A broke Ciaran Breslin reviews the experience of volunteering at Ireland’s fastest growing music festival.
The week before I left to go to camping for four days in Westmeath, cialis with the call-centre where I was working offering less and less hours with each coming week, I bit the bullet and decided to apply for Jobseekers Allowance. It seemed to be a straightforward enough process, but crucially a lengthy one. The upshot of the welfare office’s refusal to just hand me a load of money as soon as I walked in without gainful employment was that I definitely could not afford €139 to go to Body and Soul. I could however, like around a hundred other people, volunteer and go for free. So this isn’t really a review of actually going to a festival so much as a review of getting involved in one, of seeing a bit more of what’s behind the scenes and of the overall experience of volunteering …. and also in fairness, going to it.
The way it worked was that we had to do 14 hours work over the course of the three days, split into two 7 hour shifts. You could request to work with your friends you were volunteering with, which they facilitated magnanimously. You could also include a wish-list of bands you definitely didn’t want to miss, which they largely ignored. The ‘work’ for the most part was barely worthy of being called that. Basically we were assigned an area to wander around in high-vis jackets so people could ask us questions which we almost never knew the answer to. We also had to go down and camp a day earlier to be shown around the site, which really just meant an extra days craic. Finally, we had access to hot water, tea and coffee and some other kind of backstage areas and campsites, and got a sweet discount on the noodle stall.
Now I had never been to Body and Soul before, although I had been to its smaller, buzzing microcosm in Electric Picnic, and it’s probably the best festival I’ve been to. I’m always skeptical when people say things like “It’s not about the music” or “there’s so much cool stuff going on you wouldn’t expect”. I thought it sounded like a faintly ridiculous and possibly pretentious way to describe what is ostensibly a popular music festival. But I have to say, and this is from someone who spent the last few weeks digging out Let Love In and Murder Ballads for the first time in a few years and then missed all of Nick Cave, it’s not about the music and there’s loads of cool stuff going on you wouldn’t expect. Half of the festival, the bits that aren’t the two big stages, is buried in a forest. And not like, an open sort of woodland or whatever, but a really thick, mazy forest. It’s all ethereal wind-chimes hanging from big oak trees and fluorescent lights twinkling in distant glades. All these little ramshackle stages seem to loom and subside out of the trees with brilliant and varied music on until the early hours of the morning. It seems like a cliché but the otherworldliness of the whole place just envelopes you: reality couldn’t seem further away.
As I said, music does take a back seat to the overall vibe, but that’s not to say that the music there wasn’t fantastic. In fact, while maybe not the most accessible, it’s probably the freshest line-up in an Irish festival this year. Kicking off Friday night James Murphy spun classic cowbell-chiming DFA disco beats to a packed-out circus tent, complete with a cocktail bar at the back. The wedged big-top cheered good-naturedly as he apologised for messing up on some beat-matching before dropping This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads to spark a frenzied singalong of the “whooo-ooahh” bit. Retreating to the forest, the brilliantly cheesy Mother DJs from Dublin brought Friday to a close on the Reckless in Love stage. Saturday saw me working in the big circus tent where Mmoths were the undoubted highlight. I’d never seen them with a live band before and it added a new dimension to the vibrating electronics, with a (definitely superior to Cyril Hahn) version of Say My Name being particularly special. There was also a full scale acrobatic performance on each night in the tent, which saw hundreds of spaced out festival go-ers gazing skyward in awe as performers writhed around in mid-air. Before George Fitzgerald’s dance-beats played the tent to a close, I caught around fifteen minutes of Kurt Vile, wildly flailing his hair through the wind and rain on the Main Stage, which looked excellent, if a far cry from his sun soaked and laid back solo album this year. Heartbreakingly, I did miss both Nick Cave and Fuck Buttons, the first of who (I was told afterwards) raged against the elements brilliantly, howling into the rain that swirled around on Saturday. Sunday saw Solange give an spirited Main Stage performance, descending into the crowd on a few occasions and leading everyone in a joyful rendition of Losing You. I also missed PiL for god knows what reason, saw a bit of Jon Hopkins before finishing in the Main Stage for Nicolas Jaar, who was definitely the highlight of the entire thing.
Standing in the throng at the front at around 1am on Sunday night, as smoke poured from the stage where Nico stood, you could look back up the hill at all the shadowy figures dotted around the mainstage area, half deserted as so many people had headed for the woods (or bed) already, while the characteristic down-tempo beats washed over the swooning crowd. Heavy on cuts from his addictively good debut album last year, and punctuated by glints of recognition from samples (Wild Belle at one point I think), it was probably the best DJ performance I’ve ever seen. As someone said to me afterwards, it really makes you appreciate the delicacy and skill of genuinely talented electronic musicians, as opposed to the resident DJs everyone is used to in the House nights around Dublin or whatever. The polarity was visceral and arresting and as much as I enjoy that kind of music and those clubnights, Hidden Agenda DJs this was not. As he finished with Space is Only Noise if You Can See, the abstract lyrics and dense disconnected mood seemed to perfectly encapsulate the whole isolated atmosphere of the festival.
“You used to look at time and then you stopped that, what happens all the time, it happens all the time” Nico intoned over the samples as the crowd swayed, a million miles from where we would be this time tomorrow, back in reality.
A couple of days before I went to the festival, I actually got offered a job that they said I could start the following week. So my jaunt in social welfare never really got off the ground. In fact on Monday morning, wrestling with a pop-up tent filled with empty contact lens-boxes that refused to pop down, I got a phone call telling me I was starting the next day. There’s not enough well ironed shirts in the world that could have improved the subdued impression I made in the office on Tuesday morning after four days at Body and Soul. Sitting in front of the computer at my desk in the Logistics company I was working for, hoping no-one asked me what Logistics was, my fried head kept wandering back to the previous few days and the little bubble that they were frozen in.
Even when I met people I knew over the course of the weekend, it seemed a bit like we looked at each other in a way we never had before. We’re in here, and everyone else is out there. That’s what the best festivals create. And volunteering just concentrates that spirit even more, makes you feel more of a component part of the whole. So I would definitely suggest you go and register to volunteer at EP if you don’t have a ticket. Hopefully I won’t need to now I’m in the thriving logistics sector. But it’s only 8 weeks away. And Longitude is even closer if you can manage both. See ya there.
~ Ciaran Breslin