I walked to the newsagents for coffee this morning and was greeted with front page headlines about Saturday in Phoenix Park from almost every Irish newspaper. What happened on Saturday is clearly shocking to the Irish gig-going community in general, and the fall out, I suspect, still has some way to go. It’s genuinely difficult not to let hindsight affect your view of such an event, but I’m going to try my best to stick to what I personally saw and heard.
It’s fair to say that Phoenix Park had a chaotic look to it when we arrived. I had to pause before collecting my ticket while an arrest was made outside the box office. The large proportion of the crowd was clearly heavily intoxicated, and the atmosphere did have a notable aggressive edge to it, though neither of those things are all that unusual at a percentage of urban/ rave style gigs. It’s worth mentioning that I found the security to be well enforced. I saw several people refused entrance as they were too intoxicated, and had my bag searched fairly thoroughly. There appeared to be a higher than normal volume of security guards, and I regularly saw them walk through the crowd and act on bad behaviour. At some point, clearly, things got out of hand. I did feel uncomfortable enough to move to a different part of the crowd once or twice, but – perhaps wrongly, in hindsight – I never personally felt in serious danger.
I arrived just in time to see Snoop Dogg, comfortably the afternoons high. The west-coast legend bought good-vibes with him, strutting the stage clutching at his ‘Snoop Dogg’ microphone, and throwing in a host of big-name rap covers on top of his own material. ‘Young, Wild and Free’ saw Snoop lighting up on camera as his ‘Nasty Dogg’ mascot wondered the stage with a huge faux-joint. ‘Sweat’ and ‘What’s My Name’ offer other highlights: Snoop’s got an enviably impressive flow, and years of experience in entertaining huge audiences saw happy dance-offs dominate in the sunshine, with Snoop effortlessly cool and peppering his show with quips and summery beats. We were far from sold on the cover of House Of Pains’s ‘Jump Around’ (which was out of place at best), but it stopping abruptly to make way for the good-time anthem of the day: ‘Young, Wild and Free’ was a definite afternoon… erm…high. I found Snoop to have an almost reggae-esque positive vibe to his music all in.
Tinie Tempah was less inspiring. His approach to rap might be somewhat dingier and more cutting than Snoop’s mild rebellion (musically, at least – we’ll reserve comment on that criminal record), but its live reproduction is shaky at best. He drags Calvin Harris on stage to join in new collaboration ‘Drinking from the Bottle’, and huge singles ‘Pass Out’ and ‘Written in the Stars’ get predictably euphoric receptions. Tinie is far too heavily dependent on backing track as a live entity though, especially for a man of such lofty reputation. He largely looked to entertain the Phoenix Park crowd himself, and in leaning on his predictable sound set up, lost any element of spontaneity that might have come with the set. Tinie’s ‘grime’ style has depth, and offers a more interesting take on urban pop than many of his contemporaries, but as a live set up, he’s simply far too much like a straight radio-play reproduction to be interesting. The show needs a serious make over, and some of that lies in what seemed a lot like a ‘minimum effort’ performance.
Despite a star-studded support selection, though, it’s clear the headline act Swedish House Mafia were by far the biggest draw, and when the three of them announced their arrival with an epilepsy-inducing array of lights and colour, Phoenix Park collectively lifted its arms to the sky, shook its flimsy denim-covered asses and flung its neon high. What beguiles is quite why. Swedish House Mafia are on the verge of a much-publicized break-up, and just a few short days ago deemed to make that great musical miss-step of comparing themselves to The Beatles in interview. What they are is a painfully generic, thumping heady dance act with one mighty impressive stage set up, but truthfully not a whole lot else.
‘Nothing But Love’, ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Antidote’ all made up the kind of euphoric dance-beats that would fit in nicely at any messy club night, and would go down a storm in Ibiza (or whatever island is the latest to suffer from an annual influx of too-often pharmaceutical dosed clubbers). The lasers, if anything, are more enthralling than the music itself. ‘Coming Home’ mashed with excerpts from Faithless’ ‘Insomnia’ and the laser-ridden highlight ‘Save The World’ are somewhat redeeming musically, but all in a group like this comparing themselves to one of the most influential acts of all time is laughable: their tracks might have marginally complex constructs, but they’re crude and uninspiring, and the live set lacked much in the way of originality. Sure, you can go mad to it, which is probably what attracts such a ‘feisty’ crowd, but Swedish House Mafia fall down as a live act when it comes to any kind of notable artistry at all. The crowd, though, clearly loved them; we felt odd and stood fairly unmoved before the lasers.
And so we dance, and watch the chaos unfold. From where we’re standing – obviously I can’t write about what I didn’t see – it’s largely fun-loving chaos. Fuelled by intoxicants of one kind or the other, undoubtedly, and extremely muddy, but fun-loving nonetheless. We see a handful go over the top, and several of them are evicted. Others simple enjoy the night, among an admittedly aggressive but seemingly under-control crowd. Later, we learn that the minor chaos we see – nothing that would have any real lasting effect – is the tip of the iceberg. I’ll leave it to the news sites, those who have the facts, to tell you about that. All I can point to is that while the music – Snoop Dogg aside – was no more inspiring than late night radio, I enjoyed parts of the night, and – I can only speak for myself, and again, I’m trying to ignore hindsight – I never felt hugely unsafe.
I’ve tried to talk about the music, and not be influenced by my reflective feelings on tonight. Under the circumstances it’s been hard, especially given that I did find the crowd a turn off, and the music something of a flop, but allowing those facts to allow me to speculate or imply something more sinister wouldn’t be right. I hope, if nothing else, it offers a bit of ‘on the ground’ perspective.
I’m sure everyone at Goldenplec joins me offering our condolences to those affected by the events that took place in Phoenix Park on Saturday night. I’d estimate I’ve been to nearly a thousand nights of live music in my life, and what I’ve since heard about taking place on Saturday night is a first for me. I don’t want to be part of a music scene that requires security to be at airport level, and policing to be intense: music should be about pleasure, about community, and above all about enjoyment. I hope this is the last time I ever have to write a review with such a cloud hanging over it.