Feeling more like Funderland with a few headliners on top, Electric Picnic has changed massively since its debut in 2004. Stuck somewhere between trying to appeal to its original audience - people that wore ROAD cords with chequered Vans at some point - and entertaining the biggest demographic of EP, who were mostly born after the 1994 World Cup, there’s a disconnect between what it used to be and what it needs to become.
As I went to bed at 4am on the last night of Electric Picnic, my voice gone and my rain coat no longer able to hold the soakage, I ran into my 21-year-old, male cousin who was still in full swing. Having hugely enjoyed myself for the two nights I lived in a field and didn’t shower, I was happy to pass on the baton to him and his friends for this field… this field is no longer mine; it’s theirs. Watching Garbage on the main stage at 5pm on Sunday, their first time to play Ireland in 20 years, and observing the half empty crowd, my field theory was proved correct. While the weather was an issue on Sunday - the rain began as soon as Shirley Manson started singing Only Happy When It Rains - this iconic 90s band shouldn’t have been on the main stage because their people weren’t at the festival at all. They were at home, playing down the FOMO by guzzling a bottle of Shiraz.
Hashtag spon con stages are taking over
Overhearing snippets of conversations all weekend long, Irish daytime radio bands like The Coronas, Picture This and Walking on Cars were highlights for the majority because safe music is the current reigning king of the charts. One security guard told me that “The Coronas gave all they got but Massive Attack were… what’s the word? Pretentious”. Jesus wept. Even though safe music is taking over, pockets of the festival are doing all they can to promote hip-hop, pop, R&B artists and incredible Irish acts like Wyvern Lingo, Kojaque, Saint Sister and Mango X Mathman. These acts are deservedly getting bigger stages and drawing in committed audiences and this must continue. However, acts like Garbage, Massive Attack and even St. Vincent, whose set wasn’t nearly attended by enough people, would be more suited to festivals that are markedly aimed at an older audience or playing intimate gigs in smaller venues that don’t require an overnight stay in a field.
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Walking from the Body & Soul area to the main stage, the music playing in some of the tents feels incidental and the hashtag spon con stages are taking over. Tents like the Electric Arena and Rankin’s Wood are tucked away from the maddening crowd, overshadowed by the bright lights and massive sound systems from the Heineken Live Your Music Stage, the vaping brand Logic’s makeshift nightclub, Three Ireland’s Made by Music stage and Just Eat’s dining and dancing area, which all had massive and consistent crowds throughout the weekend. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the diminishing night club scene in Ireland and festivals are one of the few spots that can guarantee good late night techno, house, electro, hip-hop and pop music, whether you’re dancing to a social media DJ at a burger van or losing your mind to Kendrick Lamar on the main stage.
Greener lifestyle choices
In the days following Electric Picnic, there was uproar over the waste left behind in the fields of Stradbally, with an estimated 10 kilos of waste left behind per person. In the age where going green is completely en vogue (and kinda sexy, let’s be real) and Keep Cups are an essential item, it’s a shame that what’s pitched as Ireland’s biggest arts event seems to be falling behind with recycling when we’re all moving forward. Even though the festival offers an Eco Campsite and runs a deposit-based system where you get money back if you return single-use plastic bottles and cups to the dedicated refund points, it evidently did not prevent all the waste building up. Where Electric Picnic failed, other festivals have found easier ways to cut back on waste, matching our own greener lifestyle choices that we practice at home.
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Body & Soul’s Food on Board area cut back on waste by composting all food waste on site and serving food on a wooden board that you return once you’re finished eating so they can be washed and then reused. The new festival on the block, Waterford’s All Together Now, had 100% compostable packaging at all of the food stalls, enforced a full ban on plastic bottles and sold recyclable cardboard cartons for drinking water. Another Love Story in Co. Meath, one of the country’s smallest but best festivals, sold O'Hara's reusable steel pint cups for €10 at the the bar, cutting back on plastic pint cups and promising to keep your drink colder for longer. With these three festivals promoting greener living and providing easy-to-use services, we didn’t have to go to great lengths to be our best selves.
Seeing the rubbish on the ground and Garbage onstage, it’s clear that Electric Picnic is having a generational crisis; not quite ready to let go of us elders and underprepared for the young ‘uns. It’s no longer the boutique arts and music festival it once was so instead of looking back at what worked in 2004 or 2012, the festival has to look at what works now and it has to look to other festivals to see how to improve with waste and recycling. It’s close to impossible to entertain the two groups equally but it seems like the Picnic is reluctant to fully accept the festival its audience wants it to be. If the Picnic wants to move at the same pace as its now younger audience, it has to make some big changes if it wants to keep up.