Sunday was the busiest day at Knockanstockan with day tickets sold out. The two previous days had been a festival in the truest sense. A real celebration of music, local music and of Knockanstockan itself. As Sunday progressed, there was a tinge of sadness that the fun was coming to an end and we would have to return to normality on Monday. But it was more than that as Knockanstockan was taking a break and we’d have to go two years before it returned. That meant Sunday had to be savoured as it was to be the last for quite a while.
By Sunday afternoon, many Knockanstockan attendees were already caged between the claws of festival fatigue. The main festival area seemed vast and empty, somewhat robbed of its former energy as many would-be ravers were instead curled up in their sweatboxes/tents. Fortunately for Attention Bébé, their brand of high-energy performances of 90’s hits was more than suitable for this kind of situation. The combination of the warm familiarity of songs like Ice Ice Baby and Rhythm Is A Dancer paired with the group’s unwavering dedication to generating craic raised the tired masses to their feet. By the end of the set, the brass section had abandoned the stage entirely and crawled down into the crowd, surrounded by a human cordon of people cheering them on as the percussion section improvised with a bongo, the only portable drum on hand. Attention Bébé were wildly entertaining in spite of the fact that ninety per cent of those present desperately needed to go to bed.
I Am Niamh
The Wishbone stage was particularly apt setting for I Am Niamh. With the golden angel art installation looking down upon proceedings from a nearby tree it set a scene worthy of I Am Niamh’s bittersweet vocals and deft ethereal songs. Using keys and a loop station I Am Niamh skilfully timed her vocal loops multitasking with her keys playing. With so much to do it left her little time to manoeuvre for any theatrics on stage. In the end it wasn’t necessary as I Am Niamh is a songwriter of rare quality. Bellend was ornate and delicate while Wonderland plinked and tip toed and New Home trips with it’s electronic beats and beeps. It’s music to submerge yourself in and on evidence of this she deserves a wider audience.
Shrug Life pull of the trick of appearing nonchalant but at the same time careering through their set at breakneck pace. They are taut and seriously tight as a band to make it seem effortless. Frontman Danny Carroll has the audience pitter patter nailed mixing self-depreciating humour “just white men playing guitar”. Some first world technical problems ahead of ironically First World Problems didn’t hamper Shrug Life’s but instead use it to their advantage to build rapport. Behind Carroll, Keith Broni and Josh Donnelly are an impressive rhythm section, always in perpetual motion. Shrug Life’s music implores you to move but resonates long after it’s finished and they were one of the highlights of the weekend.
Feather’s set began just as the sun was setting on Knockan’s final day. Stripes of twilight could be seen piercing through the gaps in the curling branches of the Faerie Field stage and the gradual changing of the skies befit the slow-burning, unfurling quality to Feather’s set. It was what can only be described as the smoothest of smooth jazz, music that was constantly interesting on the ears. The relaxed and luxurious introduction to Like No Other made the air feel almost thick as butter, gradually segueing into stunning Malian guitar and harmonious vocal riffs. It was impeccable and highly disciplined in its level of taut perfection.
This Other Kingdom
One of the loudest sounding bands all weekend were This Other Kingdom in The Dimestore Tent. Bathed in reverb especially vocalists’ Del Kerton’s vocals it was a moody set but lacked an element of danger or unpredictability to truly elevate it to the next level. At their best This Other Kingdom build dense layers of atmosphere like The Doors and The Horrors. When it clicked it was an impressive sound that fully resonated around the tent but there wasn’t enough variety between song type to make each tune stand out over each other. Only on finishing track Vacate The Horror did they bring it into unsettling territory that showed there is another gear to This Other Kingdom. This ought to have been special but it was too one paced to be counted as one of Knockanstockan’s highlights.
When it comes to Robocobra Quartet, leave preconceptions at the door. They are not easily definable but contain at its simplest, a combination of brass section, bass , drums and spoken word that veer off in wild directions. Trying to guess where they will go on a song is like trying to guess what guff Donald Trump will come out with next. At times drummer/vocalist Chris Ryan and bass player Nathan Rogers are like competing fencers, waiting for the other to make the first strike before countering swiftly. It’s wholly edgy with Ryan’s impassioned spoken word being punctured with blasts of squalling trumpet and sax. It could go all solemn or spike suddenly like adrenaline shots appearing on a heart rate monitor. One thing was for sure, Robocobra Quartet are a band you don’t forget in a hurry.
Free Sunshine Acid
In some ways, Free Sunshine Acid never demand your attention, but it is exactly their ability to lull the listener into an acid-rock daze which speaks to their quality as a band. Those listening were either standing in small groupings inside the Animal Barn or sprawled on the grassy knolls outside. It all seemed reminiscent of what one could imagine the halcyon days of Woodstock may have felt like; a gorgeous sky spread above like a tie-dyed sheet and fuzzy lo-fi rock seeping into the pores of the ground while people tried to shield their lighters from passing winds and nodded their heads along to the music with the slow, soporific movements of someone who, for those moments, felt honest to god relaxed. This reviewer had never felt so chilled in their entire life.
Race The Flux
In the run up to Knockanstockan, the surprising news emerged that Galway’s Race The Flux were going on extended hiatus and their show at Knockanstockan was to be their second last as a band. Some bands explode with purpose on playing Knockanstockan for the first time but with Race The Flux at the opposite end of the spectrum they played with no inhibitions and truly went for it. Race The Flux know the value of putting on a show, a spectacle to remember. It’s not simply enough to turn up and play and sing well. That’s the minimum requirement. As such lead guitarist Paul Higgins swirls around the stage as if caught by a tornado while Joe Padfield on vocals pushes himself to the limit. Race The Flux’s math rock is intricate and voluminous and tunes like Matty Rusko, Can I? and Olympus Mons are powerhouses of songs. If this was to be one of their last ever live shows then they did it in the best possible style.
A Meltybrains set is always a wild and varied thing, and this was no exception – at one moment, the band were shredding their guitars in such a way almost befitting a metal gig, and minutes later there could be a throbbing bassline inspiring listeners to punch the air rhythmically and throw their it’s-2AM-in-a-sweaty-night-club shapes. People spun in circles and limbs flew around in fierce and lively angles throughout the entirety of the performance. The band’s sheer musicality in conjunction with their creative utilisation of synths has thrown this writer’s entire concept of what a violin is into flux; that is to say, Meltybrains so thoroughly push the bounds of conventionality with their style and approach that the listener is, as was the case on Sunday evening, thrust into an entirely different musical zone. Their performance of ‘The Vine’ demands mention – for one, the stage suddenly filled when around seventy people popped out of the woodwork and joined the band. For reasons that were never made clear, the keyboard player abandoned his post and began to scale the edges of the Burrow like a monkey, climbing right to the top only to descend, run around the other side, and get back on stage. A woman nearby could be heard, as she spun with a cloud of raven curls following her, saying “I kind of hope this lasts forever” dreamily as the band played a long extended version of The Vine’s drumroll. Any band members not occupied with playing could be seen doing the stiff, jaunty, right-angled-elbows Vine dance which has become their signature. There seemed to be ten thousand tiny and equally notably events happening at once during this song, simply too much for one human to observe and then reiterate to a reader in text.
It all can be summated pretty well with the following; as people drained out of the Burrow field, a man could be seen on the ground struggling to roll a cigarette. He looked up at his friends, with a mixture of sadness and awe in his tone, and said “Ah lads, I think that actually melted my brain.”