Given that I’m over 9,000 miles away, there ain’t much chance of me making an appearance at any Irish festivals but in my absence, my mate and intrepid gig goer, Johnny Feeney was at this year’s Knockanstockan. As always, his makes for interesting and thoroughly enjoyable reading. Thanks as always to Johnny and I’ll leave you in his very capable hands.
While many festivals continue to expand year on year, Knockanstockan have deliberately gone the other direction, scaling back the size of the main arena and removing the main stage for the second successive year. Live music is now concentrated into three main medium-size stages with a further dedicated dance tent, a performance stage displaying varied entertainment such as debate, spoken word and cabaret and a kids area.
The main arena’s compact but not overcrowded. The camp site is close by so everything is a short walk away – a very important fact considering it’s BYOB. However there are bars scattered around the place also. The crowd are boisterous and friendly and there was no sign or reports of any aggression or trouble over the course of the weekend. Due to work commitments, Friday was unfortunately missed but Saturday proved to be a treat. Helpfully, the weather was also kinder on the Saturday with the sun making the occasional, welcome appearance through the overcast sky. And so to the music.
Dublin four-piece rockers Pretty Beast were first up in the Dimestore Tent (it was marked down as the Circus Tent on the timetable). They played a high-octane set of pulsating rock that fizzed along noisily. As the show progressed the tunes became noticeably more danceable with their heavy riffs underpinned by grooving basslines and synths. The charismatic frontman Donie Keaveney owned the stage and worked up quite a sweat, culminating in him perilously climbing to the top of the scaffolding at the side of the stage towards the end.
Sinead White was next up in the intimate amphitheatre, the Faerie Field. It’s a beautiful setting for the Dublin-based singer-songwriter and a nice way to ease into the day. White plays acoustic guitar throughout but is ably accompanied by lead guitar, bass and drums to flesh out her sound. For her closing song, White hands out 50 plastic kazoos into the crowd in an attempt to get the crowd to join in on the chorus. By the time people have figured out how to play the kazoos White has left the stage so all that’s left is the sound of kazoos all over the place. A cue to exit if ever I’ve heard one.
Upon entering the Burrow, White Chalk have already kicked off their set and are in full flight. They’re a seven–piece band with a penchant for anthemic songs and big, singalong choruses –lots of woahs and doo-doos that you can pick up after a listen or two. Think a strange Arcade Fire/Maccabees/trad hybrid with guitars, percussion, cello, keyboards, mandolins and more. Main vocalist Conor Quinn’s country-tinged voice is unique and not what you’d expect and he’s backed by soaring harmonies. They’re armed with very catchy tunes and certainly get the crowd moving. It would be very interesting to see these guys under a roof in a dark room.
Having known nothing about them before Saturday, Hot Cops were easily the find of the day for me. The Belfast three-piece play brilliantly dark, melodic indie-rock reminiscent of Pavement or Surfer Blood. Vocalist and frontman Carl Eccles comes alive with guitar in hand but just as quickly becomes soft-spoken and mild-mannered with barely a hint of a Belfast accent – so much so in fact that while speaking between songs, when one of the crowd suggests he doesn’t sound like he’s from Belfast he apologises! Drummer Conor Ellison is an absolute powerhouse on the drums. Superb.
Fresh on the trails of Hot Cops, Tramore native Rebecca Collins delivers another stunning performance in the Dimestore Tent. You can see why she’s been compared to the likes of PJ Harvey and Anna Calvi – particularly the former. This is theatrical alternative-rock that’s slightly morbid but utterly mesmerising. Collins is a captivating presence throughout and it’s difficult to take your eyes off her.
Having been impressive the weekend before in Longitude, Otherkin produced another storming set on the Burrow stage on Saturday evening. This Dublin-based four-piece play infectious, upbeat grunge/indie-rock with fuzzy guitars and a real swagger. The band clearly look like they’re enjoying themselves on stage and it’s hard not to get carried away with their enthusiasm. Nothing ground-breaking but very enjoyable all the same.
Festival highlight Elastic Sleep are a bit special. The Cork five-piece specialise in dream-pop/shoegaze along the lines of the quieter side of My Bloody Valentine. Muireann Levis provides breathy, haunting vocals around which the rest of the band create bruising, meandering soundscapes. Music to get well and truly immersed in, these are one of the best live bands around today. The Dimestore Tent didn’t ease off in quality all day. No Spill Blood were next on and the Dublin band produced a scintillating, no-holds-barred barrage of heavy synth-rock. A pummeling, chaotic, high-intensity set has the crowd going absolutely mental, the energy in the tent is electric and a fair amount of sweat is shed. Quality.
As night falls on Knockanstockan, various other attractions come into their own. Apart from more heavy-hitting music on the main stages, the Caravan Club Extravaganza (the dance tent) comes alive and various campfires pop up throughout the main arena where one can engage in various levels of entertaining conversation depending on who you end up beside. A great day, a very fine little festival.