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‘A Month In The North, Pigstock Festival Special’

Yes, there has been an entire month’s worth of material to update you all on – but first, and truly with some delirious sense of need last weekend’s Pigstock Music Festival needs to be highlighted. A special case being only my second year in attendance, and having had the pleasure of witnessing Pigstock solidify not into the foundations of some weekend jaunt in a field but (pardon the food reference, we’ll get to that) a Christmas dinner with all of the (in this case, pork, and lots of it) trimmings.

Having traversed campsite, field, parties, said slow roasted pig and stage alike with a grin on my face, here’s a quick run-down of how the weekend in Killinchy panned out.

Hailing from that ‘North Coast Triangle‘ and drilling home the sheer quality of music coming from there, Bomb City 7 almost took down the entire main stage early on Friday night with a final song invasion (and I don’t mean just five or six tenacious individuals) inspired with every ounce of their punk-rap spirit – there was no stopping their Pigstock debut turning into a riot and they truly made a unique mark and name for themselves as a festival worthy band to watch out for.

Tearing round the stage, beards and all – Axis Of showcased part of what Pigstock is really all about, delivering a much heavier range of bands in comparison to its lighter brothers coming up in the height of Summer. Another North Coast band (as too are And So I Watch You From Afar and Team Fresh – you could almost call the line-up a coastal takeover.

In completely professional fashion Mojofury gave the crowd the perfect build-up towards the end of Friday evening – it was simply a shame that they didn’t have the chance to play their brand of insightful noise that little bit longer, the crowd baying for an encore that just wasn’t technically able to be catered for.

The new post-album songs already have their place amongst the ones we’ve lovingly seared into our minds, and with the album launch just a fortnight beforehand really we were spoiled with second helpings of Michael Mormecha’s emotionally charged sing-a-longs.

The swiftly twisting weather and injuries held over from their recent tour were never going to stop what was perhaps a more relaxed (post-album launch they’ve really nothing left to prove in our eyes, at least for a while the lads can certainly have been said to have earned a rest) and yet powerful performance from And So I Watch You From Afar.

Attempts by crowd members to stage dive, and generally get involved in the action were too numerable to count, but with the cheekiest of successes one of ‘The Rupture Pups‘ (pictured further down) managed to get on stage to work Rory’s (Friers) pedals for him during ‘A Little Bit Of Solidarity‘.

There is so much that could be said about the involvement and want for success that the home audience, and now too their growing international audience, has for these four lads – the absolute sonic-pinnacle of what has come from these shores.

…now, with a pause for critical thought – in a two day festival it’s sometimes hard to balance the two line-ups out. One day either having ‘that band’ (in this case, ASIWYFA) or the other simply not being populated with enough real strength to see the weekend through for tiring audience members.

Heading for the campsite, I was left thinking how Saturday was going to best this – and it did prove to be lighter for the most part, lacking the same power of the ‘heavyweights’, but it was actually very welcome structured as it was, with many of the younger bands being given fantastic opportunities to show off.

Many had pushed the night before right to the limits and were still crashed out in their tents, but a sizable majority still managed to turn out into the frequently wet sunshine to rock out. Despite a few technical hitches with soaked pedal-boards The Rupture Dogs once again showed themselves to be a realistic successor to Fighting With Wire/LaFaro as an angry, growling sonic outfit.

They even have their own successors lined up in the two young lads who have been dubbed ‘The Rupture Pups’, letting them take to the stage for the second year in a row to regale the crowd.

If anyone had fun last weekend, it was definitely them.

abandcalledboy meanwhile have been salivating for the opportunity to ply their sounds at festivals this year, and with a reputation for destroying both equipment, stages and themselves in the process of their shows, they caused some distress for security (the men in florescent jackets had a long weekend looking back over all of this, poor souls) – and despite a thinned audience they held all rapt; bouncing, bloodied as they were throughout their set.

Taking time to relax and enjoy the festival atmosphere, last year’s headlining band A Plastic Rose were down simply for the experience this time out.

Employing equal parts madness, the racing of tents and genuinely causing as much havoc as possible; Dave (Reid), Troy (Heaton) and (an un-pictured) Ian (McHugh) ravaged the campsite and festival grounds for as much entertainment as was humanly possible.

Team Fresh have been off the gig circuit for a while now, pulling together new material and generally solidifying their sound into something even more poignant than beforehand. Pigstock marks an almost serious return to form for them, a statement of intent for the year ahead even – and opening with new song ‘1985‘ (a blinder with more than just their usual political underscoring) is ample evidence of that.

Team Fresh just before going on-stage looked every part the unit; as per, another band with a proponency for the provocative (like their younger cousins Bomb City 7) their fan favourites ‘Barbwire Empire‘ and ‘Rhythm Tradition‘ managed to get the tired heads perking up, ready for the rest of the evening.

And So I Watch You From Afar’s Jonny Adger and the rest of the band continued to enjoy the festival throughout the weekend too, making a point of catching many of their friends down plying their audio-wares.

…and honestly who’s going to realistically turn their nose up at a weekend of beer and burgers (made entirely of pig), in a field, with your mates?

One of the absolute highlights of the festival was the Dylan-esque (and I stress to say that so honestly) Dolbro Dan taking to the main stage before math-rock juggernauts Adebisi Shank – possibly the most welcome shock to a decidedly tired audience from the night before, and just an incredibly touching change of pace.

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked by so many people in the front row “…who is this guy again, where can I get his stuff?” – despite with a little patience on everyone’s part, Dan eventually introduced himself with his final song.

I decided to relax after a stressful yet blessed weekend and enjoy headlining band LaFaro simply as an experience, I even brought a seat (don’t laugh) down near the stage and decided to just camp/rock out just to the right of the crowd with BBC Northern Ireland’s Paul McClean.

They were dirty, heavy, long of beard and just the right amount of angry. It was also with a sad sigh that we also appear to be waving goodbye to Herb Magee, their bassist – announcing his departure from the band halfway through set, and what better send off than capping a festival that has honestly delivered the first, and potentially the best of the season already here in Northern Ireland.

What more needs to be said (in reference to the above set of disheveled characters) – the sun crests over us all on the Sunday and no one was ready to settle down. Tent racing (as mentioned beforehand) was again rife, tentpole-saber battles with members of abandcalledboy ensued, games of football with Gacy’s Threads left no drunk staggering target un-aimed at, and general tomfoolery was abound.

Roll on next year.

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In the wake of several other album launches already echoing through the early part of this year, and the many yet still scheduled to come – 2011 is proving to be a year of salivating ears for many local audience members here in the North of Ireland. Yet the one thing that perhaps strikes the strongest chord is that the wealth of talent over here which we savour so much is actually branching its growth out from the roots of the homelands towards much farther flung sets of rapt lugs. You only have to cast a glance across the strong reviews aimed at Mojofury’s début release, garnering accolades that have landed them cover spots with Artrocker and choice picks of their single with iTunes and NME to see that it’s not just us holding up the flags anymore.

After a well received tour of the United Kingdom with stalwart audio warriors And So I Watch You From Afar, Mojofury’s album launch date (little more than a fortnight after ASIWYFA’s own launch, and sandwiched in between the two) is sitting in an interesting well on the gig calendar. One might imagine that with the force to which the crowds took to the Mandela Hall at the end of April that we would be more than a little spent of emotion come their own stroke at the Spring & Airbrake; but none the less, both show and fans were yet another mark for the intensity which has been bred over the last few years and is gathering pace – almost alarmingly.

With much recent aplomb Eatenbybears, competition winner for the slot to open the evening for Maybeshewill and Mojofury, were more than a little shocked (delightfully so) to find themselves on the bill for what could be held up as ‘quite a serious line-up’. Coming into the fray with just a few months of solid gigging behind them, and touted by both local and regional media as the pick of the bunch of the new bands flying high from the beginning of the year – they more than held up to the rather lofty position bestowed upon them last Saturday night.

A mixture of quirky (and in using that I bequest the term in no mere an indie-band context) mathematical-rock substance and a genuine talent for showcasing a knowledge of technical music, having formed on a sonic arts course – they held the attention of the somewhat slight early audience and proved exactly why they may have been chosen ahead of other more established acts. In fact, I’d go as far as to point out the similarities in quite open experimental performance as to what the lads in Mojo themselves foster in my own head when listening to their music. Watching people who know their craft, but can express it eloquently is always fun. When it comes to overt stylistic attempts at pushing the finer edges of music, it can grate with audience members out to follow a melody and little else. Delivery and patience of course play a factor, but with honest announcements of timing signatures backing up their more well known songs such as ‘Vanderhoof‘ their disjointed yet clearly flowing sound is the perfect introduction to a night that will only promise more of the same.

Another band out on the touring circuit constantly, and with a very strong fan base not just in their native England but also too in Germany and IrelandMaybeshewill have created an ethic of instrumental music that homes in on trying to embrace their instrumental peers and yet at the same time pushing for their own sound. It’s a hard sell speaking honestly, as has been quite openly poked into by many others aiming slurs at the instrumental/post-rock genre. I’m in love with it, but then admittedly it can get old if the mood is odd. Sometimes it falls into a well seen structure that is tried, tested and a joy to listen to, but when it does positively pop through to that little bit of a higher plane – such as with their newer, less overladen album material (‘Critical Distance‘ pointing the way) and of course their golden oldies off of début album ‘Not For Want Of Trying‘ – it really flies. Connection with the audience, presentation and admission of emotion is in my opinion key. And as said, with a strong fan base and a will to connect they make a fantastic bridge between the lighter notes of Eatenbybears and what we all know is just minutes over the horizon.

Anticipation is rife, and the crowd has swelled to capacity, oiled up by the previous offerings – at the end of the day many have waited five or more years for this moment. Myself personally, and perhaps just slightly with a bit of a bashful admission only the two – but I wager no less excitement as like most others around me the songs are known off by heart. So when Ciaran McGreevy, Gerry Morgan, James Lyttle and the deliriously eccentric Michael Mormecha finally take to the stage to swing us on our way towards giving them a little piece of their musical sunshine, I imagine they found themselves in a position from which it would be hard to disappoint – though not one of complacency. Fresh from their meanderings the band that we thought we knew is now a tightened animal (further still from previous events). Professional to a tee, and backed up by quite the explicitly tuned light show they fire into single ‘The Mann‘ with considerable force. We’ve seen them good and we know they are assured, confident musicians (craftsmen really) but it’s safe to say that with ASIWYFA performing their new album sequentially in its entirety not long in the past, I like others was honestly expecting much of the same. With a welcome departure of both song order and an effortless addition of non-album tracks to the set-list they didn’t dip once.

As mentioned about audience, it’s interesting to note just the fervour with which not the single, or the populist tracks received but the entire performance. Unprompted mass sing-a-longs throughout ‘Lemon Marine‘ and ‘We Should Just Run Away‘ made the meat of the set a wind of smiles on stage. We know these songs and we know them well – and yet for many it was like an official release of outpouring for an album which has been on the cards now for some time. After a blinding finish there was a special return of the three original members (minus the laudable Gerry Morgan, for whom this was my first time seeing behind the sticks), with Mike resuming the captain’s position not at the front of the stage but back on drums for ‘Deep Fish Tank (Factory Settings)‘. The ego in me would love to think this was something special just for the home crowd – but why hide such a finale from those on the circuit? Hopefully it plays out over their festival run this Summer.

I never would have guessed it to be ‘thee’ song to end on, but in hindsight I can completely see why. With Lyttle and McGreevy careening around the stage, strobe lights jetting off like photons on the starboard bow of the Enterprise, and the meek circle-pit of earlier turning into a massive free for all riot I’m left with perhaps one of the defining memories of the year.

Oh, and there was a pig’s head in the crowd.

If there’s a highlight, it’s a moshing pig’s head.

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‘A Month In The North, April 2011’

April was (and always appears to be) a hectic transitional month which is packed with single releases, album launches and the inevitable build up to the Summer festivals. Coming at the right time after the January post-Christmas dull period, ‘business as usual’ takes hold. Bands start appearing from dishevelled practice rooms and recording studios out into the Spring sunshine, shirts tucked in and sunglasses on. The dates for many gigs that were put into plan during the colder months finally come around and venues start popping club nights out of nowhere. Ladies of course, begin to roam the streets wearing a little less as the temperature rises.

Yes even here, in Belfast.

All in all it is merely the tip of the iceberg as May and June set the hammer for the hard working bands to fly off on tour across the United Kingdom and now too Europe after the escapades of our flag holders. In return over the coming weeks, we shall see the influx of bands jetting to here on their own tours from as far flung international settings as America or New Zealand, that will compliment the steady flow of British talent dropping noise across Ireland; providing support opportunities for those planning on spending their year a little closer to home.

It’s an exciting time, the first footfalls of an energetic march that will end around September as the days grow shorter again. For now, and to introduce you to life here in the North

Pocket Billiards re-launched their début album on limited edition vinyl this month, with an additional set of bonus tracks added on – causing a scene at the gig in the process with Assailants and Aggressors B.C.

Eatenbybears goofing around backstage after opening for Jifabuki. The lads are hoping to play FIB Benicassim this year in Barcelona. Currently they are gathering votes swiftly in a competition run by the festival organisers.

Promotional shoot with Nocturn, the Derry band are in the first stages of press for their new album, ‘Collision‘ – out this Summer.

Local DJ, and drummer with A Northern Light, Omar Ben Hassine taking five after a long weekend.

Strabane rapper Mr. Mills contemplates his set after a gig in Belfast – having taken to the stage uncharacteristically amongst several indie/rock bands. The crowd was receptive but Steven was hoping for a cleaner performance. His new short play, ‘The New Me‘ is out now.

Busker ‘Cavalero’ is egged on by Omar Ben Hassine of A Northern Light on a night out. Dominic has spent almost every single evening of his time here in Ireland over the last few weeks on the street busking and winning fans.

Tony Wright leads on the ‘7 Billion Choir‘ at And So I Watch You From Afar’s album launch at the Mandela Hall. Gangs is out now, and has reaffirmed the band’s importance to local music here in Northern Ireland. The performance to the sold out Mandela was inspiring to say the very least.

Chris Wee from And So I Watch You From Afar pausing for breath during ‘Samara To Belfast‘.

Donal Scullion from NI Soul Troop offers up a rare acoustic performance during an arts and music event ran by the Catalyst Arts Centre.

Slaine Browne of North Coast rock-hop outfit Team Fresh practising and writing new material for their year ahead. The band have taken a few steps back from the stage over the last few months in preparation for the Summer festival season. Which kicks off at the end of May and sees them playing the main stage at the Pigstock Music Festival, Killinchy.

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…no, really.

Just think about that for a moment. Good joke right? A little giggle.

Or the potential to use the internet to its fullest extent to drive up the audience for local music – and if by chance, by some glorious piece of luck, our little open offer of one hell of a fucking show here in Belfast this November at the MTV European Music Awards, and preceding festivities (of which there will be many, from festivals through individual gigs, art events, exhibitions and everything in between) reaches the ears of Mr. Sheen

All the better.

Our message is this.

“Mr. Sheen, Charlie, come on over here and have some fun. See what we have to offer, listen to our music and if you like what you hear, can you help us share the love – I promise you we are after something good. A win as you so aptly put it.

Music can change the world, let’s change it.”

So Charlie, what do you say? I’ve even went to the trouble of creating a Facebook event and everything to get the hopes up of many that you’ll come…

Let’s Get Charlie Sheen To The Belfast MTV Awards, Go!

…and, maybe if we get ‘Charlie Sheen’ to see just what sort of tiger-blood we have in our souls here in Northern Ireland he can help us tell the rest of the world too? Along the road to Charlie, we could see how many other ears our message falls upon.

Or it could just be a nice stroke of internet humour that will brighten up your morning.

So, let’s get Charlie Sheen to the Belfast MTV European Music Awards!

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First off, let me clear one thing up…

They are not edible (but you could compare them to a dirty great big audio churning monster, a fierce and hungry one that inhabits the filth ridden corners of Belfast’s industrial district) and believe me, I’ve tried to munch down on Rory Donaghy before – he was having none of it. He is pure of soul. Solid. Like the snake.

…did I actually just say that?

Like some sugary treat slowly congealing in the kitchen – left untouched by your mother as she’s unsure of exactly how it’s going to take being peeled off the floor – the Donaghy brothers Luke, Rory and Sir John of Quinn have been creating something of a ripened sound over the last year. Has it really been that long in the making? Now we’re not talking MojoFURY here, or spans of a century spent in the studio before music is realised, slowly sharpened to a point before being set loose on the world…

…but Chocolate Love Factory have been banging away at their cake now for time enough.

LD: “The best thing about working on this over the last year was actually recording rough riffs on a phone.”

…and I do remember some hype about iPhone technology and tracking songs, everyone was at it. Except me of course.

RD: “It’s been mostly fun. Watching our progression has been pretty cool. About a year ago, no one knew who we were, but now, we’ve made a few good contacts within the current generation of big bands in Belfast, and influential people like yourself (ED: I swear he said that and not me). Some of these people are the coolest, nicest people I’ve met in my life, and I met them all because I play music.”

It goes without saying that all of this slaving and any progression made has been rightfully of their own accord; on phones, and in studios across the land (working here with the inimitable Mudd Wallace) so you’d expect it to echo its roots – and by fuck it is from the wrong side of the tracks. You couldn’t have it any other way. Once mum’s finished in the kitchen and hears this banging out of your room you’ll be told off quicker than if she’d caught you with the dog, pants down at your ankles, stupid grimace frozen on your face.

Forever.

The double helping of sexual power rock that this is opens like something out of a Resident Evil soundtrack (the game, not film here now lads) before the music lands on top of you; and boy does it travel once it starts going. Driving repetitive guitars and rapt drums blast down into your head; and they are big drums. In that familiar American rock style that stands on its own two legs within a song and walks around a bit in the middle.

Then there is that hook. Instantly recognisable, wrought with movement, loved and yet at the same time all too short. I want you to go on forever, but that’s why I’m not a musician. We’ve had some really recognisable songs over the last few years here in Belfast, but perhaps this one’s been overlooked – one of those you know but can’t quite place. Shame if so. Let’s hope it gets given ample opportunity to wander out into enough ears at their single launch down the Spring & Airbrake on the 23rd of this month.

RD: “For the single launch we’ve decided to try and put on our biggest, maddest and hopefully best show to date. We’re all very excited. The line-up’s amazing, now all we need are the spectators!”

Dripping with confidence and style, Rory’s voice brings into the music a crushing sinister delight with every not quite cynical but smart lyric. Each one so distinctly drawn and laden with intent that I’m left leaning to listen and trying to move with the music at the same time (stirred into the mix as it is). It draws you in. It is fun. Genuine, big boys playing here now, fun. Not something I’ve heard locally too often. Say, like a budding LaFaro.

Carrying on from Rat Bag into Texty Texty are some cyclic rhythms and statements that sway softer to the touch. Sticking out is that droning lustre which rings so strongly of early Foo Fighters – not quite as open and melodic, but still strong and full of that ‘wall of energy’ that just nips at the synapses. Think car journeys in mad comedy films from the nineties.

Sunglasses on. Hair flung back as the wind flicks around the convertible, the motorway ripping past the protagonists, partners in crime lolling over the side of their car as the camera pans back.

Movie starts.

Ultimately, this just rocks. No need to complicate it. It opens as rock and it ends as a ‘slightly’ different type of rock. Is that progressive rock?

Good, listen to it.

…and if you’ve somehow managed to snare a date that with that magical feminine creature that happens to have tattoos, sexy dark hair, and likes to move – get her involved. This music has a purpose, and it is her.

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It’s not without reason that after the first two musical collections from Kasper Rosa that one would expect this too should contain a veritable stew of musical ideas – alongside their playful nature of softly smashing together the odd style with another of course. Just for fun.

…and not in the least bit because they’ve still not left the nest of youth that sometimes kills the beauty of simple invention.

They have invested effort and idea into everything they’ve come up with so far, and with considerably palatable results for an ‘instrumental band’, that glorified type of music that often can grate the soul hard with its lack of range. So. I went on the hunt to find one of them. Well, him. That one guy. He is hairy, but that doesn’t discount his opinion – James Bruce (the man behind the sticks) was able to give me a little insight into their workings on this, the band’s latest single, Coronal Mass Ejection.

JB: “I guess the thing that really strikes me about Coronal Mass Ejection and the rest of the new material is that we are really comfortable in our own skin now. We have been teasing out the ideas for this since we last toured in June and July. So I guess as we see it, it has been a long time coming getting the track polished and recorded for everyone.”

Locking themselves away, then letting themselves back out – and out they have come into the night, sometimes to frolic with the rest of us after a hard evening of jabbing at guitars for four hours at a time ‘nailed to a chair for their own good’ – has seemingly given them the necessary cohesion to continue bending ears in their direction. The time since last June’s mini-album release has seemed startlingly long, and with many bands gaining the resources and the aim (to dream) a little bigger (darling) – perhaps this gap has been needed. Something to refresh and set the balance new. I’ll not lie, for me personally it is just a tiny bit aurally titillating.

JB: “It is being treated as the start of a new style of writing for us as we begin putting the pieces together for an album over the next year or so. It’s exciting to say the least, because for the first time our concept doesn’t dictate the music stylistically so we kind of have a completely blank canvas to work with. We’re trying to do more of everything, more textures, more riffs, more ‘spacey jams’…”

“Seriously though it is an interesting jump for us because we’re working as a really tight unit and the music I think shows that. I mean, in my opinion at least, the stuff were doing now we are insanely happy with.”

The track is quite frankly a little of all the above, lies there be not from the mouth of Bruce.

Speaking more of movements, than of three part singles (which I know someone out there will kill me for saying) Coronal Mass Ejection gradually builds you into the world of Kasper Rosa. It treats you to some beautiful melodies, and there is that friendly playfulness there – though now with a little more experience and notable practice on its side. I’d deny myself saying age, or maturity, as that may imply some form of weariness to their sound, which doesn’t ring at all with me. They’ve made a point of forcing this nine and a half minute ‘single’ to genuinely journey, to move, and to try to move you. It kicks in, it drives you for a while; but never quite scales the metallic, rough workings of their previous material. There is an intentional distance here. There are vocals for fuck sake.

Is this a sample of what Kasper Rosa want to try to be on their album, or just a singular showcase of the best from the well?

I’m answering neither until I hear the rest of the album, but I have nothing but hope as the single crashes on towards the end. It’s an audience mover, filled not so much with soaring as diving guitars – the kind that make runs on beachheads in preparation for the real thrust of the attack. It is the softer crescendo that I think makes this all feel more accomplished, less of length and with nothing dragging in the middle – which you can really feel a quiet connection with, not the need to skip ahead.

Clark Phillips of course has his hand at the landing controls working in tandem with the lads, and all of the little trappings of that kind of production work – some of which dangles the Angels And Airwaves (and the Tool) card at me, with radio spikes and little background pulses of static – echo the edges of these grander ideas. Speaking finally, and with a little hindsight of what was a fantastic showcase of the new material…

JB: “We will be debuting two new tracks which at the moment we plan on including on the album, tonight at the Coronal Mass Ejection launch show, so it will be interesting to see what people’s reactions are. I guess for us the most important thing is getting across the effort, time and love we put into what we do. If people get that then I think we will be happy.”

With the showcase going down an absolute storm and future material ahead on the horizon prepared like a landing force (now the strafing runs have been and gone), I think that the future for Kasper Rosa will be bright and shiny.

Or is that just the sun flaring again?

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I started writing here by saying ‘this is Belfast‘ – amongst all of the possible openings I could have went for, I think that this is certainly the most direct route to have taken; and I have a clear point to make in doing so.

Over the last few years and being pulled up through the cultural annals of decades long gone, a collective thought exists here (one which is still fresh, emerging) and Northern Ireland has underwent several forms of revolution through it. Music is important to us. Music is not just a small part of our lives but inhabits it in a very present manner. Our lack of infrastructure has made people fight the individual battle, has hardened the processes of creation and those following these paths. Distilled it even until what is left has a thicker skin for the world ahead. Not necessarily a better skin (environments are fickle like that) but one which has thrived, bred similar minds and is now pushing to survive in the sometimes harsh creative climate that is a music ‘business’.

Over the last few months I have spoken to a cross section of people who I am going to reference in these monthly round-ups at leisure – mixing recent event with future speculation and past comment. I feel it will be interesting as the year progresses and expectations or thoughts measure up and move in real time.

Kicking things off is a short comment on the year just past by Varin Marshall of Botanic Media.

VM: “I think it has been a triumphant year for all the people concerned within the industry (which is not really ‘complete’ yet). We have a lot to learn and so much more to gain. We should be wise to those who are not and come together as an example to the rest of the mainland and the world at large. Our country, however divided it stood has now the determination and motion to unify minds. To set high standards within world class music.”

…and twinned up with this sentiment is one reflecting on the current strength of communication that bands here can play into, from BBC Introducing’s Rory McConnell, speaking last year.

RMcC: “It used to be impossible to get people to turn their heads our direction when it came to finding new music, and I really admire the stand In Case Of Fire took when they basically said ‘…if you want us, come and get us’ and secured their management deal in Belfast. The world is a much smaller place these days and geographical location is fast becoming irrelevant, especially with the ease of social networking and file sharing. A great example of this would be how Joe Echo from Magherafelt can co-write a song with Madonna, which surely has to be encouraging and inspirational for any band hoping to break into the industry.”

Certainly bands here have been taking a more confident stance of late, clearly bolstered by the recent successes, and the long standing thought of “you have to up sticks to get somewhere” is quickly becoming redundant. Of course this should not be viewed quite so literally as a ‘don’t tour’ sentiment – because the reverse of that statement should be written as a commandment, brought down by the great prophet that is common sense.

The usual early lull of the new year music calendar was quickly brushed to the side with some fantastic shows in the form of A Northern Light storming Auntie Annies to a strong crowd filled with Strabane faithful, the You Are Music Festival, and the début of the Belfast Electronic Music Festival; a six hundred punter strong all day rave which firmly cemented the notion that we actually do like to party until five in the morning round these parts. One of the particular highlights for me was The Assailants‘ popular performance just at the start of this month (not technically a January gig, forgive me), with the opening of the new season of RADAR. One which, as the most established music night in Belfast, will I’m sure continue to deliver more of the same.

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The dust has settled on the A Plastic Rose led charge for grass roots music that was the You Are festival. It began as a set of small gigs situated in bars and venues all across Northern Ireland, and with a minor setback of the finale from the middle of December to January 27th due to the decidedly epic fall (fail) of snow we received – it eventually reached the pinnacle of its force last Thursday in the Mandela Hall, Belfast.

A self induced undertaking with the help of their friends and colleagues, the month long (which technically stretched out across two months in the end) promotion of a series of interconnected local music events was a push to raise awareness not only of just the sonic-wares that local bands had to offer, but primarily was there to make a statement about doing it yourself. Over the weekend, and given the time to relax and collect their thoughts I caught up with David Reid, Ian McHugh & Troy Heaton of A Plastic Rose for a few brief words on just what sort of work went into undertaking such a project; one which allowed them to finally grace the stage at Queens University’s premier music venue.

TH: “To promote the Mandela Hall gig specifically, we went out on the town handing out flyers and sticking up new posters every night; including massive ‘day-glows’ and extra ‘You Are‘ posters that we paid for ourselves. Outside that, constant plugging on social network sites…and then some Buckfast to rest up with after. Hard work pays.”

DR: “Interviews with local press and radio stations and yeah, we were just plugging the absolute crap out of it!”

Enthusiasm runs rife here in bands both young and old, but this current crop of musicians are not scared to stick the foot in, shout out at their prospective audiences and in some cases give them a rough nudge with a little bit of force. It’s not unwelcome, but can be a scary idea to approach for bands unsure of their standing. A confident group attitude is perhaps key, and something that we are in my opinion blessed with as a result of any number of combined influences – not least of all, the work ethic of what some would call the previous generation of bands to graduate from here. We have plenty of friendly alumni to follow in the footsteps of, and who deserve to be held in such high regard. Case in point, And So I Watch You From Afar.

IMcH: “Don’t wait for anyone to help you. Book your own shows; do what promoters do, but better. Contact the venues directly, get your own posters and paint the town in your colours. Contact local and online press directly. Get a good demo and make sure it gets into ‘everyone’s’ hands. Brainstorm about unique ways to promote your shows and put your ideas into action. Not tomorrow. Now.”

Strong words, and in some cases – taken as a leap too far for bands wet behind the ears. The ability to work as a unit, spreading the cost (creatively, emotionally, financially and physically) is perhaps glossed over in the modern presentation of music. We’re shown the workforces behind the big players without the context of exactly how that actually takes effect. Advertisers, managers, promoters – a team behind you is all well and good, but the ground work for the most part is there to be taken hold of by grass roots musicians.

TH: “The importance of this…I think, is that we got Belfast together in one room to go buck mental. I’m proud of that.”

DR: “It was important for us to do this, because it gave and will give other aspiring musicians from the local community a hypothetical spring board to jump off of and give smaller acts the confidence to say “If they can do it, well then so can we”…”

Perhaps, in standing up on a stage the one thing to keep mindful of is that not only is the audience paying attention – but that they may in fact be looking towards you for some sign, some small reminder that they too can reach out and try. Be it in music or in another discipline.

To echo the sentiments of Two Door Cinema Club, a band which has genuinely strode out from these shores across the planet and back in the last year – “Do you want it all?”

…well then take it.

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This is Belfast, tiny in comparison to its larger cousins of Glasgow, London and Manchester – but none the less intense. I’m sitting in the bedroom of Omar Ben Hassine with two thirds of A Northern Light (Darren Doherty at hand beside me recording guitar and Colm Laverty absent but in the next room, watching a film no doubt). Gearbox, guitars, Macbook and a multitude of wires leading off in every direction makes me feel like I’m sitting in some musical womb. It is a womb of sorts, here they are nurturing their ideas; growing them. It’s their baby.

– You guys have been on the ladder for a while now and have done basically all three of the major options, studio recording, low-fi with a young producer (Clark Phillips) and now you are taking up the charge personally…
OBH: “Well…it’s been going good. We’ve been through a couple of different things, trying it one way, then another. This works for us far more so because we’re a band that doesn’t have a lot of backing. When you go to a studio you can find that you’re extremely under pressure, sometimes you’re coming in to put out your first record, your first EP and you don’t want to be under pressure.”

– It sort of messes with the creative process? You think, ‘I have to do this right away’, rushing things a bit.
OBH: “It does. You also want to come up with the best result and you also have to find your feet as a recording artist at the same time, and as an artist you have to find what works best for you. So, the fact that you can sit and find this out in your room without too much pressure to begin with helps.”

– So you think it’s preferable to find your own feet first before going out to record in a studio and importantly, to spend money – rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end?
OBH: “Just for us really. I can’t speak for everyone, everybody is different, you know. It’s something to be thought about.”

– Obviously, experimenting and spending time with the processes is important. Finding your sound so to speak. Is there anything else you’ve brought into it?
OBH: “Of course, my background is in electronic music, layering, learning the equipment, playing around and being reactive – it may work well for me because of that.”

DD: “In the long journey of us, we’ve always tried to record our ideas along the way and we normally found that often we didn’t have the right equipment or that what we did have wasn’t up to scratch. So we had to make use of studio spaces and their bigger scale. Through time, and through hard work we’ve acquired what is needed to make a good final product ourselves that’s really worthy. One that we can put out, that can hopefully sell. It’s nice to have these tools. We always felt that we were compromising at the time when we were in the studio at this level. We’d get carried away getting on with someone, carried away listening to their ideas – and it can be great to have outside influences but we’ve just felt for a long time that we know what we want our music to sound like. So it’s great to be able to spend day in, day out working on it by ourselves at our own pace.”

– You mentioned about having the tools. Do you feel now as a songwriter that you can have a quicker turn around on songs?
DD: “Yeah, that’s the big thing. From the genesis of this band we’ve recorded all of our practices, all our little jams, all of the song-writing because along the way it’s easy for something to get lost due to the way in which our songs come together. We can break all that down now. It’s easy to work this way from the beginning, to lay down the initial idea, some guitar, layer stuff on top of that. To experiment and see what sounds better, and as you say the turn around on songs is what we’re really going for. Every time one of us gets an idea, it’s literally a day or two later that we can have a finished piece which we can analyse and build on into a live sound.”

– As a drummer, what would you find has been the experience of a quicker turn around time on songs?
OBH: “It’s good for me because I love electronic music, and I can put my ideas into the computer like mapping the drums. It’s a different way of listening back to ideas.”

– Technology has improved the speed of your creative process then too…
OBH: “Yeah, it’s a lot easier now, such as when you’re sitting over in the practice room with a drum kit and you find an electronic idea, we can’t do it there – in here we can do both. I can mix an idea on drums with the electronic idea, and vice-versa so that we can hear how it sounds as it happens.”

– Obviously all of this is working towards your next release, which is coming out when?
DD: “We’re hoping…well, the beauty of all this is that we’re working to our own time frame. We definitely are looking to push for late-February/early-March; a double single. Our main intention for this year is to work towards an album. That’s the definite aim.”

OBH: “With this, come the album if we can facilitate going back into a studio to scale it up – we’ve built towards it, done all the groundwork. There’s a lot to be said for being prepared.”

– …and what about using this experience with other people’s music? Recording, producing…
DD: “We’ll just take that as it comes, there’s a big network of musicians out there in Belfast that we’re friendly and work with but at present we’re going to focus directly on our own production. We’re bursting at the seams with ideas and want to get them out there. Once it’s perfected, who knows.”

From my own experiences with watching the different scales of the recording process I’m definitely in agreement with their sentiments, preparation going into record is key, especially when solid sums of money are involved. Often times getting a record made is a young band’s main expense, and the pressure of going into record for the first time can negate the final result. Learning the ropes before making that jump up into the studio could be the vital element in comfortably seeing your music at its best.

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The Rupture Dogs (12:00 – Spurs Of Rock Stage)

A band with more balls than the Coleraine Jet Centre, the brothers McGreevy and the wee wolf that is Gary Hanratty collectively boarded the stage to some disarray – barriers not yet erected, crowds being held back at the gates – and yet by the third song in had gathered the passing attention of the masses, packing out the tent with an early performance that stood strong in spite of all the furore that came later in the day. Pinging out distilled Foos‘ style riffs, matched by the uniquely talented vocals of frontman Allan, they exceeded all of the requirements (and then some) needed to open such a prestigious event as Glasgowbury’s tenth birthday.

Highlight: Allan asking for the audience to choose their last song, me shouting “Today & Tonight“, and him saying no. I cried inside.

And So I Watch You From Afar (4:00 – G-Sessions Stage)

A secret show that wasn’t so secret, and an audience that not so much as welcomed home four travelling audio heroes, as gave a triumphant thank you to the four horsemen of the sonic apocalypse…who just happen to call Northern Ireland their gaff. Through charging our lungs with material from ‘The Letters EP‘, past a teasing of new material and on to the crushingly strong ‘Set Guitars To Kill‘, And So I Watch You From Afar continually prove that their brand of ‘hoo-rah’ will cause people to sing along to instrumental music, crowd surf and go fucking mental in equal measure. In fact, I’m surprised there wasn’t a birth in the crowd…

Highlight: Going breathless and partially blind during ‘Set Guitars To Kill‘ and then realising that I was fairly dehydrated – a wonderful feeling that only those four hallions can deliver whilst sitting down. Might need a check up…

Team Fresh (4:10 – Spurs Of Rock Stage)

The only logical negative that could be squarely aimed at Glasgowbury over the last few years has been its ability to showcase a much wider range of the music that’s being performed here in Northern Ireland, and this year any solid detractors can tip the hat in the Draperstown direction with the inclusion of such acts as Team Fresh and Pocket Billiards to an already eclectic line-up. With a vibrant animalistic crowd on tap – many of them very aware of what’s on offer – Team Fresh rattled out hit after hit of ‘riffrap’; taking the crowd on an experienced and tight ride through the lives of the North coast faithful. Anyone new to their sound was given an assured performance that rang true of a band stood practised, waiting in the wings, called up to festival duty and hungry to deliver.

Highlight: The powerful front prongs of Slaine Browne and Andrew Dunbar unrelentingly introducing the audience to a taste of the North coast via their powerful lyrical gymnastics.

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