Posted on september 26, 2023
Fuinneamh Festival Review 2023
Words by Oisín Campbell & Michael Savage
Another festival season is in the books, and once again we were blessed to spend this year's finale at the beautifully defiant Fuinneamh. Pulling off their grandest show to date, the festival’s daring crew worked their magic behind the scenes and got their deserved curtain call even though Mother Nature, ever the party pooper this Summer, tried her very best to rain on the parade.
Last year, we expressed much love to the dedicated team, the DJing heroes and plethora of performers, musicians, & exhibitionists, as well as the lovable buzzed up crowd. After this year's instalment we have only cultivated an even greater sense of gratitude towards everyone who made the two days at Bellurgan Park what they were. These are not unique opinions. If you were there, if you’ve ever been, we’re sure you’ll share a similar sentiment.
Few festivals match that instant energy that is felt within the grounds of Fuinneamh. Drawn from spirituality, community, and the otherworldly beings that descend upon it, it’s a festival that eases you in and allows you to find your own way around. Upon entry you are greeted by the Lotus Tribe Village, an area dedicated to holistic workshops, yoga sessions, panel discussions, Sunday afternoon hula hooping, chill out spaces and much more!
The heartbeat of the area is of course the Lotus Live stage. The gorgeous, wooden ready built construction played host to an array of livened acts with crowds basking in its bowled amphitheatre space all weekend. Following on from here, you are met with Celtic Pagan installations, psychedelic art and sculptures, before being aligned with the constant dub heavy sounds of the festival’s newest stage, the Síbín Beag.
Continuing on your lap around the grounds, some of Fuinneamh’s most iconic areas come alive. Whether it was your first introduction or you were reacquainting with the Keep Her Lit, Ogham Alignment, Cosmic Background or Orion stages, you’ll have felt their warmth and untethered energy either way. From here the festival's unique character became fully laid out, boasting its mystical synergy of energised beings, connective sounds and mind-bending art & production.
Love, rhythm and change are the three words reiterated around the festival before, during, and after proceedings. The emphasis on this is something you really appreciate and get behind right from the start.
(Pictured: Cosmic Background stage. Not pictured: crafty looking aliens)
You could hear us go on all day about the imagery and hypnotic spirit that Bellurgan Park entails, but the area really is a sight to behold. The backdrop of native Irish rainforest that encloses the park from a hilltop encapsulates the epicness of the surrounding area, which is further enriched by the nearby Cooley Mountains and sporadically sun-blushed East coast. One fantastic element of the weekend was the guided pilgrimage into these woodlands provided on Sunday afternoon from the inspiring Croí na Cré conservationist group. They led a budding batch of festival revellers who braved the conditions and descended into the ancient forest on a powerful journey embracing the flora with open arms, learning about the history and impact on the land during times like the Troubles, and discussing the importance of conserving this now rare native Irish woodland. There was even time to belt out uplifting cries and manifestations down into the distant festivities below!
To the music now and the Lotus Live stage which was ALIVE all weekend long with impassioned ceoil from the likes of Rónán Ó Snodaigh, CABL, Bog Bodies, and Really Good Time.
The bandstand was a source of frenzy during Ó Snodaigh’s set after an intense Call and Response performance between the wild crowd and one-man show. He summarised it all by saying “that’s too much fun, that should be illegal!”.
It was hard to top the show put on by Bog Bodies on Sunday night as Irish and Palestinian flags waved in the air during their numerous hair-raising heavy folk anthems with the theme of protest very much at the heart of it all. Other notable performances came from Son Cubano-ska outfit Havana Roots, Irish synth rockers Nixer, as well as loop master Fancy Dan, amongst many others.
(Pictured: CABL on the Lotus Live stage)
Moving on to the Ogham Alignment, there was a much different vibe going on. In a small valley, it was lit up by a wrestlemania style structure built by the team at Visual Spectrum Studio. Techno and trance pummelled from the visually pulsing stage throughout the weekend with fun bouncy rhythms coming from acts like Sarah Lennox and Aeron XTC, with the latter kicking out one of the hardest sets of the festival.
Some of the weekend's biggest names played it out here with Saturday night seeing DJ Heartstring enchanting with heavily desired unreleased trax like X Club’s reimagining of Dee Lite’s ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ as well as SWIM’s epic ‘Euphoria’ remix.
As always, it was festival founder Luke Reddy (Lucas Ogma) who closed out the music here into the wee hours with his blend of hypnotic minimal techno and trance bringing us together for one last dance into Sunday.
(Video of Nathan Jones b2b Aero)
Day two equally lived up to the hype standards that had been set the day before. Homegrown talents like Cáit, Cailín, and Yasmin Gardezi b2b Imnotyourmate brought together friends, bypassers and techno fanatics throughout the day and night with no let up in stomp as muddy surfaces began to embed. Again there was a stellar selection of international acts on display during the peak hours featuring Ellen Allien, Player and the incredible SPFDJ who took the absolute biscuit with arguably the best DJ set of the weekend. Speed garage, jungle, hard techno, trance. It had it all. Pissing rain, but it didn’t matter. It was proper fuckin’ electrifying.
Síbín Beag was our mainstay for a lot of the weekend. Easily accessible and deserving of so much love, it packed a massive punch for its size and maintained a hysterical crowd throughout. We’d love to see it extended next year. Make it the Síbín Mór hai!
Misha Freshin and B-Origin were on scheduling duties here and picked out the best of the best in Irish bass, Dnb, reggae and RnB to take to the stage over the weekend. Panda Drey B2B Conkan was an energetic time with Champion’s classique ‘Gunshot’ and Sammy Virji x Flowdan’s ‘Shella Verse’ amongst some of the hits that were played out. A great set that was then met with the news that they'll be supporting Chase & Status next month at Here & Now in Dublin.
(Pictured: Síbín Beag stage in all it’s size)
The west of the country was made proud by Galway’s DJ Lolz. The head of Gash Collective & Blush had a loyal following of dancers drawn to the tent after spinning hits by Surusinghe and Sam Binga on the testing Funktion-One system. The weekend was finished off by the Mighty Pressure crew with Misha Freshin on hand as MC. Flying the flag for Irish drum ‘n’ bass, they kept the buzz lively with gunfinger moments aplenty, making good use of some mad remixes of Super Mario and Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’.
Down at the foot of the hill, tucked away in the site’s corners was the intimate Orion and Cosmic Background stages. Every time we lapped by here there was always a ruckus of lively steppers, be it at the techno-focused Orion or around the Cosmic’s ritualistic psy-trance circle.
The Cosmic Background was given a face-lift this year with an alluring psych-patterned roof in place which kept the rain out for the most part, allowing dancers to rebel in the fast paced rumblers coming from it’s mystical booth. It was a serious buzz down there all weekend. Whether you're into your psy or not, you couldn't help but get lost in it for at least a little while across the two days.
The addition of a pyramid construction at the back of the area this year also added to the Cosmic’s intrigue. You had to get down on all fours to enter, but once inside you were staring into a mad little bowl that spat out visuals of dancing aliens and spinny planets. There were some crafty little chill out spots down around there with all sorts of characters becoming intertwined with one another. Good craic all round!
Just across the way at the Orion, a fresh list of selectors from Ireland’s ever budding techno scene were on constant display.
Saturday saw Dublin party Rathaus revel during their two hour takeover of dance and debauchery featuring DJs and performers in Shannen Blessing, Erik Burka, ClimbWallsWeird and Foxx. Promising acts like Dylan Fogarty, Offtrack, and Harry Jones entertained all with lively hours of techno kicks and trance bits, whilst trail blazers like Ayolxi and Hello Clitty won dancers over with their innovative sounds.
Perhaps the main focus at the Orion all weekend centred around a certain Eugene McCauley. The donk meister was the Sunday morning alarm clock with his ‘sunrise set’ attracting a full crowd down to the stage for 12pm sharp that afternoon. ‘De Banksy of The Donk Scene’ softened the blows of Saturday night with his hilarious takes on Father Ted, the Sunday Game and Vengaboys, setting us all up for the jam packed closing night that was to come.
As always the endearing Keep Her Lit stage was the focus of much of the weekend’s attention. With its roots in the Keep Her Lit collective and Wicklow Mountains parties of yesteryears, it embodies the importance of rhythm and production with its tantalising Funktion One soundsystem and spectacular laser and light shows from the Mindscape group.
This year that system was at the fingertips of its biggest lineup to date with the cream of Ireland, Europe, and beyond all taking the reins at the coolest wee stage in the country. Every performer that we ventured across here put on a transcendent show with the likes of Minikimono boasting a vibrant track selection and Reclaim the Mainframe holding down their solid 3 hour mega mix on Sunday afternoon plucking through funky picks including ‘Sealion Woman’ by Mark Hawkins.
(Video of Minikimono)
Saturday night at the KHL though belonged to Ireland’s vibrant and vital queer scene. Led by Prymary Colours, Tender and Cormac, it was all quite simply a SHOW. Prymary Colours had an audience in awe with their ensemble of dancers, vocalists, and DJs, armed with confetti & glitter and powered on by their driving vogue & pop-house anthems. Bull Horris and the Tender co simply carried this energy forward with their powerful trance and hard house selections before national pride Cormac closed out night one with his Berghain worthy expertise in Italo, synth-fuelled electro and dirty disco.
Being the weekend’s hottest names on the bill didn’t faze MCR-T and Miss Bashful come Sunday night as they cranked up the heat even further with tracks like DBBD’s ‘Muschi Muschi’. MCR-T’s recent Boiler Room appearance, which racked up a sizzling quarter-million views, made sure he was on everyone’s ‘Must See’ list. With that, the stage was like a magnet with starry-eyed ravers swarming in to catch the fiery hour-long set as Miss Bashful’s bad attitude lyrics got everyone down low.
Such was the allure of KHL on Sunday eve, it eventually became difficult to get a spot as queues began to form with other big hitters like High Fidelity, Slither and X-Club all slamming it out either side of MCR-T and Bashful. We’re sure plenty had to battle with the FOMO monster but there was so much else going on around the park that surely left all in attendance more than satisfied!
We loved how receptive everyone was over the two days. A welcoming crowd that travelled from the north and south of the country. We look forward to the festival’s evolution as it attracts more and more goers who are willing to become a part of Fuinneamh’s beautiful community. The whole thing just works so well.
The ideology and ethos of the event is the glue that holds it all together. Fuinneamh has no intentions to expand beyond its 3,000 capacity size or to give in to lucrative sponsorship deals. We’re sure that’s a difficult burden to take with the costly overheads and lack of government funding provided to such events, but that is why Luke Reddy and his brainchild cannot be compared to. If you're looking for an Irish festival that is truly unique and unforgettable, then Fuinneamh is the place for you.
We’d like to thank Luke for having us back to write this year, to all the helpful crew, the artists and performers, the beautiful vendors, the attentive souls at the PsyCare tent, and the delightful crowd we got to spend the two days with. We’re ready to do it all again in 2024 and we hope to see you there!