Catching one hundred bands in six venues over the course of three hectic days in Dublin is a tall order. We did our best though and made it to quite a few. It is all part of Hard Working Heroes, the Irish music festival that focuses on emerging Irish musical talent. Now in its thirteenth year, the festival has become a pivotal point in the Irish musical calendar. This year the musical flair on show is ridiculous, showcasing the strength of the current Irish musical landscape. The variety of genres on display is equally impressive, with hip hop, alternative rock, folk, and electronica all represented.
First stop on our Thursday trek is upstairs in Tengu for the bedroom pop of Dublin singer/songwriter handsome eric. The music he has released thus far has been lo-fi and low key focusing on restraint and vulnerability. Live, he is a completely different proposition. Backed by a full band, including Callum Browne of Little L Records on drums, his music takes on a much more aggressive and cathartic character. Sounding somewhat like an Irish version of Car Seat Headrest, Handsome Eric play tracks that are both simple and ambitious at once, building to a purgative roar by the completion of the set. Hopefully, a full band studio release will follow soon.
Fast forward to seven thirty on Thursday, and its Belfast alt rock quartet Junk Drawer upstairs in The Chocolate Factory. Drawing on some of the very best from late 80s/early 90s American alternative rock, the group showcase material from their rather excellent upcoming EP For The Cult Fat Guy. Their songs bristle with energy and wit, but also explore areas of noise and experimentation. So it’s somewhat like if Thurston Moore suddenly developed a love for writing straight up alt rock songs. Especially impressive is recent single ‘Song 3’, which would have been an MTV staple if this were 1993, and the group’s penchant for swapping instruments and singing duties. A grand bunch of lads.
Over in Tengu a little later is Jealous of the Birds (aka Naomi Hamilton) and her band. Some technical difficulties delay the group’s start and there does seem to be something missing throughout the set. The guitar and arrangements feel a little thin. However, a chap nearby assures me that this is quite unusual for Naomi and her band. Usually, they are a visceral and assertive life outfit adding energy and power to the intimacy of Hamilton’s studio releases.
Touts from Derry are up next in The Hub. A punk trio from Derry, their performance is pretty astounding considering their young age. They play with the tenacity and tightness of a seasoned outfit. Their set culminates in a visceral and cathartic cover of Patti Smith’s ‘Gloria’. At this stage, their set is pretty derivative of punk bands that have preceded them. However, as they are only sixteen, they have plenty of times to carve out their own sound from their jagged and thunderous brand of punk.
After a quick trot over to The Workman’s we manage to catch the last couple of songs from slacker wave quintet Beach. Live their explorations are given an added dimension. Take their single from late last year, ‘Arabia’. The dance rock Alt-J esque nature of the track is amplified exponentially by the enthusiasm of their performance and accentuated by the trippy visuals playing in the background. Also, it doesn’t hurt them that their singer looks like Hozier after a particularly rough weekend.
After a quick debate, we decide to hang around The Workman’s to catch Whenyoung. An alternative rock trio, the group combine feeedback and distortion with a keen sense of pop melody. As the gig progresses, the band relax and really get into the swing of proceedings. A tight and well practiced outfit, their precision is wonderfully offset by gutiarist’s explorations into dissonance.
Oh Joy help us cap an excellent evening out in Dublin with their alt rock set downstairs in Tengu. This trio sport one of the most excellently distorted guitar tones of the evening. It’s damn thick, warm and luxurious. Their music owes a bit of a debt to the Smashing Pumpkins, with their control of feedback especially calling to mind Billy Corgan’s wonderful authority over noise. Elsewhere, their songs mine a post grunge sound, but with a far subtler touch than many of the bands of that genre ever managed.
On Saturday, our first port of call is The Hub for noisy alt rock trio Oh Boland. This is irrelevant but I’ve always hoped that Oh Boland are named after Harry Boland. Probably way wide of the mark. Their set is haphazard and dare I say sloppy. However, it’s clearly sloppy by design and the relaxed nature of their performance is ultimately endearing. With their big riffs and strong melodies, the group clearly bear a love for The Replacements and bands of that ilk. Fresh from a tour of the States with post punks Protomartyr, their stage presence and patter is pitched perfectly with the band driving through a number of selections from their recently released debut album Spilt Milk.
The Workman’s is the destination for noise pop quartet Galants. Live the group are a bit more forceful than on record. Their studio offerings so far have harboured a distinctly shoegaze element. Tonight the distorted is a bit more focused and hard, largely missing the fuzz and discordance. This has its pros and cons. It makes their performance a bit more accessible, but also makes their songs lose a bit of their uniqueness. Still though, epic stuff.
There is no way possible there could have been a better band to finish off Overblown’s weekend in Dublin than local band Bitch Falcon. Their live performance really has to been heard in the flesh to be believed. Calling to mind under rated grunge legends Tad and the riot grrrl power of L7 or Bikini Kill, the group pound and trash their way through peaks of enormous, cacophonous feedback and down tuned, filthy riffs. What’s remarkable is the sense of melody that manages to worm its way through the discord. The crowd love it, moshing enthusiastically to set highlight ‘Syncope’ with it’s primal roars and noise flecked solo. Possibly our favourite Irish band.
That’s it. If only all weekends in Dublin were this entertaining.
Photographs by Ruthless Imagery Photography.