This summer marks the first time I am spending any considerable length of time in Dublin (or really anywhere in Ireland) as anything but a student. After three years of being comparatively marginalised by living in or around the self-contained community in UCD, for sale before promptly escaping the country for more exotic locations (New York, illness London) at the end of every year, I see this summer as being something of a new experience. It seems like I’m only now getting around to properly identifying with the city I’ve lived in for the past three and a half years. Enter Forbidden Fruit, kicking off a summer in which I assume Dublin will turn out to be as equally rich, exciting and culturally resonant as NYC or LDN were (right? right?!). And thankfully in this case any lingering regret at not getting out of the country one more time was soon extinguished by two days of largely sun-kissed joy in the beautiful grounds of Kilmainham Royal Hospital.
Conveniently accessible by free buses from Harcourt St, the set-up in the historic grounds was largely impressive, with no real queues either to get in or even for the bars. The Original Stage (main stage by my reckoning) nestled snugly in a natural valley, creating a kind of grassy amphitheatre where you could equally easily sit back and watch from above or – the further down the hill and closer you went to the stage – jump around and dance. Various stalls and shops featuring artist interviews, a happily diverse array of food and other mini-events lined the way to the opposite side of the site, where two large bright red and blue tents housed the other stages. There was also the comedy tent, which I didn’t bother going to.
After arriving slightly late and having a look around, the first act I caught was James Blake. There was a surprisingly small crowd for the popular Londoner, whose brooding brand of electronics swelled around the main stage enjoyably, if a little subdued. Before long – in typically Irish form – the heavens opened and I briefly took refuge in the bar-tent with a load of other people anxiously peering towards the sky for signs of relief before re-emerging in time for the throbbing Retrograde.
Afraid of more rain, I caught the very end of Iamwhoiamwhoiam in the sheltered Undergrowth Stage and immediately regretted not seeing the full set, complete with what I can only describe as a big mad neon cube thing, which delighted the energetic crowd.
Strolling back towards the main stage we were elated to find that the dark rainclouds that had fittingly accompanied James Blake’s dense electronic sound had equally fittingly parted to pour sunshine on the brighter, more up-beat electro of Crystal Castles, an indie version of pathetic fallacy. The crowd swelled and bobbed happily before I left a little early, determined to catch Neon Neon back where I’d came from.
Quietly becoming one of my favourite albums of the year, Neon Neon’s latest offering Praxis Makes Perfect is a concept album about a famous Italian communist and is, if my highly professional research on YouTube is anything to go by, pretty much designed to be performed as an actual musical. Brilliantly, they compromised here with a big screen loosely explaining the narrative around whatever song they were playing while band members shuffled around Subterranean Homesick Blues style flash-cards with such varied slogans as “Tax The Rich” and, to the crowd’s approval, “Go Ape Shit!” Despite focusing mostly on the new album, they briefly broke from their concept by happily revisiting their classic from a few years ago I Told Her On Alderaan.
Finally for day one, after seeing the start of Kasabian, who commanded probably the biggest crowd of the day, it was over to Le Galaxie who undoubtedly provided the best set. Sparkling lights, infectious disco synths, and a thronging crowd in raptures saw the first day draw to a climactic close. Saving the best for last, a triumphant rendition of Love System nearly brought down the roof, and had me listening to it over and over on my iPod as I managed to make the last Luas home, and gear up for day two.
Regretfully foregoing Toro Y Moi for the more laid back styling’s of Daughter on the main stage, day two had an enjoyably slow beginning, lazily sipping pints in the long grass at the back of the crowd as the folky tunes fostered one of those nicely relaxed periods that seem to ebb and flow at all good festivals. We idly stayed for the start of Everything Everything, before deciding that a gear change was required, and went to Flight Facilities.
The Australian DJ outfit did not disappoint, with the highlight undoubtedly being a big cheesy singalong spin of Get Lucky, which as we’ve all been informed a million times, is the “song of the summer” thus far, but seemed well worth the mantle for five minutes in that tent as a thousand people sang in unison.
From there it was over to everyone’s favourite guitarist they hadn’t heard of two months ago with Nile Rodgers and Chic. The sun shone and the disco-funk legends were in absolutely top form, genuinely a joy to see such concentrated musical talent together on stage. Among the highlights were (if I haven’t gone crazy) some kind of Sister Sledge mash-up as well as Like A Virgin and, joyfully, Le Freak. Enjoyable as they were, it meant I missed all of Four Tet, so I compensated by heading towards Daphni (Caribou) as soon as they were over to make up my electronic quota. This in turn saw me not manage to catch any of Primal Scream, which is probably even more annoying. But, these are the decisions that come with festivals and I suppose really it highlights the eclectic surplus of quality afforded by Forbidden Fruit. In any case, Daphni was on top form, showcasing a slightly more dance-y styling than the more familiar Caribou incarnation.
Finally, to finish off the fantastic weekend, as the sky bruised pink over the Undergrowth Stage tent, I saw the second half of Woodkid. A frenetic and dramatic performance to finish with, my abiding memory was all of juddering drums with a synched-up light show that was really visually impressive. As the final performances wound up and the crowd spilled out towards the shuttle buses back into town, most headed towards the official after-event in Temple Bar, which was absolutely teeming with people. Events continued late into the night. I managed to redress missing both Toro Y Moi and Four Tet earlier with their (along with Caribou) brilliant set in a packed Button Factory, before stumbling home as wrecked, but satisfied, as ever.
With all my expectations for my first summer in Dublin, Forbidden Fruit had a lot to live up to – lifting the curtain on what Ireland had to offer. Luckily, it succeeded exceptionally. It’s in events like this that the country, the capital really seems as fresh and interesting as anywhere, and it’s certainly whetted my festival appetite. If even a small percentage of my summer days are spent in the same warm exhilaration, I’ll be pretty happy to be at home for once.
– Ciaran Breslin