Hard Working Class Heroes, Friday 3rd October 2014
The unambiguous relationship between the Irish festival-goer and the rain is given a twist at Hard Working Class Heroes. Where out in the open air you are left exposed to the sadistic whims of the Irish climate, here the downpour suffers from a level of impotence when music fans find themselves boxed into different rooms around a city, only venturing out to get to the next location. Slippery floors and the smell of wet clothes are its main impact on Friday night.
On day two the festival atmosphere has established itself and the bands largely act as if they feel like they’re a part of something, rather than that they’re just playing a truncated version of their usual sets. We’re all into the groove by now and ready to check out the wares of the music-makers of Ireland.
Death In The Sickroom
Death In The Sickroom’s debut EP ‘Brick To The Face’ is one of the most exciting releases of the year, so this was a great chance to see if the band’s jangly tunes translate to the live stage.The band kick off with their bright, chiming chords, and catchy little flourishes that are all highly impressive, but unfortunately the sound is very muddy from the off. Vocals are barely discernible from the guitars, and making out lyrics is pretty much impossible. Admittedly this is more the sound engineer’s fault than the band’s but it does take away from the band’s performance.
As the show progresses, and the sound issues resolve themselves for the most part, the band grow into their set, appearing more confident with each track. Tonight and Billy No-mates are brilliant, toe-tapping Jangle-Pop masterpieces. But for all the quality tunes that the band churn out on the night, the band’s set just seems to be missing something.
It could be that the band’s wooden performance projects an air of disinterest and an air “I’d rather be somewhere else”. Pretty much the only words spoken are “weather’s shite” and there is far too much staring at the floor to engage with the crowd in a meaningful way. Death In The Sickroom have plenty of top-notch tunes, but you’d be just as well listening to them on record, because this emotionless display brings nothing new to the songs.
Otherkin’s wacky brand of garage rock struck The Mercantile like an electric shock on Friday night, and the band’s hard-hitting tunes really livened up proceedings.The loud/soft dynamic changes worked a charm on the brilliant Bad Drugs, with wild riffs squealing viciously during the loud sections, and low bass rumbles in the quiet sections. The band themselves inject a great energy into the tunes, feeding off the unpredictable nature of the tracks. On ’89 harmonics spring out of the most unlikeliest of places, and the atmosphere buzzes with a breathless restlessness.
For all the great liveliness that stems from the band’s set, some of the band’s songs lack a the catchiness that would make them memorable. Aside from a handful of lines here and there, much of Otherkin’s music is quite forgettable. Ultimately Otherkin have everything pretty much spot on performance-wise, all they need now is a couple of top-notch tracks to really prove themselves.
The plainly named Floor Staff have been pretty busy this year, releasing an EP in April , and a double A-side just a few months ago. Tonight, thire simple songs are held in place by strong, steady beats, with a little melodic decoration from guitars and piano. But the main selling point is Donnelly’s angelic voice. Rich, powerful and alluring, the vocals draw your attention immediately and rather spectacularly he sounds even better in person than on record. Gift Horse is a perfect example of Donnelly’s vocal prowess, and his voice lights up the song.
Despite the brilliance of the band’s vocals, much of their set breezes by as a slow, weary haze. Aside from the occasional moment when the guitars build up to powerful climax, the instrumental accompaniment to the vocals is very drawn out, and after more than a few songs of this slow-paced drudgery it’s quite easy to zone out. Floor Staff might be on to something good, and with a bit of energy and excitement to their set they could become a quality act.
Elastic Sleep performed at HWCH last year just a few months after being formed, and even at that stage they were already a very impressive outfit. During the year since that show, the band have released their debut EP and have developed their sound further, without straying too from the My Bloody Valentine inspired shoegaze template.
The haunting Anywhere opens the band’s show, and its hazy and peaceful atmosphere is captured perfectly by the ethereal vocals of Levis. One of the main criticisms of shoegaze bands was the fact that they were always staring at the ground, but Levis gazes eerily into the crowd for most of the set, a lone, vulnerable figure in a sea of crazy distortion.
As the set progresses the band strays away from its hazy, dreamy opening, and enters much darker territory on I Found Love. The rhythm section drones menacingly in the background while the most fantastical and startling sounds emerge from the two guitars. The band’s set becomes increasingly wilder and frenzied until it reaches its heroic conclusion with extraordinary guitar effects that penetrate beyond your ears and into your very soul, while Levis voice climbs to seemingly unreachable high notes.
Elastic Sleep were mind-blowing last night, turning feedback and distortion into an art form and popping eardrums left, right and centre. The band have developed an enormous amount in just one year, it’ll certainly be interesting to see where they are in another year’s time.
Coming into The Workman’s out of the rain for the opening performance on Friday evening, we seem to confront an act whose music accurately captures our complex emotions as we face the oncoming Autumn for the first time this year. Participant make use of electronic devices and your quintessential rock band instruments, and their music is restrained and dreary (in a good way).
It’s such a quiet and relaxed tone the band works with that it takes you a while to recognise just how complex the arrangements are. The pulse of the electronics rides over the beat of the drums and you can’t help but marvel at the ease with which the four-piece keeps together, sounding entirely natural.
This is music to lull, even if it is leaning more towards the atonal side of atmospheric. The lulling comes to a close in the last thirty or so seconds of the set however when the front man turns his back to the crowd and the music cranks up into a massive wall of sound. It’s intense and loud and it feels like this is where the entire set was headed. Then it simply cuts, like side one of ‘Abbey Road’, and you feel like, yes, this was worth braving the rain for.
You know, for a marvel of modern engineering, those umbrellas in Meeting House Square sure can leak when they want to. Woe be upon anyone standing beneath the spot where the four meet in the centre. Anyway, Cfit begin playing on the stage here and as they go on playing these songs of theirs you begin to find it difficult to know where one finishes and the next begins.
They base their songwriting around the wide repetitive rhythms employed by Arcade Fire, but in direct contrast to that band they never do anything unexpected. The whole affair feels preordained, like the first note for each song arrived on their laps and they simply took them through the road most travelled on their journey back home.
The closing song is more The National than Arcade Fire, and it graduates into a big unearned wall of noise which doesn’t even feel like music. At least the light show is pretty engaging, and it’s a lot of fun watching one of the beams of light strike the bass player in the head from time to time.
You have to either question the sanity or admire the tenacity of musicians who perform live with laptops. Many’s the Dell that can’t successfully open a gmail account without crashing and freezing for thirty minutes before you get to check that Four Star Pizza spam. The long preparation time taken by Somerville and her accompaniment of two means she only gets the opportunity to perform four songs. Indeed with enough computers on the Button Factory stage to navigate to the moon, it was always going to be a tight squeeze into a ten minute opportunity to set up.
It’s a shame as it turns out, because Somerville eases into her performance with more style than most, and by the time she has finished her second song of the night – Lies – the Button Factory has been silenced and astonished. The track is based on a simple guitar picking that slowly and imperceptibly turns into a refrain of “don’t tell me lies” while the electronic distortion builds and the songs turns into a crescendo.
So here’s an artist who appears to be an introvert, yet isn’t faded in the slightest by these technical difficulties or the short time she gets to win over an audience. Her demeanour is unreadable but her performance says everything that needs to be said. Why pepper it with those tiresome attempts to turn the stage into a place to peddle unsold EPs. Somerville gives an experience, albeit an all too brief one.
Maud in Cahoots
Before the band play a single note of their set you know this is going to be a good one. The titular Maud is clearly in control as her band begins to set up, making sure each instrument is at the right level with a sense of responsibility that has been surprisingly rare so far this festival. All the promise is there as she approaches the microphone, her band having already started up, and boy do they deliver.
The music is an engaging pop sound that makes use of rock and electronic instrumentation, and the highlight of the set must be the driving Greatest Achievement. If you’re in the Grand Social at this point, you’d be less likely to be forced into movement if there was an earthquake than when this songs kicks off. And the thing that makes you realise you’re in safe hands for the rest of the set is when Maud approaches the microphone at the end and says “thank you” with this look on her face as if she know how good the performance was.
That kind of self-awareness is thoroughly refreshing at this stage in the festival. You’re quite certain that nothing could go wrong at this point, and that if it did, that it wouldn’t stay wrong for long. Break out your calendars, gig-goers of Dublin, and mark in the date of the next Maud in Cahoots show in your diary. If you like to dance, if you like music, you’ll scarcely find a better act.
little xs for eyes
This little xs for eyes show is a strange beast. If you don’t know the band their music is on the “unadulterated joy” end of the pop music spectrum, alongside any number of late ’60s psychedelic pop acts. And while it’s enjoyable and upbeat for the opening part of the set, the band don’t seem to be unifying as they should. Nobody’s injecting the energy into the energetic pop.
But then, as the third from last song begins to play, the ladies on the synths start dancing as they play and just like that the show explodes, as if a meteorite hit it. Harry Bookless, who we last saw swaying the Workman’s crowd the previous night with Carriages, leaps off the stage with his bass guitar, as if he’s unable to cope with how much energy has suddenly come blasting off the stage, and these slightly airy pop songs suddenly seem to gather a measure of depth and significance.
And no, this is not a once off thing, the following song starts as if we’ve just changed the dial on the radio and come into a tune that’s already approaching its crescendo. Where on earth did this energy come from? It’s like the best of ’80s synth-pop is being recreated right before our very eyes, and this energy carries over to the final song of the set. Curse the festival schedule that keeps acts boxed into cut-off points, as it would have been fascinating to see if they could keep it up for one or two or five more tracks. Ah well, we’ll catch them next time.