Still in only its second edition, Beyond The Pale, which takes place at Glendalough House near Roundwood in Wicklow, is quickly becoming a shining gem of the summer music scene. It has two particularly sparkling aspects.
First, there’s a fantastic ability to curate a setlist that seems to intend to look beyond the obvious, and digs into a spellbinding mix of celebration and thought-provoking elements. Then there’s that breathtaking setting.
Let’s begin with the setting. The main entrance to Beyond The Pale is a stroll down a walkway through the woods, eventually opening out into a carefully laid out campsite full of yurts, and – on some mornings at least – a view over a gentle Wicklow peak shrouded in fog. Once you get down to the main arena, it has the feel of an oversized glen, the main stage backed by wooded hillsides, with another Wicklow vista to the reverse. It is, in short, a serious contender for the best festival setting in Ireland.
And then there’s the line up. The main headline acts here are not, it’s fair to say, attempting to chase the musical zeitgeist. Instead, what they are is a carefully curated selection seemingly designed to bring a massive party (see Leftfield and Hot Chip on Saturday night), or a gorgeous, hypnotic throwback (see Grace Jones, Morcheeba, and the effervescent Candi Staton, the lively crooner now well into her 80s).
Surrounding the bigger acts is a beat-heavy mix of nicely varied dance acts, and the more quirky, original end of the local music scene. Beyond The Pale doesn’t so much go big, in the sense that the more casual music fan might not look at its line up and salivate, but choose instead to go smart.
Take the Friday night. Picking a stage almost at random, we see a New Zealand DJ named BAYNK make his Irish debut in front of a crowd of thousands. The experience seems special to him, and what he produces matches that, a sunshine, swirling mix of morphing and slightly eccentric dance-pop fusing minimalist vocals and entrancing beats.
He’s followed by cult local hero For Those I Love, a beat-backed spoken word artist who is utterly heart wrenchingly beautiful. His self-titled album is a tribute to a friend lost to suicide in three acts, backed with Whatsapp snippets from the friend concerned, beautiful videos drawn from his young life in working class Dublin, and belted out through stages of anger, regret and, at times, celebration that feel like the man himself is doing this for the very last time. To say For Those I Love is sensational live is to understate the sheer evocativeness of what he does: while it’s hard to see how he moves on from his startlingly brilliant debut, he might be the best thing the Irish music scene has produced so far in the 2020s.
There’s not the space in print to cover every moment of class, musically, but suffice to say the quality of music continues to deliver elsewhere, too: Morcheeba, Sprints, Hot Chip and Daithi all offer particularly blistering sets.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty to enjoy, too. We soak up a theatrical performance from super-camp sibling duo Bourgeois and Maurice, whose witty take on life eviscerates everything from the UK government to babies through playful sarcasm and several outfit changes.
In one corner, there’s a daily puc fada, ceili, and the music-scene adjacent charity My Lovely Horse Rescue are bedded in next to a series of essential caffeine outlets and a corner where aerial artists spin beside their own DJ booth.
Another fine corner is the tea tent, a kind of escapist aside, while the foodies are treated with a series of chefs and Panti Bliss gets a nice chance to tell her story in amongst it all. With a relative lack of superstars, in fact, and a small and welcoming arena area (which includes, unusually for Ireland, the option to bring in your own drinks, a huge money saver for some) Beyond The Pale lends itself to carefree exploration, a kind of untimetabled strolling from corner to corner just to see what connects.
This is not akin to Electric Picnic. If anything it’s closer to the lovable quirkiness of sadly-departed Wicklow festival Knockanstockan. Beyond The Place has a heftier line up than the old local-centric hippy fest, but it has the same happy buzz, a kind of uplifting celebration that manages to be effortlessly fun largely without verging into the more unpleasant end of festival chaos.
In short, Beyond The Pale is only going to grow. With a bit of luck, it’ll grow with its fine line-up ethos and attention to detail firmly intact. Two years in, it’s already an understated, relatable pick of the summer.
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