Back for its seventh year, Whelan’s “Ones To Watch” is kicking 2017 off right with sixty of Ireland’s best and brightest up-and-coming acts scattered across the four-day festival. With no real list in mind, we wander from the upstairs venue to the main room where Dublin electronic duo Webbs are just getting started.
They might have drawn the short straw opening the festival, but waste no time making it feel a lot later with a set filled with Jamie XX style house beats and bass wobbles that would make Jon Hopkins smile. On stage, it’s two lads with laptops and a host of other electronic gear, a tricky setup to make engaging, but the use of sampled weightless female vocals soar over the set and do a good job getting the swelling crowd interested. A few technical hiccups along the way break the spell (laptops, eh?), but all in all a promising start from the duo on their second ever gig.
Sticking with the main room Katie Laffan is up next. Joined by a three-piece band on drums, bass and keys, Katie’s set fuses the slow funk swagger of Republic of Loose with the laid back vocal delivery of Jamie T. Her solid rhythm section hold down the foundation as some of the more unusual keyboard sounds we’ve heard – think sitars and Stevie Wonder- are layered on top. The set breezes along with a laid-back pulse and all we can think is if it sounds this good on a wet evening in January, then we can only imagine how it would sound during the day down at Knockanstockan. Whilst the song structures could do with a little more ambition, we’re hopeful that’ll change as she goes on. However closing track Tastemaker’ is the definite highlight, with its undeniable groove and disco-hopping bassline.
A quick hop upstairs and we’re just in time for another band on their second gig, Dublin quartet Pillow Queens. The room is packed and the Dublin ladies waste no time getting started, forsaking even a line-check so they can get straight to business. The songs are short, snappy and full of life. Think trashy guitars with multi-part harmonies behind them. Not the most original set but a whole lot of fun and a great way to spend half an hour on a Thursday night. When it’s up-tempo it works great, but when they slow things down the wheels come off a bit, but luckily we’re not left waiting long for the next high as closing track Rat shows just how capable these ladies are at writing a catchy melody.
Closing tonight for us is Brass Phantoms with an underwhelming set. After last year’s enjoyable ‘City of Wolves’ EP, this reviewer’s first time catching them didn’t live up to expectations. We can’t fault them for lack of passion and enthusiasm but the absence of any real dynamics throughout meant each instrument had a tendency to overplay. Closing track Indigo’ and title track City of Wolves’ were definitely the highlights as they showed a little more musical restraint. We can’t help but wonder how this band would sound under the watchful ear of a producer who isn’t afraid to trim the fat on songs.
Setting the blogisphere on high alert with her middle-eastern infused single, Silk last year as well as a feature on Bantum’s Choice Prize-nominated album, ‘Move’, Farah Elle is one of many promising musicians to come out of BIMM in recent times. Taking influence from RnB, ska and hip-hop there was much anticipation surrounding the Libyan-Irish singer-songwriter’s performance upstairs in Whelan’s. Playing to a packed room, Elle delivered a pitch-perfect performance full of brooding vocals and mesmeric piano. This was an intimate treasure. Don’t expect to have heard the last of her this year.
Galants earned their place here on merit. They have a penchant for a tune; their frontman has a great voice, they know a good riff and their arrangements for the most part are top-quality. This was a delectable outing. Obvious admirers of shoegaze, their performance was never going to be incredibly lively but they must look to expand on their sound in 2017. There are a lot of guitar bands at the moment and Galants don’t want to find themselves lost with them.
Dublin-based curly-haired duo Darling, cite early noughties garage, mid-90s alternative and ‘70s new wave as influences towards their sound. And they’re riding a wave having been picked up by celebrated pop producer, Stephen Lipson (Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, Paul McCartney). Unfortunately, based on their current output and this live performance, they seem to lack some of the vigour and dynamism required to truly stand out. Now, Darling aren’t terrible by a long-stretch, they produce harmonious, anthemic sounding music. But they’re just too safe. This isn’t to say that they can’t or won’t be successful this year. But they don’t want their story to follow too closely to the likes of a Picture This. No matter how lucrative three summer dates at The Olympia sounds.
Kid Karate describe their music as sounding “like Mike Tyson serenading his wife with a heavy metal cover of Abba’s ‘Waterloo’. There is something to be said for this self-proclamation. They adopt the explosive raucous garage of The White Stripes with a hint of the type of chicness that made LCD Soundsystem famous, all while remaining impressively idiosyncratic. This was a rousing performance and properly rarefied the crowd. A cut ahead of the rest.
With only The One in Between (2015) released, on SoundCloud. The Fontaines leave a lot to the imagination, but we’re hoping that this isn’t the case for much longer. The Fontaines come a close second tonight. They look like a band that’ve commanded the stage for years. Their tunes are infectious; the telepathy between the band members is absorbing and their rapport with the crowd seamless. What strikes us the most is how they were able to transform the comparably laidback muffled recorded version of The One…into a raw garage behemoth. The Fontaines often sound like a band before their time. But they’re still very much a band pushing things into the future.
After the sterling performances of Kid Karate and The Fontaines, Wexford-based Wolff couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointing. Perhaps they were burdened by closing the main stage, but they failed to leave as big of an impression. Still enjoyable nonetheless, there were seductive riffs, handclaps and growling vocals galore. And WOLFF can feel content knowing they brought a respectable bluesy ending to a fine Friday night on the main stage indeed.