Already feeling sentimental about this year’s Body&Soul?
You couldn’t be blamed. 2018 saw a weekend full of fantastic music, laughs and eager festival goers descend upon Ballinalough Castle. The weather wasn’t half bad either. Whether you were soaking in the conversation and Stockholm Mules at the Absolut Bar, devouring all of the sustainable eats at Food On Board (shout out the mega McNally’s toasties, the Rayu rice bowl and Root and Bone for coffee) or learning more about yourself and your neighbours at the Veuve Clicquot Sparkling Conversations tent or the considered conversations at Wonderlust about the future of men, sea swimming and engaging conversation with authors like Louise O’Neill, there was plenty on offer to satisfy the huge variety of people and tastes who attended this year’s festival. Hey, even Leo Varadkar showed up for a bit.
After three days and nights of wonderful music, people and plenty of sunscreen we thought we’d give you the run down on the Nialler9 Body & Soul 2018 festival highlights. There was plenty of other highlights not mentioned here of course and some disappointments (Arca’s set was particularly divisive with some hailing it as visionary and others, including Niall thinking that the set’s unsettling visuals and music were let down by Arca’s nonsensical vocals) but here’s the ten we deemed worthy of inclusion.
Jon Hopkins’ Saturday night headline performance came with an air of expectation. I’d heard plenty of people talking excitedly about it and I felt the same. Getting down good and early awarded me a place at the barrier, one of the smartest investments of time I made all weekend. Trying to stay in the one position while the bass pressed against my chest was like fighting against a snowstorm, but it made the gig all the more enjoyable.
Much of the early set consisted of material from Hopkin’s latest release ‘Singularity’, including an electrifying rendition of ‘Neon Pattern Drum’, the pulsing bassline of which inspired the largest single cheer from the main stage all weekend. The hypnotic light show which accompanied the show adds a sense dynamism, enunciating both the peaks and troughs of Hopkin’s expressive electronic music perfectly. Some walk off into the night rubbing their eyes, unsure of what they’ve just seen and heard. These are the first time listeners. Most simply walk off toward the forest smiling, the glint of an strong adrenaline shot in their eyes. – Luke
I knew going into Body&Soul this year that Reykjavíkurdætur (Daughters of Reykjavik), the all-female Icelandic rap group would be among my highlights. Why? Because when they played at Airwaves three years ago, I went to see them three times. Why? What you lack in understanding Icelandic lyrics is made up by their mere presence. A Reykjavíkurdætur show is akin to witnessing a supergroup of fierce women (this one featured nine in total on stage) with brash self-confidence, individual style and distinct flows own a stage collectively for nearly an hour. Due to the nature of their collective featuring anything up to 16 rappers, a RVKDTR live show outside of their homeland is a rare occurrence so kudos to Body&Soul’s bookers for going to the extra effort to bring these powerhouses to Ireland. – Nialler9
Those darling Body & Soulers who managed to drag their weary bones to the Midnight Circus on Sunday evening to catch Shame were witness to one of the standout of sets of the weekend. While a few slightly green faces seemed to balk at the prospect of a mosh-heavy punk band at the beginning of the set, the pure energy the young British group radiate is near impossible to resist. New listeners were enamoured with how the group seamlessly blended elements of punk, post-punk and shoegaze while long time fans were treated to a healthy dose of impressive new material. Lead singer and frontman Eddie Green, who appears to have just walked off the set of Trainspotting, warns the crowd not to take ourselves too seriously and asks anyone who’s not enjoying themselves to leave. No one does. Set highlights include ‘The Lick’ and ‘One Rizla’, the both of which finish to thunderous applause. Those who were skeptical at the start of the set left bolstered, feeling ready for whatever else Sunday might throw at them. Shout out to the gentleman who managed to sleep through the entire performance in the corner of the tent. – Luke
Baxter Dury’s Saturday main stage performance was nothing short of electric, even if the circumstances surrounding it warned that it might not be. For one, the sun was still teetering above the horizon and many were feeling too sun baked to risk standing around in the open field around the main stage. Not that this seemed to matter to mister Dury, instead it looks like it spurred him on.
The group, dressed in 80s nightclubbing outfits, take to the stage and launch into ‘Cocaine Man’. Dury himself looms like a spectre in the centre of the stage, all bravado and smug grins. The band are the definition of tight, with each groove-laced track being performed perfectly. A special thanks must be given to the two touring synth players and backing vocalists in the band, whose clear harmonies offer the sweetest contrast to Dury’s own raspy vocal lines. By the time the band launch into ‘Margo’, the version of which they perform is dazzling, there’s the sound of the crowd carrying the chorus. Not even the risk of heat stroke could keep people away. – Luke
The festival this year gave curatorial rein of the main stage on the Friday over to Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer. Having just released their first album in 8 years in Plunge, the Swedish’s own set was much anticipated and didn’t disappoint. As the album Plunge explores sexual dynamics, a rejection of norms, queerness and feminism and live, it feels like those themes are writ large with an all-female band, writhing and caressing each other between verses while wearing outlandish cartoonish costumes. Dreijer’s voice remains a wholly unique and idiosyncratic instrument, cutting through the night air at the main stage in ways that few singers can. Backed by a band who are equally comfortable playing instruments as they are dancing and, Fever Ray MK II is a long way from its atmospheric beginnings and older songs like When I Grow Up are retooled into The Knife-esque bright electro-pop of the artist’s current era. – Nialler9
Recognising perhaps that his live show is one that has been around many a venue of Ireland at least once, Daithí O’Dronai has enlisted the help of some players from Talos and serial collaborator Sinead White to present his music in a fresh context for the festival set. And while there were unfortunate laptop meltdowns (overheating caused by the amazing weather believe it or not), this new live show breathed a fresh air into familiar songs like Falling For You, Love’s On Top and Mary Keane’s Introduction by fleshing out these electronic pop productions with drums, percussion, guitar and Daithí’s trademark fiddle. Singer Sinead White shines in the lead role. White is one of the best new voices that this country has produced in the last 10 years and Daithí’s bright pop tones are a perfect fit for her powerful live voice. Look out for another live band show from Daithí. – Nialler9
OK OK. So my wife Aoife McElwain is the person behind Sing Along Social, the singing party based on getting people together to sing pop hits old and new so I’m a little biased here. But there was at least 3,000 people who agreed with me about the appeal of Sing Along Social on the Sunday evening at the Woodlands stage (and the Absolut stage on Friday for a disco classics set) and it’s east to see why. It’s an easy concept to grasp – hit play and see what happens. Permission is granted for the crowd to sing along and they bellow to songs like Robyn ‘Dancing On My Own’, Sigrid ’Strangers’, Pointer Sisters’ ‘Jump’, John Farnham’s ‘The Voice’, The 1990 World Cup song ‘Put Em Under Pressure’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. There are inflatables, lyric cards, confetti cannons, an appearance from Miggeldy Higgins and crowdsurfing galore. Sing Along Social, as their stage backdrop spelled out, is craic personified in a pure pop party, a release and celebration of collective buzz and the restorative power of singing en masse (good singer or bad) that has the power to rejuvenate tired Sunday festival heads and voices.
There’s a strong case to be made for Arbutus Yarns as the best stage at Body&Soul. It’s the perfect place to soak up some shade, have a chinwag and catch some inspiring Irish music. Having already seen Wexford duo The Ocelots before, there was a strong hunch their Sunday afternoon set would be well worth heading to. Apparently plenty of festival goers thought the same too. They begin at 2 o’clock to an eager gathering. The band, made up of identical twins Ashely and Brandon Watson, share an easy chemistry and vocal range. Playing material mostly from their 2017 EP Till We Get There , the two brothers’ brand of upbeat folk Americana has all in attendance swooning. Barring a few small tuning issues (always bring a tuner) the Ocelots’ set confirms that the group are worth all the hype which they’ve been building over the past couple of years. – Luke
Mano Le Tough
Those ravers who saw Mano Le Tough’s mammoth 10 hour B2B set as part of the Maeve takeover on Sunday at Reckless In Love were treated to a full day of superb house and techno gems. With plenty of help provided courtesy of fresh faced Sunday day goers, the entire stage area was packed with happy people all day and all of the night. Performing with fellow DJs and Maeve label heads Baikal, The Drifter and Lil’ Dave, Le Tough and co. captured the magic around Ballinlough festival perfectly.
While the daytime saw a preference to disco and house cuts, the sunset brought with it the creative and daring style of techno Le Tough has become notorious for championing. The set highlight has to be Le Tough’s brand new remix of Eagles & Butterflies ‘Last Dance’, the airy synths and pitched percussion of which had the crowd feeling genuinely nostalgic before the festival had even ended. – Luke
Mango X Mathman
Stalwarts of the Dublin grime scene, Mango X Mathman’s Friday evening set at the Woodlands stage was proof that the pair are very much the definite article. The set up is simple enough, take some Grime and UK Garage beats with a classic twist and put a superbly talented MC over them. Yet the results, when the pair get into a flow state, are astonishing. Mango’s frontmanship is unparalleled in the Irish scene. His musings on the stereotypical South vs. North Dublin divide are much funnier than 90% of anything you might hear passing the comedy tent over the weekend.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty of performing, the pair excel. ‘North/South’ goes down an absolute treat, with Mango appearing to be little more than a blur on stage. The opening bars of ‘What Are You Sayin’?’ provoke the first moments of real festival wildness. Mango’s flow rips through the dense mix while a mosh pit nine-people wide opens up immediately centre stage. Once the dust settles, crowds walk off arm in arm, wide eyed and ready for the weekend ahead of them. – Luke
Photos: Allen Kiely / GIFS: Grayce Leonard.