The Indiependence Festival: Day By Day
Drop-d.ie was front and centre for the Indiependence Festival this past weekend in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. Here’s the band-by-band lowdown. More pics tomorrow through Thursday.
The vibe heading to Indiependence is one of hope for the line-up and fear for the wrath of the greying skies above. Thankfully we’re spared any celestial onslaught and the campsite, while hardly a hive for the first few hours, fills up quickly as the usual casual festival crowd pours in. Looking to retreat from the twats who have set up next to Drop-d and believe, in their heart of hearts, that spending three days in a campsite blaring early 90s dance while actual music and DJ sets are five minutes away is a very good idea, we head to check out the Cyprus Avenue stage, the main stage for the opening day’s proceedings. In fact, all the live music is here, so we plonk ourselves in its general area for the day and witness Mishap (5/10),an indie band that, while not wanting for anything musically and in terms of chops, could have made a living from this a few years when the cynical like of the The View ruled that roost, so possessed are they of “Moon in June” lyrics and increasingly generic riffs, which threaten to be something of interest when they reach jazzier, bluesier places but never quite get the direction they need. Kowtowing to pop culture is never a good idea for a band starting out either, and throwing out names like Paramore and B.O.B do nothing at all to help them. Which is a shame, as You Sold Me Out shows promise, were it not staggered somewhat by the band’s insistence on simplicity. Bringing the summery vibe to a cloudy, overcast festival day, however, are Gatchaiocht (7/10), a funk band in a town bereft of such proceedings. Their smooth, cool and laidback classic funk does nothing to reinvent the wheel (Funkadelic is to funk is what Radiohead is to alternative), but a wheel like that needs no reinvention. Christiana Underwood‘s commandeering vocals pinning down an unreasonably funky undercarriage, with plenty of wah abuse. As usual, the band inexplicably draws a crowd from the ether, dancing, swaying and wiggling posteriors all over the front barrier.
Which is the polar opposite of Connect 5 (4/10), whose pop-rock mulch does or says nothing particularly interesting or remarkable. The sound may be woeful, but the feeling pervades that it could well be their songs, a mishmash of glam rock, lazy tapping riffs and powerchord machismo that never took off in the first place. Their stage presence says it all – two chicks reading cluelessly off a sheet and dancing like mammies while the bassist and guitarist vie heroically with their boredom. How they got booked here is a mystery, really, it is. Thankfully, Dead School (8/10) lift proceedings perfectly, with a live show that betrays even their recordings for intensity. Full of swagger and in their stride, the band are a hail of feedback, presence and energy, equal parts Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Depeche Mode and punk rock machismo, their shameless posing dripping with arrogance. Even Ruairi Dale, the quiet man of Cork Rock City, cuts a more assured and confident figure on bass. The energy dips midset as one lot takes off and another comes in, but bang-on renditions of Standing on the Edge and a distortion-laden Frailties are executed with authority and precision. Journos in the crowd stand and take notice. The standard lifts once more when Enemies (9/10) take stage with their immense and heavyweight math alternately building rhythms and polyrhythms upon themselves and cuts from latest LP We’ve Been Talking solid enough to build cities on, yet intricate enough to tickle the hairs on the insides of your ears and call each one seductively by name, with bracing, double-drummer crescendos and gentle breaks. Nag Champa is easily the highlight, a propulsive, driving jam that is augmented by a blissed-out improv section. Tight, focused and ethereal. A gem of a performance from a seriously underlooked outfit.
Rest (9/10), on the other hand, are another matter entirely, their postively monolithic, doom-inflected post-rock absolutely titanic in its majesty. The intricacies of their recordings are not a single hair out of place either, textures and density reigning in the dusk. Technical issues plague the set, but do little to hobble the almighty heft, and add tension to quieter passages, stretching them out, to spine-chilling effect. Band of the night. Which leaves us with Bipolar Empire (5/10) as headliners. This is questionable. Yes, they’re sunny and happy and they’ve lovely harmonies altogether, but there’s no substance, they’re making all the right noises to wrestle Joe Soap from his philandering outside, and quite frankly, as a live act, there are very few that can follow Rest. But as a prelude to the night’s DJ sets from the Karman Line, Daft Funk and Super Mega Awesome Party, they do the job. All in all, a great day.
The grey skies hold ominously over the campsite in the morning, and yet more people are filing in on two-day junkets as the cold gives way to a stifling humidity, and the sun peeks out in the afternoon. The Main Stage opens up, and kicking things off are Palko (7/10), Cork boys whose local profile has been rapidly expanding. Their sound, more indebted to classic rock than alternative, draws a curious crowd, and despite sound issues turn in an accomplished performance. The Kanyu Tree (6/10), down at Cyprus Avenue stage, nail indie-pop perfectly, giving individual instruments and passages space to breathe. They do it well, but one would hope they’re close to defying the indie-pop template in the future and letting their real strengths shine. Storyfold (3.5/10) aim loftily at whiskey-drenched honky-tonk piano blues, but their insistence on pop accessibility sees them fall heroically short, sacrificing any real balls for an easy audience looking for easy listening. Middle-of-the-road, bland, and inoffensive. Down at Cyprus Avenue stage, Seven Summits (5/10) suffer for the dearth of people that show up – five, in fact, before the D’s two-man crew saunters in – and are clearly not happy about it. Their QOTSA-filtered indie-schmindie is rushed through, and attempts at banter fall flat, though they could hardly be blamed given their turnout. A shame, as attempts at atmosphere and spacing things out are very interesting.
Sacred Animals (7/10) also suffer from anaemic attendance, until a burst of rain packs out the Cyprus Avenue tent. Not that they’re complaining: the crowd was small but vocal. Short on banter and straight to business, their take on new-wave/post-punk is most intriguing, genuinely atmospheric, but with no nonsense, with gentle, weaving synths complementing and lying low rather than arrogantly leading. Bang on. Jogging (9/10) hit the nail on the head, though, with an absolutely massive performance. Involved, passionate and so, so tight, the sheets of distortion and the earnestness of their renditions mask a performance intricate yet urgent. An absolute blinder. The Silent Stage holds the day’s comedy, and inbetween lads hopping the stand-up bandwagon about ten years too late and veterans like Joe Rooney, are Grandmaster Cash and Dr. Feekinstein (7/10), who enter the fray dancing like eejits to Take That, and continue on the crappy 90s pop tip sporadically throughout their show. It is what is: crass, tasteless, shameless, full of pointless machismo and bereft of social skills – everything about Cork hip-hop they so expertly take the piss out of, only ten times better. Horrible lasers and projections onto the blue tent’s innards only add to the shambolic feel, Cash bowling around the stage and into the crowd giving the show a sense of unpredictability, while Feek‘s energetic bopping around onstage is incredulously enthusiastic. The crowd concurs, singing along with the end of It’s Alive with no regard for festival cool, airborne beachballs and all.
Drop-d heads to the Main Stage for the rest of the night, and inbetween preparing for an interview with tonight’s headliners, witnesses it all side-stage. The Whipping Boy (8/10) are greeted as heroes, with Fearghal McKee cutting a distinctly Leninesque presence tonight, all black robes and sporting a military hat. Indeed, his political rants are commanding in their vitriol, yet don’t take away from his crowd hustle, joking about inter-county rivalries. It is something else, though, to watch a man like McKee at work: Drop-d feels awed to be in the man’s presence as The Whipping Boy busts out the kind of indie progression mainstream Irish indie bands by and large are seemingly incapable of these days. We Don’t Need Nobody Else gives the crowd their happy ending, but all in all, the kind of performance that makes a festival. Sadly, the aforementioned generational contrast is shown in black and white with yellow highlighter as The Coronas (3/10) amble on stage and proceed about a bland mush of the most astoundingly generic indie-pop, and in going through the motions, prove utterly uninspiring, with no soul, no conviction, not even a hint of vague feeling behind their throwaway tunes. Playing every last card in their hand to garner a reaction, the band “just happens” to drop the fact that they’re going to LA to write their next album, as if this marks them out as special or particularly rock ‘n’ roll. Cowardly, lowest-common-denominator stuff, that has no place sharing a stage with the Whipping Boy, tomorrow night’s headliners ASIWYFA & Therapy? or, indeed, Ash (9/10), who immediately cleanse the palette by showing The Coronas and their ilk exactly how pop should be done, with a storming one-two of Girl from Mars and Angel Interceptor. On their own, free of major-label interference and running their own affairs, the band have been energised in recent years, and new material from the A-Z Series, such as Return of White Rabbit and Arcadia, vex casual fans by not being from the 90s, but fit in gloriously with their set. Even working against technical issues, and taking time to chastise security for being a little tight for enjoyment, the band, with Bloc Party’s Russell Lissack in tow for his last Ash gig for the foreseeable, bust them out, with Goldfinger, Kung Fu, Jack Names the Planets, Shining Light and A Life Less Ordinary getting bang-on airings. But it’s the encore that seals it, a perfect pairing of Twilight of the Innocents, the title-track from their 2007 effort, extended tonight and a blistering Burn Baby Burn, a track that, hard to believe, is ten years old this year, conjuring up this writer’s memories of early teenhood. It’s absolutely bulletproof, triple-distilled pop perfection with a treacle-dark underbelly. A perfect way to end the night on a high.
Drop-d’s camera died out last night, and the search for a replacement is likely to be a running theme today. So, too, will running from tent to tent, stage to stage. Today’s line-up is the killer main event from top to bottom, and rightly so. Cork indie-ers Suede Halo (5/10) kick off the Main Stage with simpering, mawkish indie about how love sucks, like the (much-pilloried) Frames minus any sort of charisma (a thought occurs – Glen Hansard needs to charge for use of his formula). What they do, they do well, but it’s all been done before, a million times. On the other hand, Toy Soldier (6/10), with their futuristic, minimalist pop, provide an interesting spin on it, lusciously layered, with a hint of new wave. As a stage presence they are a tad restrained, which hampers the energy a tad, but with harmonies aplenty, and confidence in their art, they’ll be a fit later this year at Electric Picnic. Over on Main Stage, Fox Jaw Bounty Hunters (8/10) bring strains of ye olde indie, with the impatience of Britpop, and doses of folk and Americana for good measure. While not exactly muted by their melting-pot of influences, they are knowingly quirky, and know exactly how to play to their subtleties. Artfully dishevelled, but always in total control, the gathering crowd get well into it. LAMP (9/10), hop on stage with no fanfare or introduction and begin to slay all around them with their jagged, almost freeform, two-man prog. It’s absolute genius, twisting and turning, riffs collapsing under the weight of what’s coming next, all the while building a colossal noise, with dirty drive under it, but intricate picking to satisfy any demanding technical listener. Ted makes with the expert jazz-gurning and jagged, angular moonwalking, as tracks from new album Sagittarius leave new souls gawping, with scant time to process thunderous tunes like Equestrian Arrows.
The Town Square tent packs up for Cork garage rockers The Grunts (7/10), whose Stoogesy, blues-and-rockabilly informed assault gets heads nodding up the front, with precision and rocking out the order of the day. Meanwhile, over at the Cyprus Avenue stage, more Cork veterans are engaging in the precise opposite, as Slow Motion Heroes (8/10) have packed out the stage and are doing the business. Three-man vocals, keys and big, we mean, stadium-filling choruses are the order of the day, the flip-side to their main callings in Hope is Noise, [r]oas, etc. And yet, it works. If brings the set to a close and the crowd to an absolute standstill, rapt in the atmosphere. It’ll take something unimaginable to stop them from getting huge, mark our words. Drop-d catches a few minutes of The Minutes (7/10) and it’s really not hard to see why the Irish mainstream is pegging them as new stars, their swaggering pop-rock getting a swelling crowd hopping along. BATS (9/10), with their monstrous, rumbling, science-inspired math-rock, let it out like animals unleashed, but are just so tight as to astound your writer. Microbiology, creativity, innovation, intelligence, excellence.
But all the energy that’s gone into this festival is about to be returned tenfold, with And So I Watch You From Afar (10/10) coming to stage and nailing a positively unreal Beautiful Universe Master Champion, before barrelling around in every direction, throughly consumed in the music and sending the energy flying back and forth with the crowd, members tossing themselves liberally into the front section. A restrained Search: Party Animal does nothing in its control to hamper enthusiasm, and probably saves a whole lot of injuries for doing so, but A Little Bit of Solidarity Goes a Long Way sees them launch maniacally back to proceedings. Preternaturally energetic, and tapping into humanity’s deepest, most primal urges to expend energy and be in the moment, ASIWYFA emerge, as usual, as a force of nature, as demonstrated in a bang-on Set Guitars to Kill that confirms their dominance of the evening. Technically gifted, given to the finest of what makes us human and what propels us. Band of the festival, hands down. Which is a hard call to make whenever Therapy? (9/10) are on the bill. They c0me so very close, but as it’s a festival show, it’s greatest hits time. Not that longtime fans are complaining, the grand statesmen of the Irish underground bopping and tearing at instruments as if the last twenty years hadn’t happened, bassist Michael McKeegan edging around the monitors and playing t0 the crowd, while frontman Andy Cairns wields his trusty SG like a master, rock stance and all. Nowhere, Knives, Screamager close up a Troublegum-heavy set that also takes in Stop It You’re Killing Me, Die Laughing (dedicated to Amy Winehouse)and an awesome Isolation (sadly sans the Loose singalong from their recent live album), but it’s new track Living in the Shadow of a Terrible Thing that proves beyond a doubt that Therapy? are never to be put down as lazy or resting on their laurels; a slinky, darkly groovy number that’s been tightened up considerably since its first airing here in November. This new album’s gonna be a cracker.
From new to old, we head to the Cyprus tent to see the Frank and Walters (8/10) ply their timeless indie-pop bijous, unwearied by the years and recent live infrequency. It’s no exaggeration, as a Corkman, to say that the Frank and Walters are gods among men here, and so they are received, with the love and adoration that only Rebels can bestow upon their own. And they give back, bantering away in accent and throwing sweets into the crowd. A great Fashion Crisis Hits New York, however, sees them hit the spot, and proves they’re not just here out of their cult hero status. The most Cork band in the history of all things Cork they may be, but you can tell they love their luck up there. The Editors (8/10) make their way in a big entourage from the farm gates to the stage, and their moody yet atmospheric post-punk-pop lights the masses that have gathered aflame. Tight, focused and on point, with the minimum of fuss, the Editors make for a memorable spectacle, pianos and synths dotting the stage and an amazing lightshow that never crosses the boundaries of good taste. The sights and sounds, the crowd, the moment, leave your writer astounded and in doubt that Indiependence is where Irish festivals should be now: intimate yet huge, busy, yet relaxed, accessible yet clued-in booking-wise. A huge accomplishment for the crew, for the bands, and most of all, for the Irish music scene. Oxegen is dead and gone, consumed by tacky sponsorship, vacuous socialites stealing time from bands and a breathtaking ignorance of the people who got it where it was. This, this is what matters. Long live the king of Irish festivals. Long live Indiependence.
The Indiependence Festival coverage continues throughout the week, with photo galleries and more reviews. Keep it here at Drop-d!
Tags: ash, asiwyfa, BATS, Bipolar Empire, Cash 'n' Feek, Connect 5, Dead School, enemies, festivals, Fox Jaw Bounty Hunters, Gatchaiocht, Indiependence, Jogging, Lamp, Mishap, Mitchelstown, Palko, Rest, sacred animals, Seven Summits, Slow Motion Heroes, Storyfold, Suede Halo, the coronas, The Editors, The Frank and Walters, The Grunts, The Kanyu Tree, The Minutes, The North Sea, Toy Soldier, Whipping Boy, Zombie Computer