It’s hard to really grasp the scope and scale of Electric Picnic.
In its current incarnation, the festival offers a temporary home to over 60,000+ people throughout the weekend. No two experiences are the same; some are there to party, some to work & others to play. Audiences range from the boujee (& suspiciously clean) glampers to the Joplin massive and outside B&Bers. Every year the ardent few even choose to camp beside the fairground rides in Hendrix, bless their cotton socks.
Pictures, like the one above, may elegantly capture a single moment from an outsiders (in this case bird’s eye) perspective – but it doesn’t do any real justice to witnessing the festival in person. Now, more than ever, the Picnic feels goliath.
Sometimes this contributes to the Festival’s highlight moments, like the rumoured 57,000+ attendance at Billie Eilish on Friday (more on this later) kicking their weekend off – the biggest communal dance-off I’ve ever witnessed.
The size of EP also means the festival offers a veritable feast of attractions to entice its ticketholders. Some sneaky areas, like Granny’s Gaff in the forest and the Ceilí Kitchen in Trailer Park, may not boast the biggest names on the lineups. They serve another function. That of giving Picnic a pinch of idiosyncrasy. Carefully curated, well-loved spots that help ensure the Stradbally pilgrimage is more than just running from one huge tent to another all weekend, checking names to-see off a mental list.
Electric Picnic is more than just a concert, it’s a space to live for a while. The huge range of little delights the festival goes out of its way to provide immensely improves the quality of that living space – even if you only spend 15 or 20 minutes there over the weekend. The details matter and Picnic would only benefit from including more of these nuanced spaces, rather than reaching out for another 10,000 capacity blue and yellow striped tent to house more mid-tier indie acts.
Sometimes the size of Picnic plays against ones’ enjoyment of the weekend. Though the organisers are usually spot on when it comes to crowd control, the increased capacity this year resulted in a couple of uncomfortable squeezes. The hoards leaving the mainstage post-Billie was the worst I came across this weekend, thankfully no one seemed to be hurt but it shook me a little and I have no fear of crowded spaces to begin with.
Obviously the organisers are mindful of this. The fact that the security check was moved out past Salty Dog and Anachronica means a crush like what happened post Dua Lipa last year didn’t happen again this year. This, plus the festival’s seemingly insatiable desire for you to buy drink rather than just have your own, must have been the big contributing factors for that move.
All the same, if Picnic is going to get bigger (it is), the organisers should strongly consider rearranging the layout of the main area. Pushing one of the big stages or tents further out would surely help decentralise crowds. An area like Mindfield could be pushed out too, it suffered from plenty of noise bleed – not great if you’re trying to run a spoken word tent.
That’s the context out of the way with, here are some of our top musical highlights from Electric Picnic 2019.
If there were any questions over the staying power and reputation of rising pop behemoth Billie Eilish, they were all swiftly put to bed. Standing out as an oddity amongst a mostly guitar-driven Friday night main stage line-up, Eilish established herself as having more than enough of the charm and talent needed for a live show that backs up the online hysteria she’s built over the last year. With a bass-heavy set that breathed life into the often minimal production of her studio recordings, Eilish’s set was an energetic head-first jump into some of the catchiest, most likeable pop songs in the charts right now.
Veering between tongue-in-cheek stompers like the huge “Bad Guy” and more heartfelt, earnest moments like “xanny”, she commanded the crowd with impeccable showwomanship. It’s no mean feat for someone her age to draw one of the biggest crowds of Electric Picnic however she seemed completely at ease with that fact as she moved from anthem to anthem with a constantly endearing presence. One of the clear highlights of the weekend from a new pop artist who seems to have the world at her feet.
– Kelly Doherty
The NY group were the finest rock band to grace Stradbally in 2019. Their Sunday evening set was delivered with a cool and collectedness in direct opposition to the hysteria which overtook the mosh-heavy crowd during the gig. I still think their newer material works much better in a live setting, tracks like ‘Total Football’ and ‘Wide Awake’ were belted out with much gusto. For me, ‘Before The Water Gets Too High’ was an absolute highlight, the perfect combination of razor-sharp groove and political outrage.
– Luke Sharkey
One of the bigger hype acts of the weekends, Charli XCX delivered a water-tight bubblegum pop set to the Electric Arena with inimitable confidence and style. The London performer has been teetering on the edge of major pop notoriety for quite some time now and her shiny but substantial sound bears all of the signs of an artist about to blow up.
Infectious hook after hook lead to a constant shout-along from the crowd and the good-time girl aesthetic that Charli XCX embodied resulted in the show coming across like a huge house party where everyone knew and loved each other. A guest appearance from a rushing Christine and the Queens (who thought it was a good idea for their shows to overlap?) brought an extra dynamic to recent pop stomper “Gone” and Charli’s accessible packaging of club music lead to one of the best atmospheres of the festival. Charli’s performance was big, it was enthralling and it left everyone smiling.
– Kelly Doherty
Friday night at the Anachronica has never sounded better. The Irish selector rose to the very auspicious occasion with a combination of no-frills, pulsating techno and off-the-wall 140 BPM+ alternative club music. Think pitched vocals and impossibly intricate kick patterns set to the splayed lasers which cut the surrounding foliage in halves. Finishing with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was a stroke of genius. The right booking for the right time and place.
– Luke Sharkey
The award to the most rock’n’roll show of the festival goes to … the most vintage rock’n’roll band on the lineup. The Strokes never really split up in the traditional sense but the quintessential New York noughties guitar band have been less of an influence on music since their debut 2001 record Is This It was hailed as a universal classic. Time past has given us a distant lens in which to savour a Strokes show in 2019. No one expects the band to save music or define the zeitgeist so nostalgia is the dominating factor of their headline Picnic set.
It’s a set of two distinct narratives. On the one hand Albert Hammond Jr., Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture and Fab Moretti’s playing is as tight and as polished as they’ve ever been and a setlist taken from the album’s best and first three albums is filled with classic songs – ‘The Modern Age’, ‘You Only Live Once’, ‘New York City Cops’, ‘Soma’ and ‘Hard to Explain’ sound as good as they’ve ever been live.
On the other hand, Mr Julian Casablancas threatened to derail the entire performance with between-song chatter that suggested he didn’t want to be there – how many times can the singer say ‘I don’t care’ before launching into the next song before you start to wonder? Perhaps it was the wine before the dinner, perhaps it was a lack of care that lead to Casablancas goading the rest of the band into silence and awkwardness (he asked Albert to read poetry at one point and the looks on stage were excruciating ) or low-key berating the festival experience. “I’m sorry I don’t speak festival,” he quips in response to the obligatory Olé Olé chant which prompts an improvised hoe-down by the band we could do without.
Casablancas’ vocals during the songs (save for forgetting the words to ‘Someday’) is perfection so his demeanour adds an entertaining old-school rock’n’roll edge to the performance and perhaps that oafishness contributed to a low-energy crowd for the set. When Casabalancas walks off at one point, it’s unclear if he is coming back such was the level of nonchalance on display. But, the band get through it, and The Strokes sounds as good as they ever have, or will. By the time they play ‘Last Nite’, Casablancas’ antics have ratted us so much, that encore felt anything but a foregone conclusion but a worthy Saturday night closer.
– Niall Byrne
Dublin rapper Nealo has been establishing himself as one of the foremost talents in Irish hip-hop over recent months and his Saturday afternoon slot at the Salty Dog was no exception to that trajectory. His mellow bars and cheery stage presence made for the perfect recovery set from the night before and displayed a remarkable level of confidence and polish for someone who’s been releasing hip-hop for a relatively short amount of time.
Bolstered by guest features including a great turn out from Nuxsense’s Jehnova, the performance delivered a well-needed shot of Irish hip-hop talent to the Electric Picnic line-up. New single ‘Angel On My Shoulder’ was a set highlight and showcased how infectious and instantly agreeable Nealo’s material is. It would be a huge surprise if he isn’t on a much bigger stage this time next year.
– Kelly Doherty
Despite battling with sound issues at the Rankin Woods, Mitski delivered a highly stylised set complete with dance moves that showcased core strength I could only dream of as well as a back catalogue built of highlights. Mitski’s live approach has come a long way from fulfilling the role of sad but scrappy indie rocker as the polished precision of her choreography and her more recent sensuous guitar-pop ballads made her an artist suited to a far bigger stage than she had been granted.
Fan favourites ‘Nobody’ and ‘Your Best American Girl’ whipped up huge singalongs from the relatively small crowd, however, Mitski’s overall stage presence as an individual was the real highlight of the show as the intensity and dedication to a stage persona that she displayed entranced the audience and made the noisy world outside disappear for a little while.
– Kelly Doherty
The New Ross man steps up and delivers a soulful 45 minutes under the canopies of Rankins Woods. A much needed pick me up of a Sunday afternoon. Sabre seems at home on stage, fronting a band who craftily interpret the many sounds and styles which have helped makeup Sabre’s discography. It was an intimate, heart-warming affair. Sabre delivers his vocals like he’s singing to a crowd of mates at a party. The fact that so many of his lines were echoed right back at him only further drove home the point.
– Luke Sharkey
I was pretty undecided on English group Metronomy headed into their Saturday evening gig. I knew the hits, but quietly had doubts about whether a long-form play through of their discography would offer more than a singalong to ‘The Look’. I was wrong. Metronomy were the real deal, dishing out one synth-driven electronic indie gem after another. Obvious hits aside, the group’s new material sounded superb live. I left genuinely excited to discover their new LP, if the singles should lead to one. That’s a job well done and one cynic put back into his place.
– Luke Sharkey
Florence & The Machine
Florence and the Machine is an Electric Picnic tradition and it’s easy to see why. With a catalogue of made-for-festival anthems spanning a dynamic range of tastes and influences, Florence Welsh has something for every music fan. Littered with speeches about toxic masculinity and escaping the trappings of modern technology, Florence’s set fell straight into the category of ‘life-affirming festival moment’. Whilst cuts from her most recent album High As Hope received a luke-warm response at times, they showcased her at her most sincere and unguarded, eschewing metaphor for honest experience and delivered with a gripping intensity.
It’s a remarkable ability of Welsch’s to reliably come across as the slightly nervous but surprisingly talented frontwoman of a local act despite the sheer level of her fame and popularity but this wide-eyed delivery of hers makes her live shows feel like being a part of something special. The masses of fans hugging each other and screaming every lyric whilst she twirls and bounces across the stage is a real testament to the power of her music. This set marked the end of an era for Florence and the Machine as the last show on their current album cycle and the euphoric and emotional end of another Electric Picnic.
– Kelly Doherty
Mango X Mathman
The Dublin MC and producer duo Mango and Mathman have been teasing a debut album Casual Work for a long time now so their late-night set at the Body&Soul main stage is the perfect opportunity to see where they are headed. In a few short years, the pair have gone from performing on a satellite stage in Trenchtown to a main draw and it’s easy to hear why.
Grime and rave-inflected high-energy rap tracks paired with colloquial lyrics and buckets of energy, this is a siren call for a mosh and they deliver, tops off and all. The next evening, the pair were dishing out happy hardcore classics while DJing on the Heineken stage, keeping the rave going across the weekend.
– Niall Byrne
Irish pop-electronica experimentalist Æ Mak brought her angular but bouncy sounds to the Body & Soul main stage for a riot of a set. Starting with a relatively small crowd she pulled in the masses through an impressive vocal performance and her curious take on pop music. A recent spat of festival slots across Ireland and the UK seem to have done her well as each song was delivered with tight precision and a presentation that brought her on a par with any number of the international electro-pop artists that played across the weekend. Closer ‘I Can Feel It In My Bones’ ended the show on a euphoric note and left the audience wanting even more from this pop star in the making.
– Kelly Doherty