Effecting a Divide

Cloud Castle Lake

Effecting a Divide

This year's Hard Working Class Heroes festival inadvertently made a clear division between better- and lesser-known acts. The result was that some of the most interesting bands struggled to draw an audience, writes Anna Murray.

Dublin’s Hard Working Class Heroes festival has established itself as a kind of barometer of Dublin’s music scene over the last nine years. Its line-up reveals not only what kind of acts are playing the Dublin circuit at that time, but also those which prove enduringly popular among the city’s concert-goers and media alike. The festival also allows the canny observer to chart the city’s musical trends. This year’s HWCH lineup was as broad as it was exciting, with acts united by a love of boundary-expanding electronics, extending the sonic possibilities of rock and DJ sets, and a shared desire to make the maximum amount of noise possible. Whether heavy rock, indie, or electronica, almost every act filled their venue with an intense thrum of sound, so that the start of each set felt like diving into a throbbing sea of noise.

But the organisers of this year’s festival, despite some good intentions, made one fatal flaw. By putting some of the festival’s most well-known and successful acts together under the guise of ‘vs.’ nights (Richter Collective vs. DMS, Nialler9 vs. OTR, etc.), the festival organisers made it easy for Dublin audiences to reveal their preference for fan-based following over exploratory support. This format effaced HWCH’s good intentions to bring new acts to attention and effectively establishing a two-tiered festival. The majority of the crowd then spent their nights in one venue watching a procession of relatively successful acts, acts that could at any rate be caught performing regularly around Dublin, whilst in the meantime, excellent unknown acts performed in front of fewer than twenty people. The intense electronica of Nanobot and Simon Bird in Twisted Pepper, for example, couldn’t compete with the pull of favourites Deaf Joe’s folk and Sounds of System Breakdown’s energetic electro-rock at the Button Factory, whilst later that same venue played host to the noisy pop and rock of Bats, Squarehead and Enemies, well-established acts with extensive reputations. For many, HWCH showcased only the usual bands, in the usual places.

That said, every venue saw its share of new and memorable acts, and highlights of the weekend were spread across all sites and genres. We Cut Corners played a typically offbeat set of short and instantly memorable tracks, rolling energy and humour into a tight ball of emotive indie rock and throwing it excitedly at their audience. Toby Kaar blasted the Button Factory with sound, using a laptop, mixer, and electronic instruments such as a Tenori-On to make an exhilarating spectacle of his deft manipulation of loops and samples. Cloud Castle Lake were, however, the real surprise and delight of the festival, sandwiching a delicately suspended moment of beauty among a night of energetic indie, with their minimal approach and subtle balance of synth and guitars, and of density and sparseness.

Published on 2 November 2011

Anna Murray is a composer and writer. Her website is www.annamurraymusic.com.

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