Hard Working Class Heroes ’09 – put the kettle on….
Big thanks to everyone involved in making the On The Record Presents @ HWCH night at the Twisted Pepper such a fantastic occasion over the weekend. It was all down to the eight acts who played on the night (round …
Big thanks to everyone involved in making the On The Record Presents @ HWCH night at the Twisted Pepper such a fantastic occasion over the weekend. It was all down to the eight acts who played on the night (round of applause one more time for Hunter-Gatherer, The Dying Seconds, The Spook Of The Thirteenth Lock, Valerie Francis, The Holy Roman Army, Cities, Yes Cadets and Kyon), Nialler9 and UnaRocks for the DJ-ing and Banter-ing, the audience who showed up, everyone at the venue and especially Aidan, the HWCH stage manager who was getting bands and DJs on and off that stage on time all night long. It was the first time I’ve ever curated a night or event like that and it was a blast. More OTR Presents events to come, for sure.
Well, that’s the formalities done and dusted….
It was The Guardian who provided an unlikely preamble for this year’s HWCH. Dave Simpson’s piece on the current state of major label A&R could not have been more timely as a pointer to how things have changed for those who work in the industry and, by extension, those bands who are reason why there’s an industry to begin with. This was a profession which once lived life high on the hog, inhabitating an universe of fancy restaurants, the best hotels in town and expense accounts flexible enough to hire the LA Centrefolds to do a private show in a suite in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel to woo impressionable kids from the Marble City. They were able to do so because record and CD sales were huge. These days, though, those A&R execs lodge in the local Travelodge and all eyes are on the bottom line. And this wasn’t a case of putting on a show for the hack: for instance, Sony A&R dude Paul Harris, who was featured in the piece, stayed in a mate’s house when he was in Dublin for the weekend.
Record labels are still open for business, but they’re embracing a new sort of austerity. Even those indie imprints which weren’t flinging too much cash around on vintage wine to begin with are cutting back on their shoestring budgets. At “Meet your new best friend”, the record label industry panel at HWCH, four reps from Irish, UK and US indie labels talked frankly about the current state of the game. They have changed how they work, the deals they’re signing and the amount of money they’re prepared to invest in new bands. What’s the point in spending thousands and thousands on a video, they reckon, when it ain’t going to produce the same kind of return? Recording budgets? You didn’t have to even come to the panel to realise they’re on the slide when people can record albums on the same machine they use to create spreadsheets – have a read of this Los Angeles Times’ piece for a sign o’ the times takeaway for the knob-twiddling fraternity.
All of this recession-era doom and gloom makes it an interesting time for a festival like HWCH. It’s a weekend where 100 or so acts play short, snappy sets in venues all over the city. There are also industry panels, rapidfire meet-and-greet sessions and a photo exhibition, but those 100 bands are the reason why the event happens in the first place. While there have been all manner of shorthand expressions used to try to explain HWCH to the uninitiated, that’s really it in the nutshell: 100 Irish bands showing audiences what they’ve got to offer. And when you have 100 bands playing in the one location over a few days, you do get a lot of attention and that’s where the rest of the weekend comes into focus.
To judge by the sounds coming out of various venues over the weekend, we are living in interesting times for Irish music. As one veteran observer put it to me on Sunday night as we left yet another venue, there’s a hell of a lot of acts out there with something going on and that has not been the case for a number of years. The problem now is just what do you do with that “something”. After all, writing killer songs or nailing that chorus is just the start of things. The rest is perspiration and hard work. Anyone who thinks who can get by with one or the other is just fooling themselves – or doesn’t really have a clue what they are talking about.
I chaired all four of the weekend’s industry panels and the same words kept cropping up again and again from the panelists: research, doing-it-yourself and filters. In a world where, as Jim Powers from Minty Fresh Records noted from a conversation with a MySpace rep, there are eight million bands on MySpace, it’s up to the bands themselves to do the spadework. A label or a booking agent or a blogger or a music supervisior or a music publisher or a festival booker is not going to find out about your killer songs and choruses unless you actually do some heavy promotional lifting of your own to get on their radar. Yes, as Domino’s Harry Martin said, people will find your act if you’re really that good, yet it still comes down to filters.
Again and again, from the bloggers to the labels, there was an emphasis on using filters to cut through the swathe of eight million bands. Those filters might be blogs, trusted writers, recommendations from people on Twitter or just simply hearing about a band from two different people whose tips you respect. And those filters and personal contacts are something which technology cannot and will not be able to replicate.
It was was interesting also to hear what the panelists had to say about the bands they met in the speed-dating sessions. Some acts, panelists would shake their heads sadly, haven’t a clue about the world beyond their rehearsal studio and just want someone else to do all the hard work. On the other hand, it was acts who had the makings of a gameplan, who had done their research and who were prepared to take advice onboard who made an impression. And in a world of eight million MySpace bands, making an impression is what counts.
Out on the streets, there are plenty of acts making an impression. When I wasn’t confined to barracks at TP for this blog’s own night, I was concentrating on acts I hadn’t seen live before. I was hugely taken with Not Squares (awesome to the power of a billion with a drummer who is the Elvin Jones of the nu-punktronica scene), We Cut Corners (brilliantly erudite tunes from a duo who put plenty of bang into their folksy pop), Pearse McGloughlin (dude added a lot of muscle, fibre and flex to the songs from his “Busy Whisper” album), Tidal District (amped-up geek pop from a band who have a whole bunch of songs which match their boom tune “Don’t Turn Your Back On The Bear” for panache), Autumn Owls (finely pitched atmospheric songs which got under your skin and left a Fleet Foxes/Band Of Horses tattoo), The Brothers Movement (the band formerly known as Mainline take off their leather jackets and get fresh with a new take on the old Jayhawks strumathon), Kyon (fierce, furious and fascinating electronic/punk workouts) and, best of all, the men of The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock (mighty, mighty, mighty music fleshing out hardy tales from the banks of the Royal and Grand canals). I’ve also heard nothing but great things about the performances from Clare’s Cities and Waterford/Cork’s O Emperor.
Naturally, I’d be interested to know what new acts readers saw and who impressed them. If you’ve blogged about the weekend, stick a link to your review in the comments below. In the interests of fairness, I’ll also link to the HWCH overviews and reviews from my print peers when they appear. I assume they were also out all weekend long checking out fresh new Irish bands to write and talk about. They were, weren’t they?
All in all, then, a grand weekend out in the big smoke. Yep, I heard plenty of grumbles and quibbles from bands about everything from short changeover times or not getting on the bill. Yep, I nodded sagely when I heard these things and kept my serious face on before replying “what the fuck do you expect, you numptie?”. An event like HWCH gets attention because 100 bands playing over the course of three nights in one place so, of course, there are going to be short changeovers between acts. If you’re going to take 20 minutes to get your act together, don’t be surprised if a stage-manager politely tells you that you’ve now only got 10 minutes to play. Get over it. And if it doesn’t suit you, don’t play. I’m sure there are plenty of acts on the waiting list.
And advice for bands who didn’t get picked? Dudes, do your own festival! As simple as that. That’s what I’d do if I was so annoyed that I was exerting time and effort fuming about not getting picked. Sort out your own wee fringe event and jump on the HWCH bandwagon by having it the same weekend. Call it Harder Working Class Heroes or Hardy Working Class Heroes. Do your own thing. Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds like hard work but – message to those at the back who might not have heard it the first, second of 53rd time – it really is all about hard work.