Stevie G: Picnic changed but still Electric

Stevie G gives his verdict on Electric Picnic in his weekly Downtown column
Stevie G: Picnic changed but still Electric

Billie Eilish: Among the new pop crop who pulled in a stellar crowd last weekend in Stradbally.

The Electric Picnic gets bigger and bigger each year and on Sunday Festival Republic supremo Melvin Benn announced that there are plans to expand it further next year, taking the capacity to very close to 60,000 people. It’s now a lot closer in spirit to what Oxegen was, in those early years when Electric Picnic was the so-called coolest festival in the calendar.

John Reynolds, who started this festival in 2004, sadly passed away last October, but not before his newly created All Together Now Festival showed many that there is life after the Electric Picnic, for those looking for a pretty big festival and a nice mix of music, food, and arts. There seems to be a yearning among many of those who first frequented the festival, for EP to get back to its roots, but the reality is that ship sailed many years ago. The music industry is full of nostalgia and people always want things the way they used to be when they were younger but ironically many of the fundamentals of EP’s first day played on this nostalgia too.

Its line-up was always a mixture of older acts and cutting edge ones, and many of the most iconic gigs at EP over the years were from experienced artists such as Chic, Grace Jones, My Bloody Valentine, and Kraftwerk. It was the ideal place for older artists off the radar to rejuvenate their careers, and while it was also a great place for breaking acts, as the years went on, Electric Picnic always had a fair slice of nostalgia on the bill. Reynolds and co had long since left control of the Electric Picnic to others and while Festival Republic and others helped stabilise the EP and grow numbers, there can be no doubt that it lost a lot of its charm along the way.

In recent years the Picnic has become a huge juggernaut and the main arena in particular can become almost unbearable at times, such is the eagerness to pack as many brands into an already clogged up area. Heineken, Red Bull, Bacardi, and others have traditionally been supporting lots of underground music for many years, but the Picnic is so fashionable now that everyone wants a piece of the action, and some are not even pretending to put an effort into it.

There are areas where piped music is the order of the day, and there’s so much jostling for space that the sound regularly bleeds from one area to the next. The numbers go up, and the promoters make more money, while tickets sell out even before the line-up drops.

The music policy has changed but if you look around you will find no shortage of upcoming obscure acts that are being platformed excellently by such a high profile festival. Pop acts have helped boost the numbers substantially, though when it’s someone who is bringing a genuine freshness to things, like Billie Eilish, it’s hard to complain. I still enjoy DJing there every year, though I very much doubt I’d go and pay that money for a ticket these days as the overall line-up can be underwhelming at times, particularly this year.

In fairness, as you get out of the main arena, there are still loads to discover. The addition of Freetown and an amazing section of South American food and music was terrific, and the huge Terminus stage was pretty cool too, bringing people out of the main arena and through the woods, thus helping arenas such as Trenchtown too.

Minefield and other areas continue to offer different strands of arts, music and culture and even in the main arena there was a cool winter themed arena that was both high on novelty and originality. Electric Picnic is gonna be with us for quite some time yet and for a festival with such huge numbers, it remains pretty accessible and with pretty good traffic management overall.

This was the one area where All Together Now had issues this year, but they are a young festival and in time they’ll get that sorted.

John Reynolds’ vision for EP is very evident in All Together Now, but the Electric Picnic remains the biggest festival in Ireland these days, and it attracts vast numbers of people of all ages. It’s a long way from 2004 but in 2019 things have changed, and survival alone is a an impressive feat for a festival.

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