It’s that time of year again. The Hard Working Class Heroes festival returns for another year with a whole host of new ideas and changes that should make this a great year. One of the big changes is that this year the 3-night jamboree kicks off on Thursday night rather than Friday, meaning that there’ll be no worrying about going into work hungover on Monday morning after staying out late to catch bands. No, you’ll just go into work hungover on Friday instead which, as we all know, is globally acceptable. This year also sees the venue list getting a shake up. One of the big problems I had with the festival any year it was based around Temple Bar was that too many of the venues were just shit. And everybody knew it. I felt bad for good acts who got screwed with Academy 2 sets and the like. Taking advantage of some of the brand spanking new stages in the city, the options for this year look a lot tastier, while keeping everything in a reasonably manageable distance. Spreading the gigs out over a longer evening schedule also means that us real troopers can subject ourselves to as much as 6 hours of bands each night before hitting the late clubs. It also means the timetable is less cluttered so the lesser-known bands (at least those not clashing with the Ireland v Russia match) stand a better chance of pulling in a crowd.
But the most important thing about this festival is its line-up. This isn’t the Electric Picnic. They can’t get by on a good vibe. It’s still Dublin on the weekend and, even though there is usually some buzz in the air between venues, it’s all about what happens in those 30 minute slots. This year sees plenty of fresh talent, with an exciting batch of first timers replacing some of the names that had become a bit too familiar in previous years. I haven’t listened to all 101 bands yet, but I’m familiar with most of them and I’m trying to get around to the rest of them but I’ll give you my recommendations in a vague chronological order anyway. Other previews are springing up all over the gaff, so check out Entertainment.ie, GoldenPlec, the tireless 2UIBestow and Lauren Murphy’s lists if you think I’m full of shite. All band names below link to their Breaking Tunes profile where you can stream a couple of tracks and see how arrogant they are in the third person.
THURSDAY 7 OCTOBER
A good start to the festival would be to head to the newly spruced up Pravda, now known as The Grand Social, where the line-up has been selected by a couple of Irish labels, Richter Collective and Any Other City, who know more about music than you know about hot dinners from the Chinese takeaway. More than likely, Any Other City is responsible for picking the first two acts on the list, New Amusement (8.10) and Yeh Deadlies (8.50), both being of the rather pleasant happy pop music variety, with the former leaning towards memorable indie hooks and the latter leaning to far and falling over, creating a joyously cheeky racket along the way. If you’re quick, or if joyous and cheeky aren’t your thing, you could catch Goatboy (9.00) over in the Mercantile and see how his peculiar, medieval folk stylings go down in the newest venue on Dame St. Completing a tour of the new and revamped venues, you should be dropping in to The Workman’s Club to see Halves (11.00). They’ve been around for ages and gained more than a few followers (in the pre-Twitter sense) with their atmospheric guitar drama. They’ve gone away though and tightened things up and the result is a much more focused, but no less beautiful sound. If you don’t know why 90% of the crowd will be staying put for Heathers (11.45), you clearly haven’t been paying attention. If you’ve never seen them, it’s highly recommended, but the same can be said about electronic whizz-kids Nouveaunoise (11.30), who will no doubt be wowing the crowd back at The Grand Social with tracks from their recently released debut album. It’s hard to stress how impressively talented these guys are, but you can be excused for ducking out of The Workman’s Club to see them as long as you come back for the State vs. AU club night, which will run from 12:30 till close. Our gang will presumably be competing in a spot of tug-o-war and mud-wrestling with our northern based friends but it’s fine if you just want to come and watch.
FRIDAY 8 OCTOBER
After such a calm, relaxing opening evening, you’ll surely be gagging for more gigging on Friday evening. I’d start the trek at the Button Factory where 2FM and TodayFM are charged with selecting their favourite up-and-coming types. Surprisingly they’ve done a decent job. The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra (8.00) just about live up to their ridiculously good name with some lazy, dreamy soulful tunes, sparkling, symphonic pop and oddly theatrical rock numbers. With their spiffing outfits and songs like “December”, they’ll kickstart your evening in style.They’re followed by Funeral Suits (8.45) who I think could go far, even if they’re not quite there yet in terms of a defined, original sound. They’re definitely worth a look though. In between, you could nip over to the Mercantile to see if Our Little Secrets (8.15) have turned up. Rhob Cunningham’s collaborators rarely seem to make it to the live shows, but the experienced fella does a great job of delivering their batch of promising acoustic numbers all by himself. The recent hype over two new acts go head to head as Cloud Castle Lake (9.00) and Sacred Animals (9.00) play Twisted Pepper and the Mercantile respectively. Cloud Castle Lake’s reputation skyrocketed after their set at Electric Picnic last month, which is understandable if you’ve had a taste of the wailing epics on their recorded output. They’re already seeming likely to be one of this year’s big winners. Sacred Animals is the work of a young man who has seen it all before many a time as part of his previous band, though I think that’s still supposed to be a secret so I won’t say who they were. What matters though, is that this project is a huge progression from his earlier work and if he gets the same kind of exposure this time, he’ll be going places. The path between Sweeney’s and The Workman’s Club is just about short enough that one could spend the next while hopping between the two. A trip to Sweeney’s is recommended to see Pearse McLoughlin (9.30) whose delicate, introspective songs are devoid of the kind of trite self-awareness that gave Irish “singer-songwriters” a bad name. At the same time, Planet Parade (9.30) will be showing The Workman’s Club what they’ve got. The Kildare lads have a great live sound and can really impress with their energetic, hook-driven guitar-pop though they drift too close to Kings of Leon at times. Next up there is Talulah Does The Hula (10.15), a band half of Dublin has already professed their love for in the past few years. It’s understandable given they ply their trade in instantly loveable tunes with a perfect mix of 60s pop and brazen modern day style, delivered with audacious melodies and feisty harmonies. Competing back in Sweeney’s is the strange prospect of Mrs Healy’s First Class Choir (10.15) which is not a collection of bratty-faced 7-year-olds but rather some grown up fella from Galway. His songs are unusual and have the cut-and-paste, lo-fi style and wide-eyed choruses that imply he is at least channelling his inner child here. He/They are followed by Windings (10.55), a band I’ve heard a lot about though I can’t really figure out what they’re about. Their songs vary from jaunty indie songs that struggle to inspire to faint, swaying melodies for soundtracking lonely walks home at night. Over in The Workman’s Club’s corner, Futures Apart (11.00) will be giving the restless amongst the crowd plenty of impetus to dance like a loony toon with their high-speed, electro-rock set. A third contender for you aural devotion though, is Jeremy Hickey, the stupidly brilliant one-man-band known as R.S.A.G. (11.00) who will be bringing his already legendary live show to The Button Factory. I haven’t properly listened to the new album but everything I’ve heard has been above and beyond what I’d expected. Of the later options, I’d say you can always bank on Dark Room Notes (11.45) for some quality moody rock so if that’s your bag, hit The Workman’s Club. There is another HWCH club there after, but the one in the Button Factory, hosted by Glider (12.30) is the place to be for dancing the night away. A late, late gig over in Sweeney’s by The Crayon Set (12.55) is recommended for those with a penchant for classic 90s indie reimagined through a less bombastic version of Broken Social Scene. The gang of human happy pills will send you back to Glider ready to take on all comers.
SATURDAY 9 OCTOBER
Saturday night sees another notable VS. night. Personally, I think all this aggression is ridiculous, but try telling that to Nialler9 and Jim “On The Record” Carroll. They hate each other. And they have expressed this hatred by gathering a filthy orgy of good music in The Workman’s Club for the night. It also seems they chose quite a few acts that they both quite like. Maybe there’s hope for their relationship yet. Anyway, rather than just camping there for the night, I’ll encourage you to get into the spirit of the festival and manically chase around town after a few other acts. Lovers of Cork accents and rappers who cite both Christy Moore and Eminem as influences should try GMC (8.10) at The Grand Social. My first pick however, is one of theirs, We Are Losers (8.00). This is noise-rock with just enough heart. You probably won’t be able to see how good they are by watching them, so just ignore them and let that stranger convince you to crowd-surf. The Holy Roman Army (8.30) will be dishing out a few of their finest slices of pensive electronica at the Twisted Pepper. The brother-sister duo must be sick of people mentioning that they’re a brother-sister duo all the time. Their music is fantastic though. Back at the Workman’s Club love-in, Squarehead (8.45) who have been everywhere since appearing out of somewhere else a few months ago. Don’t believe me? Check your kitchen cupboard. See? Squarehead. Playing a gig. Next to your Roma spaghetti. They have earned this ubiquity through writing songs that sound like big grins. The format of HWCH can be tough on bands, especially with the quick changeovers, short sets and transient audiences. This shouldn’t affect Kid Karate (9.00) when they play The Mercantile. These two guys seem so eager to play live they’d prefer not to set anything up. Once they get started, they can belt out a shocking number of clever, frantic punk songs in the length of time it takes you to get a pint at the bar. 30 mins? Give them 10 and they’ll have you sold. A very special treat is in store back at The Workman’s Club as Jennifer Evans & The Ripe Intent drop in to show them how it’s done. Jennifer’s voice commands attention with her smokey, emotional delivery, but once she’s got your attention she will not let go. I’ve written about her before, so don’t miss this one. She’s special. Back in The Mercantile, their night of short, sharp music that’ll punch you between the eyes continues, albeit with slightly less venom in the punch. Grand Pocket Orchestra (9.45) have just recently released their debut album, obviously after realising they had written a superfluous number of amazing songs. Their songs put the ‘demented’ in DIY and the technicolor cacophony could help you visualise a childhood dream of trashing a sweet shop. Just me? Oh. Things seem to be loud up north these days, or at least a lot of the music they’re producing is. Strait Laces (10.15) from Belfast will bring their mangled punk rock sound to The Workman’s Club but don’t worry, they’re not quite as loud as some of their compatriots. The Mercantile finishes up its schedule with Limerick’s We Should Be Dead (10.30). The three-piece specialise in stomping, riff-filled rock songs with soulful, sassy and sometimes deadpan vocals that combine to bring you back to the days when you jumped on your bed singing along to 1980s MTV. If you did that. I didn’t. A few doors up, Junah (10.55) bring something totally different to proceedings with their carefully articulated folk-rock sound. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to an advance copy of their debut album and their intelligent creativity is really starting to shine through. They are a band that you need to stop and consider for a short while, but with the band nearly ready to release their hugely accomplished debut, catching them now will ultimately be a very rewarding visit to Sweeney’s. At vaguely the same time, Sounds of System Breakdown (10.50) will be bringing their ADHD electro to The Grand Social. This is the clash of the weekend for me, as these are two of the bands I most wanted to see. But with their vastly different sounds, perhaps you’ll have an easier time deciding between them. Both are surefire winners in a live setting so you won’t be disappointed with either choice. There’s only one place where you, me and everyone else will want to wrap up their weekend and that’s back in The Workman’s Club where The Cast of Cheers will be once again shaking their moneymakers onstage while relentlessly astounding you with their mathematical rock stylings. They’ve been off the live circuit a bit to work on their second album so we’ll hopefully get to hear some of those tracks before the final HWCH club night takes up the baton at 12.30.
Full schedule here. Map here. Tickets here or from the box office in Filmbase. Don’t forget you can catch loads of these bands playing for free around the city over the weekend if you want to run the rule over them before bestowing the honour of your presence on them at their evening gig. Schedule for the free gigs is here. See you all on the crowded paths of Dublin city.