State of the Nation: Bettine McMahon (Knockanstockan)

State of the Nation banner

There’s something about Knockanstockan. I’m not sure if it’s the carefree atmosphere, the lake-side location, the air of discovery that comes with their eclectic line up, or that it’s just so rustically hippie dippy it practically seeps into your pores. It really reminds me of settling into a corner of Glastonbury and bedding in for the weekend, something I’ve always wanted to do in theory, but suffered from too much fear of missing out to go through with it (my rave review for State.ie from 2010 sums it up, really).

I’m not sure the organizers realise it (see Bettine’s answer to my first question!), but there’s also a growing mythology around the place. It comes out in the stories people come home with, in the talk of early days and in the way the festival seems to infuse the entire ethos of a certain section of Irish music culture. That, and they just seem so, so nice! A case in point: not only has Bettine given me a fantastic lowdown of what the festival is all about here, she’s thrown in an exclusive early band announcement, too. Read on!

I hear Knockanstockan has quite a back story (I may be totally wrong, but I heard a story of a squat community turning into gigs and then festivals). How did things start, how did they develop and when did it all become so real for you?

Ha-ha that is hilarious! You’re not too far wrong though. The festival started from the idea of a group of musicians who were gigging tirelessly and finding it hard to get slots at the bigger festivals. At the time, in 2007, there weren’t really any small festivals around that booked unsigned and independent Irish artists, so the idea was to build our own.

What started out small soon began to take momentum and every year, we all wanted to make a bigger impact for the musicians than the previous year. More people volunteer their time every year and we learn to grow with the imagination and skills of the community. “Blood, Sweat and Volunteers” as we say.

In 2010, a bunch of the crew did move in together into a large house which has space to rehearse, record, build stages, make music videos and much more. It’s not a’ squat’; it’s more a base for some very creative people!

It became very real when we realised we weren’t there to party, but to run a festival!

You can see the house in the Hot Sprockets video ‘Comin On’:

State of the Nation: Kenneth Killeen (12 Points)


One thing that’s always impressed me over my seven years or so living in Ireland to date is the diversity of festivals. The big ones are great, but the small ones – Other Voices, Knockanstockan, Vantastival to name just a few – have always come across to me as the place to meet fellow music obsessives, and the place to track down the best atmosphere on offer. Multicultural and multifaceted jazz festival 12 Points, which announced its line up this week and takes place in April, is one I’m fairly new to, and has all the makings of something wonderful in that it’s curated, diverse and simply trying to be good at what it does.

Festival director Kenneth Killeen kindly took the time out of his frantic festival build up schedule this week to tell me about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and why it’s important. And to throw in a few tips on the Irish jazz scene along the way. I’m off to spend a couple of hours on Soundcloud… 

12 Points was specifically set up to interlink Dublin with other places in Europe, musically. What’s come of that, so far? Has it matched expectations?

I think it’s safe to say that it has matched expectations. As we go into our 9th edition of the festival, looking back gets a little easier. There are more reference points in the past to measure our impact, and crucially, time has passed, which allows you to see results. 12 Points has always been an ambitious project and one with a strong concept around linking urban centres in Europe through music. I suppose we had many questions when we started, such as, “What does it mean to be a jazz musician in the 21st Century?” or “Do other countries & cities face similar challenges to the creative practices in Ireland?”.

Through the festival itself and our 12 Points PLUS programme from 2011 to 2013 we have succeeded in linking Dublin and Ireland with multiple festivals in Europe. Thankfully the 12 Points brand is one that European promoters and festival bookers have come to trust; they trust our curation, distillation and presentation of 12 acts each year and use the festival as a benchmark for emerging European talent. And it’s great that it is seen as an Irish brand from an Irish organisation. I think that’s important.

Being a small country, on the periphery of Europe geographically, we’ve managed to insert ourselves right in the middle of the European music scene, through 12 Points. But we still have work to do in this area. I would like to see more Irish artists represented at the large European festivals and industry showcases like Jazzahead. The Irish scene is very progressive, with a lot of talented musicians and an urban voice that is unique to this country. Its only when you hear bands from all across Europe that you can get a sense of that. 12 Points has highlighted some of these bands over the years and, as 12 Points grows, I hope that performance opportunities for Irish artists abroad will grow also.