Sunday 25 February 2018

From Brooklyn and Texas -- to Cork, boy!

Brace yourself for the annual onslaught of what has now become officially known as "the festival season". Between now and September, aggressive marketing aimed at music fans will attempt to coax them out of a couple of hundred quid to spend three days in a field or racecourse.

The halcyon days of festivals being once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, such as Woodstock, are now long gone. These days there are several per annum and a new phenomenon in recent years is festival tourism, something we'll return to in a little more detail next week.

I remember all too well the drab summers when the Irish concept of a music festival involved the likes of Aslan playing from a Hiace van. A reliable source of good line-ups during the festival drought between Féile and Witnness/Oxegen was Sunstroke, a one-day festival in Dalymount Park that brought Faith No More, Sonic Youth, Sugar, Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcrisy and Belly to Ireland.

This year, the one day line-up of the year is unquestionably the Harmonic event in Cork's Live at the Marquee next weekend. Grizzly Bear, Midlake, Camera Obscura and Ireland's own Villagers are four of the hottest alternative acts in the world right now.

Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear prompted none other than Jay-Z to remark, "Grizzly Bear are an incredible band. These concerts, they're not on the radio, no one hears about them, and there's 12,000 people in attendance. And the music that they're making and the connection they're making to people is really inspiring."

Grizzly Bear are one of the very few non-electronic acts signed to the pioneering British label Warp Records, and their career is still tantalisingly young. Both their studio albums to date, Yellow House (2006) and Vecktamist (2009), are thrilling statements of haunting folk-rock intent, topped off with some of the most singular vocal melodies around.

Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead was so taken aback by Grizzly Bear that he took them out on tour, proudly wore their T-shirts at every given opportunity and declared that they were "my favourite band in the whole world".

Last week, Midlake from Denton, Texas walked off with a prestigious MOJO award for best live act. Inspired by the omnipresent Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac and Jethro Tull, they purvey a pleasingly pastoral folk-rock sound moulded into new sounds and shapes for the 21st century. A show in Vicar St earlier this year ranks as one of the best of 2010 to date. Their third album, The Courage of Others, will be right up there in contention for those album of the year polls at Christmas time.

The Harmonic line-up skips from Brooklyn to Texas to closer to home, with Glasgow and Dublin also getting in with their acts. Championed by the late and very great John Peel, Camera Obscura have wowed all and sundry with their deliciously catchy, twee indie pop, at times sounding like a more upbeat version of fellow Scots Belle & Sebastian.

Led by the gorgeous voice of Tracyanne Campbell, their fourth album and first for the esteemed 4AD label won many album of the year plaudits last year, including a staff pick from Dublin's best independent music shop, Road Records.

And last but by no means least, in the Irish corner we have Conor O'Brien aka Villagers. O'Brien is having a cracking 2010, releasing his debut album Becoming a Jackal on Domino Records, topping the Irish charts, appearing on Later With Jools Holland and generally winning over everyone who hears his wonderfully crafted music.

Straight after his appearance at Harmonic, Conor and his fellow Villagers are hot-footing it to Worthy Farm to appear at the 40th anniversary instalment of Glastonbury.

Harmonic is intended to become an annual event with the possibility of further instalments in Dublin and elsewhere.

Harmonic takes place live at the Marquee in the Docklands, Cork, next Friday. Tickets priced €35 are available nationwide.

Irish Independent

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