Hard Working Class Heroes, Saturday 4th October 2014
It’s the final night of the festival. And yet the crowd are not exhausted or dirty or mortgaging their homes to pay for a handful of potato wedges (because they ate before they came, I’m looking at you, lots of places in Temple Bar). Anyway, as the city’s night life comes to life before drinking itself silly, HWCH has some competition. But the bands are willing to give it socks, and so they do.
Red Queen Contest
First show of the night and by christ Red Queen Contest aren’t going to let you forget that it’s a Saturday. The amps are turned up noticeably louder than the previous two nights worth of giggery and while it’s early yet, this noise level sets the standard for the rest of the night. It seems things have gotten loud at Hard Working Class Heroes.
For their part, Red Queen Contest are practitioners of a sound that benefits from the loudness. They’re hard rock to the bone, with a melodic bass-line anchoring their entire set, keeping it from drifting into the realm of pure noise. The collection of songs the band run through seem to each influenced by different periods in the history of hard rock, some leaning more towards a grunge ethos, others towards post-punk, but ultimately what they’re trying to communicate is that idea that THIS IS LOUD.
The loudness does make it so that any intricacies in the songwriting are buried and the suggestions of them that do peek through from time to time, often as a result of the aforementioned bass. But largely this is a set of indistinguishable songs if you’re hearing them for the first time. What they do they do well, and like it or not they set the pace for rest of the night.
A quick visit to the Mercentile is another first port of call for tonight’s festival, where we find the tidy indie outfit The Magpies performing a quietly eye-catching set.
Quality, chirpy indie tunes greet our ears with strong vocals from lead singer Pierpaolo Vitale and bright chords are complimented by sprightly riffs that weave in and out of the other instruments. It’s all very nicely put together, and Down To The Ocean manages to find the happy medium between relaxed and upbeat.
For a truly unique spin to their act, the band go ahead and form an Italian song, with Vitale emulating the almost operatic-style singing. It’s certainly the last thing we’d expect to hear from an upbeat indie band, but it’s just the thing that’s going to make us remember The Magpies.
You have to admire a man who starts off his set by announcing that he’s grown bored with his older songs, so here’s some new stuff he’s been working on. Cue a slight feeling of disappointment at not getting to see how he was going to present the songs from his great 2014 release ‘From the Heights of a Dream’. At the Button Factory tonight he’s taking the final leap suggested by that album, divorcing himself entirely from the piano-based folk of his debut ‘Burrowings’.
Now it is just a laptop and a shotgun microphone he uses. Over the course of the set he plays out pre-recorded tracks and sings over them. The textures of his backing tracks step a bit beyond what he experimented with on ‘From the Heights…’ including some more traditional electronic drum sounds, the kind usually found in more dance-oriented music. The effect is curious, stripping these danceable tones down, using them for atmospheric purposes, subverting the intentions for which they were created. Yadda yadda yadda, is it any good?
The set never quite elevates itself above basic fact that this is just a guy singing over a backing track. He is taking the ideas of ‘From the Heights of a Dream’ to their natural conclusion but it has the effect of making it seem like this is a guy whose ideas are circling inwards rather exploring outwardly. His latest album made us ask the question “what is music?” If this set makes us ask what does a music performance look like, then the answer has to be “not like this.”
19 minutes of Low Sea, an interval and one song from The Bedroom
Festivals are such a great way to discover new acts, which is fine for the average attendee. But when you’re in the game of music reviewing you often end up seeing acts at festival who you wouldn’t recognise to see, and so your schedule becomes your north star. So when arriving at the Workman’s at 21.11 for a show that is to begin at 21.20 and an act is still playing, one could surely be forgiven for thinking, this is the previous act just finishing up.
If however that same act is still playing at half past the hour, isn’t it only natural that there would be some confusion as to whether this was in fact the 21.20 act who must have started early? Either way, somebody screwed up on the scheduling here, and so about ten minutes into whoever-this-is’s set it seems like this is the act being reviewed. A duo with pretensions of bringing Berlin to the masses of Dublin, the nineteen minutes their music spends hitting this writer’s ears are about as significant and meaningful of those of a fly’s wings on a hot summer day. The lady in this band seems to be on another planet as she dances by shifting her weight from one leg to the other, breaking the rhythm here and there to sing in a heavily echoed microphone.
Inconveniently they fail to tell us their name, so a further uncertain seventeen minutes pass while the next act – presumably either The Bedroom or Carried by Waves – sets up. This is a young gentleman with an electric guitar and a laptop, and while he also fails to tell us what moniker he’s performing under, the thoroughly unenjoyable sequence of noises he creates do suggest that this is the product that arrived straight from a bedroom to the stage. You must admire the dynamics of such a festival that so undiluted and ill-defined a sound can find its way to a packed venue in this manner, from the bedroom mirror to the stage. Alas, the reaper makes his presence known in the infinite abyss of this pointless music, so a retreat to the world of schedule-keepers is a must for this writer.
Fulfilling the night’s early promise of deafening hard rock, The Vincent(s) don’t screw around when it comes to giving the purists what they want. There’s a synth in the noise somewhere – or at least there’s one onstage with a guy pressings things on it – but underneath the distorted guitars and the powerful drums it’s like pissing in the ocean.
That drummer though. Now here’s a man who can not only keep rhythm, but beats his drumkit as if it just insulted his mother. Everytime he brings down those sticks his whole body responds as if he’s experiencing a serious of minor car accidents in quick succession, eight times per bar. His level of energy and aggression is easy to get behind, and the band gel pretty quickly.
Their music is repetitive in the post-punk manner, and even the tendency to nay-say that genre of music as a refuge for those who don’t know how to develop a musical theme evaporates reasonably quickly. These guys are consistent throughout their set, and they clearly care about the music they play, which makes it easy to get onside with them. The band keeps playing and the deafness rises.
Here’s a band who are serious about their sound. Opening in a flurry if distortion, the measured shoegaze melodies swoop into Princess’ performance, turning the raw sound of that opening into something pleasant and poppy. Their melodies are more pronounced than the recorded versions of their songs, but their use of distortion is what makes them stand out. Pretty quickly it becomes clear that The Mercantile is witnessing one of the performances of the festival.
Which is not to say that everything goes swimmingly for the band. Distortion is all well and good, but nobody likes microphone feedback. Over the course of the set Liam and Aoife on guitars lose their d- and high e-strings respectively, while the drummer’s kick peddle kicks the bucket early on. Also some communication issues between Liam and the drummer lead to missed cues, the frustration of all this coupled with the adrenaline of the performance leading to an ill-advised argument between the two in clear view of everyone when the set concludes.
They hug it out in the end, which is just as well, because here’s a band who have the determination and the passion to do something with themselves. So much went wrong but they still managed to make it a truly memorable set, which is the sign of any great act. A high level of passion is evident, a higher level of professionalism is the next box to be ticked.
Me And My Dog
An issue that seems to trouble a lot of bands over the course of this festival is interacting with the audience. Sure it’s cool to be all quiet and mysterious onstage, but when everyone’s at it, staying silent becomes annoying rather than alluring. So it’s very refreshing to be greeted by the giddy enthusiasm of Me And My Dog, whose breathless dialogue in-between songs is a major part of their appeal.
Fun, fast and very upbeat, the band’s breezy brand of surf-pop is infectious with its energy and happiness with chirpy riffs and catchy songs that can only make you smile. ‘Turn up the guitars so you can hear all the sick riffs and licks” cries lead singer Healy to the sound guy, and there are plenty of these littered throughout joyous tracks like Hello and Scenic Route. “Come closer to the stage guys” Healy calls again, treating this show like a big party rather than a sombre floor-gazing session.
For all his charisma though, Healy can’t really sing. A tuneless drone serves as the vocals for all the bands tracks, but it scarcely seems to matter to this fairly sizeable crowd. Despite his dodgy singing and floppy fringe, you find yourself loving the guy. “One song left? How about two really fast ones?” The band are having the craic onstage, the atmosphere is great and the tunes are quality. Why can’t everyone be this much fun?
Following Me And My Dog on Bad Bob’s stage we find Jet Setter. Painfully aware of the popularity if the band before them, and noting the declining numbers, lead singer Ross Hamer appeals to the audience to come closer; “It worked for Me And My Dog, what’s wrong with me?“
The music itself is a bit hit and miss – spiky distorted riffs revolve around fairly plain drumming. Long instrumental sections are punctured by an occasional vocal refrain. The band tap into exciting, passionate solos at times, but on other occasions they end up churning out sludgey blocks of distorted messiness, that’s ultimately just a bit boring.
The band have a few good ideas going on throughout their set, but the overall impression that they leave is one of inconsistency and sloppiness.
The Boxing Plot
Cancelling an EP launch recently, and with their lead singer studying in Scotland, The Boxing Plot have no right to be as tight as they are. There’s almost a psychic link between the members, with fills emerging on every instrument at just the right moment, and awkward stops being adhered to perfectly.
The great thing about The Boxing Plot is how organic their sound seems to be; riffs don’t just appear out of nowhere, they attach themselves to the chords beneath them, and all the solos, and indeed vocals, occur so naturally. Geist and Heidecker impress with their intensity and melodic beauty, while newer tunes such as Io are longer with more instrumental sections, but are no less appealing.
The band’s tunes fit together like a jigsaw, with lead and backing vocals working off each other perfectly and no track is too long or short. It would be great to get a release from these guys soon, because this was one assured performance.
Fight Like Apes
Well someone’s in a party mood anyway. Upon arrival at Meeting House Square for the closing performance of the festival, Fight Like Apes are already tearing through a rather well lubricated set. They’re the band who get to benefit most from the festival atmosphere, but really this feels just like a typical Saturday night in the city. People are doing what people do on a Saturday night in Temple Bar.
The effect of this is two-fold; first, that the band and everyone are just willing to go for it. Jamie “Pockets” Fox is off climbing the amps and the crowd is in a Saturday night state of mind, so visions of a horrible accident don’t come to many besides perhaps the security guys. The energy from the stage is great, and their playing is loose, but not sloppy. The downside of the madness is that they often segue off into boring stuff between songs, such as singing happy birthday (Note: chances are it’s somebody’s birthday at every gig you attend, imagine of every artist did it).
In many ways, the kind of music Fight Like Apes make is a perfect ending to this three-night showcase of Irish music. It’s energetic but easy on the ears, and the band are clearly enjoying themselves, as are the crowd. Again Meeting House Square is to blame for any downbeats in the music as, despite the mechanical umbrellas, it feels like an outdoor gig, but is amped like an indoor one. But, heck, it’s Saturday night, and festival season has officially come to a close. So who cares? More beer.