After a year’s hiatus, the Christmas of the summer returned. This year Knockanstockan was bigger than ever. The crew had clearly taken on board the lessons of years gone by and from site planning, to curation they have enhanced Knockanstockan’s status as the best festival in Ireland.

As per usual the line-up was an eclectic mix of all genres, taking in acts the length and breadth of Ireland. From old favourites to first timers there was rich pickings to be found over the weekend.

The Jobseekerz

Cavan’s The Jobseekerz (complete with Cavan TD Brendan Smyth cut-out) gave an energetic performance on the Wishbone stage on Friday evening. The condensed three-stage Knockanstockan arena on Friday ensured larger crowds than normal congregated at the smaller stages such as the Wishbone.

This afforded The Jobseekerz the opportunity to impress as sizeable crowd. Coming on like a more abrasive Red Hot Chilli Peppers, they fused groove led songs with liberal distortion. It works best on songs such as Kerb Stomp which contain the right amount of drive and racket. However, other songs fell down when too much distortion was utilised to disguise the lack of a killer riff or melody beneath. This is something they can remedy over time.

One thing they have as a trump card is their frontman Simon Dixon who was like a calf let loose from a shed after a long winter. His exuberance shone through and one wonders how many people actually followed up on his offer of offering “advice” at their tent in the campsite. Brendan Smyth probably wouldn’t have approved of it anyway.

Tribal Dance

Donned in head bands that gave the impression that they were martial arts experts or going for a jog, Tribal Dance put themselves and the audience through a serious workout in The Rasher Factory.

What impresses most about Tribal dance is how perfectly in sync each member is. Their dance fused math rock leaves very little room for error. One missed beat or note and the whole thing would start to crumble. Such was their performance, they was virtually no chance of this happening.

The tightly coiled drumming laid the groundwork for layers of frenetic fretwork and galloping bass. Each was given the time and space to take prominence during the individual songs. It was an impressive set that harked of halcyon days of ‘Chariot’ era The Cast Of Cheers.

Slouch

Slouch have built a sound based on gnarled raucous songs that are immediately likeable. There is no pomp or overly complicated noodling involved here. They just get on with things. It made perfect sense then for Slouch to barrel through their set at breakneck pace.

It’s Dinosaur Jr -esque in sound and there appears little chance of Slouch becoming sanitised or over-polished as that would lose the essence of what makes them so good.

The only breaks during their set were for some speed tuning and to remind folks of who they were. It’s all about customer service with Slouch and they give folks largely what they want, bar one instrumental tune that felt out of place in their set.

That blip was the only misstep in a strong set with new song Petty Sounds, standing out.

Schindler’s Fist

With a pedigree of  members from Spudgun, This Fresh Hell, Wastefellow and AE Mak, the prospects of  a Schindler’s Fist’s set descending into mayhem was pretty high. What was in store was a wild provocative shock opera, as if directed by John Hughes with a kraut rock/ techno soundtrack.

– How about a dominatrix with a gimp? Check.
– Someone with a baby grow over the head swinging it side to side for half an hour. Check.

The performance art, spoken word with intermingled with dual percussionists, dense as concrete bass-lines that resulted in a snaking, slithering performance that never once dropped the pretence. At times, musically they lost their way unsure whether to blast into discordant techno or avant-garde droning.

If you closed your eyes to beg the question how does it hold up musically? It’s arguable that it wouldn’t be coherent enough to do so. But this was a live experience, one that wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry. As one character repeated ad infinitum “There’s a lot to be said about a good mass”. Well, there’s a lot to be said for a good shock opera.

TOPSO

Knockanstockan favourites The Barley Mob returned to Wicklow with a new name Topso, and a mostly new collection of songs. The Reggae vibes still remain, but the time away and the birth of several children later there’s a new darker, more socially conscious aspect to the lyrics.

The band wasted little time testing the limits of the boxing ring-esque stage in the Carlsberg Unfiltered area, pitting the various sides of the crowd against each other in a sing-along.

A triumphant return, you could even call it topso if you wanted. Expect big things from these Northsiders as they release new music. One for fans of up-tempo Damian Dempsey.

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