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Festival: We're ready to shake the city

In 2003, a new music festival showcasing the best in emerging Irish talent took place in the city centre. Forty acts, two nights, one venue and one idea. Hard Working Class Heroes -- the brainchild of musician-turned-tour manager Brian Carroll -- may have started out small, but the people, along with several hundred bands across the country, took notice. And it was to be the start of something special.

"Brian started it to address the fact that Irish bands were being used to clear the cobwebs in tents at festivals," says HWCH director and CEO of First Music Contact, Angela Dorgan, "and now they're headlining them 10 years later."

Indeed they are. Now in its tenth year, the annual Hard Working Class Heroes festival has grown both in size and in popularity.

More than 100 acts will take to the stage across six Dublin venues (including the Button Factory, the Workman's Club and the Grand Social) tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, introducing to Irish audiences and various international delegates the sounds of tomorrow. And the best news of all? A weekend ticket costs only €45.

It's a chance for homegrown acts to expose their talent in a way that no other festival offers and, of course, to make heroes out of some of the finest hard-working musicians in Ireland. Each year, hundreds of acts apply for a spot on the bill through the online music portal Breaking Tunes.

So, it's no surprise that the organisers, along with their team of judges, often face the difficult task of deciding who goes and who gets that all-important 30-minute slot.

"The day you give a hundred yeses, you're giving 400 nos," says Angela, "and what we do, uniquely -- I don't think there's any other festival in the world does it -- but we give feedback, so the bands have a week and a half to call in and get their marks and any comments the judges made, and bands find that so helpful."

Staging a festival of this size can be tricky. Angela calls it a "labour of love", and though you might think otherwise, HWCH is run by a very small group of people.

"From the outside it looks like it's owned by the industry, but it's four-and-a-half people that put it on every year," says Angela (Brian Carroll is now based in Los Angeles). "It's hugely gratifying to see, not only that it happens over the weekend, but just year on year, how good the bands are getting.

"We literally could put another 100 bands on and stand by it."

The organisers also bring in a number of representatives from various international showcase festivals.

"The impact it has had," explains Angela, "with the amount of Irish bands that are being invited abroad, because we bring the bookers in now every year, has been huge."

This year, to celebrate its tenth birthday, the festival features a few 'returning heroes' as the folks at HWCH tip their hats to some its finest veterans. Le Galaxie, Solar Bears, The Ambience Affair and We Cut Corners are among the bands that will make a return to the HWCH stage. And then there's Delorentos, who, with the release of their third album -- the wonderful Little Sparks-- have been having quite the year.

The Dublin-based indie pop quartet first played the HWCH festival when it was still finding its feet. It was to be an important stepping stone in the band's career.

"We played it as a new band and it was sort of our introduction to Ireland," says guitarist and co-vocalist Ronan Yourell.

"It was one of those gigs that was just awesome. You can't really predict those. You felt a buzz about the band after that night -- it seemed to be more about connecting with people in general, and the industry interest kind of followed on later, but it was the beginning of something.

"For emerging acts, it's something to stick on your calendar or work towards. As great as chatting to people online is or, you know, sharing things online, there's nothing like seeing the whites of people's eyes and engaging with them in a really visceral way, so I think, for that alone, the festival has become pretty vital."


But then, HWCH is about more than just live music. It's also about conversation.

Once again, the festival will stage speed sessions with industry delegates from Ireland and abroad as well as a number of free panels and workshops at which managers, agents, festival directors and bloggers will be talking to the public about what it is they do, offering tips, advice and lessons learned from their time spent in the music business. Oh, and entry to these events won't cost you a cent.

Musically, however, the HWCH 2012 line-up remains an integral part of this year's festivities.

Among the acts featured on this year's bill are Wexford New Wave foursome Futures Apart, Cavan folk singer songwriter Lisa O'Neill, Dublin hip-hop artist Temper-Mental MissElayneous, and Dublin electronic outfit Dogs. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"As long as bands are applying for it, we'll keep doing it," says Angela. "I think it's done what we wanted it to do, which is make Irish bands more important in Ireland, but it's also put Ireland on the map internationally for bands other than, you know, the obvious ones.

"We go around the world now and people know 25 names instead of three for Irish acts, so as far as we're concerned, that's the job done."

The Hard Working Class Heroes festival takes place in Dublin city centre tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. Delorentos play their biggest Irish headline show to date at Vicar Street on December 21. For more, visit www.hwch.net.