Monday 22 December 2014

Together in Electric dreams - the dedicated staffers making sure you have the time of your life at EP

Tanya Sweeny

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

Thomas Cosby owner of the Stradbally Estate on site as with his dog Penny. Photo: El Keegan.
Thomas Cosby owner of the Stradbally Estate on site as with his dog Penny. Photo: El Keegan.
Tiernan, Casa Bacardi
Naoise Nunn
Deirdre Crookes of Lindsey Holmes Publicicty. Photo: El Keegan.
Vanessa Clarke who manages the food and catering for Electric Picnic. Photo: El Keegan.
Sorcha O'Reilly, event producer on site at the Salty Dog stage. Photo: El Keegan

Behind every great Electric Picnic weekend is a team of dedicated staffers ensuring that the event goes without a hitch.

To the average punter, a festival weekend is an opportunity to let the hair down and while away the hours with wine, waffle and song. Yet for the crack team that puts together Electric Picnic, there's plenty of elbow grease happening behind the scenes. And, when it's your job to ensure the smooth-running of a huge, 600-acre site there's little room for rest. Or, for that matter, error.

However, it's not all doom and gloom for Stradbally's hard-working staffers. From feeding rockstars and giving new comedians their break to making sure that the thousands of components of the EP machine are as they should be, working the festival circuit certainly beats the grind of nine-to-five for these festive folks…

THOMAS CROSBY

Thomas owns and lives in Stradbally Hall - the site of Electric Picnic - with his family.

"My family have been 'squatting' at Stradbally Hall for generations. By now we're very used to people coming to the site for events.

The Picnic is well organised and well run, and I absolutely love when it comes on to my doorstep. We've had events of various descriptions happen on the site, but the imagination and ingenuity involved in the running of Electric Picnic is second to none.

There's something for everybody, and I enjoy taking a walk around the site. I love it all, but my allegiances may change from year to year when it comes to a favourite stage.

Before the festival, the livestock has to be moved off the land - 500 ewes, around 400 lambs and 40 horses. There's a little bit of drama moving them, but not much. My four-year-old loves to watch the machinery and the drivers… the run-up to the festival is heaven for him.

Afterwards, the majority of the fields are left in fine condition. Obviously some areas of high traffic are a different story, and if it's a really wet weekend - like it was in 2006 - the fields can look as though they've taken a bit of a beating. But if the weather is good, you wouldn't know that 40,000 people have even been there.

The majority of locals really enjoy the weekend in Stradbally. A lot of tickets go to residents and there's always a huge demand for them. One or two people will find it inconvenient... but you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs."

SORCHA O'REILLY

Sorcha works on the festival's project management team, and also chooses the various art installations on-site

"I qualified initially as a vet, but when I was in college I got involved in the ents side of things. I completely got the bug and got the opportunity to work on other events, so that was the end of the veterinary side of things!

I have the overview of everything that is happening on site, which makes me the communication axis. It can be quite a high-pressure job, but it's a lovely atmosphere.

There's a real sense of people who have pretty much run away and joined the circus, and once you roll into town, you see people that you haven't seen all year. When we arrive on site, all that's there is the field underneath our feet. What we do is pretty much build a town from scratch; everything from fencing, power and water to nuts and bolts.

There are very long hours involved; mainly because you're working to a deadline that's immovable.

Everyone digs in though, and helps each other out. We have an apartment in Stradbally town that we move into a couple of weeks before the festival, and the whole team is dotted about the town in the run up to the event. On the weekend itself, we have a campsite of caravans that we stay in.

Working during the festival is a bit like dealing with a Rubik's Cube, but you have to remember that if something goes wrong -if an artist doesn't show up or whatever - it's not the end of the world for anyone.

I do try and get out and see what's happening on the weekend. The Saturday is my quiet day, mainly because people are arriving in their thousands on the Friday and Sunday. When the weekend is done, there's nothing better than getting into your own bed afterwards.

Someone who worked at Glastonbury gave me the best tip ever: make sure your bedroom is really beautiful and clean so that when you get home, it just feels so lovely to be there."

NAOISE NUNN

Naoise, who is also the man behind Kilkenny Cat Laughs and Kilkenomics festivals, organises and runs the Picnic's Mindfield area

"In 2006, John Reynolds asked me to do a tent at Electric Picnic. I had set up a regular 'political cabaret' event called Leviathan a few years previously. In the second year, we went from one tent to two, and after that, we got our own Mindfield area. In the years since, we've added things like the Arts Council Literary Stage, the Science Gallery, the Salon du Chat, the History Ireland Hedge School and had our theatre programme curated by Willie White.

For Mindfield every year, you want a certain amount of continuity, and David McWilliams has hosted all of them. This year is the first year we'll have a theme too: Africa: The Rising Continent. The trick with Mindfield is to bear in mind that there's some serious stuff happening in there, but has to be treated with an eye on the fact that people are essentially at a festival. The daytime is always very busy; just dealing with firefighting. There's always someone due on stage that has gone missing in a field or is stuck in traffic, but I often get a real Zen moment, usually on Saturday evening, when you know you're on the home stretch.

Mindfield is not really led by big names, although it's lovely when the big name guests happen. Jon Snow (from Channel 4) came and had so many artists, journalists and people queuing for his autograph while big rockstars were milling about right next to him.

Florence Welch came and read poetry, and her only request was a large double Irish whisky before the show. Bob Geldof came down one year and he was tremendous; a real talker. Standing in the rammed tent that afternoon was absolutely brilliant.

On the weekend itself, we stay in the Heritage Hotel nearby, which is where a lot of the big-name acts stay. One year we stayed in one of the golf apartments and our neighbours were the Sex Pistols. On the Sunday night, we got a phonecall from the staff saying that our neighbours were complaining about the noise. I think it's because we were playing the Rolling Stones at the time."

VANESSA CLARKE

Vanessa runs the Theatre of Food stage and is head of catering for the entire festival

"When the Picnic started a decade ago, John Reynolds wanted the food to be really different from other festivals.

I had the Good Food Store, one of Ireland's first organic shops, so he wanted me to look after the food for him. He wanted me to find, coach and nurture good traders.

We've all changed in this country when it comes to food, and the people who go to Electric Picnic are no exception.

I don't think you can fob low-quality food off on anyone, even a teenager, these days!

So now, I look after every single food trailer, and I do Theatre Of Food, which hosts an array of chefs, producers and bloggers all weekend.

We have about 200 different catering units who trade, and we get about 2,000 applications throughout the year.

Everyone wants to go, but we have a lot of criteria. It's all well having nice food, but you have to tick the regulatory boxes, too.

My job starts in January, when we open bookings for the caterers, and then we start processing and ticking off all the main regulatory boxes - things like fire and electrical searches, which is the main bulk of the work.

Two weeks ahead of the weekend, we move on site and lay down all the services.

We hire somewhere off-site so we can go home, have a shower and have a little reprieve. During the festival we sleep in a caravan on site.

You definitely need earplugs, but you get used to it. I've fallen asleep during a Massive Attack set.

We work all the way through the weekend, and it's only afterwards, when I open the newspaper on Monday, that I'm like, 'oh, Blondie played! That must have been nice'. I once saw one band at the festival, and that's the truth of it. Thank God we've had no major disasters, but we did have one issue about eight years ago.

Before the arena opened, a number of stalls got blown down by a freak wind and we had an hour to get them up and running.

But for the most part things run smoothly. It's not just by chance that nothing bad happens. We put a lot of work into it.

There's a moment when everything has worked out, and there's a huge energy running across the site, and that makes it worthwhile. Then it's time to take it all back down again and it can be a bit hard to suddenly dismantle it; like taking down a Christmas tree that took two weeks to get up."

TIERNAN O'MORAIN

Tiernan is Head of Marketing for Bacardi, and overlooks the running of the Casa Bacardi arena

"We start work on Casa Bacardi 10 months in advance. What started off as a dance tent a decade ago that has now become an arena. Our music policy is uptempo house music/disco, and I have a great team - about 240 on the overall production, 40 on site - that help to source the best of homegrown and international (DJ) talent.

In the run up to the weekend, it takes 10 days to build the tent, and 100 tonnes of kit has to be shipped in. Logistically, you have to sort out how to serve drinks in the middle of a field in Laois, and that means bringing in 26 tons of ice, keeping it frozen, and finding millions of freshly picked mint leaves.

Fortunately, and for the most part, my work on site is done by 5pm on Friday. I have a great agency and team at Edward Dillon who take over and click into gear.

I make a point of getting out into the fields during the weekend; there's so much to see. I do always get drawn back to our lineup, though; Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem and Dimitri From Paris are on our bill this year.

For Casa Bacardi, we have our own dedicated catering crew; everyone's working really hard and they deserve to be well-fed, which is why we offer three three-course meals a day. I stay on-site over the weekend, though the majority of the team and the bar staff stay in a nice hotel.

On the Sunday night, when the bar closes, the whole team gets to dance on the stage for the last song of the weekend and let off a bit of steam. After that, you need to take a couple of days off from work to recover from the weekend. Within four weeks, we do a review, and within eight or 10 weeks we start working on the next year's event. It's non-stop, but I love it. There's nothing better than a field full of happy people."

DEIRDRE CROOKES

Deirdre is part of the Electric Picnic's publicity team at Lindsey Holmes PR

"From the first line-up announcement, we're responsible for getting the ball rolling with the press. There's always huge anticipation about who will play, so we need to cut through the speculation. From March onwards, we stagger the release of the lineup. Throughout the summer we organise interviews with different acts. Because there are 200 acts, and most people want to talk to the top 50 acts, it can be quite laborious. But the biggest tasks of the event happen down there. We run a media tent over the weekend, where 400 media people - press, radio, TV - work out of. 41,000 people want to know what's happening throughout the weekend. We have to make sure the 60 photographers there get everything they want, which means getting them to the stages at the start of every performance. Escorting the photographers to the stage is when I get to see the bands.

The artist area is beside the media area, but we're so busy that we never really get to meet the bands. There's such a quick turnaround between each act - getting the stage ready for the next performance - everyone there is working with military precision. But by now we have it all down to a fine art. Sometimes there are a couple of headaches; if an act pulls out, you'll be scrambling to let people know. Sometimes people leave their gear - expensive things like laptops and cameras - behind in the tent. You have to play mother hen a little bit. The crew that is there will probably celebrate the end of the Picnic on a Monday night, but often I'm out of there on Monday morning. The media tent winds down at about 11pm each night, so you get to have a wind-down before you go to bed. We head to the Salty Dog or the Body & Soul areas. I get a real adrenaline rush when I see people walking around enjoying themselves. When it goes without a hitch and the festival wins awards afterwards, it's a great feeling to know you've been part of that."

Spotify with Nialler9

My personal picks playing Stradbally this year...

SBTRKT & Sampha

Temporary View

Futuristic live soulful electronic music for dancing.

Twin Shadow

To The Top

Whitesnake-style '80s balladry meets Brooklyn indie.

Portishead

Machine Gun

It's 17 years since this band last played Ireland. Not long now.

Outkast

SpottieOttieDopalicious

Southern American marching band meets rap royalty from 1998.

Kaytranada

Leave Me Alone

Newly signed to XL, this Montreal producer makes his Irish debut at EP.

Krystal Klear

Squad

An under-rated dancefloor weapon released last year by the Irishman.

John Wizards

Lukasa By Night

South African psychedelia and pop.

Kate Boy

Self Control

Razor sharp electronic pop from Sweden.

Dorian Concept

Tropical Hands

Australian multi-instrumentalist makes music for festival forests.

R.S.A.G.

I'll Be There

Nuanced atmosphere from Kilkenny's finest.

SPOTIFY: http://bit.ly/epinsider

 

Irish Independent

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