As the smoke begins to clear from Glendalough Estate, and the euphoric outbursts of a magical weekend morph into translucent memories, I begin to recount just how much fun I had at the debut edition of Beyond The Pale. Dancing under the stars, in one of the most beautiful surroundings in Ireland while the rain trickles down the woodland, I was once again reminded as to why I fell in love with dance music.
Reflecting on Beyond The Pale festival, that weekend in Wicklow seems to be strong a driving force in my reignited love for dance music in Ireland, and everything that goes with the beauty of club culture and my lust for the dance on our beautiful little island. To say I fell out of love with dance music would be utterly misleading, as I’m obsessed with the music, but that’s a constant in a consistently altering panorama that we like to call the ‘scene’. Beyond The Pale rekindled my love for getting lost in a crowd, and feeling totally at home in a place I’d never been.
There’s more festival’s in Ireland in 2022 than ever before, and individuality and character within these festival’s can be difficult to execute when there’s a whole host of competition that promises to host a completely unique experience. While the promise of originality is partially true, it’s a rather enigmatic task to showcase true individuality while also trying to sell a certain number of tickets. Beyond The Pale managed to bring something entirely new and idiosyncratic to the Irish festival landscape, leaning on traditional and conceptual Irish culture as the forefront of the festival’s character, while also hosting an array of forward thinking, celebrated and left-field acts to soundtrack the weekend.
It’s impossible to not be taken back by the scenery as soon as you arrive at the entrance to Beyond The Pale, the grounds are surrounded by glistening Sessile Oak tree’s and the festival lyes adjacent to the Lugduff Brook river. Car parks are usually the bleakest area of a festival, and the most forgettable, but somehow this was both a compelling and memorable experienced, this might be coupled with the fact that at this point I’d realised I’d lost my bag with all my clothes in it… a beautiful experience all the same.
The walk up to the campsite is short and sweet and provides your first glimpse at the weekend ahead, trolling alongside fellow dancers as you struggle to balance the dreaded trio of beers cans, tent and camping chair, a task only experienced festival goers can truly master. You first walk by the Grass Hoppers Tournaments Arena which remains empty for now, but will soon become home to the wacky, wonderful and wholesome that roam the festival site.
I arrived on site early on Friday, and was one of the first festival revellers to attempt to set up my tent, and miserable gazebo. I was one of the lucky ones that perked up my tent just before the storm arrived, but my gazebo suffered a different faith, as myself and my friends rushed to erect our plastic fortress from Argos, we began to see the charm of Beyond The Pale. Two festivals security guards dedicated an hour of their time in lashing rain and howling wind to saving our gazebo from an early grave. This was neither the first or last time a friendly stranger would help us rectify our gazebo, until its inevitable death later that night. From early on it was the crowd that was the star of the show at Beyond The Pale, and the festival kept providing those quirky and delightful interactions with other festival goers, staff and vendors, that give the weekend an undeniable charm.
As the day progressed and the rain began to clear, campers came in droves and a once desolate campsite, was now a playground for festival goers from all walks of life. As comfy as my camp chair was, when it hit five o’clock the music started, and it was time to take the first glimpse at the stages. The walk from my tent which was situated at the rear of the general camping was a mere three minute walk to the arena, which made it perfectly accessible to pop up and down from the campsite to the stages without it seemingly like a small pilgrimage.
Friday for me was all about The Big Romance Stage which was positioned towards the back of the arena, just opposite the main stage which remained dormant for the duration of Friday. The Big Romance Stage was built as a circular booth, making the stage and dance floor 360 degrees, and surrounded by a wall of Funktion-one speakers. The main arena remained sparse in the early hours of Friday, as people sampled food and cocktails and explored the ins and outs of the arena’s nooks and crannies.
First up on the The Big Romance Stage, was Pear Dublin boss man, Jio. One of Dublin’s most eclectic selectors laid down a smooth set of disco-licked funk to set the mood for the weekend. Jio slowly raised the energy, providing the ultimate warm up, Jio commanded no attention as he nonchalantly mixed through his stacks of music from around the globe, letting the music do the talking he gradually built the energy to the perfect boiling point of Chicago house rollers before passing over to Irish born, London based CiCi.
The 2021 Mixmag Breakthrough artist played it cool and calm, as she mixed through an array of deep and rolling house and techno cuts. CiCi has built a following around playing peak-time bangers, but on this occasion flexed her deeper side and guided the crowd through rolling low end heavy cuts, of both house and techno, with some techy flavour throughout.
As the light began to dim, the festival site had a raw and fervent energy. The Big Romance Stage was home to the heavy hitters, and the speakers were getting cranked up as the bass heavy trio of Chloe Robinson, Ben UFO & Four Tet took to the stage. First up on my hit-list of bass merchants was Chloe Robinson fka Barely Legal who skimmed through icy garage half-steppers, squelching electro, deconstructed techno and sub shaking dubstep. As someone who I was only briefly familiar with prior to the festival, Chloe’s set turned out to be a splendid surprise, which seemed to be the theme of the festival as I was continuously stumbling on hidden gems, and finding solace in the unexpected.
Up next was one of the best DJs on planet earth, Ben UFO. The Hessle Audio label boss came through with a cocktail of dance floor destroyers as he moved through slippery tribal grooves, hardcore grinders, funked up techno and everything else. Ben UFO unfortunately clashed with Leon Vynehal, in an ideal world I would have gone between both set’s, but Ben’s set was near impossible to leave, even just for a second. I could see Ben UFO every day of the week, and I’d never get bored, this was the icing on the cake to an already thrilling first day.
Next up was the impeccable Four Tet who rebooted the energy, as he mixed through what sounded like a wealth of unreleased material, as glossy synth lines danced around the The Big Romance Stage, giving the arena a somewhat angelic atmosphere. Dancing under the stars in the beauty of Glendalough, while Four Tet serenades the crowd with a collection of crackling grooves, I’d never been so at home in a sea of people.
As The Big Romance stage came to a close all roads pointed towards the Selective Memory tent as Mother DJs closed the show, to a swarmed tent. The tent itself was a force to be reckoned with, as it was equipped with pristine sound and delicate yet dynamic visuals and lights. Mother’s set was loaded with party classics and buoyant anthems, as they provided the perfect closing set to a jam-packed first day.
Saturday started off slow, as a unanimous hangover seemed to consume the campsite, none the less the party got in gear eventually as campers had their morning debriefs with their newly formed tented neighbours, consisting of ‘How’s the head?’, ‘Ben UFO was mental last night’, and ‘Fucking hell, did you any get any sleep?’. It seemed The Big Blue Bus pizza was the first act on most people’s list and justifiably so.
As I eventually plucked up the courage to make the journey to the stages, I was returning to The Big Romance Stage to catch on of my favourite act’s of the weekend, EMA. The Woozy boss played the perfect set for the time it was, as she ran through a flurry of bass heavy sounds. A selection of dubby rollers absorbed the crowd as it grew in numbers, with a collective sense of admiration for the sheer amount of poise and tenacity that was packed into EMA’s hour and a half set.
Following on from my dubstep fix it was time to explore the food vendors at Beyond The Plate, and lying on the grass curdling some taco’s from El Milagro was my idea of heaven at that given moment. From here it was straight to the Selective Memory stage to catch Glasshouse Ensemble perform classic Aphex Twin renditions, which was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen, as a Glasshouse took on the extraordinarily difficult challenge of performing Aphex Twin with classical instruments. Aphex’s Selected Ambient Works is a piece of work which means a lot to me, so hearing the majority of the album played in this way, was particularly special.
As the Saturday progressed, the sunshine poked through the main arena and into the campsite, sun kissed dancers explored the festival’s ground’s and stumbled on buried treasures, hidden gems and gratuitous charm from every corner of Glendalough Estate. Festival goers were right at home on site, and an organic and vivacious atmosphere swept through site. It’s somewhat cliche that the star of any festival is the crowd, and in many cases this statement is absolute tripe, but however on this occasion it was most definitely true. A collective energy was building around the site and permitting a care free and fun loving vibe. There was most certainly something in the air at Beyond The Pale, and it felt like we were all part of the beginning of something very special.
That evening I had little expectation on the music front, as most the act’s I wanted to see were on Friday & Sunday, this unconcerning attitude lead to a night of unearthing experiences that I had no idea that I wanted, or ultimately needed. However one act that I particularly wanted to see was Boy Harsher, and they provided an explosive performance of quivering vocals, sinister synth lines and somewhat tribal pounding drums, it was everything I expected, yet totally fortuitous, in the best kind of way. There was something distinctly tribal about how lead singer Jae Matthews screamed into the microphone as if every note was her last breathe, the urgency was striking, yet the other half of Boy Harsher Augustus Miller seemed utterly cool as he pounded drums and laid down convulsive synth lines to the riotous crowd. The performance was littered with gritty New York basement club vibes, with a tint of frosty German electro, intense yet throughly cool.
After the sheer intensity of Boy Harsher it was time to groove to something a little softer as New Jackson performed an ethereal live set, full of wandering pads, shimmering synth lines and coruscating vocal’s. The sun began to dim, and there was a certain smoky atmosphere ascending as darkness loomed, and New Jackson was soundtracking this moment to perfection. As synth lines bounced off sparkling trees and misty skies, a vast amount of euphoria consumed me, and once again I was staring into the abyss while dancing to the beat of the drum, trying to hold onto this feeling that I’m constantly chasing but rarely find.
Saturday’s discoveries continued throughout the night as John Talabot took to the stage, while John is one of the most reputable names in modern dance music, seeing his name on the lineup didn’t overly excite me, and maybe I had preconceptions as to how his set would sound without really exploring his DJ sets too much. To my surprise John played a polished set of deep and driving techno, executing thorough long transitions with utter precision. Within a blink of an eye, night had fallen and rain began to descend on a crowd that were utterly absorbed by John’s trip through the deep and winding techno tools.
As Talabot came to a close dancers flocked to Bonobo, and a heavenly atmosphere ran from the main stage right through Glendalough. A mass of people stood in awe of the Grammy nominated artist as he left onlookers in a cocoon of whirling ambient drones, before leading in mind bending breakbeats and subtle dreamscapes. The backdrop of visuals seemed to mimic the surroundings of Glendalough, as gentle soundscapes danced around visuals of nature, and the awing surroundings of the festival site. One of the most anticipated acts of the weekend made sure onlookers were left in sheer reverence from the revered producer. As ravers would continue to dance into the night, it seemed fitting to call it a night after Bonobo’s rapturous performance.
As the final day of the festival got under way, it seemed that a mass of festival goers were leaving, and a myriad of fresh dancers were arriving on site, as if a new cast was arriving to the Beyond Pale show. The new ravers brought a fresh sense of delirium to the conclusive day of the debut edition of the festival. Orbital’s closing set seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue as they prepared themselves to find the gut’s to begin drinking once again.
Sunday began with an inventible trot up to Beyond The Plate, in search of some sort of nutrients that our body’s all badly craved, and oh boy did we get it. The aroma of jerk chicken coming from AA’s Caribbean stall was simply infectious, and no matter how long I had to stand in line, I was eating that, and that was the end of that. Arguably the best performance of the weekend was from the pit master at AA’s, who was on par with Ben UFO when it came to perfection at his craft, this was the stuff of dreams, and far surpassed the crust infected breakfast bap that I usually consume on the Sunday of a festival.
I sauntered around the main arena for the majority of Sunday, bumping into familiar faces and uncovering a host of musical delights that proceeded to soothe my withered body. Mr. Scruff took to The Big Romance stage for a mammoth four hour set, which brought dancers on a trip through his vast and cavernous record collection. From jazz to breaks, to disco to techno, I continued to go back and forth from the campsite to the main arena, and Mr. Scruff was continuously supplying a solid groove to soundtrack a sunlit Sunday. In a world of short set’s packed with big tune, after big tune, it was a real delight to see a DJs DJ being booked to root through his stacks for four hours at an Irish festival.
The Mary Wallopers were the talk of Sunday’s antics as the Dundalk based folk band took to the main stage in the most rock ‘n’ roll fashion possible. The crowd surfing, punk soaked folk band caused a ruckus during their performance, resurrecting a once hungover crowd into a hay-wired frenzy of cross genre intensity. The hype around The Mary Wallopers performance seemed to feed into the distinctly Irish ethos of the festival, and left a stark sense of admiration for our homegrown talent, as The Mary Wallopers departed the stage, as new found heroes of the inaugural edition of Beyond The Pale.
As the surprises just kept coming, I strolled into the Beyond The Plate arena in search of a cocktail and left an hour later in a pool of sweat as Donal Dineen’s Backstory rocked the dining area with an array of hip-hop, breaks, grime, garage and afrobeats, to a crowd who I presumed fancied a bite and a drink, but soon got sucked in by Donal’s alluring track selection. Donal whizzed around an ensemble of genres and moods, to a crowd that was simply begging for more and more. This was the optimally of the weekend’s unruffled vibe, and freedom to explore with no expectancy.
My evening continued in this blasé manner of anticipation, as I abandoned my desired plan to jump from act to act that I had previously assured myself I would see on the Sunday. I found myself gravitating to my most frequently visited stage, The Big Romance, where I stumbled upon one half of Kiasmos, Janus Rasmussen shelling out minimal grooves, to a baseline hungry audience. In a similar vain to the way I had originally snubbed John Talabot, I had no desire to catch Janu Rasmussen either, as my somewhat ignorant inclination’s towards his DJ set’s we’re entirely wrong. As I continuously found myself leaping out of my musical comfort zone into unchartered waters, I found myself breaking down musical barriers that my moderately close minded inclinations had stopped me from enjoying in the past, and I was frankly in love with the novelty of it all. Janus Rasmussen kept the groove continuously rolling, as buoyant synths glided around Glendalough, and billowing baselines kept my hips shaking.
The time had come for the ultimate finale as the seminal electronic duo Orbital would take to the main stage to close out proceedings. The Hartnoll brothers arrived on stage, clad with their trademark torches on their heads, and played in front of a breathtaking backdrop of profound yet psychedelic visual display, which exhibited messages of the faults and beauty of today’s society, it was immensely obvious that the night belonged to Orbital. From the first track, it was an engrossing and utterly compelling performance, as one of the greatest electronic duo’s of all time bounced through the decades of their music. The magnitude of the performance was something I hadn’t seen at the festival quite yet, as the majority of the five thousand people in attendance congressed around the main stage. The intensity and euphoria continued to build as the duo played crowd favourites ‘Satan’, ‘You Lot’ and more. The set reached an ultimate climax right before their formative track, ‘Belfast’, when the music cut out. The crowd was looking slightly bemused, as they waited to hear what sound would come from the speakers next. Phil and Paul Hartnoll soon began to speak as they complained about the technical issue, but I still wasn’t overly sure if this was part of the act or not. Phil Hartnoll soon said ‘This happens all the time to us, it happened in Cork, Dublin, Glasgow and Belfast’, and then resumed the music upon saying ‘Speaking of Belfast…’. Whether it was on purpose or not, it certainly added to the charm of the set, and was a warm introduction to one of my favourite tracks of all time. The pair then ran through their big hit’s ‘Halcyon And On And On’ & finished with ‘Chime’. It soon became apparent that the sound difficulties were not for show, and we’re real slip ups, as Chime was abruptly interrupted, and Phil let out a frustrated ‘fuck sake’. The crowd was left stalling, feverishly awaiting the return of the bass, but the absence of music provided a chance for the sibling duo to tell the crowd just how much they love Ireland, and run through some brief stories during the interval. The unwanted slip up, seemed to add to the overall charm of the festival and left me with a big grin on my face. An unexpected twist that could have left a bad taste in my mouth seemed to be perfectly fitting and quirky, for this happy-go-lucky three day extravaganza.
As the crowd’s were shepherded back into the main arena, like a a herd of cattle, I began to reflect on the weekend with acute sense of joy. I had little to no expectations, other than having a good time at this fresh faced festival, but I had no idea I would fall so deeply in love with everything that the festival encompassed. From the crowd, to the music, the wacky surprises and endearing sense of camaraderie that circulated the grounds. It was blatantly obvious to me, that this was a massive success, and I will be returning again. To put it simply, Beyond The Pale is utterly charming, and that’s all I could ask for.
Register & gain access to 2023 Early Bird tickets to Beyond The Pale 2023 HERE.
Photography Credits: Ruthless Imagery