When I was around twelve years of age, I started to blast my walkman. It was Michael Jackson, it was Nirvana, and it was a whole load of awful, awful shit I can't recall. I mean that was the very, very beginning of the destruction of my auditory system. The volume felt right at a higher volume. It always did. And it still does. I've had my mother bawling at me about it (''I can hear that in the other room Shane''), friends and even passengers on the bus (usually elderly but no matter). At nineteen, or thereabouts, I began to worry about this, the damage done year by year bit by bit (It was around this age I started thinking about condoms, my asthma/smoking combo, my health overall, the fact I did no exercise whatsoever and possibly doing drugs in smaller doses after some unholy trips). By year twenty and onward to twenty-six I forgot these worries, mostly because, Walkman gone, Discman smashed, I had nothing to holster my music in. This year, or last year, I cannot remember, I got an iPod and the worries elevated a little once again. But for the most part I read a lot on public transport these days and while I'm in work, so my fears of six years ago have succumbed under the weight of the well thumbed classics and dailies. I guarantee too; Kevin Shields has never, ever, once worried about ear damage or high volumes.
For those hidden away for the last two decades or more, Shields is the Irish born genius behind My Bloody Valentine. A band that defined an era with its waves of sonic noise, albeit very well controlled noise, washing over haunting vocals both male and female. Their second album Loveless is one of the greatest albums of all time. They disbanded soon after and Shields became a recluse only peeping his head out over the last fifteen years for various production duties (and contributing to the magnificent Lost in Translation OST) and now with the reformed MBV. He is a quiet, nervous looking fellow and yet; there lies a very comfortable calmness and confidence in him too. On stage he looked as if he could have stayed there all day, strumming over six quaking strings and rattling row after row of human skulls. MBV play LOUD.
However, more on this later. I suppose I should back track a little first. Ireland hosts a festival to some 40,000 revellers each year called Electric Picnic. Kate Moss was there. And me. Kate stayed away from the dirty hooligans and planted herself backstage, venturing forth maybe once to watch her boyfriend in The Kills. I missed that gig myself. I refused to move from the campsite until around eight or nine each of the three nights, they were on at five or six, maybe seven. The line-up this year lacked the power of last year (Iggy, Beasties, Bjork, Jesus and the Mary Chain, etc) but still boasted Sigur Ros, Underworld, Grinderman, Franz Ferdinand and the aforementioned mob. All were excellent. There were true moments of bliss, glory spattered throughout the weekend (There is something beautifully ephemeral about watching Sigur Ros while coming up off a load of MDMA and pills. It will stay with me for some time).
What was cool, because Ireland rarely has 'cool' moments, was how much Electric Picnic was becoming a Burning Man. Mind you, a cash-cow Burning Man. The ticket alone was 240euro (although, I managed to wrangle in for free with a vast number of others) and there is this fantastically clever gimmick to help save the environment: once in the stage area, pints of beer are 8.50euro. But if you return the plastic cups the beer is served in to the bar before it closes, your next pint is 5.50euro. Still steep, but you can see the plan forming. Getting hammered and holding onto these blasted cups soon became a nightly mission. Many others foraged the mud floors around us all night to make large collections in the hopes of retrieving huge profits.
I digress. Burning Man and Electric Picnic. Yes. It was the artistic stuff you see. There was a Body and Soul area, massaging, silent discos and even a mini Burning Man to be burnt to the floor on the last night called The Temple of Truth. I THINK it was even designed by the main man of the Nevada desert himself. And yet another coincidence then; Burning Man was on going at the exact same time as Electric Picnic (end of August and into September). The entire weekend had a very hippy boutique feel to it. I even met a suited man in towering top hat playing on a mobile piano driven and controlled by a number of gears and levers. It reminded me of the home-made mutant cars of the Playa. Characters sauntered to and fro in all forms of dress, their movements swinging, drifting like Chinese lanterns. At the darkest hours; the fields before me lacking all opacity, glowed gently orange and red, flashing and humming. The sounds and tents and shapes and skies reminded me of all I loved so much of a Nevada dreamscape I could never forget.
Unlike Burning Man, there was no nudity. My hormones, though always fascinated by 'festival chicks' were dulled from the get-go; the toilet tours were brutal, the hygiene overall was awful, finding people was a nightmare (Irish festivals have very few sign-posts or landmarks), the drinking was non-stop, the weather came and went and the money just went. Away from all this, drunk, I fashioned a nice little spot for myself not too close to the band. MBV arrived; we roared at the stage, at the four silhouettes and out poured everything from 'Soon' to their usual closer 'You Made Me Realise.' The latter soared for some 20-30 minutes. Suddenly, I was nineteen again and scared for my ears. The front rows were all given ear plugs. I used two plastic cups as mufflers. Similar to Radiohead, there was no pandering to the crowd and their contribution to the Lost in Translation OST 'Sometimes' was omitted unfortunately. Nevertheless, as soon as it began, it seemed to end. I could have stood there all day with those mufflers and drank in not beer, but every drop of that dreamy, warm fuzz. But I knew what I had witnessed. It was not something normal. It was much, much more than that really. Afterward, at the closed beer stand, unable to exchange them for money, my expensive plastic mufflers became useless plastic cups all over again.
Shane O'Reilly is an award-winning writer based in South Dublin, Ireland. On the other side of the Foxrock tracks. When not picking apart the work of Lars Von Trier (for the aforementioned award) he can be found at Dublin's University College, immersed in English and Philosophy. This picture was taken in Vietnam, as he was wrestling back his camera from a would-be camera collector, shortly after another of the locals had successfully taken his wallet, and a rising clash of personalities took his g/f. Great trip.