Music festivals, it’s fair to say, are on something of a relentless rise. Combining a weekend of hedonism with the opportunity to see musicians that would cost far more to see individually, the events present a risky but potentially rewarding opportunity for businessmen.
With the country’s biggest festival Electric Picnic selling out before even announcing a lineup this year, newcomers have been consistently sticking their head above the parapet – alongside BARE, festivals like Live On Air and BD Festival are nudging into the scene. BARE in the Woods, a growing event in Garryhinch Woods, Portarlington, is perhaps the most successful newcomer.
“We launched in 2014 with a single day ‘taster’”, organiser Peter Dunne told us. “It was really just getting people to buy into the concept, but it was also great experience for us. It’s been a slow burner, but I worked a lot on the other side of things, as a band manager, and so I understand what it’s like. It’s a slow process building trust with the acts [it’s worth noting that a couple of new Irish festivals have shut down in recent years, often without paying the performers], we just make sure we send them home happy. Now we have a lot of acts emailing us asking if they can come back again.”
“For me, it’s like seeing the festival experience from the other side of the fence. There’s a lot of correspondence, and you really have to pull together,” he says of the process. “I’ve learned a few tricks, and we’ve brought a lot of experienced heads into our top team. We’ve been using a system called Mobstar [a musical talent platform], which has made it far easier to pick acts we’re interested in for the festival.”
While the point of ‘State of the Nation’ has been to examine the ups and down of the Irish music scene at present, I could hardly leave out projects just because I’m part of them, could I? Aidan Cuffe has been running GoldenPlec as the most all encompassing of acts of love for the Irish music scene for 13 years. That’s expanded to include festival stages, links with the Irish Independent, some huge name interviews, and of course the very magazine that Stephen Byrne and I now head up. Unsurprisingly, the man has plenty to say about progress in Irish music, and his own role in it…
GoldenPlec is one of the biggest and certainly one of the most all-encompassing music sites in Ireland at this point. What were the key steps in getting there?
It’s not easy getting through as much stuff as we do, but getting from where we were 10-13 years ago when we started out to where we are now has been relentless hard work. For me personally it’s a daily sacrifice to keep the site up to date. Over the years we’ve built up some great relationships with bands, promoters, brands and PR and we couldn’t operate as we do without those relationships. We have a built up trust and in this industry, trust goes a big distance.
There’s a fine line between supporting a scene and the virtual version of standing around waving pom poms. How do you stay the right side of that?
Honesty is our only policy. I have no interest in telling a band they are great for the sake of it. Our writers are asked to purely write what they feel about the album, but to back it up with valid and constructive criticism or praise. If you can’t back up what you’re saying, don’t say it.
It’s actually a hard line to draw, everyone wants coverage and we’re one of the places where a lot of bands get a lot of coverage but album reviews are subjective, it might just be that the person reviewing it just didn’t like it. Sometimes I wish we were a blog and we only posted stuff we liked, because we would be able to be universally positive. It’s hard telling a band who have put blood and sweat into their work that the person who reviewed their material just didn’t like it, even the most constructive of criticism can be stinging and it’s hard seeing the dismay in their social posts or if you meet them in person.
What are the biggest good and bad sides of the Irish music scene right now?
Well Irish music probably couldn’t be in a better place. There is so much good stuff out there right now, the quality of releases Irish acts are producing is international quality and there is so many outlets for music in Ireland.
We’ve got great independent record stores, we have a thriving multi-genre scene with quality oozing out in all kinds of different types of music, where before there might have been a slight lean towards indie music we have everything from pop, rock, metal, folk and more all bursting through with great tracks.
Ham Sandwich hold the #1 spot right as I type. That to me isn’t just a great story, it’s a validation of the quality of their music that we’ve been banging on about for years. Sometimes you feel like a broken record talking about the same bands. We were supporting Kodaline when they were 21 Demands. They played a show in a local community centre in Swords way back when they were honing the sound that’s now pretty much a global phenomenon. 10 years ago Delorentos played a charity gig for us in the Sugar Club, we thought back then they were the business and now Ireland is properly taking notice.
I guess that’s the only bad side of Irish music. Sometimes we take a decade to realise as a nation we have world class music in our back garden. That’s why I love festival like Knockanstockan, Vantastival and BARE in the Woods and more. They have all the bands you’re going to be listening to in 5-10 years playing now, growing as artists and showing anyone who will listen why they deserve that place in your earbuds.