Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Knockanstockan 2012

Knockanstockan is no ordinary festival. Sequestered snugly on the banks of the Blessington Lakes, a beautiful scenic landscape of stony mountains, forests, and water, which cocoons the festival from the outside world. The surprisingly vast and idyllic landscape is breathtaking and instantly gives the sense that this is a special place worth visiting in its own right and not just a few spare fields available for corporate gain.

The organisers were very careful to make sure that the festival was as green as possible without shoving a green agenda in the faces of festival goers. Bins were dotted often around the entertainment areas and the campsites and toilets were plentiful to say the least. At least one row beside each stage and several rows in each campsite meaning there were no queues by mainstream festivals standards. Toilet roll was also replaced in the portaloos, a practice which is almost unheard of in Ireland. These simple measures removed many of the usual festival headaches for punters and allowed them to focus on enjoying the sights and sounds of the festival.

The lineup was eclectic to say the least with over 120 acts across the weekend performing almost every genre and sub-genre of music imaginable. The standard of musicianship was also generally high, which was surprising as not many of the acts jump off the timetable and scream "see me" beyond The Riptide Movement, The Mighty Stef, and Enemies. Bands like The Yips and Salad Circus certainly displayed the potential to do so in the future.

Highlights Day One:

Windings gave the first standout performance of the festival unleashing their personal blend of blissed out folk and pedal melting rock. The quintet who are signed to Limerick's Out On A Limb Records, treated the crowd to tracks from their eclectic album 'It's Never Night' as well as recent singles The Space I Occupy, and The Hassle and the wonderful Embury Greenway. Their varied set suited the anything goes flavour of the festival and ensured there was at least one song for everyone in the audience.

The Circus Tent was the perfect place for Blind Yackety to deliver a feisty, eye-catching performance later in the evening. The six piece band resemble a psychedelic cabaret of The Commitments on acid. They create an enormous sound tinged with jazz and vaudeville and rock, which gushes from the stage. Their unusual fun-filled show drew a large crowd who whooped and hollered excitedly along to the action on stage.  Blind Yackety are an incredibly creative and talented bunch of musicians, but above all else they have incredibly imaginative live show which is a sight to behold.

Just when we thought things couldn't get anymore unusual we stumbled across a band from Armenia, (that's right Armenia) called The Bambir on The Sun Stage. The Bambir are a 5 piece who mix traditional Armenian music with hardcore rock. The result is a pulsating cross between Jethro Tull and System Of A Down, but distilled in The Bambir's own unique way. Arik Grigoryan (vocals and flute) is quite the showman, wildly dancing in the moments he is neither playing or singing.  While Narek Barseghyan's guitar playing is fantastically dark and joyous. The Bambir are playing a host of shows in Ireland this summer and they are highly recommended for music fans who like to be challenged mentally and physically.

The Mighty Stef may now be one of the elder statesmen of the Irish music scene but he still packs a powerful punch live.  His dirty folk shoegaze stylings make perfect festival fare. The Mighty Stef has veered towards a more Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sound live recently with pounding drums and throbbing distorted bass filling out his folk compositions. His growling voice is in top form and note perfect throughout the set. However, he still performs in the Folk style which originally brought him critical acclaim and it's in this sphere that The Mighty Stef really excels. His voice lending itself perfectly to an outlaw tale of murder and regret.

Highlights Day Two:

Covers band Ghost Busters started off day two of Knockanstockan in a cheese filled set of covers by the likes of Bryan Adams and Madonna and a rendition of the movie theme from which they borrowed their name. Post-Rock band Fusion Trip delivered a more credible set of funky slap-bass instrumentals with soaring prog rock guitar solos which dusted the cobwebs from the sleepy heads of eager festival goers. Swords delivered a fine set including recent single Chasm. But as the inclement weather poured in the acts on the outdoor stages suffered badly, with bands such as Little xs For Eyes only playing to a handful of die-hard fans who braved the weather. However the weather led us to our two finds of the festival The Yips and Salad Circus.

The Yips formed at BIMM - the modern music course now being ran in DIT - and won 98 FM's Brand New Act 2012 earlier this year. An incredible achievement for a group who hardly knew each other last September. The Yips music largely centres around bass groves and guitar riffs and in lead singer Roisin Doyle, they have a female vocalist capable of giving Niamh from Ham Sandwich a run for her money in the belting note stakes. Such is the power of her voice which also has a beautiful jazz tone to it. The Yips are definitely one to keep an eye on.

Hailing from Galway, Salad Circus are a 5 piece punk powerhouse. Their songs are full of instantly catchy choruses and guitar hooks, think early Janes Addiction with a punkier edge. Jack O'Grady is a superb frontman drawing the audience's attention with the veins in his chest and his 'this is for real' gaze and his wonderful voice, which is equally comfortable doing high-pitched Sting-esque ska as it is doing full-on punk rock. Salad Circus soon had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands and head nodding quickly turned in to full on dancing throughout the tent as the potential hit singles kept coming.

Mixing disco bass riffs with post rock guitar twiddles, Bamboo Party brought their high energy dance rock to the main stage ensuring the party continued into the small hours of Sunday morning. Emily O Connor proves to be yet another convincing front-woman bouncing up and down the stage while Lorcán O’Dwyer made high-octane disco bass riffs seem like childs play as he glided across the stage, never once glancing at his fretboard. Songs such as Warning Signs left the audience in no doubt they had just seen a proper band.

Highlights Day Three:

We Town Criers kicked off Sunday's entertainment with some blistering grunge tinted rock n roll. Many of their songs are reminiscent of Stone Temple Pilots heavier material, with a one arm scissor twist of grinding rhythm figures setting the pace. Songs such as Switch Flicker and Grind really stood out from a memorable set. We Town Criers are without a doubt the best band  ever to emerge from Roscommon.

GP first came across Lights Camera Sundown during our Coast to Coast - Tea And Toast charity fund-raising drive earlier this year. They performed as an acoustic duo that night and blew the audience away with their sombre blissed out take on country folk. This time they took to The Circus Tent with a full band complement and deliver a fine set of blissed out country folk, only this time with an added grove. The unexpected addition of groovy walking basslines is a welcome treat. In fact they are probably the funkiest country band you're likely to come across in Ireland. However, we weren't convinced by the merits of their cover of The Bloodhound Gang's Bad Touch which left us slightly cold.

An hours quiet time was observed as a mark of respect for the blessing of the graves in the local cemetery and many people took the opportunity to lay down on the grass and relax before the festival went in to extra time. Fear Of Folk, Hush War Cry and The Strypes took to the stage as the festival reconvened. Fear of Folk's breezy alt country vibes drew a modest crowd towards the main stage with many couples finding time for a moment of romance with a waltz, much to the bands delight.

Around at The Moon Stage We Cut Corners label-mates Hush War Cry delivered a fine set. Their début EP 'Voices' is one of the finest Irish releases of the year so far and an expectant crowd gathered to bask in their brand of joyful, otherworldly, sorrow. And they didn't disappoint. Richard Fenton's charismatic falsetto soared over the highly percussive '80s throwback groves created by the band. Despite the obvious Wild Beast-esque nature of much of the material  Hush War Cry are far from a sound alike band. The songs are too beautifully crafted to be considered anything other than genuine.

Meanwhile The Strypes made a sweaty mess of The Circus Stage. They shot to fame following an appearance on The Late Late Toy Show several years ago. Since then they have morphed into a parody of beat music era performing covers by the likes of The Beatles and revivalists like The Last Shadow Puppets.The standard of musicianship is remarkable for a group of lads under 16 years of age However the question is can they maintain their upward trajectory once the gimmick of their young years wears thin in around 18 months or so. And will they be able to write the songs to stand against their current repertoire.

Overall Knockanstockan was a delight, you can tell that the organisers have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but above all else, love into the preparations for this festival. If only mainstream festivals put as much effort into maintaining the standards of the toilets and the campsites as Knockanstockan do. Over the course of the weekend we saw people dressed as characters from Alice In Wonderland done up with wonderful face-paint interacting with the many children on site. And in a wonderful touch for the bands, a crack team of roadies dressed as a cross between The Three Musketeers and Mexican bandits delivered each bands instruments to their allotted stage just as they were about to take to the stage. Now where else would you get that.

Photo: Abe Tarrush

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