Day 2 then – a much healthier roster of acts to look forward to at Castlepalooza, with the Big Top Stage tent, the Original Penguin stage inside the castle, and the Laughter Lounge tent all open for business to expand the wandering opportunities for the assembled. Things are still relatively quiet around the main arena during a large chunk of daylight hours, but Goldenplec braved sun, rain, wind and warm cans to catch as much music as we could…
Dreaming of Jupiter
Dreaming of Jupiter are the first band up on the main stage on Saturday, following the Homebeat DJs with some mellow sounds for the early chancers. The four-piece take their set through ambient soul and laid-back funk, with the singer switching between guitar and synth, tripping off samples while her colleague beside her provides the atmospheric sinew that binds everything together. It’s an emotive vocal throughout, with the vocalist swaying, arms aloft, then changing things up to lay down some rapid-fire rapping in the middle of Let Me Down.
Close maintains the funk soul vibe, with the drummer eschewing the acoustic kit for electronic pads, and the small but enthusiastic gathering in the crowd engage in a bit of audience participation, helping softly on vocals. Finally, Portishead are invoked as things wind down, until the beats kick in and take things in a more dance-y trajectory, rounding off a successful early afternoon primer for the day’s music.
Participant is the brainchild of Dublin’s Stephen Tiernan, augmented here by a violin, drums, synth and guitar having graduated to the main stage since last year and doubling in personnel along the way. A vocal sample rings out as the four players wait, and a portentous floor tom thump leads in as the musicians lay out the ambient flow. A deceptively simple rhythm track pins it all down, but the concentration is clear on drummer’s face. Shelter sees another intricately structured rhythm track gradually solidify along with the violin’s overarching wail, as Tiernan’s soft vocal delivers a collection of personal songs.
The band exit for Leave Me Here leaving Tiernan to go it alone, with a vocal not unlike Conor O’Brien, re-joining then as that familiar vocal sample intro heralds the final track. Book-ending the selection, it amplifies the cohesion in theme, tone and tempo the band build and maintain through the set.
The dearth of crowd, despite the sun peeking through the leafy canopy, doesn’t deter Bad Sea’s CMAT from throwing all the shapes. This is apparently their first outdoor gig, and the wind disconcerts her, but there’s no lack of confidence here despite the admission. She shares vocals with the bassist over an early-set Rihanna cover. The comedic interplay between the pair is a whole other layer of enjoyment in the set, and while they’re like chalk and cheese in their stage antics, both are equally strong in voice.
It starts bucketing down during Solid Air, but that only serves to draw the folks out front closer under the tree cover while CMAT fills the between-song silence with the most entertaining stage patter of the three days. “Get ready to piss tears” she says, with little reverence to I Want You, giving her vocal a stretch on the heartfelt country number – just her and guitarist Alan Farrell – before starting “banger proceedings” with a song about men being useless bastards. A few bars of The Beach Boys’ Kokomo precedes Tell Me What You Mean, before they go out on the ‘boom, boom-boom cha!’ beat of Phone Me. Bad Sea’s proves one of the more enjoyable sets of the weekend, with a frontwoman who flaunts a perfect mix of magnetism and sheer fun.
Aik J gets straight in with the audience participation, getting the crowd onside for some vocal assistance on his urban soul trip. “What I do is spread love vibes around the room” he tells us before a more insular performance of Height, eyes closed stage front. Sweet Life then is a complete change of tack, with the soulful singer back on gregarious form for a more groove-oriented tune. One Last Time gets its first live outing, with a fine, choppy funk rhythm guitar leading the charge. Aik J’s main stage performance becomes increasingly engaging as the set progresses and he and the band ease into it, with a versatile vocal to lead them through the subtle tempo shifts.
Wexford’s Wolff get down to the serious business of heavy rock in the tented Big Top Stage for a relentlessly brutal onslaught of power chords and crashing cymbals. Rage Against The Machine are one touchpad, Black Crowes another, and things switch between headbanging riffing to Southern Rock territory, often skirting the line of cheesy rock cliché but managing to stay on the right side of it.
There are a few call-and-response sections over the duration (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), and they get everyone hunkered down low on the ground near the end of Flesh, Blood, Skin & Bone, counting down to a release for the crowd to jump back up and let loose. You can be cynical about this kind of thing, but damned if it doesn’t work. Wolff are full tilt rockers – heavy-duty and highly enjoyable. It’s a well-worn formula, but they have enough of their own stylistic imprints to keep things interesting.
Setting up in the castle’s first floor room with the ridiculously ornate ceiling – already respectably packed (and it’s a huge room) – Spud Gun are a technicolour vision even before any music kicks off, all face paint and flowing multi-coloured garb. The window shutters are closed and the room darkened – a focusing of attention in advance of the show. There are eight bodies onstage for starters (with a few familiar faces from previous bands over the last 24 hours) but that number undulates as this singular performance progresses.
A swell of noise arises – a clatter of sticks on bongos, a swathe of cymbals, the discordant scrape of violin amidst the swirling effects. A large portion of the audience sit on the carpeted area in front of the stage, until a man in a God costume appears and rouses them. From here onwards, it’s an audio-visual treat, with a suitably histrionic performance from the singer and the bass anchoring it all while everyone else goes berserk.
It’s arch theatre as God intones into a telephone from the stage, his admonishments merging into hellish soundscapes through scuzzy grunge and psych rock, hip-hop, punk and prog, post-rock and pop, lounge-y acid jazz…and that’s just for starters. Zoomorphic dancers covered in glowing lights infiltrate the audience from every angle – jellyfish float through the crowd, elephantine dancers and beasts of the forest move to the gapless music and the entire room is suddenly, wonderfully alive. Spud Gun’s is a wholly immersive show, panoramic sensory pleasure with attention pulled over 360 degrees. It’s not just one of the most memorable gigs of Castlepalooza, but of the year so far.
The Belfast trio arrive at the festival with just enough time to spare to get themselves organised for their set in the castle’s Original Penguin Stage, playing to a relaxed evening crowd who largely opt to sit the gig out on the carpet in front of the band. Guitar, bass and synth are the tools at hand, and things kick off with a Beach House style airiness.
The three gel well, but the backing track tends to become an afterthought (although maybe it’s just the mix on the night) leaving the impression that a live drummer would serve them well. A slightly nervy performance becomes a bit more assured as they settle into the surroundings, and overall it’s harmless enough synth disco – enjoyable for the duration and played with conviction, even if songs are largely interchangeable.
Rarely Seen Above Ground
It’s 2013 since Jeremy Hickey’s (RSAG) last visit to the castle, and tonight sees the lone drummer deliver yet another tribal and momentum-pushing set. Hickey’s kit is positioned right to the front of the stage while a large backdrop plays visuals behind him, synched perfectly with his organic beats. He’s no stranger to the festival circuit at this point in his career, and his set is tailored towards those in the mind to dance, with the syncopated rhythms interspersed with flourishes on the toms and crashing crescendos on the cymbals.
Hickey occasionally frees himself from the drum stool to shout into the mic, or to incite the crowd to further movement, although at this point on a Saturday night little encouragement is needed in the build-up to the headline acts. Hickey’s deep, propulsive beats set things up nicely for the late night ahead, his statement to the crowd speaking volumes to his dedication to the cause – “Genuinely, I’m having more fun than you are.”
There can’t be a festival-goer among us who by now hasn’t encountered Daithí on some stage or in some tent over the last few years. He’s become a festival staple, and for good reason, tonight headlining the Big Top Stage for a just-about-capacity crowd. It’s a dense set for the most part, with the usual synth, drum machine and live fiddle set-up, and with an appearance from singer and collaborator Sinead White to add that extra nuance to the sonic palette.
This gig can’t really lose – the crowd are on it, the musicians are old hands at this, and the atmosphere built up over an evening of eclectic and first-rate performances is bubbling nicely under the canvas. We’re now halfway through the weekend, and a lengthy set from Daithí ensures that Saturday’s batch of bands and DJs are topped off in style with his own organically-flavoured take on electronic music.