With all the excitement of actually being at Knockanstockan on a Friday, the enthusiasm got the better of us and we surged long into the night. Saturday mornings at a festival are delicate and rising from the tent is a prolonged affair. But GoldenPlec staff are made of sterner stuff and soldiered on during Saturday, a little bit bleary eyed but excited by the great array of talent in store.
AikJ’s level of enthusiasm somewhat failed to gel with the energy levels of his crowd: it was Saturday afternoon, and festival goers were still recovering from the events of the night before. For this reason, AikJ’s attempts to encourage dancing and get the crowd singing along were met with a tepid response. This is not to say that people weren’t enjoying themselves – the reaction, albeit subdued, to his soulful crooning of songs such as Suite Life was overwhelmingly positive.
A solid compromise was met during the latter half of the show when, in lieu of standing, people swayed their arms back and forth while sitting cross-legged on the trodden grass. AikJ’s frequent digressions into conversation with the crowd were endearing and brimming with charm, and the only pity here is that a musician with his level of talent and potential happened to be performing when his audience were hungover to bits.
If you were in Faerie Field Saturday afternoon you wouldn’t have needed to use your eyes to know it was Naoise Roo on stage. It’s all about that voice. Dark, torrid and distinctive. Songs like Sing To You almost feel like they are being sung to you. Roo’s low vocal scale reminds of someone like Anna Calvi and is best displayed on tense dramatic songs like Uh Oh. As a performer, Naoise Roo is confident in her abilities and with a voice like she possesses she ought to be.
The set is a little too one paced with only Sheets adding a bit of variety. It’s a vital song in her set as it shows Roo is capable of being more than just dramatic and a one trick pony. Still, it’s hard to leave anything but impressed by a performer steadily building a burgeoning reputation.
This reviewer’s discovery of Spines was pretty much an accident; the sweet potato fries stand happened to be placed next to the Dimestore Tent in which they were playing. The intention was to eat, but the band’s brand of noise-pop-punk was just too interesting to resist, fries be damned. The outfit perform solely original material (such as the youthfully defiant Bite Me), and their lead singer’s occasional sardonic spoken asides captured perfectly the spirit of 90’s angst-ridden hyper-irony without seeming clichéd.
This writer had stumbled onto something so impressive that the promise of relish paled in comparison. It was somewhat difficult to headbang while navigating rogue tent poles speared into the ground in front of the stage, but everyone there (even the hungry ones) was too immersed in set to care.
It wouldn’t be an Irish festival without a strong Popical Island contingent in attendance. One of the boutique label’s marquee names, Land Lovers, were on in the Faerie Field on Saturday though it almost didn’t happen as their equipment failed to show up and they had to borrow some from The Hot Sprockets. Land Lovers set comprised mostly of songs from their well-regarded new album ‘The Rooks Have Returned’.
The very least you expect from Popical Island’s lofty standards is that their bands play well and in terms of that songs such as Angeline showed that Padraig Cooney and bandmates were up to scratch. What was missing was a spark as Land Lovers were strangely subdued and didn’t reach the heights they are capable of.
Knockanstockan is justifiably proud of bands and acts that have played there in the festivals formative days. One of those, Lisa O’Neill, returned this year a much more renowned figure than her first appearance. O’Neill was in commanding form. When she spoke or sang you could look around the Faerie Field and see that people were transfixed. O’Neill’s singing style is unique and is a throwback to sean-nos of years gone.
Her conviction was total and allied to her charm made it enthralling to witness. She tackles modern issues in her songs in a way that sounds grounded in reality, not in some wishy washy world view with half assed thoughts. Whether it was singing acapella or taking on various guises on songs like the stark Bobby D or the grimy Nasty it was a thrilling performance.
Squarehead have long been regarded as one of Ireland’s best kept secrets yet it felt odd that such a familiar act were only playing their first Knockanstockan. Squarehead’s shabby surf rock still glistens like a rough diamond. Roy Duffy and co added the necessary zip into the performance that matched the music. Duffy at times strained vocally, blaming the cigarettes during the day but the point was he was putting everything he had into it.
Live, it was a much more robust than how Squarehead sound on record. Songs like Swing are heftier than normal taking on a surge of urgency. That sweet spot of Beach Boys meets the Pixies surf rock hits all the right notes on the outstanding Swing.It’s a raucous set and towards the end Squarehead chuck in a suitably rowdy cover of Blink 182’s What’s My Age Again?. Thoroughly great fun.
KnockanStockan may be all about giving exposure to the unsung heroes of Irish music, but occasionally it goes the other way, and you get a chance to catch a fresh-faced act that’ll be way up the bill on the likes of Longitude and Electric Picnic before very long. Such is the case, we suspect, with Irish-Libyan alt-pop singer Farah Elle, who’s captivating repertoire of tunes pluck flavour from her Libyan roots and remix them into a tightly crafted pop sound.
Opening up tracks like the spine-tinglingly suave Silk with a prolonged vocal chant in Arabic that cracks on into English without skipping a beat (or even an evident pause for breath), Farah Elle unleashed a huge sound on the Faery Field. Whamming on the keys of her piano with her fist to blast out a thunderous backing capable of supporting her huge soaring vocals, Farah Elle rocked the stage with the charisma of a fully formed pop star.
It was all the more disarming then, that her between song interaction with the crowd consisted of an almost embarrassed gratitude to the audience – who in response rose to their feet in a joyous and genuine standing ovation at the end of Farah’s set. We suspect she’ll have much bigger crowds than this on their feet quite soon.
Slackers’ Symphony’s have been around a while but it’s only in the past couple of years that they have gathered momentum. This year’s ‘Summer’s Coming EP ‘ so them further progress and they seized their chance of making an impression at Knockanstockan with a bristling set, full of verve and intent. Not ones for showmanship, they instead really on intensity to propel themselves through the set. BOF and Summer’s Coming set a strong opening to the set but such an unpredictable band didn’t settle in any particular vein and a gloriously over the top cover of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger fitted in just as well as their own material. The whole set was little bit deranged but that was what made it so essential.
Spud Gun are weird, but in a great way; upon wandering into their Animal Barn set, we were greeted with a lead singer unabashedly and atonally screaming into a mic. His face drips with glitter-flecked sweat while his fellow performers huddle around and stare at his teeth with rapt attention. The remnants of a birthday cake thrown into the crowd earlier can be seen smeared across the floor with one very clear Vans footprint in the centre. Spud Gun are better spoken about using theatre parlance, for what you’re seeing is more of a performance than a set.
The strolling basslines and frenzied guitar riffs played between ‘acts’ remain nameless; the band have never released an actual song to this reviewer’s knowledge. One could question whether Spud Gun really qualify as a band (the majority of sets are spent not playing music), but people were clamouring to squeeze through and watch everything unfold. Their visceral energy was enough to draw you in and keep you wanting more, and those in attendance seemed borderline unsure of why they were there but delighted that they were.
New Secret Weapon
New Secret Weapon’s songs are already brilliant and highly textured, but placing this band in an amphitheatre intensified that to the point that the entire set was a total wall of sound. It was a stroke of genius on the part of organisers, but borderline punishing for viewers in a more delicate state. A bug-eyed unfortunate soul could be observed rolling around the floor of the Faerie Field narrowly avoiding stomping feet, his downturned expression making it abundantly clear that whatever kind of trip he was on had gone pear-shaped due to sensory overload.
The majority of those present however were rabid, soaking up the wild emotionality of the vocals gleefully. The band never took a breath – when one song ended, the other immediately began. When the set wrapped up, the silence was stark and deafening, the air still crackling with residual energy.
Megacone are quickly building a reputation of one of the premier post rock/math rock bands on the Dublin scene. It’s their second Knockanstockan appearance after a promising performance last year. Megacone are best when focused on song dynamics like on the shapeshifting Crocodile Dundalk from this year’s ‘Absolute Magnitude’ EP. What’s noticeable from the start is each individual member’s technical ability and tightness of musicianship as a group.
In an instrumental band Ross Kelly especially leads the show in the same way Joe Panama does for Overhead, The Albatross. At times on some songs it’s over indulgent on just how good they are as musicians and the songs drift too much. At those moments you just wanted it to be reigned in. Megacone’s sheer enthusiasm can’t be doubted and it was this quality that ensured that they just about achieved a winning set.
Overhead, The Albatross
Due to noise restrictions imposed on the festival from the Garda (due to excessive late night sound levels from the Friday), OTA’s set was moved from the Burrow to the Dimestore Tent. It inspired confidence to see the amount of people steadfastly trudging up the hills of the Burrow to rush to the new venue, warning others as they passed of the change. Unfortunately, word didn’t filter around the site enough and people hoping to find the band on stage at The Burren were left disappointed without further information to the new stage slot.
Dimestore ended up being, if anything, more suitable – the tent boxed viewers in, making OTA’s slow-burning prog-rock all the more intoxicating and immersive. The band’s all-black outfits (save for the single word “REPEAL” emblazoned on Joe Panama’s jumper), paired with Dimestore’s black backdrop, meant that the band were barely visible, somewhat blanked out by the blue and red lights swirling about.
It created the illusion of a symphony sprung from darkness, a tornado of sound just happening to pass through at that particular time enveloping the crowds with its primordial power. OTA’s performing acumen needs no introduction, but this particular instance seemed unique and important, and it felt like a privilege to be there at that moment in time.