It Takes a Village Festival 2019 (10th May – 12th May)
Over the last number of years, Ireland has seen an influx of new festivals, meaning that music fans have more choice than ever before. However, this choice means patrons can afford to be more discerning and for some, soggy tents and muddy day drinking just doesn’t cut it quite like it used to.
Enter It Takes a Village. Established in 2018, the festival is set in the scenic holiday village of Trabolgan, East Cork. For many Cork natives it no doubt triggers fond childhood memories of school tours or family outings, but for one weekend a year, it is transformed into a lively hub of music and arts.
Attendees are housed in clusters of holiday homes; close enough to promote neighbourly comradery but secure enough to provide a restful night’s sleep (or to privately party the night away). Venues and attractions are never more than a few minutes’ walk, and all stages are covered, meaning temperamental Irish weather is, for once, not an ongoing threat.
There are parties of the pool, house and boat variety. One of the guest houses doubles as a venue, hosting a number of secret performances and special guests throughout the weekend. The indoor pool – complete with giant slide and wave machine – also hosts its fair share of DJ sets during the quieter afternoons. On Sunday, Bon Voyage and Nialler9 soundtrack a boat ride around a sunny Cork harbour.
Lord of Strut’s synchronised swimming lesson deserves a nod for novelty alone, but there is something altogether wholesome and charming in its execution. Festival goers learn and perform a choreographed routine to soul classic Les Fleur (currently experiencing a revival post-feature in Jordan Peele’s Us). Holding hands in formation, lifting one another through the water, and splashing enthusiastically in time with orchestral crescendos, attendees are transported back to their childhood evoking a playfulness that overrides any hint of self-consciousness.
Words and ideas also have a place at the fest. A Culture Vultures pop up facilitates frank discussions on the landscape of Irish fiction with acclaimed author Lisa McInerney, and making the personal political with activist and DJ Tonie Walsh. The weekend also sees curated conversations, spoken word, podcast recordings, and even the chance to make a feathery friend at Trabolgan’s Birds of Prey Centre.
Nevertheless, music of course remains a primary attraction for many, with the festival showcasing a wealth of Irish and international talent. Spanning hiphop, electronic, postpunk, folk and more, here are ten of the best acts we caught at It Takes a Village (ITAV) over the weekend.
Following on from a globe-trotting 2018, electronic duo Le Boom make a triumphant return to ITAV; this time as headliners. Their accessible brand of percussive synth-pop is well received by a crowd primed to dance the night away, and three days later many are quick to list them among their festival favorites.
The duo have great chemistry as Aimee flits seamlessly between percussion and synth while Chris’ androgynous vocal never falters. Æ MAK makes a surprise appearance for the aptly titled Dancing Bug, bringing to life some of the interpretive dance seen in their recently released music video. Fresh off the release of a debut EP detailing dance as a therapeutic form of escapism, Le Boom bring these themes the life on the ITAV stage.
Dowry is jack and master of all trades. Opening her set with an emotive violin piece, the soloist quickly makes use of looping pedals to fill the space, seamlessly introducing intricately finger plucked guitar and folk-leaning vocals.
Each track in her short afternoon set offers something different, from whimsical plucked violin to the layered cacophony of distorted vocals and synth. A natural storyteller, she recounts a conversation where she pondered what it must feel like to return to Trabolgan as an adult in this festival setting, only for her bemused mother to clarify that they had visited here multiple times in her youth.
Violin confidently balanced on one shoulder, bow in hand, synth board under another, and feet on pedals, it’s easy to see why Dowry is one of the most talked about acts on the live scene in Ireland. One can only hope this soon translates to a studio release.
London-based Snapped Ankles win over an initially timid crowd with their theatrical post-punk antics. Faceless entities adorned in clunky nature themed (though somewhat mop-like) headgear, the ecology theme extends to their staging and music. At first glance the logs furnishing their mic stands appear to be decorative, but in an altogether more interesting turn of events they double as makeshift synth the band batter with drumsticks throughout.
Spending much of his performance offstage among the crowd, the frontman’s commanding physical presence encourages observers to forget their own awkwardness or embarrassment. Motorik rhythm and fuzzy electronics abound, with sharp observational lyricism set to danceable beats, reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem.
With this late-night set Snapped Ankles prove they have both style (or more accurately, a calculated lack of style) and substance.
Folk singer-songwriter Anna Mieke is the first of a number of secret performances that take place in holiday home turned intimate venue “No.25”. Ironically probably the homiest of all the chalets, it’s purposeful family living room décor and floor of scattered chairs evokes the relaxed spontaneity of a trad session, which suits the sean-nós and world music appreciating Mieke.
With eyes closed and bouzouki in hand, her distinct vocal colour and sincerity is captivating. Ending with an acapella of traditional Appalachian folk song Three Little Babes – previously covered by the likes of Joanna Newsom – is a feat that Anna pulls off with impressive ease.
Happyalone. showcase their self-proclaimed “esoteric genre-fluid-alt-pop” in a short but impactful set on the first night of ITAV. With their lo-fi bluesy twanged debut going viral mere weeks after the band’s conception, they’re undoubtably sat comfortably on a lot of ones to watch lists this year (GoldenPlec’s included).
The groups lead singer – Baxter Robot – has a sort of frenetic energy about him, pushing against the low ceiling of the cramped pub space. His vocals are at times drowned in a sea of synth, but in a way that feels immersive and not overpowered. Meanwhile the bowed guitar, ambient electronica, 90s anthemic choruses and trip-hop influences successfully illustrate the groups commitment to genre-blending.
The moody and off-kilter Bodybags is a highlight that Massive Attack fans would appreciate, building to an ever more visceral climax in this strobe-lit live setting. However the set closes on a dynamic new track – their heaviest to date – that might just give it a run for it’s money. Happyalone. are certifiably ones to watch in 2019.
The glossy 80s funk of Ships translates seamlessly to a festival setting. Sorcha’s strong commercial vocal is complimented by the occasional whispery alto from Simon, and despite the retro blend of electronica and disco, they maintain a contemporary pop sensibility.
It’s no surprise these tracks belong to a Choice Music Prize winning album. Cuts like downtempo Golden Rule offer up calming, atmospheric interludes, while the heavy synth of None Of It Is Real would feel just as at home on the iconic Kavinsky-led soundtrack for Drive.
Rounding off a UK and Ireland tour, much-hyped Dublin rapper Kojaque draws the largest crowd on the closing night of ITAV. Murmured shushing spreads throughout the floor as he takes the stage with friend/collaborator/Soft Boy Records co-founder Kean Kavanagh, launching into the spoken-word style White Noise. The personal and political piece touches on classism, addiction, pollution, and bodily autonomy, with this contemplative and observational lyricism continuing throughout the hour, even on Kojaque’s more party ready anthems.
The jazzy Love And Braggadocio and downtempo Bubby’s Cream add variety to the set, as do guest performers Kean and Luka Palm. There is an obvious and endearing chemistry among these Soft Boys, from how Kean’s soulful vocal melds seamlessly with Kojaque’s and they openly embrace on stage. To how Luka and Kojaque leap about in unison without a hint of breathlessness, serving as one another’s own personal hype men.
“Much love Cork”, Kojaque smiles. If the thunderous applause (and encore demands) of the crowd are anything to go by; the love is mutual.
Herbert has an acute understanding of how to cater to his audience, be that Eurovision, Yves Saint Laurent, Doctor Who, or Academy Award winning foreign films. Friday night; it’s ITAV.
Nowadays Herbert is more known for his eccentric recording techniques, having released a record using the sounds of manipulated hair, skin, and internal organs, and created another entirely from the sounds of food preparation and production.
However Herbert is no stranger to a bass heavy house set, and that is what he satisfyingly delivers here at Trabolgan. Harking back to his 90s DJ set at iconic Cork venue Sir Henrys, people crowd the dance floor, while some stragglers move quietly to themselves at the back of the hall, and others raise their beers in appreciation from the bar.
Herbert’s 1998 remix of Irish-English duo Moloko’s Sing It Back sounds every bit the modern classic, and the communal singalong suggests the audience remained firmly on his side right throughout the late-night set.
James Holden & The Animal Spirits
James Holden & The Animal Spirits is a joyous celebration of the human and the electronic. Their 2017 album was recorded live in one take, and thus ITAV is the perfect setting to fully experience the work in its truest form.
A trance DJ through and through, James has lamented the genre losing its way and becoming more pop and anthem-orientated, and so with this set he and improv ensemble The Animal Spirits present an electronic, jazz, gnawa fusion. James may be centre stage but it is with no hint of ceremony; he and the band are a collective, with more percussion instruments than you could count and a guest Saxophonist that channels the emotive energy for which the instrument is so loved. Powerful and hypnotic, their set is an unexpected highlight for many.
Jazzy hip-hop group The Herbaliser formed in London in the 90s, and to headline ITAV they return to Ireland for the first time in over a decade. They’re charged with closing the main stage the final night of the fest, which is no mean feat considering how the crowds clear out after Kojaque.
The eight piece band – including brass quartet – nevertheless exhibit all the musical prowess you would expect from such seasoned performers, and their crowd grows exponentially throughout the night. Having previously explained they originally “wanted to make a hip-hop album but didn’t know any rappers”, their fully instrumental set doesn’t feel like it’s compensating for this absence, but rather is an engaging and fulfilling experience of it’s own.
Each member has brief solo moments that platform their musicianship, while some light-hearted choreography (if you can call co-ordinated pointing and two step a choreography) and audience engagement strikes the perfect balance for this tired but enthusiastic festival crowd.
It proves the perfect way to close this celebratory weekend.