned DJ/selector reading this, you really need to up your game because a tiny little blue-eyed, blond-haired thing is about to serve your ass on a platter.
This was exactly what I had hoped to get from my festival experience, and was delighted to have it peak just as I was leaving. I ferried my charges back to Clontarf, then downed 473 ml of red bull to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel on the way home. It was a bit excessive, but when I was doing my pre-Picnic grocery shopping, the supermarket was out of the humanely sized cans, so I was left with no other option. It took three hours to get from Dublin to Cork, but that was only because I was driving. Had I pulled over and let my taurine charged legs run down the motorway, I'm certain I could have easily done it in two, maybe two and a half. The weekend was a series of peaks and troughs, aided greatly by the good weather and the lovely people who were there in abundance. Thanks to everyone I encountered and enabled me to have such a cracking weekend, now there is nothing to do but hold on tight as the winter blues slowly creep over the horizon.