A music blog from Ireland.
Now four days past last weekend but far from a fading memory, the tenth Hard Working Class Heroes festival was a commendable achievement on the part of organisers and performers over the three days in Dublin. It was important I suppose that after such a long term of evolved organisation, the event should do well on its decade anniversary – it’s older now than Electric Picnic and Oxegen, not to mention most of the popular small festivals where Irish bands are given full exposure and encouragement. An industry showcase first and foremost, ticketed as a festival to the public, there are numerous demands imposed that require attention and after six years observing the event’s ascent in the Irish music calendar it struck me several times over the weekend that all objectives have been achieved and there is no doubting the decision to expand to 100 Irish bands in one go was an absolute resounding success.
For me, I chose to see as many bands as I was interested in, and am happy to say that there are now even more to add to the list of emerging and established artists I’m keen to write about here. I did not get to see every one I would have liked: some clashed, some times went awry; it hit me with a jolt on Thursday night that I hadn’t actually applied for a media pass and so in the scramble to get there and find out if Harmless Noise was a goer, I didn’t get to see A Dark Horse, much to my regret. Forrests were one I arrived just in time to be tantalised with about two minutes’ worth of chilled-out euphoria, while the late time for Frankie B’s set with live vocals meant I had to leg it after just one song but my, Chain Of Fools is a beaut. The Spook ran over time which meant I missed Croupier who were down so hard on my must-see list, and I also missed Come On Live Long and Girl Band, while racing back for Ships on Friday night just didn’t work out. So that just means more gigs! Joy!
Yesterday I relied on autosave before hitting published on a blow-by-blow account of 28 bands I saw, only for the work to disappear into the guts of the Internet. This morning I did my best to recap and instead focused solely on the ones who really stood out over the weekend. However I was gunning around on a three-song limit for the most part so rather than reviews, this is really an overview. The full list of those I saw is:
Sertone, Ghosts, Hush War Cry, Bouts, Si Schroeder, CLU, Spies, Jogging, Solar Bears, A Lazarus Soul, Forrests, Frank B, Simon Bird, Ambience Affair, The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock, Le Galaxie, Electric Penguins, Nanu Nanu, Little Bear, Lamont Bailey Wall, Land Lovers, Dott, Owensie, The Mighty Stef, Last Days of 1984, Eatenbybears, September Girls, Grand Pocket Orchestra.
Ghosts - One of the first stops and the best visit to the Twisted Pepper on my travels over the weekend, this duo really warmed up Thursday night’s proceedings with dark and brooding beats diffused through pleasant ambient instrumental lines, and left me with the feeling that I’d found at least one example of new sounds that I’d set out in search of.
Bouts - First time seeing this band live after many months blogging about their songs, it was everything I’d hoped and more. Not only are the familiar choruses ridiculously catchy to sing along to, but there’s a keen sense of personality in the way their instruments ring out with individual clarity, from Barry Bracken’s voice to the sound of Colin Boylan’s guitar that I’d recognise anywhere, and seeing the way they moved, hell, rocked their way through the five new songs of their set left me confident that the forthcoming trip to New York for CMJ is going to go very well indeed.
Jogging - It’s too simple to break this band down into Ronan Jackson’s mighty basslines, the frenetic drums by Peter Lee or Darren Craig’s agile guitar and pervasive vocals, because there’s a repeated experience of being hit with just how tightly meshed they work as a live band. New album Take Courage has been growing ever stronger with each play and I’ve caught a few bits of performance in past weeks but Thursday’s HWCH set left a gnawing sense of anxiety to hear all these new songs live in their entirety ASAP.
A Lazarus Soul – despite doing zero promotion for their early slot at the Button Factory on Friday night they still drew a decent crowd. Those in attendance for these ire-charged underperformers (they really could and should play more gigs) witnessed Brannigan’s impressively resonant delivery of restrained agitation, music that stands out as anachronistic in our politically-apathetic music scene. The huge influence of The Fall is not disguised, hell the cover of Mark’ll Sink Us positively underlined it, but the band stands fast as an entity of its own making, with a particular joy inveigled by the guitar playing of Joe Chester who, after Brannigan left the stage on the last word, ended with a climatic guitar solo aided by the use of a metal spanner as a slider.
The Ambience Affair - Being accustomed to the sound of The Ambience Affair after several years following their progress, I’m not sure why I was so surprised by their Button Factory set on Friday night, except perhaps familiarity had led me to think I’d seen it all from these guys by now. But familiarity, far from breeding contempt, breathed life into the looping signifiers of songs like Fragile Things and the addition of keys and bass since the last time I saw them play made a marked difference. Seeing vocalist Jamie possessed with an urgency and restlessness that poured out in powerful bawls and gentler harmonies with Yvonne Ryan’s voice left me certain that a little extra backing or tour support from some outsiders could see the way clear for this band to do very, very well on the other side of alternative folk-rock.
Simon Bird - I’ve seen him play better shows than this to better crowds – The Workman’s Club on Friday night was rife with chatter – but in a strange twist, felt a deeper and clearer connection with the funereal electronic dirges of this young, Dublin-based, English-born producer and spent most of Saturday consumed with the implanted memory of Bird’s sombre swells of sound. The venue seemed too suffocatingly small to contain all the power of his songs and I found myself wondering how it might have sounded to hear his set outdoors, where those huge beats could rise above to the loftier acoustics of Meeting House Square.
The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock - affectionately referred to as The Spewke, to rhyme with ‘book’ and ‘cook’ in Dublin dialect, the Planxty-meets-Pantera bombast had the Grand Social heaving on Friday. There was something in the style of Allen Blighe’s stately vocal delivery that temporarily swathed his spotlit figure in the mists of time and the ardent haunted tones suggested, to my mind, that a similar figure could have stood as a bard before chieftains and warriors recounting the tallies of battles won and lives lost. Mesmerising.
Electric Penguins - Only made it for the last song, but overjoyed it was a long song, slowly building, returning, replenishing before finally spilling out with cataclysmic intensity that laid bare the progressive influences of this group in a thrilling throwback to the endurance of timeless ideas, bringing to a close the most sonically diverse night of the weekend.
Le Galaxie - It’s fair to say that bands like Le Galaxie are the raison d’être for festivals like Hard Working Class Heroes; an example of an act who applied to play, showed promise, worked hard and were invited back; who present something truly awesome to all aspects of the event; the industry heads who travel here from around the world, the punters who shell out to be catch up and be impressed by what’s going on, and the bands who need a confidence boost in knowing they can perform their music and be appreciated for it.
Le Galaxie started out making music for the sake of art in 66e, garnered positive reviews but grew bored of the solemnity surrounding post-rock, veered off in rebellion and a glamorous revamp, harnessing the emotional tug of Eighties synthesizers and the modern rhythmic magnetism of dance music. Aware that this U-turn wouldn’t work if done sloppily they put in three years of practice in which they learned the best ways to turn on a crowd before releasing their debut album Laserdisc Nights 2 in 2011. And now, they can do no wrong, evidenced by the Meeting House Square headline slot on Friday night – not even a decibel limit could hold them back. From album stormers Midnight Midnight and Powers of Miami to new tracks from the recent Fade 2 Forever EP such as the heartmelding Love System with Elaine Mai‘s vocal to older EP number We Bleed The Blood Of Androids, there was a retrospective tinge to their set that showed the arc of their progress and proved Irish bands do have prospects on their home turf. The feel-good sea of outstretched arms was testament to that, and for an irreverent party-time band, they were deadly serious in the mission to show just how far they’d come since the first investment of a slot at HWCH…and there wasn’t a glowstick in sight.
Nanu Nanu - Given that the opening slot at 7pm in the barn of the Button Factory seems a very ominous prospect, to their credit Nanu Nanu not only drew bodies to the floor but also got rusty heads bopping in appreciable response. Beat-driven acts are normally stuffed away behind laptops with masks of concentration furrowing their faces but using computerised backing to set the tempo frees this duo to engage more freely with the crowd. In her element as a dancing, smiling, jewelled front as performer Glitterface, Laura Sheeran transforms from her darkclad solo persona to delight-heart in Marc Aubele’s synth sounds, contributing the vocals to this medley of a mesmerising performance.
Eatenbybears - this Belfast foursome are known for the unconventional use of violin and sound like a dash each of ASIWYFA, Foals and Vampire Weekend, creating a potent coolant cocktail of math rock and post-punk topped with the dry ice of instrumental heft. This tropical flavour suited the heat from the Mercantile’s heaving crowd, with more people piling in from all over town as their set progressed, which for many was the highlight of the entire weekend.
Owensie - on the cusp of releasing his second album Citizens, an appearance at HWCH was a good and proper reflection of Owensie’s contribution to the new pool of Irish singer-songwriters. Lyrically, his indefatigable pursuit of life and its issues has not waned and his music still centres on the role of his acoustic guitar but with added bass, sax, drumming and backing vocals, all the stops were pulled out to deliver a set in fine style, whetting the appetite and paving the way for new listeners in a pin-drop quiet crowd when the record launches.
September Girls - The set I looked forward to the most of Saturday night after listening to the Green-Eyed single for quite some time, it didn’t disappoint although instead of a serried rank of dudes staring at the girls on stage, this show would have been a lot more fun if everyone had shimmied up to dance to the hazy grooves of this garage rock and synth pop five-piece. We made do with a few shapes as the sound of female vocals washed overhead, softly balanced against the brunt of heavy drums and bass, and it was all a little bit bliss.
Perhaps I should sort myself a camera for next year, this post feels pretty bare without photos so if anyone wants to share their work here, please get in touch, full links and credits included of course. It was great fun, I saw no empty venues and the few misgivings over the weekend were not related to HWCH itself so don’t bear repeating here. I owe thanks to FMC for the pass, appreciate the interesting questions from those who attended the speed session on Saturday morning and am glad of my friends who, despite not being accustomed to haring around a new venue in the city every 15 minutes, took it in great sport and really got into the spirit of things. That’s it now for another year, unless the Mayans were right, in which case HWCH 2012 went out on a high!