Hard Working Class Heroes – Friday
Hard Working-Class Heroes is a festival of Ireland’s underground music across seven venues around the city. We sent Brian Fallon to check out Friday, despite the torrential weather. The hard life of a music journalist.
It’s not as if Dublin city was transformed into something extraordinary during HWCH, like Stradbally Hall would be for EP, and my experience at HWCH was far from remarkable: I went on my own, got rained on, heard some music I really liked and some I didn’t so much, got a kebab and made my way home. I can’t imagine the image of me shielding a kebab from the rain in Temple Bar being what anyone associates with the word ‘festival’, but I found that contrast refreshing; that HWCH was a celebration of Irish musicians in their natural habitat, set in the venues where they cut their teeth and build an audience. It was these dispersed venues, the choice of a million bands I had never heard of and probably the fact that it was pissing rain that made HWCH sort of like an augmented outing-to-a-gig-simulator.
Subplots – The Button Factory
My first stop was Subplots at the Button Factory. Their opener was tense and brooding, deep bass toying with a chorus of harmonics. The softer “Colour Bars” punctuated the set nicely between more jagged songs, however songs like “Leech” were a little too close to Hail-to-the-Thief-era Radiohead for comfort in parts. Unfortunately for Subplots, their stage presence and the overall atmosphere in the Button Factory took knock after knock, as pedals and microphones stopped working, breaks were taken between songs, technical staff were running around frantically mid-gig muttering “shit!” and at one stage the front man’s shoelace needed tying. Aside from these mishaps, Subplots played a deeply atmospheric set, and the intricacy and emotiveness of their songs was remarkable.
Cfit – Meeting House Square
Cfit wear their influences on their sleeves (and more specifically, they literally wear their Interpol influence), their sound is doleful and fuzzy, with booming, collected vocals as a foil. The band radiated a National-esque aesthetic; troubled and sophisticated, probably red wine drinkers, and their songs were suitably bittersweet to suit this. Closing their performance was “Plausible Deniability”, which built wonderfully to a whirling, despondent climax. Sadly, at points it seemed like the vocals were getting lost amidst the instrumentation, and some clarity was lost in the wooliness of the band’s sound. It’s not something I could blame Cfit for, maybe it was just the sound in Meeting House Square not doing them justice, but I’d advise listening to the band before seeing them live.
Otherkin – The Mercantile
The Mercantile was nicely populated for Otherkin. I had seen their name on so many festival line-ups this summer, and had noticed their strong online presence, slick logos and artwork, so my expectations of the band were high. Their first few notes of their opening song radiated that tangible but inexplicable energy that is felt when a band just “has it”. Heads were bopping and people were smiling. Songs like “‘89” nicely interspersed loud and aggressive sections with tighter and more subdued passages of clean guitar and jaunty bass lines. Few bands I’ve seen have done hot-tempered skate-rock so well, Otherkin retained the form of their songs amidst the aggression where many bands might lose it. Otherkin’s energy onstage was insane, no member ever stood still. At one point the drummer had to ask the crowd for a new snare drum, and I feared for the wellbeing of the mic stands during their closer as they hurled themselves about the poky stage that just about contained them.
CLU – The Twisted Pepper
I arrived at the Twisted Pepper and was slightly disheartened to see CLU opening to a near-empty room, but they didn’t seem to mind as much as I did. Their set was outstanding, and refreshingly discordant in places. Songs melted into one another, and moved from jarring, airy sections with flurries of arrhythmic synth, stilted hi-hats and scintillating harp-like noises, to driving bass-heavy sections that drop the listener back into their comfort zone. Kevin Freeney’s visuals worked in harmony with Sean Cooley’s music. The graphics alluded to familiar shapes but only in the instant, constantly morphing, and it was difficult to make sense of what I was seeing: crude gray scale 3D tunnels one second, zebra-patterned mountains the next, feathery sunspots and then pixelated droplets. The room had filled up by the time their set ended, and CLU, ever unassuming, thanked the crowd briefly and left their equipment calmly as if the set hadn’t happened.
Elastic Sleep – The Mercantile
The last band I saw were the Cork-based shoegaze outfit Elastic Sleep. The Mercantile had gotten pretty sweaty and beer-encrusted by the end of the evening, but the crowd stood to attention when the drums dropped into “Anywhere” and the guitars started screeching. Muireann Levis’ siren-like vocals were constant throughout most of the set, lilting over powerful drums and expansive guitar soundscapes. While I’m not sure that the very real setting of the Mercantile was right for a band with such a dreamy aesthetic and such complex, tactile sound textures, the performance was amazing, and I have no doubt I’ll be seeing these guys in a more fitting and high-profile venue in the future.
Those of you who couldn’t go to HWCH this year need not dwell on what you missed out on. It’s obvious and probably a bit patronizing for me to even mention, but it’s important not to overlook the fact that most of the artists that played HWCH gig in Dublin regularly. As special as it is for the bands getting to be on a high-profile line-up and mingle with one another, the HWCH experience for the gig-goer seems to be a fairly regular one, and one you can have pretty much any weekend of the year in Dublin.
HWCH 2014 was a lovely celebration of the Irish music scene just the way it is, roll on whatever gigs are on this week!
Words and photos: Brian Fallon