Whelan’s Ones To Watch creates a platform for new and up-and-coming acts on the Irish circuit every year. Due to this focus on newish acts, the quality and professionalism can vary significantly from act to act. Some will appear nervous, some over-confident, some will be looser and less musically precise than others. Frankly, some won’t be ready for such a stage while others will instantly suggest, even at this tentative stage of their development, that they are destined to go on to cement a solid footing in the Irish music scene.
First up on the main stage are one of the most inappropriately named bands you are likely to come across, not because of some politically charged statement or needless ‘v’ or ‘z’, but because of movement – or rather lack thereof. Mannequin would be a more suitable moniker for mid-tempo four-piece radio-friendly rockers Motions, who barely move throughout their set. Motions are clearly aiming to make an impact in the Walking On Cars/Riptide Movement end of the musical spectrum; however frontman Tom Daly doesn’t yet possess the stage presence required for Motions to stand out in a very competitive end of the market with other acts such as Keywest, Hermitage Green and more besides well ahead of them.
His voice does however have a distinctive husk to it – imagine a hoarse Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) and you’re on the right track…hey, it worked for Rod Stewart. It marks him apart from other frontmen in this genre. Sadly tonight his pitch is questionable to say the least, and he is visibly displeased with his performance during their debut single Back To Where I Begun.
Upstairs Carlow/Kilkenny popsters Exiles are the complete antithesis, joyfully pumping out their brand of synth pop. Think Le Galaxie covering The Boys of Summer, and however improbable it seems you are on the correct imaginary dancefloor. Exiles clearly just want to have fun and make people dance, and they do both of these things with ease. Sure, at times it might be a bit too cheesy for comfort, with their songs very much taking their cues from the Kenny Loggins ‘80s theme tune playbook, but it’s hard not to buy what Exiles are selling when they are so irreverent in their delivery of tracks such as Red Lights and Autopilot. Theirs is an unashamedly carefree and fun-filled approach to performance that is likely to appeal to festival crowds.
Already well established, The Crayon Set is somewhat of a surprise inclusion in Whelan’s One To Watch, and their experience shows with a more accomplished musical performance than most of the other acts on display. A larger back catalogue of material to choose from also tips the scales in their favour. Their compositions echo a certain space of ‘80s alternative Britain with nods to The Beautiful South, The Sundays, The Smiths, Teenage Fanclub and Belle & Sebastian all audible in terms of song structures, guitar work and vocally.
Bodies deliver a dark and compelling set of accomplished gothic soundscapes with the influence of The Cure very much on display. The soundtrack to The Crow is a solid reference point here as Bodies are more sonically towards the industrial end of the gothic sphere. Lead guitarist Nathan Maher’s angular guitar lines are particularly impressive as are his impassioned solo moments. Singer David Anthony McGeown’s falsetto is also impressive, but arguably overused at times; being somewhat hidden in the shadows, the lack of a central focal-point makes this performance seem a little less impactful than the music deserved…but there’s definitely something interesting about Bodies.
Belfast four-piece Brand New Friend deliver an infectious set of fuzzed-out pop that very much takes its cues from Pinkerton and Blue Album era Weezer. These guys obviously have an ear for a good melody and guitar hooks and what they lack in originality they very much make up for with personality and onstage antics. Brand New Friend are obviously quite young but there is enough here to suggest that as they develop their own sound, in time they could be an interesting addition to the Irish music scene. That said this is perhaps the most infectious performance of the night.
Fellow Belfast act Hot Cops can’t match the infectious stage presence of Brand New Friend in what is somewhat of a disappointing performance from the much-touted Northern Irish act. Much of the delivery is dour and joyless with few standout moments apart from single Dumbbo. With very few moments of any real ummpf it becomes extremely hard to care about Hot Cops; disillusioned world view, which is a pity as it comes across so well in their recordings.
Kildare electro sextet Native Ensemble will probably rather forget this performance ever happened as they experienced a huge amount of difficulty throughout. We’d like to believe that the amount of bum notes in their set is down to the fact that they aren’t able to hear themselves onstage rather than a lack of vocal or musical ability, because much of their set is unlistenable. Hopefully we’ll be proved right in the future.
Almost Ghosts also suffer from poor sound during the opening of their set but these issues seem to be resolved a few songs in, and the trio set about delivering a set of dream pop leaning synth pop. Bassist David Dooley acts as the focal point, bouncing around stage and setting off samples on his laptop. He’s flanked by the other members who exchange lead vocals and lead guitar duties from song to song. You get the sense that the addition of female vocals on one or two songs would really push Almost Ghosts into a mainstream proposition. That’s not to say their current material is lacking – recent releases such as Light Falls, Quiet Ground and For This, indicate there’s more to come from Almost Ghosts.
5th Element and DoubleScreen are 2 MCs and a producer and they add an unexpected hip hop twist to close out an evening of mostly indie acts. They tackle a wide range of societal issues from drug use to depression to suicide with street wisdom and frank, heartfelt lyrics and it is positive to see a Dublin hip hop act address such issues from several viewpoints.