Thursday, November 10, 2016
It was the Friday morning of Electric Picnic, and after several months of making no effort to buy a ticket or trying to schmooze my way onto the line-up, I sort of decided that I kind of wanted to go. A friend posted on Facebook saying that he might have a spare ticket, and was open to offers if anyone was interested. I sent a message to see what the story was, and this is what he told me: He and his act were scheduled to perform there, but a few days after receiving the performer passes in the post, they were e-mailed and told that they had been cut from the line-up. At first their plan was "Fuck it, let's go up anyway and have a weekend of fun!" which quickly turned to "What if these performer passes are no longer valid, and we only discover that after driving all the way up there?" I was welcome to take one of them, for no money up front, and if I got in I would give him a token amount for the ticket upon my return to Cork. Bit of a risk involved, but as a wise man once said: "Yerra feck it, 'twill be grand!"
After a mind-numbing day spent working on-site in East Cork, I got home late and hastily threw the barest essentials into the back of my van. I called round to my friend's house and picked up the ticket which he had left in the wheelie bin for me (take that Electric Picnic!), then headed to Aldi where I picked up flapjacks, baby wipes, bottled water, and a three pack of socks which were going on special offer. Till number 3 had just opened, so I beelined towards it, paid cash, and didn't even bother to show off my Electric Picnic performer's pass to the attractive eastern European girl working the check-out. If I wanted to get in that night, I would have to be up there before ten. It was now half seven, and it would take a good two hours to get there, god knows how long to find parking, and even more time to get to the right gate. And even if all of that falls into place, there was still no guarantee I was getting in.
After driving the shit out of my van and not getting stuck behind any tractors, I landed in the carpark shortly after half nine, and started frantically looking for the right gate. After getting misinformation from two different guys in hi-vis jackets, I then found myself on the right (and muddy) track. Fingers crossed they let me in without too many tricky questions about who I'm with, when I'm on, and please god don't let their be a list with the numbers of performer's passes that are no longer valid. After spending most of the drive up mentally rehearsing my friend's name to give at accreditation, the nice helpful lady behind the desk instead asked: "Which area are you performing?" Shit, a crafty curveball if ever there was one. After a pause and almost shitting myself I answered "The Hazel Wood" hoping that's what it's called. She then wrote down HW and the wristband number in her book, took my wrist and put my pass in place saying: "I was just about to close up, so you got here just in time." "Lucky me!" As I walked in I turned around and said: "You know where to find me this weekend, be sure to check out my act!"
It was already dark at this point, and there were masses of people teeming around, lots of them on their phones waving one hand in the air frantically "I'm waving my hand now, can you see me?" Holy shit, it was barely Friday night and they had already lost their friends! Not wishing to be too smug, but this is where not having any friends and going to festivals alone really comes into its own. There was a chance I might lose myself over the course of the weekend, but there was also a chance of finding myself. God I'm so profound! After wandering around a while, I bumped into two sound heads I knew from Cork city, and wandered around with them for a while, no fixed agenda just taking it all in. They wanted tea, so we went into the Flying Machine Tea Shop and sat down with a cuppa for a natter. In the corner, there were about five or six DJs taking turns on a set of decks. One would drop a track, then wander off, then another would shuffle over, drop a track, and wander off. They were keeping it nicely loose, with no mixing, but all the selections made sense with no gaps between the tracks. It was mainly on the heavy funk and afro side, with some boogie and jazz-funk working its magic in between. Bit by bit, more and more people got up and danced, and when "Evil vibrations" by The Mighty Ryeders came on, I felt obliged to do the same. It was one of those nice dancefloor moments, with a wide range of people doing their thing and creating energy, and there was just enough space so that there was no bumping, just grinding. This lasted for a good half hour to an hour (what can I say, I lost myself in the dance and existed outside of time, maaaahn), but then the tent got invaded by a selfie brigade. Upon seeing a large group of people enjoying themselves, they thought the best thing they could do was to insert themselves in the middle of this group, and selfie the shit out of everything. The atmosphere was ruined, the moment was lost, so we left the tent and headed off to see what else was happening.
We wandered into the Red Bull greenhouse to find Fish Go Deep had transformed into Fish Gone Jackin': upfront hip-house laden with harsh 12 bit drum sounds! It might seem redundant to drive halfway up the country to see DJs from my own parish, but the last time I had gotten down to Greg and Shane was at Body and Soul a few years back, so I was being nothing but consistent. The crowd were a valuable education in the varying levels of how fucked up a person can be, a Mongtessori if you will. People-watching was out of the question, down here on the ground I was jaw-dodging! One guy was so wired his jaw was pointing over his right shoulder and the rest of his body contorted to follow. His hands were held uselessly at chest level like a t-rex, while his half open eyes rolled way back in his head as he communicated with ancient spirits from a far away planet. Another was so fucked that he couldn't stand or walk with any great effectiveness, but had taken so many stimulants that he was unable to fall over either. The ultimate catch 22 of the party lifestyle! The music was excellent, and it was a privilege to hear so many decades of house music distilled into such a short space of time. As well as the many madouttavits, there were lots of dancers present who had not even been born when Greg and Shane had first gone deep. Whether they really understood the significance of what FGD had done for house music in Ireland is irrelevant, all that really mattered at that moment was that they were getting down and having a hell of a good time!
Up next was another local, Mr. Colm K. Colm is a friend of mine, but I'm a massive fan of his. His last release was "The Love EP" in 2013, and it flipped me out so much that for a period of several months after it was released, anyone who called round to me was forced to sit down and listen to it in its entirety. He had started out as Stevie G's Padawan in Sir Henry's way back when, but has since gone on to be a Sick Lord in his own right. His soulful style is New York by way of Cork, and his set combined long smooth blends that either made the new track creep in completely under the radar or be apparent from the distance as it got teased into the mix. When he played an instrumental edit of "Let's lovedance tonight" I had a transcendental moment on the dancefloor, where the sublime beauty of the track was perfectly offset by me saying "OH YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" far too loud and far too often. All good things had to come to an end, and although we were spared the selfie squad this time, there was a massive cramp building in my gut that could just be a fart, but could be oh so much more.
"When is the best time to use the portaloo at a music festival?" is almost a rhetorical question, but there are a series of acceptable answers to this. The most correct answer is "Never". The next acceptable answer is "Only if you really have to", which is then followed by "Friday night, before it gets completely destroyed over Saturday and Sunday". I had felt the cramp starting a while back, but was able to distract myself with music and dancing and whatnot. Now that I walked carefully and purposefully towards the portaloos, my gastrointestinal situation was doing its best to not be ignored, as I felt my gut gurgle, and sphincter pucker with every step. As I had packed and changed in a rush after work, these were the only jeans and jocks I had for the weekend, so this was a mission where failure was not an option. I made it to the jacks, and then sat in the dark box comforted by the knowledge that what I couldn't see, couldn't infect me. It wasn't long before I felt painful, emotional, and liquid relief flow through and out of me.
I woke up around noon-ish in the back of my van. Friday's dancing and sweating meant that wearing the same farting crackers two days in a row was not going to be an option. My jeans had an impressive tear in the groin area, so going commando was completely out of the question. After some rummaging through the mess, I pulled out a pair of speedos. If they are sufficient coverage to protect my genitalia from the raging sea, then they will be adequate coverage to protect Electric Picnic from my raging genitalia. After deciding that last night's anal outpouring was a one-off event, and that my stomach was now purged of its nastiness, I went up to the festival and had a chickpea and lentil curry for breakfast.
Walking past the Today FM tent, I saw Paula MacSweeney sitting by herself, so I went over, sat down next to her and said hello. After staring at me blankly, politely, and awkwardly for about five to ten seconds, she suddenly burst out with "Oh wait, I know you - SWIMMING!" It had been about twenty years since we last spoke, but we were instantly nattering and taking the piss like nobody's business. Paula had been a prodigious swimmer way back when, so much so that by the time she was a teenager she was done with it. I did my best to convince her that swimming as a grown-up is a whole other thing, where eating loads of junk is a central part of the training. "Isn't that the only reason anyone exercises? To eat rubbish?" "You don't get it Paula, with open water swimming, the cakes, THE CAKES!" This was accompanied with hand gestures that were meant to convey some inconceivable splendour, but instead made me look like some sort of delusional cake fetishist.
Most of Saturday was spent wandering about with my camera. The light was pretty good, but as I had only two rolls of film for the entire weekend, this would mean that I'd have to shoot smart rather than getting snap happy. The good news was that when Saturday's roll was shot, I could unburden myself of my vintage slr which was only slightly lighter than having a bag of records slung round my neck. Other highlights of Saturday was getting fed by the bread and cheese stall. It was conveniently located right next to a pretentious vegan food stand that prided itself on serving rabbit food with meagre dressings to actual people. Bread and cheese was very straightforward: A loaf of bread with cheese in the middle, toasted in a pizza oven until crispy and gooey, then served with a sour cream sauce loaded with bacon bits. The allergen list and ingredients list for these bad boys were identical, and goddammit was it delicious! As fate would have it, two friends of mine got food from the vegan stand, and they sat next to me picking at their sawdust and olive oil while I wolfed down my uber-toxic wheat and dairy hybrid with the smug self-satisfaction that is normally only reserved for vegans.
The next port of call was the comedy tent. As a result of watching way too much QI, I had fallen in love with Aisling Bea, and it was only right that I attend her set so that she could return the favour and fall in love with me. I sat right up at the front, but somehow she managed to avoid looking my way throughout the entire set. I even laughed at all her jokes, but that was not enough. Maybe my presence was too intense and she found that off-putting? Maybe the next time I'm at one of her shows I can do my best to not laugh at all, and then she'll be all "Ooooh, who's that guy over there who's all brooding and mysterious?" Having reviewed that plan a few times in my head, I decided it was brilliant, and wrote it into my "I'm in love with Aisling Bea" notebook for future reference. Next up was the Rubberbandits, and they were an absolute joy. They did an abridged version of 'Up The 'Ra', which sadly didn't contain the line "He had a sword made out of hash sellotaped to the steering wheel of his mother's face", but had a fresh line-up of people who were in the 'Ra (I creased myself laughing when Nelson Muntz got a mention). They also did "Spoiling Ivan" and "Hipster or Hobo" and even though I knew both of those songs inside out, the killer lines still made me laugh out loud. At the end Blind Boy had a long-winded non-rhyming poem about *bortion (I won't mention the 'a' word) which had just the right amount of political sentiment without getting too political.
Now it was time to wander off for food and coffee and then head back to see Dylan Moran. I love Dylan Moran, but had never seen him live. It would be terrible to someday meet the man and say, "Huge fan, watch you on youtube all the time!" As much as I wanted to see him live, there was the trepidation that he might not have it any more. What if seeing him live for the first time was just a massive disappointment? Thankfully he killed it in a way that only Dylan Moran can. His word choice, economy of language, and timing are unparalleled. The true testament of his jokes is that they're very hard to retell. Without the right pauses and inflections they fall completely flat, but when he unleashes them, they have this throwaway quality where every second line is a mic drop moment. Throughout his set I was either in tears laughing, rendered breathless by his lyricism, or both at the same time.
Normally I avoid trying to go to see particular acts at festivals, to just let the weekend happen, but this would be the exception. Mr Scruff was playing in the Red Bull greenhouse that night and I didn't want to miss him. Having seen him the last few times he'd played the Pav in Cork, and come away massively inspired every time, I was not going to miss him here. He is known for being fastidious in his setting up his gear and performing sound checks, but when I interrupted his soundcheck in the Pav one year asking if he'd sign a teapot for me, he was so gracious and gentlemanly about the whole thing. As I walked towards the greenhouse to the sound of some very rich and kicking Afrobeat, I felt a familiar cramping in my gut. The nearest portaloos were way over in the Body and Soul area, so there was no choice but to tramp over there and give Mr. Scruff a miss.
The upshot of this was getting to hear Donal Dineen's set at the earthship stage. He had a small audience, and would frequently pick up the mic to do shout-outs to people he recognised in the crowd. The outstanding quality of his set was its intimacy. He wasn't on stage performing for a crowd, he was taking part in the experience with everyone else. He would gently sway and shuffle along to the music, which ranged from deep house to dub techno with the occasional sprinkling of post-disco. It was marred by frequent pilgrimages to the portaloo on my part, but even though I was hanging out down the back, I still felt a sense of the man's easy presence as it permeated out from the stage. Even though I had been looking forward to dancing to Scruff, hanging out and soaking up Donal Dineen was exactly what I needed.
I woke up Sunday morning not feeling ready to face the day, so I got into the driver's seat, turned on the ignition, the heating, and Lyric fm. I put the seat into full recline, and then the combination of the low rumble of the engine, the gentle classical music with the hushed tones of the DJ, and the dead heat from the fans allowed me to slip and in out of a gentle stupour for god only knows how long. At some point it occurred to me that if this is my idea of bliss, maybe I'm too old to be going to music festivals. This was interrupted by a guy knocking at my window, he'd left his lights on overnight and needed a jump-start. Having been in that exact position far too often of late, I didn't hesitate to sort him out. My good deed for the day was done, and it was such a good deed that I was now entitled to act completely dickishly at least once before the day was out.
It was time to hit the festival, and I needed coffee. Everywhere I went had a long queue, and queuing while needing a caffeine hit is a purgatorial feeling. Sod's law dictates that when you just want a cup of black coffee that takes less than a minute to brew, the eighteen people ahead of you will want ornate flat whites amd will feel obliged to ask the barista a series of questions, when I just want coffee. I bumped into a friend and explained that I couldn't stop to talk, needed to find coffee without a queue. He responded with "Coffee is spelt c-o-f-e-e, so there's no q!" Luckily for him I was too strung-out to point out how retarded his attempt at smartarsery was, and pressed on in my quest instead. Eventually I found a stall with just three people in the queue, and one of them had just been served. Hurrah!
The smell of the beans set the craving off worse than ever, but knowing I was so close to getting it into me took the edge off considerably. The two people ahead of me became just one person ahead of me, but then disaster struck: He was a cheeky chappy who insisted on bantering with the barista. I'm not a patient man, but I have been learning tolerance and whatnot throughout the years. Frequently I'm at the Credit Union, and there's an auld wan ahead of me telling half her life story to the lady behind the counter. As much as I'd like to let rip in that situation, I have to take a few deep breaths and acknowledge that this person is quite lonely and her talking at length in the credit union is one of the few social outlets she has. Other times at Aldi, the person ahead of me in the checkout line is genuinely brain damaged and will take longer than the average person to pay for and bag their shopping. Again, deep breaths and acknowledging that this person's daily life has challenges that I could never imagine.
I tried breathing deeply and to see the world from this guy's point of view, but all I could think of was hurry to fuck up, order what you're ordering, and get out of my way. Finally after much bantering, he decided what he wanted, and ordered. The barista who was not enjoying his humour, just smiling politely to humour him, told him "That will be four euros fifty so". He then reached into his pocket, pulled out a paint-brush, dabbed some paint on his cheek, and then attempted to do the same to the barista. She smiled, leaned back out of his reach, and politely said "No thank you". "Come on, it's just a bit of paint!" (cheeky-cheeky chappy, banter-banter-banter). I'd had enough, this was going on far too long, and he was just acting the ballocks now. I wanted to tap him on the shoulder, and firmly say "She said no, can you just pay and get on with it?" Instead I found myself taking my camera off from around my neck, and repeatedly bashing him on the back of the head until he was a bloody twitching mess on the ground, still clutching onto his paint brush. The barista and the queue that had formed behind me all heaved a collective sigh of relief. "Black coffee, please." "Anything else?" I motioned towards the blood on my shirt, "A few extra napkins also. How much is that?" "You're ok, thanks for that!" I put a euro in the tip jar, and wandered off sipping my coffee as the paramedics and Gardai made their way over.
The highlight of Sunday was the sing-along social on the Body and Soul stage. A lady with a laptop was playing crowd favourites that were inherently sing-along-able. Destiny's Child and Gwen Steffani got the respect they deserve, and when B*witched's "C'est la vie" went into that jigs and reel bit, the crowd spontaneously bust out the Irish dancing moves like the most well executed flash mob in existence. The crowd was overwhelmingly female, and I had not witnessed that many excited young women in one place since that time Penney's gave away a free puppy with every pair of patterned tights. Then came a curve ball: Enya's "Orinoco Flow". The crowd did their best to mumble along in good spirits to the verses, but when the chorus dropped, the audience boomed out "SAIL AWAY! SAIL AWAY! SAIL AWAY!" giving me shivers like I never felt before. I tried taking a few pictures of it, but it was impossible for me the capture the immensity and intensity of the atmosphere there.
Wandering by the comedy tent, I popped in to catch some of Karl Spain. I'd seen him twice before, so some of the jokes were familiar but still funny. He then looked over and saw two Gardai at the side, and started taking the piss out of them. After ripping on them for a few minutes, he turned back to the audience and said "It's alright, they're only Bean Gards, if they go off and get some real Gards, then we're in trouble!" Al Porter and David O'Doherty were on later, so it was my mission to hang around the comedy tent for the evening before driving back to Cork. In need of some food, I went over to a nearby burger place and saw that their piece de resistance was a six ounce burger. Was that more or less than a quarter pounder? If there were twenty eight grams in an ounce, and four bars in a key, and fourteen pounds in a stone, then six ounces is ... ... ... ? I spent about ten minutes standing in front of the server trying to juggle the necessary mental arithmetic to figure out that riddle, when he asked "Are you alright?" I ordered the six ouncer, and resigned myself to eating it without knowing whether it was more or less than a quarter pounder.