17 September, 2008

Hard Working Class Heroes 2008 review

Hard Working Class Heroes can make for a very long weekend, but after this year's festival, it's easy to imagine the only people needing recovery time are press, photographers and artists. Especially in comparison to last year, turn-out to this years festival was disappointing: whether as a result of the weather, increased ticket prices and poor timing (not only happening at the same time as the Fringe Festival and a number of other excellent gigs, but just before the start of the college year), it's difficult to tell. Sunday saw nearly the only decent crowds of the weekend, while Friday and Saturday saw small groups looking lost in the bigger venues. In fact the weekend as a whole saw a disappointing amount of organisation hiccups, and a distinct lack of the feeling of smooth professionalism of last year's HWCH.

While most of these hiccups came from the festival's relocation to Temple Bar and the organisers ill-advised choice of Meeting House Square as the festivals focal point - with decibel restrictions and sound difficulties plaguing the bigger gigs, and Sunday's rain forcing organisers to relocate the curators of the festival Sons And Daughters headline show - the change also added a little to the extra interest to the weekend. Maybe this reviewer is alone in feeling a tingle of excitement when it comes to HWCH and the opportunity it provides to discover new music and new artists, but running from one of the main venues in Dublin to a small bar venue to catch someone you've never even heard of is just a little thrilling. And, at least in terms of exciting new acts, HWCH certainly did not disappoint.

Unfortunately timetabling did not allow this reviewer to see the bands previously mentioned here, but did catch some who came as a surprise, some who came as expected, some who came as a disappointment, and some who came with potential.

Contacts’ HWCH Experience

Heartbreak Cartel (Andrew's Lane) - a band who pride themselves in their live show and skill for pure entertainment, Heartbreak Cartel's show was rife with in-jokes and juvenile wigs. With a set of particularly unmemorable songs despite their interesting mix of rock and African and ska rhythms, this was not the entertaining show promised.

Fred (Meeting House Square) - this previously unheard-of Cork five-piece proved to be the biggest surprise of the weekend - after some slightly awkward banter to the minuscule crowd, they launched into a song with a sound so tight and fresh, it was almost CD-quality. Fred's gig was fun and entertaining, and packed with some catchy songs.

Lines Drawing Circles (Meeting House Square) - on the other hand, Lines Drawing Circle's sound was shoddy and uninteresting, despite the quality of their recorded material. With each song having the same structure and sound, the set seemed little more than an ego-trip for the central figure, the singer and guitarist. Harsh though that may seem, I still hold hope for Line Drawing Circles that they can up the ante for their live shows in the future.

Half Cousin (Dame Lane) - the first act I caught of the Scottish invasion and one of the best acts of the weekend, despite a nervous and distinctly un-confident performance. Looking frustrated at his inability to control sampler, drum machine, guitar and voice at once, Half Cousin combined these to form songs that twisted around themselves and evolved into unexpected sonic landscapes.

Nakatomi Plaza (The Button Factory) - a member of both the now-extinct 66e and the considerably more alive Le Galaxie, Anthony must struggle sometimes to shake his roles in both of those and be recognised for his own new work in electronica and house. His set as Nakatomi Plaza, replete with a background projection of Predator, was dense and multi-layered and shows him as an artist with a right to stand on his own.

Grand Pocket Orchestra (Andrew's Lane) - GPO's debut EP earlier this was excellent, promising and above all misleading. While the EP gives the impression of innocent, quirky popsters, the live GPO is wild, manic, loud, post-punksters. A compelling show, despite a attention-starved keyboard/melodica/xylophone-player and a muddied sound.

A Lazarus Soul (The Button Factory) - a keys-based band bereft of their keyboard player, this show has taken the title of the most dull gig I have ever encountered. Although I remain unconvinced that it would have been any more exciting with the keyboard player.

The Parks (Eamonn Dorans) - The Parks are still a young band, in sound as well as age, but a year or two of solid gigging, exposed to both critics and difficult audience will create a decent indie band out of the three-piece. As it is, they reek of too much money, shelter and teenage-garage-angst (an impression not helped by their scenester fans), but potential in the band is rife. The Parks are one to watch in the future.

Crayonsmith (Andrew's Lane) - having released one of the best albums of this year, White Wonder, Crayonsmith did not disappoint in a live setting. Helped by a crowd of obvious fans, this gig had one of the best overall feelings of any gig of the weekend, while pounding out exciting songs from the with a new guitar-based bent.

My Brother Woody (Academy 2) - though the force behind the most cheerful albums of the year, the surprisingly small audience in Academy 2 made for a disappointingly flat performance.

Not Men But Giants (Academy 2) - another disappointment and a boring gig, there is little to be said about their set, other than their penchant for stop-start rhythms and cheap tricks grate after ten minutes.

Robotnik (Academy 2) - Robotnik considerably upped the ante of the nights performances. Despite being delayed by ten minutes by technical difficulties, forgetting his capo, and then further plagued by the same difficulties halfway through, Robotnik only managed to punch out three tracks; but nonetheless the (substantial) crowd was crying out for more. All quirks, costumes and energy, not to mention excellent tracks, this was probably the best set of the weekend.

Sounds Of System Breakdown (Eamonn Dorans) - SoSB's show was similarly troubled, but this time by both electronic and personnel. Armed with a powerhouse of electro-rock tracks, Rob Costello first suffered a breakdown of software and then had to take out some time to teach his drummer where the downbeat in his track was located. Fortunately, the rest of SoSB's set easily made up for this embarrassing start.

Autamata (The Button Factory) - ever the darlings of the Irish music scene, purveying their peculiar brand of cute electro-pop, Autamata still have the power to shock. Loud, aggressive and sexy, the live band makes for quite a show.

Anna Murray


Nay said...

Glad you had a good weekend..I'm with you on the tingle but was gobsmacked by the low numbers too.

D'ya reckon it would work in a field in May? I think it would be an exciting idea for FMC to toy with...

Archie said...

Hi Nay, thanks for your comment.

I wouldn't be too pushed about the field idea - the main problem would be to find a good one that's in close enough proximity to Dublin/another town for public transport, else the festival would be turned into just an Irish-act Oxegen. The appeal in Hard Working Class Heroes for me is the fact that it's city-central, that all the acts take place in different venues, and that you can come and go as you please, and then go home for the evening. The rest of your weekend is still free. Of course on the flipside, camping is a cheaper alternative to those who don't live in the Dublin area, and the festival does need to appeal to those more.

A different time of year is a good idea, although May is close to college exam time, and as a large proportion of HWCH punters appear to be students... Early May, perhaps or April.

Nay said...

Aaah, it's a marvellous thing to have left the college constraints far behind :)

I rather like the city centre location too but can't help but wonder how the fest would fare in a traditional format: there'd be less chance of losing punters to the pubs and clubs after checking out the bands they wanted to see/more chance of people checking out bands they don't already know!

Obviously something went amiss this year as the numbers were very low even though the line-up was the best of the three years I've worked there. It was jammers in POD last year, there is a demand for an Irish music festival.
Personally I reckon the high ticket price put customers off. It's heavily funded and I think tickets were about half the price last year, so seems unfair to whack it up so steeply...By rights, this fest really should be free to all as a celebration of national contemporary culture.

Archie said...

Hmmm...I'd like to see that happen!