The 12th Annual Electric Picnic Music and Arts Festival proved, once again, that our Island is truly the greatest place to party. A veritable feast for the senses was on offer to the 50,000 picnickers who came from all around the country, and some from across the water, for three powerfully eclectic days – absorbing sounds, exquisite visuals, buzzed up festival goers, charismatic entertainers and some delectable grub, all cradled in the lush environs of Stradbally Estate, Co Laois.

With over 25 areas to be enthralled by, the only disappointing element of ‘The Picnic’ was the three short days we got to explore such a mammoth landscape of amusement – that, and the obligatory stench from the jacks, the painfully long queues, and overpriced booze! But that’s to be expected. Everything else was pure, unadulterated magic, mayhem, and madness.

Image: Justyn Keilbowicz

On Friday evening, with bevvies in hand, we headed to the viewing deck at the 3 Penthouse to catch Ham Sandwich, who kicked things off perfectly. The sun popped his head out from behind the clouds as a sea of Sandwich lovers flocked to the Main Stage, giving Niamh and the lads an electric welcome – a welcome that was lovingly received by the band. Niamh thanked the organisers for giving them the Main Stage slot and encouraged the audience to, “Enjoy your weekend and look after one another.” It’s always fantastic to see an act really enjoy their onstage moments, and as Niamh quipped, “I can’t stop smiling…my face hurts.”

Friday night also saw the enigmatic powerhouse that is Grace Jones take over the Main Stage. The Jamaican-born legend performed with trademark theatricality, donned in tribal body paint, suggesting we, “Party like we’re in Studio 54.”

Image: Jamie Tanner

A meander around the ground’s sights and sounds led to Despacio – an immersive, highly atmospheric, vinyl-generated sound system collaboratively created by LCD Soundsytem’s James Murphy and Stephen & David Dewaeka (2 Many DJs). We certainly bopped till we dropped in that gaf! Then it was back to check out Underworld and off to the Rave in the Woods to finish up Friday night/Saturday Morning.

Saturday Morning, there was one word on everyone’s lips – Blur (like, last night is a total f***ing blur and I’m totally psyched to see Blur!) But before Alburn and his cohorts were ready to headline Day two, picnickers wandered here, there, and everywhere to soak up more of the action.

The Electric Sideshow – hosted by the perpetually dapper Jerry Fish – offered spectators a big juicy platter of quirk: Belly dancing beauties, body bending acro-yoga, sultry pole dancing, and of course, music from the likes of: R.S.A.G, Fight Like Apes, Sultans of Ping, and Mick Flannery.

CASA Bacardi, a prohibition inspired party like nothing we’ve seen before: Incredible spinners on the decks, more Mojitos than we care to remember (or can’t remember), hours of ass-shaking revellers, and the actual stage – a replica of the Edifico BACARDI – Bacardi’s Cuban HQ. By day and by night, this rum lover’s paradise was literally hopping with the sounds of Joey Negro, Ghostboy, The Reflex, and Billy Scurry, ending up as one of the busiest spots on site.

Back at the Main Stage, new boys on the block, Gorge Ezra and Sam Smith somewhat disappointed a few festival goers with a few too many slow numbers. Although it must be said, those guys have enviable, old-soul-style voices that are sure to keep their careers burning for years to come.  Hot Chip and Blur who – according to many overheard convos were the weekend’s highlights – stormed the stage with gusto, energy, and a whole pile of hits that had the crowd singing along to no end, mimicking Alburn’s cockney brogue for favourites including: Park Life, Boys and Girls, The Universal and There’s No Other Way. Fans were thrilled to hear the British lead man is 11% Irish, “because I did a test”, and the fact that they were at a loose end after the gig looking for a good time, with the audience suggesting, “Go to Galway” (keep your eyes peeled Galwegians).

The hair-of-the-dog was on the menu for Sunday afternoon, along with some treats available from the impressive array of food vendors: Sweet and savoury crepes, spicy Mexican nachos, meaty gourmet burgers, organic delights in Natasha’s Living Food Emporium, and of course, good old fashioned chips! With full bellies and some craft beers from The Beer Frontier, tunes became, once again, the main focus. Sunday was a musical extravaganza: thumping beats and inspiring words of freedom and liberation from Jurassic 5, while Jape and Django Django filled the Electric Arena with awesomness, all followed by a truly beautiful, intimate and mesmerising set from Villagers. Front-man, Conor O’Brien was joined onstage by a Harpist, and a double bass for tracks from the critically acclaimed Darling Arithmetic. O’Brien asked fans to sit on the ground and have a hug, while he belted out Hot Scary Summer, dedicated to all those who “voted for love” – a touching moment that illustrated O’Brien’s humbled and gentle disposition.

Sunday was a day of clashing, only catching the last song from UK alt-pop’s FKA Twigs, who – according to the two lovely ladies at the entrance of the Electric Arena, “was incredible”. The Twigs shaped hole in our lives was more than filled with the act everyone had been waiting for, Florence + the Machine.

It goes without saying, she didn’t disappoint. Decked out in a blue and white jumpsuit teamed with her signature flowing red locks, Flo had appreciation written all across her porcelain face: “I’m so happy to back in here. Ireland was really one of the first places that really embraced us…now who wants to get high with me?” And get high we did Ms Welch, thanks to a rousing set of hits, some seriously powerful stage presence, primal dancing and, what is to be, a legendary, timeless voice. One word: incredible. A hop a skip and jump to catch the end of the Le Galaxie set, and off to the Salty Dog Stage to finish things up with King Kong Company.

Any festival would not be complete without one very important group of people, us, the fans. Electric Picnic brought thousands of us together; to live in smelly tents for three days, use gallons of dry shampoo, go through a mound of baby wipes; from the too-cool-for-school hipsters, the crusties, the earth loving hippy folk, the preppy D4s, and every other sub-culture in between, to dance and sing as one, celebrating the magic of music. Over the weekend, I caught up with some of the wonderful Picnic peeps:

I’m loving it. The highlights so far? Blur and Hot Chip, amazing, very dancy. And the lowlights? None really, I’ve had a great weekend, although, getting robbed that was kinda shit. – Alex James, Mayo

It’s great. I came in today (Saturday), was looking for all my pals. I had no credit, no internet and just wandered around. Only for 15 minutes, though, saw the heads and was like, there’s the lads.            – Dominic Mulligan, Dublin

I’m great! Buzzing with life! I tell ya, I went to Sea Sessions in June, now I’m here at EP. Nearly didn’t get in, ended up paying €600 quid for a ticket. But it’s great craic. Sea Sessions is better craic in the campsite though; everybody here doesn’t know what a smile is. – ‘Philly’, Dublin    

It’s my first time at Electric Picnic. I‘m a virgin…an Electric Picnic virgin! Best time ever and it’s only Friday night. Everything is before us I can’t wait. I’m going to see Florence who I [really] wanted to see and I start work at 7:30 am on Monday morning. So, I have to get a bus Sunday night, I’ll be home at about 3:30 am, but that’s what it’s all about! – The hilarious Kiwi lady who I met at the Today FM Sound Garden!

Ham Sandwich were absolutely outstanding. They are bleedin massive! David Fortune, Dublin

We left Sligo at 10:30 and had to travel to Kilkenny to get our [friend’s] ticket, from a reputable source! Intuition led us to the Oscar Wilde campsite, to these guys…and to you. And Erin, who we had to get the ticket for just bumped into a girl who she has met at every other festival she’s ever been too in Ireland…and eh…now we’re all sitting here having a laugh! – Kyle Gibbons, Sligo

“I did the cycle; Tour de Picnic…left around 08:30 am. I feel great after the cycle but it was difficult during it. A wasp actually followed me the whole way here. There it is it’s right there…Then I got a five minute massage, it was really not that great. I’m still all stiff and rank afterwards…I raised €400, I just asked co-workers in the Strand Bar to support it, and one night I got drunk and went into the Swagman Bar and just literally asked every single person in there, got like €150 that night.” Caoimhe Mullen, Sligo

Damon Alburn looked like he was on something! I’m not saying he was, he just looked like he was, ‘cos he was so into the gig and he was really happy to be playing in Ireland. Oh and last night he also said ‘hey we wanna party after this, we’re doing nothing after this gig, where can we go’ and everyone was like ‘Galway, Galway, Galway’. – Sara Donellan, Galway

Overheard at EP:

 “Is that the girl that shit in your tent?”

“That lad looks like he’s got two willies”

“She got hit in the face with a condom”

“Does that girl have a dick?” (Pointing at a girl using a ‘she-wee’)

“Where’s me bleedin jaws gone?”

“Were you pissing in the tent again?”

“Sure the worst that’s gonna happen is you’ll get a B.J”

Photgraphy: Jamie Tanner, Justyn Keilbowick & Gregory Nolan