When I started going to music festivals – and as you’ve no doubt gathered from this summer’s blogs, it’s become more than a little compulsive – I went purely for the music. As the very first festival I went to was the mother of them all in Glastonbury, though, the idea that a music festival could be something more than just a chance to see a lot of bands for a bargain price didn’t take long to set in. In fact, stick a tent in a field with a few good musicians and I’d probably not even call it a music festival anymore: there really needs to be variety, art and culture, alternative entertainment and perhaps even a social consciousness or purpose for things to really work for me. I’ve found that – Glastonbury aside – the smaller festivals are often better at doing that, and have a better atmosphere for it.
While you could hardly call Indiependence a genuine small festival, it does lean slightly in that direction. Sure, there’s a big-banner corporate sponsor in Bavaria (but the beer has to come from somewhere, so why not) and a very heavy music focus above all else, but you also find comedy and alternative lifestyle in the stalls, and the festival seems to be making a genuine attempt to meet the customer’s needs. It’s Ireland’s third largest festival, and alongside Knockanstockan, has probably the best atmosphere of any I’ve set foot at yet. It certainly beats the money-grabbing, gig-in-field ethos of Oxegen, and frankly I find Electric Picnic’s ‘alternative’ ethos more of a Glastonbury rip off combined with a hefty price tag and a line up to please the hipsters. Sure, it’s a good festival, but it can hardly lay claim to being startlingly original or particular punter-focused, and my general impression with Indiependence is that this small-town Cork offering probably just about can.
The other positive side to these things is that when you take away the pop acts that all the GCSE students want to see and fill them in with lesser known rock acts and a host of local performers who many people wouldn’t walk down the road to watch – not because they’re bad, by any stretch, but because they’re not spoon fed them on the radio every day – and you get a music festival with genuine character, propped up by real music fans and capable of providing some of the best laughs all summer.
I’m not entirely sure, if I’m honest, what it is that separates a reasonable gig from something that takes on its own dimensions as an event. Things like this probably played a big role for us, and the incredible (if also pretty badly organized) access to artists backstage as a media attendee certainly is a refreshing change. Being able to stay totally stone cold sober for the entire weekend (we were staying in a house off the main site, and driving in each day to avoid risking camera equipment in a tent) and still feel like you’re operating on the same level as everyone else rather than a social outcast (see Oxegen) is nice, too, and the mellow vibe offered by places like the comedy tent (mostly pretty poor, but still a nice thought) and the ever-brilliant eco bus keeps things nicely balanced out.
I discovered some truly great new bands over the weekend, and also got to hang out backstage with the likes of Ash, Scroobius Pip and quite a few local acts who’ve kindly agreed to take part in a major project I have coming up – more on that when the time is right. There’s a complete review below, but of the smaller local bands worth checking out, the only hometown band (Michelstown makes Salisbury look like a metropolis) Zombie Computer were genuinely imaginative and brilliantly dingy, while The Danger Is focused on stunning vocals and some riff-tastic guitar backing. Ham Sandwich were about five leagues better than I’ve ever seen them before, going all Flaming Lips at the finale, and I’ll certainly be watching a lot more of We Cut Corners – the most lyrically cutting two-piece I’ve ever come across, and I include The White Stripes in that – in the future. Of course, Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip still ruled all, but that goes without saying.
The company was class, too. Kieran’s always good for a laugh, but there seemed to be an entire community of Dublin outcasts down in Michelstown, spread across hotels, houses and tents and ready to laugh relentlessly over silly things like Disco Biscuits (see that link above before you judge me!) until the bar closed. I certainly can’t go back to every festival I’ve enjoyed every year, or I’ll be living on toast for a year, but this is one I’ll certainly be doing again. Full review, as published on Goldenplec, below. I promise my next blog entry will have absolutely nothing to do with music festivals. I know, you’ll believe it when you see it…
Friday – It’s Goldenplec’s first time in County Cork, and arriving in Michelstown, we’re introduced to the local sites by our Cork-born photographer. It goes something along the lines of “that’s where they make cheese, and over there’s the bypass. Now you’ve seen it”. Michelstown certainly is small, but the setting’s beautiful, and as soon as we get on site, it becomes clear that Indiependence is big on vibe, too. Sure, it’s no Glastonbury, but they do have a fairground and hammocks, a comedy tent and a few of those charming hippie stores that seem to spend their summer dropping in on an endless array of festivals. In short, there’s a alluringly laid-back buzz to it all.
With the main stage yet to open, Friday is notably quiet, but not short on the odd musical highlight despite it. Enemies instrumental twiddliness quickly draws in an entire sites worth of punters, their bassist gurning his way through the set at front centre. Their style is an experimental flirtation with the twisting, swirling guitar dance that often comes from vocal-free rock bands, with an intricate bobbing and weaving fusion just mellow enough not to lead to head banging. Rest could probably have done with a kinder piece of scheduling: their style is very comparable to Enemies, but they fall a touch short of the almost flirtatious guitar dance that the Wicklow lads pull off.
A change to the scheduled set up sees an act called Karman AC take part of Bipolar Empire’s slot, and frankly their bass vs. laptop style is a little too repetitive to garner much interest, leaving Daft Funk to plonk a cherry on the first day cake. To argue that Daft Funk are more than a novelty act would be pushing it. In truth they seem to do pretty little on stage beyond an iota of laptop tapping and egging on the crowd in their black boiler suits and helmets, but in this setting it really works. The set, as you might expect, is a monstrous Daft Punk cover set that occasionally drops in extras from the likes of Fatboy Slim or The Chemical Brothers. It might be only a slight step up from karaoke, but it’s also exactly what it says on the tin. It’s not big, nor clever, but it is an absolute riot.
Saturday – Storyfold are not the way to start your Saturday morning. Polished and far too middle-of-the-road pop rock to be all that interesting, they fail to rouse anything approaching interest on the main stage. In part, that’s because they’re up against the magnificent Zombie Computer. The local’s dirty, wall-of-sound electronics are burningly intense, with bass-driven riffs layered over some gorgeous experimental bleepiness. There’s a tendency towards almost nonchalantly performed mid-song crescendos that sees the Cyprus Avenue Tent stood in stunned deference; a definite one to watch. A brief glance at Roisin O reveals a honey-soaked voice struggling a little for the songs to back it up, while Sacred Animals play a quiet set that sees frontman Darragh display his unique brand of vocal atmospherics without really setting the world alight. Still, it would be churlish to deny the dreamy ambience of the band’s finer moments, and they’re whipped out more often than the single EP released to date might lead you to expect.
We’ve seen Jogging enough times now to know that you get a good blast of edgy crunk-rock topped off with some more of that twirly guitar that the brilliant Richter Collective specialize in, but it’s Gemma Hayes who brings Cyrpus Avenue to life for the second time today. There’s a distinct whiff of Joy Divisions ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ shining through the faded riffs of ‘Back Of My Hand’, but Gemma’s mildly folky tales of love and misadventure are as charmingly accessible as ever, and her voice by far the singer’s most affecting instrument. Whipping Boy might have faded so far from the eye of Irish music scene that we’d almost forgotten they existed, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from donning dark outfits and running through a gloomy, manic set that causes a stir down the front of the main stage for the first time. Their fame might have faded, but the anger and ability to inject that into their music is as plain to see as ever.
Ham Sandwich sit just a touch short of what could be described as today’s genuine big-hitters, but they’re having an absolute belter of a set. Cyprus Avenue gets the full Flaming Lips treatment – oversized balloons, confetti and all – as Niamh’s vocals light the place up in a spelling binding display of charming alt. pop that’s undoubtedly one of the weekends highlights. Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip have a hard act to follow, but if anything they surpass Ham Sandwich, kicking up a storm of intelligent socio-political hip hop. Dan’s beats and Pip’s increasingly snarled vocals add up to one beast of a sweat pit, ample thoughtful moralizing and the kind of intense bouncing down the front you might expect from a hard rock act. Pip even indulges in subtle, comic costume changes, skipping the mellow message at the heart of ‘Stake a Claim’ (“you Irish don’t need telling to stand up for yourself”) and leaving the stage to an extended call for an encore over the top of the outro rave. Top class.
Which just leaves Ash to headline. Despite clashing with very little around the site, the Downpatrick boys struggle to pull the crowd you might expect, but are intent on making the best of things. Tonight is Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack’s last show before he leaves the band to return to his day job, and the band are intent on giving him a send-off. A set riddled with hits is punctuated by Tim’s mocking of the slightly humourless way in which security choose to deal with a little moshing (“unless you’re going to dance, get out of my pit!”). Harsh as it sounds, Ash’s biggest draw these days is nostalgia, but it’s a beautiful form of it: having spread the band across different corners of the globe, they can still evoke the hormonal teenage emotion of a school day summer night, and let’s face it, the likes of ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘Girl From Mars’ might be pop-rock my numbers, but they’re also engrained on many a young soul. It’s ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ and ‘Goldfinger’ that really float our boats, but there’s no short of catchy melody all round. Watch this space: backstage gossip tells us Russell’s departure might see a new member slot in. We can’t say any more than that…
Sunday – Sadly, Indiependence aren’t averse to the odd unannounced rescheduling. We’re told things are not as bad as last year, but we think we’re going to watch a name we don’t know when we arrive on site mid-afternoon Sunday, and actually find a personal favourite, We Cut Corners on stage an hour early. The lyrical brilliance of their still-to-be-released debut overshadows a touch of performance nerves, with the social politics and wacky worlds that inhabits the band’s collective conscience coming to the fore in a show that’s a sparkling sign of things to come. The Danger Is aren’t short on a bit of potential, either, with the fabulous ‘Niamh Danger’ bursting her lungs to an infectious melodic rock backing. If Indiependence is about uncovering soon-to-break bands, you won’t do much better than these two.
With the Main Stage looking so tasty on the Sunday, though, it’s not long before the guitar-synth melodies of an infectiously poppy Miracle Bell draws us in. The youngsters have been drawing plenty of acclaim from their shows supporting the likes of The Coronas recently, and in tracks like ‘Fit For Love’ and Jervis Centre ad backing track ‘Love Sounds’ they have plenty of songwriting potential and an entertainingly offbeat image. The Minutes, on the other hand, are just plain dirty. The garage rockers play like Electric 6 after a four-day bender, though the guitars are far from sloppy and that massive line in ‘Gold’ about painting the streets is so good we’re willing to forget that they borrowed it from The Who. Mark’s antics are like a barely contained animal, with the stage a cage that’s barely able to contain him. We wouldn’t trust them not to lose us up a dirty backstreet on a night out, but they sure know how to play a vicious line in memorable garage rock. And So I Watch You From Afar, of course, are rock and roll monsters. They might have lost a touch of the instrumental viciousness that permeated the first album in favor of more intricate layering, but they’re still an incredibly frantic live band, and provoke a full on mosh pit down the front. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the band is that they’re able to hold things together so tightly alongside performing like it’s the last day of their lives night after night. Inspiring stuff.
Therapy? are a blast from the past that just keep giving. Sure, closing effort ‘Screamager’ might still be a massive set highlight, but when the hard-edged heroes whip out those dance-infused bass lines and egg us all to bounce along, it’s easy to forget that Goldenplec was still waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons when they hit their peak. They still thrash away like a band playing their first show. In the much more intimate surrounds of the Town Square Tent, The Dying Seconds mix lush melodies with a fiercely atmospheric guitar-keyboard set up, squeezing a stage full of musicians to rake out a complex blend of blissed out atmospherics.
All that leaves just headliners Editors – performing under the amusing misapprehension that they’re playing an Irish independence day – to headline. The Brits always have been a droney set of rock and roll heroes, and they can quickly get samey. The hits, though, are outstanding. ‘All Sparks’, ‘Smokers at the Hospital Door’ and ‘Munich’ all offer pulsing peaks towering above a set that for anyone but a fan can be summarized as largely an atmospheric building block. A great one, sure, but not one that has you clamouring to hear a particular song or falling over yourself with praise until those monstrous crescendos come out. The peaks alone are worth the wait.
Overall – Having been to seven different Irish music festivals since arriving on this island around three years ago, we’d say Indiependence is only matched by Knockanstockan for fun quotient, party atmosphere and relentless banter from genuine music lovers. It might not have the big name draw of Oxegen or the Picnic, but it more than makes up for it with a happy ethos and small-town ambiance. We’ll be back.