The other Wicklow way
With a focus on independent artists, Knockanstockan, the little festival beside the Blessington Lakes, is filling its wellies nicely, writes LAUREN MURPHY
THE LITTLE Festival That Could may not be Knockanstockan’s official tagline, but in many ways it sums up Wicklow music festival’s ethos. Now in its sixth year, the independent event has succeeded – thrived, even – without the backing of corporate sponsors or major expansion, securing a red-ringed spot on the summer festival calendar for thousands of Irish music fans who travel to the shores of the Blessington Lakes each July.
With a focus on independent artists, at Knockanstockan it’s all about the music. “After the huge success of 2011, our aim
is to grow stronger, not bigger this year,” says co-founder Peter Keogh, who believes that the upsurge and competition between small, independent music festivals is “awe-inspiring”.
“Each festival is unique, and forms a vital cog in the summer that is about to unfold,” he says.
One hundred and fifty bands and artists – most of them promising up-and-coming acts rather than established names – will play the three-day volunteer-run event, whittled down from 850 entries. There’s more than just music to entertain, too. The Faerie Field area will this year be expanded to include a “4D extravaganza performance area” for burlesque, poetry and other alternative acts, while the holistic area and teepee village will double as a film screening area by night. The art trail, food and family areas have also been beefed-up, although attendance will remain capped below 5,000.
“It’s in our blood,” Keogh says of the festival’s continued success. “Working the land, channeling the excitement and tension . . . and all to the soundtrack of some of the best music our nation has ever produced. The whole experience is hard to beat.”
Hush War cry
It’d be futile to deny that this young Cork band have a brazen fetish for British indie oddballs Wild Beasts. Swarthy/airy dual-vocal approach? Check. Chiming guitars? Check. Dark, atmospheric undercurrents? Check-mate. But since we love Wild Beasts, that’s certainly no bad thing. Having just released their excellent debut EP Voices on the Delphi label, which features the brilliant Lily and dabblings in understated electronica on Window to the Heart, there’s every chance that Richard Fenton and Co. could go on to make a striking album. Watch this space.
If you only catch one song: Lily
They’re the schoolboys who’ve taken the country by surprise, but dismiss The Strypes as a novelty act at your peril. Okay, so they may have an average age of 15 and look like they looted the wardrobes of their Beatles-obsessed big brothers – but boy, can these boys play. The highly proficient Cavan quintet’s profile continues to rise with numerous Irish festival dates and forthcoming club dates in the UK, all off the back of their nifty homage to 1960s beat-pop, the Young, Gifted Blue EP. Homework? Pah. There’ll be time enough for schoolbooks once they’ve conquered the world.
If you only catch one song: You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover
best boy grip
Here’s a prime example of a hidden gem unearthed by festivals like Knockanstockan. Eoin O’Callaghan is the main man behind Best Boy Grip, a Derry-based band that sound like manna from heaven for those of us with a penchant for quirky piano-pop. Traces of Ben Folds, The Divine Comedy and Aqualung are perceptible in Barbara and Soldier Boy, songs with barbed edges to temper the gleeful melodies. Having already made quiet inroads up north, a breakthrough south of the border is inevitable if these great songs land on the right ears.
If you only catch one song: Barbara
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Steve Ryan was bursting eardrums as half of Limerick noiseniks Giveamanakick, but his other band, Windings, the one he has pursued full-time since the demise of GAMAK, demonstrates his versatility as a musician.
With echoes of Grandaddy and Badly Drawn Boy in their sound, the quintet’s line in charming melodic indie-pop is the ultimate feelgood festival sound. Their third album, recorded in Montréal’s Hotel2Tango studio earlier this year, will be released on Out on a Limb Records later this year.
If you only catch one song: The Hassle
CRY MONSTER CRY
Continuing the tried-and-tested tradition of fraternal harmonisers, brothers Richie and James Martin formed Cry Monster Cry two years ago as a vehicle for their swoonsome folk-laced songs. Their debut EP The Fallen was released recently, and one of its tracks, This New Country, so impressed the head honchos at Tourism Ireland that they chose it to soundtrack their new online ad campaign. With songs that are predominantly acoustic-based but often blossom into luscious full-band affairs, Cry Monster Cry sound like a safe bet for a sunny (hopefully) afternoon set at Knockanstockan.
If you only catch one song: This New Country
“A charming voice hidden under one big fringe”: that’s one way to describe Liz Lawrence. “An audible fan of Feist and Ani DiFranco” is another, but that’s certainly nothing to hold against the English singer-songwriter, whose debut collection of well-constructed indiepop tunes was released under the title Bedroom Hero earlier this year. Lawrence’s background in punk and ska music is indubitably muted these days, but her music is eminently listenable – particularly the jaunty I’d Rather and Bedroom Hero, a song that’s just begging to be used on an iTunes ad. There’s that Feist connection again.
If you only catch one song: I’d Rather
Some things in life have a habit of coming full-circle. Raglans met at Knockanstockan in 2010, so it’s only right that they return to the festival for a victory lap. What for? Well, after winning the long-established Battle of the Bands at The King Kong Club in Dublin last year, the foursome’s prize was a recording session overseen by Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer at his studio in Portugal. The resulting EP, Long Live, then scored them a deal with the newly-founded Whelan’s Live record label. This is über-catchy, cheeky chappy indie with a rough-and-ready folk edge and some super harmonies.
If you only catch one song: The Man from Glasgow
Do we really need another instrumental band in thrall to ASIWYFA and Redneck Manifesto? Well, probably not – but Rocketsurgery have more in common with the dreamy melodies of their Wicklow cohorts Enemies than the full-on aggression of the aforementioned Belfast troupe. What’s more, it’s impossible not to tap your foot to the temperate groove of songs like Sign of the Nudge and Jetcord. With their eponymous EP available for free download from their Bandcamp page, that’s a theory you cast test for yourself before catching them at the festival.
If you only catch one song: Jetcord
Knockanstockan takes place at the Blessington Lakes, Co Wicklow from July 27th- 29th. knockanstockan.ie