Sunday evening fatigue has well and truly set in. But this is Sunday at Electric Picnic. That word, ‘Sunday’; its talismanic portent has no power here, not over us. Not here, at the last major festival of 2014. It’s 2am, and Irish festival season is in its final throes. The Monday morning risers have left. They partied hard, but now it's time to return to real life; still a distant memory to the people who remain upright at The Salty Dog Stage in the woods between campsite and arena, nestled at a crossroads of sorts…and don’t all the best things in music occur at the crossroads? Maybe it isn’t even a crossroads, just an illusion brought on by the converging human traffic and the trees, and the big askew stage sunk into them. These hardy, bleary-eyed people at the illusory crossroads, they don’t defer to ‘Sunday’. ‘Sunday’ can get fucked.
What is it with King Kong Company and Sundays? That late-night closer in Stradbally was just one more in a successful run of festival shows, where word of mouth and Trojan graft cemented their standing as the hedonist’s favourite. That same summer they opened the main stage on the final day of Body & Soul festival on a glorious Sunday afternoon, for one of the most triumphant kick-offs to a festival we’ve had the pleasure of attending.
“I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t seen that many people at the main stage at Body & Soul at that time on a Sunday morning” recalls Mark Graham - percussionist, tromboner (it’s a word), and one-sixth of Waterford party-igniters King Kong Company. “You look out from the stage and you see faces of people you know and you go ‘Ah fuck…isn’t that nice now, they came.’ You feel like you’re being supported, and there’s something really nice about that.”
Hailing from various corners of Ireland, the members converged in Waterford in their college days and the nucleus of the band was formed. “The idea was to try and bring together the sensibilities of a rock band with the full-on thump of electronica, and mix in a bit of dub as well” Mark explains.
The band’s sound is a wildly eclectic mash-up of all of the above, led front-and-centre on the live front by their enigmatically incognito dancer and crowd fluffer, Boxhead. The headgear might seem restrictive, but this certainly isn’t so when the stage is alive with the sextet’s kinetic interplay. The cardboard box may not curb the shape-throwing and commotion, but the mind is never too far from thinking outside of it, “I’ll put it this way...you can’t wait to get out of your box.”
We're gonna be able to put a bit of thump into it, which is kind of what we do
The band had somewhat of a renaissance a couple of years ago when their current visuals man John Loftus suggested they provide a track for a documentary he was working on. The subsequent Youtube reaction to the collaboration led to the idea of releasing a track and video every month for twelve months, with one, Acetate, winning an iMTV award.
Some fared better than others, and Mark – at the time hopping around the country curating his ‘A Year Of Festivals In Ireland’ blog and Irish Times column – shoulders some culpability, “I was in the middle of going to festivals so I didn't really put in any work on them at all. I was in the bad books during that period.”
Those videos, though, led to a ‘one-off’ sold-out gig in The Forum in Waterford, which opened doors to the festival circuit and a fruitful relationship with one in particular. From a storming set at the Body & Soul arena at Electric Picnic 2013 – on a Sunday evening – to that afternoon hangover-banishing main stage set at Body & Soul proper last year, the subsequent results speak volumes. “This year they’ve given us another slot and it kind of goes against what they do, because they don't book the same bands two years in a row. It’s a policy they have”
That festival seems to hold a special place in the band’s hearts as well as in those of the punters who acknowledge its magic. “After Body & Soul last year we sat down at a picnic bench and we were just drinking cans and chatting for a few hours”, Mark says, “We were all buzzing.”
From a band that seems so prolific it comes as a surprise that a debut album has still to make an appearance, and the as-yet-unnamed record should be out by the summer’s end. “We've adapted an interesting collaborative process at the moment where we have an idea and sketch it out, and I suppose the technology lets us do this,” Mark explains.
The wide array of musical leanings accounted for within the band inevitably informs the finished product. “A few seeds are thrown around between us online, and then in the rehearsal room we try and put it together. I suppose we create Frankensteins of tracks between all of us.”
With such a mixed bag of musicians and conflicting opinions, Mark cheerfully admits the writing process sometimes isn’t pretty, but at the end of the day, “We're all mates - we have been for years - and even when we weren’t playing we were still friends, and we still will be when it’s finished.”
Spacehopper is one of the most recent cuts, a song that recalls Sleaford Mods in its danceable construct and vitriolic diatribe. “There are many people on the receiving end of that. It’s on foot of being annoyed by people putting up a front, pretending to be something but actually being something else. It was directed at a couple of people in particular but then it was expanded out to catch more people.”
I’ll put it this way...you can’t wait to get out of your box
“The Pig! Have you seen the video of the pig?” Mark’s counter-question to our pondering over bizarre happenings over the band’s lifespan certainly piques our interest. “It was a wonderful moment but not exactly an illustrious television debut” Mark laughs, recounting their set at the Harvest Food Festival when a petting zoo piglet’s bid for freedom, captured on camera phone, went viral as the band inadvertently soundtracked its McQueen-esque endeavours.
“These three children are running up the road like something’s chasing them, and then a baby pig runs across in front of the video, and then a security guard is running behind the baby pig…it wasn't exactly the television debut we were hoping for but fuck me, man, I nearly fell off the stage.”
As this might suggest, things don’t always turn out as expected. The much maligned Light Colour Sound festival last year became a byword in how not to organise a festival. “We were kind of disappointed that it got such a hammering because we were at it, and we had a great time at that. Most of the people who were at it were in bands” laughs Mark, “There were more bands than there was people unfortunately, that was the problem”
The turnout was poor, and a lot of the bands didn’t get paid, resulting in a shitstorm for the event organisers that played itself out over social media. “They just didn’t make any money and they lost their bollocks, and we kind of felt for them a bit rather than really pissed off with them.”
The triumphs outweigh the odd speed wobble, though, as a recent sold-out Sugar Club attests, but rejoice, revellers, because it’s almost time to start airing the tents for another summer of music. Of those Sunday night folk – “the hardcore festival contingent” - that gravitated towards the Salty Dog Stage in the wee hours Mark sagely observes, “They're well practised in what they do. They know what they’re doing.”
For such a seasoned festival hound, the man himself picked the wrong time to experiment with a new pre-gig bodyclock regulation system. “I know I tried an approach that failed miserably - I stayed up all Saturday night and didn’t sleep at all. Went into Sunday in the hope I'd go to bed on Sunday morning or Sunday lunchtime and get up late then on Sunday fresh for the gig. But that didn’t work.”
Not every gig should be a session, but Jesus, a lot of them are!
Let this be a lesson to all attendees at Body & Soul 2015, where the band will return for an as-yet-undisclosed late-night slot, this time surrounded by canvas. Their game plan is succinct – “We're gonna be able to put a bit of thump into it, which is kind of what we do.”
King Kong Company became our communal festival meeting point, an unspoken ‘see you there’ in the line-up deliberations. They were the facilitators when we danced ourselves awake at Body & Soul, and the psychopomps when we surrendered to oblivion at Electric Picnic. Where else would they be? “We like the buzz of the festivals, I have to say…” So say we all. We’re in a position to neither confirm or deny that King Kong Company will once again be the band to usher festival season to a close on The Salty Dog Stage at this years’ event. The wiser night owls among you should read between the lines. We’ll see you at the crossroads at 2am…
King Kong Company play The Button Factory on Saturday 4th April, with support from Donal Dineen and Travis Bickle.