HWCH 2015 Thursday
Summer has come to a close, the nights are drawing in, and the time for standing in a muddy, sun-drenched field listening to music has definitively passed us by. It’s just dandy then that Hard Working Class Heroes comes around when it does. 7 clubs, venues and bars are converted for three nights into enclaves of the Dublin music scene, where dozens of the artists that the organisers feel most excited about play to the interested as the largely oblivious capital city swirls around them. Dublin is the festival site, and those in the know spend the weekend throwing themselves right in. Here’s what we made of proceedings on the Thursday.
Elephant (Grand Social)
The gig space in the upstairs of the Grand Social is looking lovely this weekend. Draped and kitted out with the trappings of an old-worldly circus tent, many of the weekend’s quieter and more introspective acts find themselves on its stage over the course of the 3 nights. First up is Dundalk artist Elephant, for tonight a two-piece featuring Shane Clarke in the spotlight on vocals and guitar, propped up from the darkness by some subtly dabbled-with synth. The result is a charming musical foray to different points along the folk axis, backed up by beguiling songwriting and Clarke’s fine voice. Early tracks see flanged-out guitar and watertight harmonics, while others feature percussive guitar loops and dreamy atmospherics. The higher end of Clarke’s vocal range is powerful when used to full effect. “Little Ghost”, a new single, leaves hints that he isn’t quite as strong on the low, softer stuff, but as the set as a whole proves and the officially nameless ‘Ukulele Song’ showcases, he can bring the house down when he goes for it.
Zaska (Academy Green Room)
There are some artists and some venues that really shouldn’t go together. The Academy Green Room, the stooped, awkward younger cousin of the main venue upstairs, doesn’t feel right for a Zaska gig. With a head on him like a burst of sunshine, and a musical project centred around generous dollops of happy-clappy white guy funk, a half empty (it is still early) basement in October is not really where he belongs. No matter. His performance is enough to make us forget all that. The man himself is the lead guitarist and general organising force of the group. His opener is a drawn out funk jam, occasionally interspersed with him moaning ‘my God’ before it all kicks off in a slightly different direction. It drags on for a while but no one would claim it isn’t enjoyable. Two guest singers join the stage for the rest of the gig. The hearty ‘do do do’ choruses that follow seem similarly incongruous in the gig’s slightly inappropriate setting, but the band as a whole manage to rise above it. The modal tonalities of jazz guitar are approximated for ‘Close to You’. The performance is a whole bucket of fun, despite the venue and the sparse crowd, and as is the case with many gigs this weekend, we can only wish it had gone on for longer.
The Altered Hours (Hangar)
If the Grand Social is folk-central for the next three days, Hangar, with its exposed brickwork and concrete ceiling, is to be the site of most of the earth-shaking rock and punk. The Altered Hours’ first song is momentarily derailed by the shrill ping of irritating feedback, but you realise soon that they are the kind of band where it isn’t necessarily accidental. Whether it is or not is actually beside the point. The band themselves are a force of nature tonight. Expertly straddling the line dividing tonality and music from pure noise, the next half an hour is a brazenly abrasive assault on the eardrums. Chords are viciously attacked and tambourines are battered. The vocals throughout, a bit low in the mix, are important as musical effects beyond the content of the lyrics. The voice in fact numbers among the band’s most important instruments. Among an odd type of carefully layered soundscape, the vocals drift in and out of the bigger picture. Some songs contain echoes of first-generation hardcore, others of more contemporary noise merchants. Crowd interaction is kept to a minimum and song titles are mumbled into incoherence. “This is the last song… it’s about wanting to die”, they tell us towards the end. And then it combusts again. Mighty.
Saint Sister (Workmans)
Workmans is packed. Saint Sister, among the only acts currently making waves in the Dublin scene to feature the services of an Irish harp, have been attracting approving noises for some time. Known for their achingly beautiful folk-style tunes, backed up tonight with the rest of a conventional band, they are far and away the stand out of the festival so far, and it seems that the crowd are in full agreement. Morgan Macintyre, the lead singer if there is one, sings lower down the register and utilises a synth to embellish the ethereal soundscapes, while Gemma Doherty harmonises and plucks away at the harp. It becomes hard to pick any standout moments from the set, as in a short space of time, the pair have come to operate at a remarkably high level. ‘Versions of Hate’ sticks in the memory more than most, and they end on new song ‘Madrid’, probably another step up again in what they seem to be capable of. The singers themselves seem shocked at the size of the crowd to have arrived to see them, but carry the attentions of the crowd as if it’s nothing. Plenty will surely be written about the group in the coming months, but one thing for certain is that you won’t see them at HWCH next year. They will have, and may already have, outgrown it.
Bagels (Bad Bobs)
The only band of the evening named after any kind of foodstuff are bundled into the disappointing surrounds of the upstairs of Bad Bobs in Temple Bar, where half the meagre audience can’t see the group for a concrete pillar plonked in the middle of the room. Not ideal. Bagels rise above it however and give a solidly grounded performance. They aren’t doing anything remarkably new and they know it, but this doesn’t detract from the quality of the set. Falling somewhere in the neighbourhood of Two Door Cinema Club at times, able to get heavier when they want to, they’re well aware of the musical context of their work. The whole endeavour is carried off with a surfeit of pretence. Anchorman is sampled at the beginning of one song, Conor McGregor features in another. The lead singer’s explanation that “this song is for everyone who has feelings – sound” sums up their attitudes to self-conscious performativity. They do a cover of ‘Spanish Sahara’ by Foals and pull it off without seeming ill-chosen. Hardly cutting-edge, but great craic all the same.
Maud in Cahoots (Grand Social)
Our last band of the evening are the long suffering Maud in Cahoots. If Bagels got on with it without relying on excessive performativity, Maud in Cahoots are the antithesis. This isn’t a gig, this is a performance. Maud herself is stood front and centre of the stage, drawing the attentions of the crowd in her direction with a series of gestures and expressions. The music, a slightly toned-down version of Florence Welch’s vocal-centric synth pop, rarely manages to ignite. Maud’s performativity seems a little out of place in the circumstances, as do her repeated aphorisms between songs that ‘being happy is a choice you make’ and so on, her occasional segues into French and her decision to sing a part of ‘Stay’ in the halo of light around the stage unpopulated by the crowd. If only the music was slightly better, they would have gotten away with it. The instrumentation is well thought out, to be fair to it, violins and cellos mixing with and replacing synths and guitars at different points of the set. None of the songs are disappointments, and the new track ‘Greatest Achievement’ is wonderful. But it’s all in danger of seeming a little bit silly.
Words: Cathal Kavanagh