A music blog from Ireland.
Dabbling in music as a career has to rank with dentistry and psychology in terms of mind-fucks. When on Wednesday you still feel like you danced with Muhammed Ali on Saturday, when the sole enduring truth is how hoarse you sound from singing, how bruised from bouncing and sick from pure euphoria, you realise it’s something of a sadistic occupation based on a whim.
Merely soundwaves and energy, music is as misty and intangible as the emotion that creates it. It owes us nothing, holds no loyalty and will lay with anyone. Music doesn’t care about us. And we love it.
This could be The Biggest, Blistering Blast of A Brilliantly Biased Gonzo Review about hot chicks at rock gigs, giving the immense low-down of the intense buzz of the lead-up, man, skin prickling with that hot show jitterbug shit when caterwauls ricochet off the town music halls while somewhere else, a knife meets a gut or a baby is born…liquor, sweat, skin, bruises, vomit, crowd-surfing, glorious rainbow highs and set-lists, hugs and tears? The HEFT! happened. That ole stuff of flame-fronted biographies is happening right here and now: Dublin is live and dangerous.
And this is not a review. It’s just an afterthought of a weekend in the city, the last days of August and summer 2009 that seemed worth writing about. Our music scene, our life…hang with your ears cocked and you’ll hear who’s rehearsing and releasing, quitting or splitting. We can be so much more involved in what’s going on here because the stifling proximity of our own exciting culture allows us to get closer than any Atlanta or Brooklyn via Ticketmaster. We live in a musical micropolis. When we buy an album, it’s probably from the dude who made it or else they’re standing next in the lunch line.
We live in a musical micropolis.
Most of us are young, caught in this twenty-first century vaccum we try to fill with the useless and information, wading through work and friends, goaded on by soundtracks and playlists. There are special bands and artists who affect us more profoundly than others; some are dead, some are far away and some are so close you could lean over and unplug their guitar lead.
Is it wonderful when the music you love best is created close-up? Not always. It’s hard to stay objective when you’ve watched a band build their setlists and perfect their songs. It’s hard when your friends don’t feel the same way. It’s difficult to criticise people that added you online or might see you next week at another show. It’s hard to face other writers who look further afield and hone their points to razor-sharpness with the wisdom of a distant soul. It’s awkward being honest when you don’t think much of stuff and want to save your cash. No, it’s not as laid-back as getting hyped for Santigold’s next album but heart-wise the investment pays off…substantially.
On Friday, the new all-ages Exchange Dublin stepped into the limelight with a healthy show of support for new independent style. As a creative co-operative Exchange accept donations in lieu of ticket sales, which are then funneled back into new activities for its members. In one fell swoop this brand-new organisation have realised three necessities for music fans; accessibility, variety and value for money.
Situated in Temple Bar and welcoming new volunteers, Exhange is the project of a team of volunteers led by Dylan Haskins of the HideAway House. Opening its doors last month on the approval of an Arts Council grant, they’ve encouraged interested people to drop in and get involved in their local scenes. Not the first all-ages community space the city has seen, it’s the most exciting of late: debates and meetings to set the ball rolling have been jam-packed. We can expect to see music, art and drama take on a new role in the city centre, removed from the constraints of entertainment venues and ageist licensing laws. This in itself is an important reminder that fun is not synonymous with alcohol, despite the worrying trend seen amongst young Irish people. Instead of keeping the next generation at arm’s length, the collective urge them in to the fold.
Haskins’ vision for equal artistic opportunity has already seen a huge buzz of interest for DIY bands like Heathers, whose stripped-down 2008 debut album on HideAway Records, Here And Not There, earned the young sisters a strong position amongst new albums by established female artists like Lisa Hannigan and Gemma Hayes. That and the fact that they upped and toured America as a support band off their own bat after finishing their Leaving Certs last summer. Music and minds need space to expand beyond their immediate environment in order to grow and if Exchange can deliver a fresh perspective to new and established musicians in the city, it holds promise to become a real focal point as shared space for performances, discussion and support. We’ve seen what The Smell did for Los Angeles…that old whiff of roasted hops needn’t be the only scent drifting down the Liffey.
In July there was a collective outpouring of joy at the news of The Redneck Manifesto’s return to the live circuit, followed by a server-crashing wave of O-mouthed horrified emoticons when the realisation hit that BATS planned to release their album the very same night, Saturday 29 August. And so it was devised that any post-Whelans stragglers who fancied checking out BATS could get in to ALT for €6 with their ticket stubs.
All decent bands have something to say about the Rednecks. Fight Like Apes, Jape, Enemies, Estel, ASIWYFA, all those kids will tell you straight-up that TRM’s post-hardcore albums made deep in-roads of Irish rock in the last 10 years. They were the first Irish band to blow Texas off the map at SXSW. So with a new album under their belt and no gigs in over a year, the buzz was huge. It’s been a dizzying couple of years as the genres that once defined music here have imploded into the undefinable; in such a busy weekend, with a lesser support, in a parallel universe that show could have bombed.
Estel’s Only Some Are Shepherds thrashed Microcastle’s Nothing Ever Happened a whole five years ago but they don’t get the crowds they deserve. Yet, not just a sold-out show for the Redneck Manifesto but following dates in Cork and Galway, and a remaining buzz of fans who plan to travel to another city in the hope of maybe getting into another gig. Who even does that in Ireland anymore, does anyone leave the safety of their environment for anything less than visitors like Deerhunter? Only for the Rednecks, it seems, so what a genius move it was to divert the faithful towards the sounds coming from Andrew’s Lane…some have even called it “generous”. Is it really though? Or have we just become accustomed to an insular scene that serves itself? Is it such a big deal to hear a declaration of interest? Now you come to think of it, shouldn’t this be happening every weekend?
The flood of people who followed the bricks from Whelans for BATS’ album launch were the result of two seperate units combining their efforts, complementing and encouraging by collaboration rather than competition. With close friends Jogging and Adebisi Shank upping the ante of Red In Tooth And Claw’s release the launch was set to 11 from the get-go. However, the tension and tightness of each band’s set was astonishing…psychic vampires, they were feeding off the energy. For many it was a first chance to see Jogging’s brisk, tetchy numbers, others were psyched for the Shank who’d supported those gods Faith No More in the Olympia just two days before. Bang on form, they tore up the floor; bassist Vinny’s mask is probably protection in the event of an untimely collision with Mick Roe’s cymbals.
And so the crowd went wild. BATS hadn’t even played but the men were taking off their shirts already. To say the five DiScoites came in and laid waste would be misleading; they mortally finished us, bellowing through the sweaty mist of ALT’s shared consciousness with a sharp prism of cap-songs like brand-new Star Wormwood ’s count and chorus we’d been waiting all summer long for.
This was a Richter Collective night, a milestone for an independent record label that put down roots just over a year ago with Adebisi’s This Is The Album of… It was a celebration of the unconventional, a triumph for a tiny island which, against all odds of Geography and Chance, had led talent from of the suburb it was born in and shown to the world. Under the guidance of Richter, BATS had gone to Salem, Adebisi and Enemies to Japan. Exotic labelmates Marvins Revolt had literally completed recording their new album in Copenhagen. Just as Brooklyn spored bands like dandelion clocks, so too has Dublin gone all-out in a bid to do their bands justice. Though it’s been said that the Richter Collective have a monopoly on the best bands in Ireland right now it’s far from the truth; there are equally strong labels out there who must see this occasion as a vote of confidence in independent music and up their own efforts, inspire their artists. Gigs and records are selling out. Isn’t that what we’ve always hoped for? By matching the march against recession by appealling to the community rather than wallet, by way of personal touches on- and off-line (go out on a limb to make new friends, think real flyers, silly videos and links, links, links to goodies on the web), the audience will feed itself.
Sunday afternoons always dawn too soon and the ultimate hair-of-the-dog treatment after the barking night before was to just have more; down in Middle Abbey Street the Academy opened its doors for an afternoon all-ages show with And So I Watch You From Afar. Their first such egalitarian concert in Dublin, more schoolkids shuffled into the dim venue on Sunday afternoon than were in attendance at the band’s first Dublin gig at the Boom Boom Room just over a year ago. Considering the young have more disposable income than adults spend on a night out, it’s surprising there hasn’t been a proper attempt to cash in on their music impulses. It would certainly do well; watching a restless crowd of teenagers taking in the band as a live beast for the first time, seeing diehard smiles carving into such young faces as my own daughter’s eyes sparkled, was so profound: they were realising what the fuss was about, twenty years ahead of their time. This new chapter of live music for people, fans, children, families and individuals is such an enriching addition to a city that considers a tour of the James Joyce Centre a creative activity. It must endure.
But poor Jogging! It’s even harder to love music if you played the show of your life just a night before and can barely support your own head, let alone get up and go to work and do it all over again on your lunchbreak. But Jogging did…at more of a power-walk with regular gulps of water.
At least they’d slept though; energetic as ever on-stage but slightly tattered from driving through the night after a gig in Devon, ASIWYFA were back in Dublin for their 150th performance of the year. Although we’re talking huge festival stages here, this band aren’t Guns ‘n’ Roses or The Scissor Sisters but a group of four dead ordinary lads from the North coast who decided to give their dreams a chance and put their all into becoming the best rock band in the country. One successful album full of photos and reviews, and more cafe breakfasts than a traffic cop later, we’re starting to think they might just do that.
In the week that Hard Working Class Heroes announced a 100% Irish line-up for its talent showcase in October, MCD, the Irish promoters who handle some of the biggest names in the world, stepped up and voted Rock for the win. While every review column in the land tipped The Script as the most important concert of the week, there were far more important developments in Irish music than the bubblegum trio. I just wish I could’ve gone to all of them. Powered only by its own momentum, Dublin’s DIY scene made a huge statement as summer drew to a close: faith. The result of friendships paying off, this random cross-section of Crayonsmith, Heathers, RAN, The Redneck Manifesto, Patrick Kelleher and his Cold Dead Hands, Jogging, Adebisi Shank, BATS and ASIWYFA is just a slice of what happens over dozens of weeks, in one night like DEAF, one year like Richter, on our own doorstep and actually thrilling and unique, unlike the crybaby ballads our industry has dangerously flirted with. It’s a sign of things to come.
“The most important single ingredient to the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people” are famous words of Teddy Roosevelt but could just as likely have been uttered by Richie Egan, The Nicest Man In Ireland to many, winner of the Choice Prize and a member of Jape and The Redneck Manifesto. I’ve puzzled long and hard figuring out what secret ingredient of affable works so well, which method of getting along is the magic answer. What single element bonds the music and people of this country?
The answer is substance. The closeness and cameraderie of art and music has created an impenetrable mat of talent, meshed interests supporting the ideas of those alongside. By forging links with the people they meet, asiwyfa and The Redneck Manifesto’s genuine passion rubs off and years down the line, those young fans who sneaked into their shows will still be lining the front row.
Let us follow their example, do our best to be supportive. It’s fundamental in Physics that the smaller and more compact something is, the stronger it can withstand pressure. Let’s get involved, link our blogs, tell friends, share our thoughts and music, give others’ photos and films an extra push and two minutes of our time. Do away with the old backward notions of Pride equating to sin, that friendliess means brown-nosing, that our hopes are pinned on tacky medals. The substance in this city boasts unparalleled strength; unlike other music scenes in vast cities, fakers or poseurs are rare in Ireland because everyone knows who you really are, judging as we do on merit only.
It would not surprise me in the least if Ireland became the envy of the musical globe, if we took a deep breath, joined hands and jumped.
Incredible talent is so freely available, now when we can’t afford any of it. The key to prosperity is kinship: let wealth mean friendship. Collaboration and community equals creativity. Goodwill rebounds…talent equals confidence. It would not surprise me in the least if Ireland became the envy of the musical globe, if we took a deep breath, joined hands and jumped. We can do it ourselves! We have the music, character, passion and frenzy. We have a history of beauty, rejection and danger, charming the pants off the world since our forebears took to sailing. We have the resources, venues and a community of young, young people desperate for inspiration. Every alternative route must be taken to do justice to this country’s talent. The people are out there waiting for songs, the music is out there waiting to be heard. All that’s missing now is attitude: we’ve held back since Pride in the Name of Love. Now with fresh thunder, it’s time to get really proud of Irish music. The kids have seen beyond tabloid boasts that Danny O’Donohue’s garden shed is the most exciting offering this country has seen in years. They don’t need to sell their souls for an Electric Picnic VIP pass…they’re having the time of their lives just where they are.
Andrew’s Lane Theatre – Andrew’s Lane, Dublin 2.
The Academy - 57 Middle Abbey Street Dublin 1.
Originally published September 2009 (Drop-d.ie)