Saturday 3 December 2016

Electric Picnic - Eclectic Picnic: 5 alternative participants you might not expect to see at a music festival

Arlene Harris

Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30

Johan van der Merwe, food stylist. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Johan van der Merwe, food stylist. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Birgitta Hedin of the Burren Smokehouse, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward
Willie White of Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Fran Veale
Belly dancer Stacey McPartlin. Photo: Fran Veale
Imen McDonnell lives in Kilcolman, Co Limerick. Photo: Gitte Kennedy.

Next weekend, thousands will flock to Stradbally Hall, Co Laois for the three-day Electric Picnic. While musicians dominate the scene, it's the alternative acts which really make this a festival with a difference. Now in its 11th year, revellers are just as likely to turn up at EP to see the fire-breathers or debaters as they are the bands. Here, we meet five Electric Picnic participants that you might not expect to see on the bill of a music festival…

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The butter instructor

Imen McDonnell lives in Kilcolman, Co Limerick with her husband Richard and son Geoffrey. Originally from Minneapolis, she is a food and lifestyle blogger and living on her husband's family farm has learned how to make Irish food. She will be sharing some of her tips to festival-goers next weekend by combining an old-fashioned skill with some modern moves.

"When I moved to Limerick, making butter from raw cream was one of the first skills I learned and documented on my blog Farmette. At Electric Picnic I will be showing people how to churn butter and burn fat at the same time. I will start by chatting a bit about the history of Irish butter and I have some old churns to pass around. Then everyone will get a headband and a jar filled with cream (which Glenisk has generously supplied) and the music starts, it's mostly things that work with an aerobics or jazzercise class such as Shake Your Body and Boogie Oogie Oogie.

"I will crank up the music and lead the group in shaking their butter-makers for a five-minute dance routine until they have a clump of butter in their jar. Then we talk through how to strain the butter, flavour, shape and wrap it up. There will be my brown bread for them to sample the butter on as well. It will be super fun.

"I did a butter disco at the IMMA last summer with my son Geoffrey and it was really good. We met up with Sally and John McKenna who asked us to come along to EP for the Theatre of Food. We were so psyched to be asked as making butter to music at a music festival seems like the best mash-up to me.

"I have never been to Electric Picnic before and I can't wait to experience it as I just love the idea of bringing together music and food - it's such a really organic combination. I am also looking forward to seeing Grace Jones."

The food stylist

Johan Van Der Merwe is originally from South Africa but has travelled the world working as a chef and now has become a food stylist who has made Ireland his home. He will be showing people at Electric Picnic how to make food look beautiful and what it means to 'style' food.

"I grew up around food, both my grandmothers were outstanding cooks and my love for cooking really came from them. A friend of mine met Michel Roux when he visited South Africa and she got me a stint at The Waterside Inn, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK. While working there someone showed me The Café Paradiso Cookbook. I decided to leave London for Ireland, where, after two years I became the head chef at Café Paradiso in Cork. I also became a teacher at Ballymaloe Cookery school.

"I later spent a couple of years in Vancouver before my love of Ireland brought me back to work, not as a chef, but as a food stylist. People may question the need or relevance of my job but the food in every TV advert, billboard, packaging and cookbook has been cooked and prepared by a food stylist.

"By carefully selecting the best ingredients and knowing how they behave and look through the camera, we present them to be photographed and filmed. It's my job to make sure that food looks mouth-watering and enticing. This isn't done through magic tricks or fake produce but with real knowledge of food and cooking - and that's where my background as a chef really plays in my favour.

"At Electric Picnic I will be taking people into the world of food styling - talking about what it takes to make food look beautiful and what you can do at home to improve the look of your own food photographs with a few tricks of the trade. I'll hopefully change some people's minds on why there is a need and demand for food stylists.

"This will be my first time on the Theatre of Food stage and I am very excited about that. People are much more aware of food and how it's presented and with the growth of the camera phone, interest has grown around the need for making food look good. EP is such a great event and has become a pilgrimage - so I'm also looking forward to meeting friends I haven't seen in ages."

The theatre director

Willie White is the artistic director of Dublin Theatre Festival. He first attended Electric Picnic five years ago and regularly brings along his three young children. Since 2011, he has been bringing theatre projects to the MindField arena of EP, involving everything from rap to opera singing.

"I have been taking part in EP since 2011 and last year I recruited theatre producer Matt Smyth who has injected a youthful energy into proceedings. From around springtime we start to look for high quality shows that we think will go down well in a bright tent behind the main stage with audiences wandering in and out.

"There will be four shows each day - mixing theatre, aerial work and opera - showcasing the talent of Irish artists who will speak, sing, spin and rap their way through the two days. The opera will be up against it on Sunday because it's scheduled for the same time as the All-Ireland hurling final, but they're game.

"A festival is about being open to new experiences and making discoveries, so I hope that people will wander into our tent and have a surprisingly good time. It says above the door on Electric Picnic that it is a music and arts festival, and we're part of making that happen. I'm a big fan of new music so Matt and I are already scrapping about who'll be rostered to work when Shamir is playing - hopefully it will be later in the day when we've both knocked off. I'll also be checking out the legendary Glasshouse in Body and Soul and aiming to catch Natalie Prass, Jon Hopkins, The War on Drugs and Belle and Sebastian. MindField is a festival in itself with a great mix of Gaeilge, current affairs, science and chat."

The artisan producer

Birgitta Hedin-Curtin is originally from Sweden but lives with her husband, Peter, in Co Clare, where they have been running the Burren Smokehouse for the past 26 years. Every year, they welcome 30,000 guests to their shop in Lisdoonvarna and the quality and popularity of their produce means they have been taking part in EP for many years. This year, Birgitta will be doing a salmon and wine pairing demonstration and hopes to educate festival-goers in the art of tasting.

"I have been taking part in the Theatre of Food for many years and I think initiatives like this enhance the experience of the EP Festival. Seriously good artisan produce, real food, people telling their stories - including nutrition, the sourcing of food, how to create food - the crème de la crème of Irish chefs and food producers coming together, all adds depth to the event. And, of course, it is very well matched with some really great music.

"I will be doing a salmon and wine pairing with food and wine writer Leslie Williams. We will be pairing a range of our hot smoked and cold smoked salmon with various award-winning marinades and exploring how to heighten the taste experience with a great wine.

"EP is very family-oriented with quality, health and wellness in mind. Also, the Irish food community is going from strength to strength with Irish cuisine gaining an ever-growing international reputation. The appreciation for artisan food is arising from people caring about what they eat, where and how it's produced and the fact that it is Irish. I think people see the food as an investment in their own health.

"At the festival, I am looking forward to sampling some of the 'street food' from the likes of Eliza & Evie, some great music and the Body & Soul area where there are great offerings such as yoga, spa baths and treatments. It's a very entertaining and exiting weekend to take part in."

The belly dancer

Stacey McPartlin is a Tribal Fusion belly dancer from Dublin. She runs her own studio, Hapunaptra, in Kimmage and also performs with La Folie Deshabille Burlesque and Fire Performances (when she is not doing her day job as an office manager). She will be performing at EP with a dance troupe.

"I teach and perform belly dance and I believe that every dancer has their own story to tell. Their personality makes the difference to how they move. I love teaching - it is so worthwhile to see women with a smile and feeling positive about themselves. This is what I hope we can bring to EP in our performance.

"I will be with La Folie Deshabille at the festival for the second year in a row and we will be taking part in the Jerry Fish Electric Sideshow, which is an eclectic mix of bands, DJs and performers all under one beautiful circus tent. Performances include hooping, burlesque, stilt walkers, fire performances, acrobalance and, of course, belly dance.

"EP is unique because it attracts a vast mix of people, from families to seasoned festival-goers. The event has evolved beyond a music festival into an arts experience. People there tend to have an open mind about what they see and hear, which makes it really inviting to perform. I love seeing how different people react to all the various art installations and bands that play because everybody discovers something new they like or a band they never heard of before - it's really an amazing event.

"Aside from performing, I am so excited about the Body and Soul area, The Vengaboys, My Morning Jacket and Trailer Park in particular and the Funeral Parlour and the Lipsync Arena - Electric Picnic really has something for everyone and I can't wait for it."

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