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Posted on June 23, 2023

On site at Body And Soul 2023

Words and Design by Michael Savage

The Feelings
I danced, I laughed, I ate, I drank, and I had some good times. My feet danced to Shanti Celeste, HAAi, Joy Anonymous, and Gerd Janson. My emotions swirled from listening to Ye Vagabonds, Anna Mieke, The Blaze, and Kurt Vile & The Violators. My belly tensed with laughter from I’m Grand Mam, David O’Doherty, and Michael Fry & Killian Sundermann.

Those are some of the positives hiding in a very difficult and taxing Body and Soul 2023 (B&S). The enjoyable experiences were almost drowned out by the multitude of mishaps that left behind an apathetic crowd. I write this with an almost wounded feeling after having had three previous exceptional festivals on the grounds of Ballinlough Castle.

two girls in rain

(Picture taken by @gerbinhopower from @kellsphotographyclub )

What went wrong?
Less isn’t always more. B&S maintained their reduced numbers this year but no one could have expected the internal and external factors working to disrupt the weekend. On one hand, there were the internal issues like a lack of food vendors that excited or offered reasonably priced food, bad flooding that no amount of hay bales could help, and acts getting delayed and/or cancelled. (Still not OK that we didn't get to see Avalon Emerson). On the other hand, the stark decline in attendees can also be attributed to the external factors like the rain and thunderstorms pummeling the site, as well as some cunning manoeuvres from competing festivals pulling away any newcomers.

The Competition
Leading up to the Summer solstice weekend, the battle of the festivals was fully on display online between Sea Sessions, B&S and Beyond The Pale. B&S was squished by serious financial backers bringing an unrivalled selection of artists and chefs to the woods of Roundwood. B&S’ reliance on the lore surrounding the artwork, exhibitions, and spirits in the forest was simply not enough to attract a sellout assembly.

Even fan favourites, Kneecap, with their usual infectious enthusiasm couldn’t captivate the crowd of bedraggled souls with calls for mosh pits. They were as fun as ever but they were scheduled too early for a too sober Sunday crowd. There was a feeling of Déjà Vu seeing big names like Kneecap, Modeselektor (Half of Moderat), and The Blaze appearing on the main stage while we had Jamais Vu at play too as Mother DJs were nowhere to be seen! Beyond The Pale had nabbed them up the day before and their vibrancy was keenly missed at the Beacon Sound System.

Meanwhile, at the Main stage, people were spread thinly as it wasn’t the central focal point as would have been expected. It just served as the through road to the woodlands and walled gardens and it meant that not enough people hung around. It didn’t look good from the ferris wheel.

An avoidable issue on Sunday meant that the Healing Sound Baths did not go ahead. This amazing tradition is the surefire way to start your final day off right and unfortunately the rain wouldn’t go away. Who would have thought! Previous years had tents so what happened?

What went right?
Ok, going back to the good because there was, in fact, a lot of it. Every iteration of this rewrite has forced me to remember the good times and the stand out elements like the amazing sound systems and musicians. Going from the Main Stage, through the Hennessy Hip Hop stage, to the Beacon Sound System was outrageously pleasing to the ears. A crystal-clear audio soundgasm.

Main Stage crowd taken from odyandsoul

(Pictured: Main Stage crowd taken from bodyandsoul Facebook)

The Artists
Amongst the top picks in no order:

Aoife Nessa Frances played delightful tunes to a small appreciative crowd. A musician’s musician with the likes of Kean Kavanagh, Ye Vagabonds, Kneecap’s DJ Próvaí, and John Francis Flynn in attendance.

Alison Goldfrapp’s performance was lifted up by the backing dancers who bewitched the audience with their moves. Super slick experience for the ears and eyes.

The Beacon Sound System was the wild west and Gerd Janson’s track selections were taming the crowd with massive groovers. Such a fun DJ who sprinted through an hour of Latin beats, House classics, and funky techno.

Kurt Vile at 7pm on Sunday on the Main Stage was just the perfect timing. A slow dazed, self-aware artist with incredible support from The Violators. His appreciative way of playing was a slap in the face that we all needed to get the evening going.

Modeselektor and Apparat join their years of prowess with their project Moderat. A propulsion of subby deep ends hitting the crowd, hypnotising all, displeasing none. Highlight of the weekend.

Gilles Peterson at the Solas Stage impressed me! Lie-down gigs are always the best whenever you can watch the seamless selection of vinyl while dancing vicariously through the veteran festival-goers 20 years your senior. Mr. Peterson’s friend ad libbing over the 7” tracks was reaaal cool.

Fever Ray. What the hell? In the space of an hour I was dismissive, uncertain, confused, scared, ambivalent, inclined, and finally converted. Having no clue who the all-women and non-binary group were before arriving on site, they are a clear embodiment of B&S with their style, power, and femme-energy. Choreography was through the roof.

Fever Ray trio

(Pictured: Fever Ray taken by @cianlookalive )

The internet comedians, Michael Fry and Killian Sundermann, now turned live stand up act had plenty of giggles in the Secret Orchard with an hour of jokes, sketches, and catchy numbers. In the evening, I congratulated them on their show and about how weird it is to feel like I know the two guys so personally from seeing their online comedy. I was told that this was called parasocial relationships and Michael had actually written a thesis about it! For the rest of the night, I proceeded to tell everyone about paranormal relationships. Oops.

Fry, whose real name is Matthew Dinneen, changed his name to "Michael" as it was the most generic name he could think of. Hmm, thanks.

The Art
Collaborative large-scale art projects were amazing to discover throughout the site like the wall of busts, hanging chandeliers, and Eco-bots. Meanwhile in the walled gardens, eye-catching pieces of magic were sprinkled around like tarot card banners encompassing a pond (Was that James Brown..?), live painting by Axel J Rothoux, and abstract expressionism on display by Brian Gormley.

The People
The weird and wonderful and whimsical people of B&S make it what it is. The glamorous uniforms and getups, the peculiarities of the Masquerade Ball, and the otherworldly Pagan Rave on Sunday night. It is the easiest place on Earth to make new friends and I met many solo dancers who had no issue fitting in.

we all belong art banner

(Pictured: We All Belong taken by @s0phief0rd )

The Grub
Food and drink could be found all over the site and it is honestly one of my favourite aspects of festivals. All I want is to try new tastes and this year was honestly pretty lacking in selection. Venturing into the walled gardens was the safe bet though, where I had some delicious tostadas from @ixca.ie, Vietnamese iced coffee from @happyvalleycoffeebox, and AMAZING bao buns from @meimei_dublin.

The Takeaway
Festival site planning is an art in itself and I am in an incredibly privileged position to moan and whine. I am deeply grateful for the teams of people who come together to organise, plan, and execute B&S every year. It is a major feat and deserves the utmost respect.

A spiritual festival requires a spiritual evaluation and retrospect. I am going away from this year's festival with the mindset, “I expect nothing, and accept everything”. See ya next year, Body & Soul!