Notes and observations from Hard Working Class Heroes 2012
It was Jeffrey Remedios who nailed it. Speaking on the managers’ panel at the Hard Working Class Heroes Convention on Friday afternoon, the founder of Canada’s Arts & Crafts group, who works with everyone from Broken Social Scene to Feist, …
It was Jeffrey Remedios who nailed it. Speaking on the managers’ panel at the Hard Working Class Heroes Convention on Friday afternoon, the founder of Canada’s Arts & Crafts group, who works with everyone from Broken Social Scene to Feist, talked about a band’s place in the music business spectrum. The moment you begin to make music and seek an audience to pay you for this, you’re in a business. There may be many different lines in that spectrum, from bands who are just seeking to recoup their costs to bands who are highly commercial, but you’re in a business. It’s art, but it’s also very much a business. From limited-edition cassettes of field recordings made in an Irish bog to a band seeking to be the new Killers or Kings Of Leon, it’s a business.
And it was Dev Sherlock from the Hype Machine who brought it all full circle a little over 24 hours later. He was speaking on the technology panel and, when asked where he thought we’d be a decade from now, pointed to an observation that the music business is something which is only a couple of decades old. In the greater scheme of things, when you roll back through the centuries, there was no music business as we know it now so who knows what’s going to happen? Fellow panelist Darren Hemmings from Motive Unknown then pointed out the sage who made that observation: Mick Jagger.
We’ve come a long way, baby. This was the tenth outing for Hard Working Class Heroes, the festival which set out to showcase new Irish music and now attracts a much bigger local and international audience than was the case when founder Brian Carroll initially set out his stall in the Project Arts Centre back in 2003. The festival has grown in leaps and bounds every year as it has added more bands, venues and industry elements to the mix.
I’ve been involved in the programming side of the HWCH Convention since 2009 and this year’s panels, looking back at what managers, agents, brands and techies have learned over the last 10 years, were probably the ones I have enjoyed the most to date. There was a great turnout for these sessions and, as was the case last year, there were also very good crowds for the Bandtips conversations involving radio programmers, international festival bookers and music bloggers in Filmbase each evening. If you missed the panels or workshops, all were filmed and will be available for download on the HWCH site within the next few weeks.
There were plenty of takeaways from the panels. From the managers discussing the changing nature of their jobs and the agents explaining how some of them can book out up to 50 acts to a good rattle about what brands have brought to the music game (we even ended up with a great name for a HWCH fringe in Hard Middle Class Heroes from this one) and a fine deconstruction of how and why technology is now an essential part of the puzzle, the panelists gave as good as they got. Many will also enjoy the boisterous Bandtips session involving 2fm’s Ian Wilson, Today FM’s Brian Adams and RTE Radio One’s Penny-Rose Hart and not just for the sight of Wilson’s knees. This was history in the making, y’all: the very first discussion panel about music radio in Ireland which was not bitching about why Irish bands don’t get daytime play. Memo to those at the back who keep on going on about the importance of radio: it’s really not as important when it comes to breaking bands as you think it is any more. Time to move on and change the dial.
Good turnouts were a noticable feature of HWCH 2012 and it really seemed as if the festival had a bit of a tipping point this year with a much higher public profile. Chalk it down to a return to Meeting House Square or booking a couple of acts who can draw a big crowd in the capital (come on down Le Galaxie), but such a profile also meant you’d full rooms for newer, less heralded acts too. It was also clear that it’s not just those who write about or work with music for a living who are partial to jumping between venues to catch as many acts as possible to get value for their ticket.
You also learned plenty out on those streets about the current state of the musical nation. For all the talk about a change in the music business and how major labels just ain’t handing out the big contracts any more, HWCH 2012 featured two acts who are currently enjoying plenty of attention from that quarter. We’re written here before about Cavan teen mods The Strypes (the only Irish act featured in NME’s new bands issue this week, by the way) and it seems this one is going all the way up to 11, with old-fashioned major label record deals featuring lots of zeroes now in the mix. The Strypes are, as the saying goes, very much in play. Then, there’s brothers and buskers Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor AKA Hudson Taylor, the act who’ve just landed a big-ass Universal Music deal. It’s easy to see why a label would go yes when you clock who they’ve developed a big audience via YouTube with what’s essentially Mumford & Sons-like folky pop. When Mumford & Sons can shift half-a-million albums in a few days in the United States, you’ll have acts like Hudson Taylor getting the nod.
One of the most noticable trends for me at HWCH 2012 was seeing how some acts have hugely improved their musical suss. At the tail-end of last year, Come On Live Long were a band with some decent ideas, but without the tunes or punch to back that up. Playing at the OTR vs Nialler9 night at the Workman’s Club, Come On Live Long were a far different proposition. They’re now confident (cocky, even, at times), astute and smart and this means a new vibrancy to the tunes. “Elephants and Time” is still the cracker in the pack, but there’s now keen competition for that honour.
The following night, Sleep Thieves at the Button Factory were a revelation. Anyone who has heard their “Islands EP” from earlier this year will know that there has been a serious class of reinvention going on here, but the live set takes matters into another realm. Gone is any lingering indie-schmindie coyness or shyness in favour of a strong, confident, mature slew of infectious, substantial noir-disco and melancholic electropop. The band’s performance now matches the wow of the songs, as even they click they’re onto something special. It often just takes time for a band to discover their true leanings and pivot in that direction.
Others who impressed over the weekend included Forrests (beautiful electronic tingles and whispers from a smart, clued-in duo), Tandem Felix (lovely dusty indie with smart layers and some brilliant hooks, especially when they introduced a trumpet to the proceedings), Elaine Mai (kudos galore for that Kate Bush-esque cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”), Girl Band (short, sharp helpings of trashy punk rock with weirdly alluring pop tones) and September Girls (fuzzy, scuzzy, you-name-it-y garage pop with a sweet spot at the heart of the buzz).
Yes, I saw way more acts than the ones mentioned above, but most of those other acts were just, you know, alright. It has to be said that there were a lot of “alright” bands out there this year. They weren’t bad enough to make you walk out of the venue in high dudgeon, but they weren’t good either to make you want to hang around and message your pals to come check them out. Average rather than mediocre: “alright” is the word and sadly, “alright” is not good enough. Some of the acts certainly have the makings of something to them and you hope the bands themselves will, like Sleep Thieves and Come On Live Long, work out how to do that, stick with it and come back again. After all, as we have learned over the last 10 years, it takes time to work things out and sometimes, that time is well worth taking.