Metal festival RoadBurren Fleadh finds new roots in the harsh landscape of the Burren
Conchúir O’Drona of the Roadburren Fleadh metal and experimental festival on the rise and rise of the Irish metal scene
Clockwise from top left: Abaddon Incarnate, Oiche Samhain, From The Bogs of Aughiska and Zhora
When it comes to metal, the leather-clad tattooed pierced vision of a typical fan instantly comes to mind. Metal still means Metallica to many. It’s easy to be dismissive, but like many preconceptions, they mask the reality.
Metal has many subcultures within it and it evolves, as other genres do. It’s not black and white, though you might think it.
Metal music has been more than death metal, thrash metal or Scandinavian-inspired black metal for a long time now. Like many other genres, since the internet enabled greater outside influence, metal has embraced outside influence but has remained an outsider art.
The organisers of the Roadburren Fleadh, have embraced their position on the outside, both figuratively and literally. The second edition of the one-day festival, which puts on a line-up of metal and experimental music, takes place near the Burren, a karst landscape, suitable for harsh music to be heard.
“I think the Burren is a perfect setting for an event like RoadBurren Fleadh - cold, bleak and yet beautiful, just like the music,” says organiser Conchúir O’Drona.
O’Drona lives in Lisdoonvarna where The Burren Storehouse, the venue that will host the festival is operated. The idea for the first edition, which took place in April 2016, came from a conversation O’Drona had with publican Peter Curtin of The Roadside Tavern and Burren Brewery.
A gig grew into a one-day festival and this year’s event takes place on May 6th with sets from death grind band Abaddon Incarnate, gloomy ambient black metal music from O’Drona’s own From The Bogs of Aughiska, Tipperary “progressive sludge” band Zhora, Dublin experimental duo Deathness Injection, Tipperary/Offaly dark post-rockers Unkindness Of Ravens and Cork atmospheric band Oiche Samhain among them.
Is there a scene in Lisdoonvarna for metal?
“I am the scene,” responds O’Drona. “But the place is fairly multicultural and open-minded. The local doctor even came to the festival last year.”
O’Drona agrees that the preconception persists of metal fans and musicians is that they are odd or worse, that they are simple.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth. I am friends with people in Irish bands who are working in higher education, mental health or even in the archaeological field.”
Many of bands playing Roadburren Fleadh have developed audiences abroad, have toured worldwide - Abbadon Incarnate have Ecuador, Colombia and Peru stamped on their passport - and O’Drona says while metal may be outsider music but it is thriving on the fringe.
“The scene is much stronger than 10 years ago, with a lot of bands touring worldwide and making a name for themselves, even though they might not be well known back home in Ireland.”
That activity is reflected in online sites such as metalireland.com, irishmetalarchive.com, at events like the biannual metal festival The Siege Of Limerick and gigs from DME Promotions in Dublin. Streaming services such as Spotify are also helping the discovery of metal bands.
“I’ve worked in digital music distribution for nearly 13 years and Spotify is phenomenal and continuously growing all the time,” says O’Drona.
Anti-metal sentiment in the arts
O’Drona claims he’s encountered anti-metal sentiment from arts funding organisations and programmers.
“The Arts Council won’t give any grants to metal-based projects as they are too ignorant of the music,” he says.”From The Bogs Of Aughiska were put forward to do a special performance as part of the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin, but they rejected us with the reason ‘metal shouldn’t be played in a church’. The thing is, we aren’t really a metal band. And why are you having a Bram Stoker festival in a church in the first place? What’s the craic with that?”
Despite growth, Metal isn’t seeking validation outside itself. O’Drona says most people involved in metal do it for themselves first. Being a metal band in 2017 echoes the experience of many other bands in other genres – it is like an “expensive hobby”.
“The good thing with working with bands in this scene is there is a strong sense of community and everyone tries to help each other out,” says O’Drona. “As long as we break even and the bands have a good time, that’s all that matters.”
And for the embracing of the traditional Irish word “fleadh”? O’Drona explains.
“Fleadh means a festival of Irish or Celtic music, dancing, and culture. Which is exactly what the event is about. All the acts are Irish and have their own take on Irish music. The first edition last year was fantastic. There was the sense in the air that it was the start of something."
Tom Lawlor, then Director of Bram Stoker Festival, in responses said, "From The Bogs Of Aughiska were included as part of a proposal for an open call for ideas for inclusion in the 2016 Bram Stoker Festival programme. The producer of the event proposed a well-known Dublin church as the venue, not the festival. There were a number of assessment criteria for proposals and this proposal did not meet a number of these. In our feedback declining the event, we stated that the event was excellent in terms of concept but too niche for our audience and that the metal element of the overall production was unlikely to be allowed in a church setting - information we know from previous experience in that venue."
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