Entertainment Music

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Taking on the big boys

Indiependence: Dan le Sac
Vs Scroobius Pip's
Indiependence: Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip's

Aidan Coughlan

So, it's summer again. And for all the music nuts in the land, pasty-faced from lives spent indoors listening to our vinyls (because MP3s 'just don't sound the same'), it's time that we accept the need to get outside and soak up some vitamin D before our skin becomes fully transparent.

And if we must face the great outdoors, then there's no better way to do it than to surround ourselves in live tunes, flat beer and a few thousand people who share our enthusiasm for a decent melody. It's festival season.

However, while Oxegen and Electric Picnic will dominate the schedule once again, tight wallets and broad tastes will push many punters toward one of the smaller affairs that have been emerging over the past five years.

Castlepalooza, which takes place each summer in Tullamore Castle, is among the most prominent of these -- and organiser Cillian Stewart is quick to point out that value is a major selling point nowadays.

"Our tickets, when we launched them (with early-bird discounts), were just €59 for three days' camping. Even now, it's €74 for two days' camping. Besides the ticket price, you've got a lot of things on-site that we put on for free for people to enjoy. It's not like we'd charge extra for, say, a dance workshop or the wine tasting we'd have on," he says.

"The bigger ones should have done something like this, and lowered their prices. It has been tough for people, and they still want to go away and have a good time over a weekend -- but paying a reasonable price for it."

Of course, what you gain in a price cut and perks, you'll often lose in glamour. The likes of Arcade Fire, Pulp, The Strokes and Two Door Cinema Club playing at the 'big two' this year are unlikely to help the cause of the smaller competitors.

But Shane Dunne, from Cork festival Indiependence, sees it the other way around: what you lose in scale, you gain in intimacy.

"The feedback over the past couple of years from people who've been to the festival has been good, and it's spread by word of mouth. It's smaller; once you get there, you have a 30-second walk into the campsite and then another 30-second walk to the arena," he says.

"There's no lugging wheelbarrows of beer along with your tent for miles. So it's the laid-back vibe, and a hassle-free element that helps us."

With Indiependence due to feature Editors, Therapy? and Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip across its five stages this year, it's a far cry from the single-stage street event which began under Dunne's guidance in 2006.

Castlepalooza, too, has more than doubled from a capacity of 1,000 to 2,500 in the same period.

That sort of expansion won't go unnoticed in this business, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the small festivals of Ireland have reason to feel quite good about themselves indeed.

MCD, Aiken and POD have all dipped into the market over the past five years, with the likes of Lovebox, Cois Fharraige (which is set to return this summer following a break last year) and June's Forbidden Fruit.

Bearing all the trappings and intimacies of smaller affairs, but with the ability to pull in big names such as The Flaming Lips, Battles and Super Furry Animals, you'd forgive those in the small pond for feeling a bit miffed at the intrusion.

But Stewart, while saying a bit of competition is good for the market, insists he just doesn't play the game of the large promoters.

"I would run my business in a very different way to them. If there's a new player on the market, I think that's fair game, I think that's good for everyone. But that's not the way they think. They seem to think: 'Well, there's another festival that's going to take the limelight off my one'," he says.

"They make it very difficult for us."

Dunne adds: "There is a tendency to avoid talking about the elephant in the room. And the fact is we have a very large elephant in a very small room. Ireland is a small country, but we have one of the biggest promotions companies in the world operating out of here."

However, it seems that a more unlikely problem is coming from the opposite end of the spectrum.

"Every year, there seems to be small festivals popping up all over the place," says Dunne.

"They only last the one year, they lose a lot of money and then they disappear. They push up the prices of acts, and everything else, and really cause a lot of problems for everyone.

"A lot of them are back-of-the-trailer jobs -- and they just do damage to the credibility of smaller festivals."


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