Published on June 24th, 2015 | by Eoin Murray0
Body & Soul Festival 2015
Friday afternoon of Body and Soul 2015 saw waves of punters throwing their eyes in every direction while walking around the impressively navigable site. Everywhere you look something else is noticed, be it a person juggling, dancing or performing acrobatics, or another one of the myriad food, drink or craft stalls dotted throughout the place. This sense of wonder and intrigue that opened the festival continued throughout the weekend but from the get-go acted as a reminder that this festival is about far more than the musical line-up. It’s about escape from the norm, from the trajectory that a day is supposed to follow. It’s about being able to wander around a field, into the woods, eating an ice-cream and stopping somewhere like the Pagoda, Reckless in Love or Tree Haus stages for a quick dance only to promptly find someone doing a woodcarving workshop. Other festivals’ focus on big name line-ups and convenient locations, while not necessarily a bad thing, have created a type of blurred line between an actual festival and seeing a bunch of gigs in a big field. Body and Soul on the other hand really has nailed the importance of festivity and wonder that compliments a line-up so well and this is ultimately what makes the three days such a spectacle of joy and celebration for the entire population of the festival, from the toddlers to the veterans.
That is not in any way to say that the music is a secondary factor however and from the very beginning it was plain to see how spoiled for choice we were with regard to the music. Galway’s Grounds for Invasion were one of the first acts to perform in the largely electronic focussed Midnight Circus tent. The act comprised of Willow Sea’s sample based melodies and guitar work, coupled with vocals by Tracy Friel has recently received a refreshing lease of life with the introduction of a live drummer to the mix. This added a powerful energy to their live show that could previously have been said to be a bit lacking. This, alongside the benefit of performing on the stage with easily the most dazzling light shows of the festival made for a terrific introduction to a weekend of music. On the main stage, Dan Deacon (above) fed off a crowd filled with excitement and levity after finally having pitched all their tents and gathered themselves a bit. Throughout the glitchy, uplifting set of electronica Deacon led the crowd into a circular dance-off and split the audience down the middle to form not a metaltastic “Wall of Death” but a more Body and Soul appropriate “Wall of Love” where the colliding sides were to high five each other. Being on of the main stage’s first acts, Dan Deacon acted as the perfect catalyst for the sense of liberation that purveyed the festival. London’s Savages took to the stage with enormous sounding guitars and vocalist Jenny Beth addressing the crowd like a crazed prophet with intensity and scuzzy energy.
As the Friday night progressed so did the music veer on the side of dazzling and galactic with Wicklow’s Leo Drezden taking the intimate and beautifully situated Tree Haus stage by storm at 1am with their combination of psych, math-rock and contemporary jazz. Back at the Midnight Circus, Talaboman controlled the packed tent with euphoric house and disco, Kolsch’s ‘Der Alte’ being a highlight of the set.
Saturday’s weather improved on Friday’s pleasant but cloudy skies, with the risk of sunburn being almost a nice concept when contrasted with the threat of rain. Dublin’s weird and wonderful Meltybrains? opened the musical side of the main stage following Solstice Meditation. A hefty crowd lounged on the grass in front of the stage while the band sound-check but once things get going a substantial number approach the barrier for a dance. A disappointingly short set from the quintet but a fun one nonetheless filled with on stage dancers and a conga line led by drummer Micheál. Cloud Castle Lake were up next with a performance that certainly fit the atmosphere of ‘warming up’ for the hour of the day. Accompanied by live brass, the band’s brand of Radiohead meets Sigur Rós tunes readied the loungers in the grass for music, without giving them too much of an onslaught. Meanwhile, at the Reckless in Love stage Dublin’s Mother club DJ’s provided upbeat disco and house tunes and good cheer, bringing the sunny festive vibes into the woods. The sunnier the day became, the more of that all-important festive feeling that spread throughout. Walking through the walled garden area one could hear little else than laughter, cheers and music while at the Glasshouse cocktail bar Galway’s Tome DJs played the finest disco and house (with some lovely tribal interludes) while queues formed the fine selection of cocktails on offer.
MMOTHS (below) provided one of the biggest surprises for me in the Midnight Circus. Having anticipated a much more ambient, chilled set from the Kildare native, it was surprising to hear a much more beat heavy set verging on the side of Jon Hopkins’ heavy atmospherics this time round. While it did at times veer a little close to incomprehensible distorted noise, MMOTHS certainly provided a lot more movement to a crowd who probably weren’t anticipating it at all. At the Main Stage, Swedish experimental rock group Goat (above) fit the Body and Soul ethos perfectly. With costumes and masks packed with colour, decoration and mystery and music that pulls from every musical spectrum from Stoner and Psych Rock to Tribal drumming the band dazzled the audience with mesmerizing movement and guitar work that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tame Impala record. They bring the festival to the next phase, from a sunny day of uplift and groove to an evening of vast soundscape and colour.
Live techno crafter Clark took over the Midnight Circus at 11 and provided one of the most heavy, intense sets of the weekend, showing off his effortless tempo shifts from slow, brutal tracks to the fast paced energy of tracks like ‘Unfurla’, all to the sight of menacing strobe and flashing red lighting. Waterford based King Kong Company who are gradually becoming the most exciting, special live act in the country right now played their third set of the festival at the Chai Wallahs stage at 00 45 and with their terrific live set up, dancer Trish Murphy with her range of colourful costumes and with the joining in of a friend of the band playing a djembe on the last track ‘I Said Posse’ it’s hard to not get excited. Drummer Mark Graham’s interaction with the audience not only got the full tent more ready to dance without inhibition but also spoke volumes about the importance of appreciating a festival like this one, “This is your night. We’re all getting away with fucking murder, long may it last”.
Berlin based, west of Ireland native Neil Flynn closed the Tree Haus stage with a gorgeous set of melodic deep house that fit perfectly not only for the time of night but the setting itself, ending with a groovy and atmospheric remix of Florence and the Machine’s ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)’. Throughout the set, pole acrobats performed in the middle of the crowd adding to the music that all important wonder and awe that exists at every turn at Body and Soul.
Sunday morning perhaps saw energy levels being drained from the previous days’ activities. Queues formed for showers and overheard whingey conversations gave the impression that maybe we’ve all become a bit too cushy for this sort of thing after all, that maybe that liberation and thrown out inhibition can only last a max of two days. However, that concern dissipates come early afternoon and everyone seems to be back in the zone, ready for another full day of entertainment.
Experimental funk-jazz outfit Tongue Bundle perform to a largely seated audience in the Bulmers Lounge in the early afternoon but put plenty of smiles on faces with between song (and mid-song) banter ranging from quirky to the downright ridiculous while all the while playing tunes that Primus wish they would have written. On the small, beautifully decorated Pagoda Stage there seems to be an emphasis on traditional instrumentation with acts like Alain Servant and Astu Xer providing experimental sounds with mandolins and bagpipes. At the main stage the wonderful SOAK (above) on the back of a very successful tour. Having had reservations about how the Derry native would fair in a festival setting I was pleasantly surprised not only at the confidence she exudes but the sound of the bigger tracks in her set such as ‘B a noBody’ and the gorgeous ‘Sea Creatures’. Mali’s Songhoy Blues provided a level of diversity and charm to the main stage along with gritty guitars and infectious vocal and drum work. At the Pagoda Stage things had become electric once again but remained experimental with Plymouth based Steve Strong and his loop heavy math-rock, closing with cover of a Modeselektor track.
One of the few disappointing performances of the weekend was Matthew E. White (below) on the main stage. Starting 15 minutes late and with the sound being a bit off after a rushed check it was unfortunate that the doubtlessly talented songwriter’s rock meets gospel and soul tunes were dampened, leading to a sparse audience showing little enthusiasm.
As the day progresses the Absolut Tent which had hosted some of the finest house and disco throughout the weekend becomes progressively more rammed while outside it collections of dancers and jugglers keep visual stimulus plentiful. As the night progresses Aerial silk dancers perform to the sounds of Moderat’s ‘A New Error’ leaving those outside the tent completely in awe. In the Midnight Circus the collaboration of Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen as Kiasmos (below) performed to a packed tent of enthusiastic and responsive crowd who obey Arnalds’ every clap signal or demand to put hands in the air. The balance between tender piano and pounding bass and pulse leads to one of the most blissful electronic acts of the weekend.
Nightmares on Wax’s George Evelyn with the accompanied of a bassist, drummer and guest rapper performed to a packed main arena with a mix of hip-hop and slow house. While the music is impressive, there seems to be far more talking than music during the set with Evelyn spending more time talking about the progression of his career than letting the music speak for that progression, not to mention repeated statements suggesting that we are, in fact, Dublin.
Closing the Midnight Circus, Tiga’s live set balanced the heaviness of techno with the stylish, glamorous groove and altered, sultry vocals. Meanwhile, on the main stage, Leftfield’s glorious return was heavy, intense and bright. The closing performances in the woods and in Chai Wallah’s were filled with dance music to fill those who powered through with energy and optimism and sent the festival off with a feeling of warmth and satisfaction.
Ultimately, Body and Soul continues to live up to its reputation as a festival unlike any other. Finding the balance between art installation, music, food, fun, and spectacle is different to get right with most festivals settling on emphasising one. Body and Soul has managed to hit the nail on the head, never leaning too much on the side of either debauched or wholesome, cosmopolitan or crusty, it really is a festival than anyone can embrace wholeheartedly. Judging by the weekend, that is exactly what everyone in attendance did, be they performers, punters or otherwise, all to the backdrop of wonderful music and visual splendour. Long may it last. Eoin Murray