Belfast’s AVA Festival and Conference has announced its first names for its fourth edition from 1st to 2nd June 2018.
Lined up so far across 4 stages on June 2nd are:
Mano Le Tough
Swoose + Cromby
Brame + Hamo
Long Island Sound
Aalice B2B Lucy Ironmonger (Meat Free)
The festival moves from 3 stages to 4 this summer, Boiler Room returns once more and expands to two days, there will be a Red Bull Music Academy’s own’ Loading Bay’ stage, and Smirnoff are doing a fourth stage while more conference panels, talks and workshops are promised for June 1st.
Tickets are available from £70 and a bus from and to Dublin is also offered.
Here are my 25 favourite Irish albums from 2017 whittled down from a shortlist of 40 or so. Number 1 was a surefire since I heard it earlier this year but there were a few late addition entries released in the last few months that made it near the top.
Otherkin – OK
It’s increasingly hard to stand out in rock music in 2017 beyond genre die-hards and Otherkin are the pick of the Irish bunch when it comes to old-fashioned guitar music (though Fangclub and Gypsies On The Autobahn came close). There’s not much radical at play here – these are catchy very well-produced rock’n’roll songs you’d imagine could soundtrack an ad with ease.
Five years since his last full-length and it sounds like time away has left Fionn Regan with a renewed sense of purpose. The Meetings Of The Waters feels like a stepping stone to a new path for Regan. Ditching the Dylan-influence completely, the album largely features meditative spacious folk music that sustains quietly like smouldering embers and a centrepiece of three tracks with more layered rock music-style songs.
Having moved from pensive singer-songwriter to elegiac composer/songwriter a few albums ago, the Galway artist Crowley has transitioned once again, with the help of The Gloaming’s Thomas Bartlett who produced Dark Eyed Messenger. Barlett counselled Crowley to make the album without his trusted guitar. He obliged and the results sound utterly beguiling.
The Gloaming fiddle player’s latest project saw him convene in an 18th century house in Bantry with frequent collaborator Dennis Cahill (guitars) and New Yorkers Doug Wieselman (bass clarinet, Anthony & The Johnsons and Laurie Anderson) and Liz Knowles (hardanger d’amore), with a fire going at both sides of The Blue Room (the album is called after it) and the quartet’s recording process involved playing each traditional piece repeatedly and allowing something different to emerge in the process. Another worthy inclusion from a master.
Keith Mannion’s SPLH project has morphed from bedroom electronic solo endeavour to a full live band in recent years and this year’s album When I See You…Ice Cream! on Strange Brew Rekkids is an affirmation of his new inclusive ethos. It may have still been recorded in his Donegal bedroom but appearances from Whipping Boy’s Fearghal McKee, Gaze Is Ghost offers contrast to Mannion’s own wobblyevoice on a playful and lo-fi-leaning album.
Dublin experimental veterans’ sixth studio long-player takes them deeper,darker and longer. Written in 2015 as a single longform piece for a once-off performance in Dublin’s now-defunct Joinery venue, Tough Love is a diptych of 20 plus minute tracks of dense krautrock dystopian synth-dirge dramatics.
Scottish band Golden Teacher have a Chk Chk Chk vibe going on with them and their just-released debut album No Luscious Life is a fun release of electronic funk and afrodisco vibes. This album opener sets out their ESG-esque punk funk stall. Give me more.
Bicep – Metro
From a new Glue EP, comes this mechanised weapon from the two Belfast boys who know how to cut through the noise like few other producers.
IDER – Body Love
The London-based duo of Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville have been becoming increasingly reliable for releasing sweet electronic-tinged harmonic pop and ‘Body Love’ is further proof.
Yaeji – Drink I’m Sippin On
New York City and Seoul-based producer Kathy Yaeji Lee just releasesd EP2, on the Godmode label, the same imprint run by Nick Sylvester that brought you Shamir (before he signed to XL or turned to drab indie). ‘Drink I’m Sippin On’ is a low-slung percussive trap-esque electronic song with ice-cold house and pop shades with Korean as the main language.
Avalon Emerson – One More Fluorescent Rush
Fresh from her appearance in Dublin over the weekend, Avalon Emerson released this evocative track on the Whities label. It’s a building slice of arpeggiated magic, a rush as the title suggests. I’ll definitely be playing it at Lumo on Friday.
The Juan Maclean – The Brighter The Light
A new track from DFA stalwart that stretches itself out brightly across eight minutes of piano house accompanied by three remixes by Australia’s Len Liese , DJ Tennis and Octo Octa. While The Juan Maclean is both John Maclean and Nancy Wang, the latter has been busy with a certain LCD so that explains the deeper club nature of this track. A new Juan Maclean album will be released in 2018.
YouandEwan – Stranger (Glad Eye mix)
YouandEwan’s There Is No Right Time was a sleeper album hit in 2016, marking Yorkshire’s Ewan Smith as a versatile producer. For this new release for Luna Via, the tracks are deeper house cuts and ‘Stranger (Glad Eye mix)’ is almost like his take on Luke Vibert’s ‘I Love Acid’ in its hypnotic construction.
Complete Walkthru – About to Get Laze
From a new release on Irish label, First Second, New Yorker Max McFerren’s Complete Walkthru project has a throwback breaks club feel on the lead track ‘About to Get Laze’.
The Cyclist – Inhale / Exhale feat. Tanaya Harper
Another track recommendation to follow up last week’s, from the new album Sapa Inca Delirium from The Cyclist. ‘Inhale / Exhale’ is a fast-paced nine-minute track with passages of jilting bass, percussion swerves and Harper’s calming influence on the latter half of the song.
Joe Goddard – Ordinary Madness (Jeremy Greenspan Big Big Loves remix)
From the Electric Lines Remix EP 1, also featuring reworks by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smyth, Rimbaudian (DJ Seinfeld) and Wajeed comes the Junior Boys take on the trck, which has suitably Junior Boys vibes.
To follow up their debut self-titled album, Bicep dropped a new EP of three tracks today lead by album highlight and previously released ‘Glue’ but also featuring an acid synth-roller called ‘DLR’ and the motorik bass of ‘Metro’ which is a new favourite.
There’s also an official video for ‘Glue’ released today which takes us back to ’90s nostalgia by revisiting sites of raves along with the recollections of people that were there. It’s by Joe Wilson.
Two weeks since it’s release, Sleep Well Beast is developing into The National’s most interesting and rewarding album yet, with a sense of reinvigoration in their template and songcraft that embraces their core characteristics while adding new digital textures. Matt Berninger’s lyrics about his relationship with his wife (who co-wrote the words) goes deep and real, while musically, they do things with the indie-rock template that feels fresh (Bryan Devendorf’s drumming adds so much too).
Moving away from post-dubstep sound that they made their name with, Mount Kimbie’s third album delves into electronic 80s-inspired post-punk territory, with guests Micachu, King Krule and James Blake adding new shades to an album that sounds inspired by Broadcast and krautrock. There are depths in these layered songs to revel in.
A belated shout out for the Belfast house music duo’s debut full-length which after a series of regular dancefloor bangers that are starting to reach classic status, finds the pair creating 12 original tracks that pare back the bombast in favour of quietly-epic tightly-arranged dance music in the vein of Orbital updated for the 21st century.
No-one quite brings together acoustic sensibilities with electronic arrangements in as a delicate manner as Hundred Waters and their third album feels like they’ve scooped out the inside of a valley and cocooned themselves and their music into the landscape as the aura borealis shimmers above. I’m still in discovery mode with the album but there’s comfort in their music for sure.
The fourth album from LA electronic producer Jason Chung is his most cohesive album thus far. Having provided beats for Chance The Rapper, Kid Cudi and Kendrick over the years, it’s great to hear Chung’s imaginative productions working so well with guest vocalists from Blonde Redhead and Steve Spacek adding focus to these ambient-infused electronic tracks.
Another career best, this time from Italian producer Pietro Iannuzzi on the LA Friends of Friends label. As is that label’s hallmark, this is considered and full-realised electronic music concerned less with sample ingenuity but with isolation and the borders that govern our globe informed by Iannuzzi’s existence near the Italian mountains. As such, the album has moments of glowing vistas and awe in its running time that stands on its own.
After the relative jolt of ‘Everything Now’, Arcade Fire get less dreamy and a bit dirtier with ‘Creature Comforts’ which kicks off like an electro-clash single from 2002 before the AF ‘vista’ comes in to play. Vocally though, both Win and Regine are addled new territory and it reinforces the track’s synth-waving arrangement. The lyrics about self-image, self-esteem and suicide counteract the sonics with a pure heaviness. “She dreams about dying all the time / She told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.”
Melodrama is a great followup record for the New Zealand Onion Ring-loving musician. After two full listens, it’s clear that with the album’s deft production details (coproduced with Bleachers lead singer Jack Antonoff), the vocal adlibs and the songwriting is top class. ‘Writer In The Dark’ is an immediate highlight, cemented when Lorde does her best Kate Bush reach on the line ” am my mother’s child, I’ll love you ’til my breathing stops / I’ll love you ’til you call the cops on me.” I’m also loving ‘Sober’ in particular but the entire album is high class Melodrama.
Washed Out – ‘Hard To Say Goodbye’
Ernest Greene is truly back. This is a light house-inspired electronic song that recalls summer vistas and afternoons by the beach.
Laoise – ‘Shooting’
Laoise’s Halfway EP dropped on Friday and ‘Shooting’ is the only song from it we hasn’t really heard from the Galway electronic pop artist.
“Shooting is probably my favourite track off the EP. In comparison to the other songs, it’s quite bare and raw. When writing it, I feel I got to delve into new territories and emotions, which is echoed in the song’s lyrics. I wrote this song with a friend of mine, and we were both going through similar experiences where no matter what we did, we felt we couldn’t grasp and take hold of the things we wanted – be it a relationship or a career path. ‘Shooting with no ammo’ explains the effort you go to finally reach something, only to realise you messed up on the first step, and starting again doesn’t always feel worth it. It’s that moment when you feel so trapped and lost, going around in circles over and over and wondering if you’ll ever break the cycle.”
It’s been some ride for Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, the Belfast lads who started a blog 10 years ago and over time became one of the most in-demand dance duos in Europe with the precision-made percussive electronic tracks.
They’ve slayed the festivals and gigs and had two songs of the summer so far. Most recently, they’ve been performing live (at Primavera Sound most recently) and now, Bicep have a full-length album of all new tracks ready to be released on Ninja Tune on 1st September 2017.
‘Aura’, the album’s last track, is one that is heard in their sets and sets the scene for an album of all-new material to come. As with their previous tracks, Bicep deftly mix their love of classic house, techno, electro and Italo disco into a modern template.
2017 was my third visit to Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival and my first since 2011. What has changed in that time is an increase of punters (around 35,000 each night) but also an expanded festival site at Parc del Forum. That meant more room for dance music and more room for the larger stages. And more, room for surprises.
2017’s lineup was also one of the best in a long time. Sure, Frank Ocean cancelled his headline set with two weeks to go but the addition of surprise sets announced on the day were a new thing which hopefully the organisers will commit to in 2018. It meant that for many the first surprise was Arcade Fire playing a gig on the festival’s first night, two days before they were due on stage. Haim played a late-night set on the last night and Mogwai debuted their new album in full under the Barcelona evening sun.
The city is a great setting for a festival getaway, hang out on the beach day or night at Barceloneta, eat and drink in the Gothic Quarter or Gracia, solicit late-night cans from the abundant hawking men on the streets, bump into friends late into the night while wandering. Primavera Sound’s late starting time (for most about 7pm or 8pm) and late end time (6am is not uncommon) means there’s always time to explore the city in good weather before the music starts.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t miss things though. Aldous Harding, Glass Animals, Joy Orbison, Weyes Blood and Badbadnotgood were not seen, and I decided to give Arcade Fire a miss in favour of seeing something else (and was rewarded by John Talabot’s disco set). Ditto: Sinkane, Skepta and Grace Jones. Sets from the xx, Angel Olsen and King Krule didn’t do it for me despite wanting them to but there was plenty to love. Primavera Sound pulls you in so many directions that sometimes you just have to not focus too much on the timetable and go with the flow. That’s easier to do in the Catalan city atmosphere than a soggy field in Ireland. I’d definitely come back for a fourth visit.
Here are my highlight sets of the festival.
There’s no way that such subtle sweet jams should work on the second biggest stage on the festival, , but that’s Mac Demarco for you. The Canadian has developed as a cult curio personality, an indie-kid weirdo but as his latest album This Old Dog (fast becoming one of my favourites of the year) has shown, his songs seep into your skin. At Primavera, there was a big crowd ready to lap up both his tunes and his vibe. When the camera panned over the stage to reveal his naked drummer on the drum stool, it was clear it was going to be one of those kinds of sets. While the stage antics got increasingly more attention as Demarco stripped down to his underpants and singed his butt and underarm hair while standing on a guitar amp, the tunes never faltered from some sweet vibes (other than a closing guitar solo). Don’t underestimate how hard it is to write delicate songs this good, the stage show with added “Whitney crowd surf experience” and goofball antics only added to the sense of occasion. As did, Demarco ending the night crowdsurfing sans music stage right after his set.
John Talabot Disco set
I decided to give Arcade Fire a miss this time to go see something different. The Catalan man John Talabot has always had a close association to Primavera as they asked him to debut his first ever live show at the festival so he always does something at it. This time around, it was two shows, one with Axel Boman as Talaboman and one DJ set billed as a disco set (after a great Young Marco set) which ended up being a set that featured crowdpleasing and disco-tinged music from classics like ‘Spacer’ to Aphex Twin ‘Windowlicker’ edit, Red Dragon Band’s ‘Let Me Be Your Radio’ to his own Teengirl Fantasy ‘Cheaters’ remix and my tune discovery of the festival – Akiyo’s Deboule. An edit of the Carribean Zouk tune from 1996 was played in the Talaboman set on the first night and immediately wired itself into my brain. Watch out for that (and let me know if you see one going). Talabot’s disco set was filled with the one thing that many modern DJs forget to pack on their USBS – fun.
Flying Lotus reaffirmed my opinion of him as a visionary producer with his live cube A/V set on the Ray Bans stage on Friday night. At 3am, the combination of Strangeloop and Timeboy’s mindbending visuals and Fly Lo’s mind-altering music productions hit with force and bass so hard that in the middle of the crowd, near the front, the bass made the hair on the top of my head vibrate. It was that good. Musically, we had some of the new stuff, like the Kuso theme (the reviews have said it’s garbage), his Freddie Mercury remix, his Twin Peaks rework, his To Pimp A Butterfly production, his Kendrick feature ‘Never Catch Me’, a Captain Murphy joint and his Los Angeles material. It was a reminder of how great a Fly Lo set can be.
This took me by surprise. 22 A Million is a hard album to love and it didn’t really impact my listening habits last year very much. It was easier to admire and harder to love. But fair play to Justin and his band who have managed to translate this obfuscated object of coded language into a main stage extravaganza that pitched these songs with a larger stature, accompanied by superb sound and a stage show that featured the album’s hieroglyphics in cascading form. The album’s second half – songs like ‘666’ and the Springsteen-esque ‘8’ were late show highlights and four songs from 2011’s self-titled album. He might have spent much of the gig with giant headphones and a baseball cap on behind a bank of gear but a solo a capella version of ‘Skinny Love’ as encore nodded to the the journey Vernon has been on since 2008. It’s a significant one.
The classiest stage show of the weekend went to Solange Knowles. A simple circle backdrop bathed in red with blue lights on the band and singers pitched things minimally. Translating a weighty but delicately produced album such as A Seat At The Table is a tough thing to do but Solange kept things focused and wisely brought in the energetic ‘Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work’, ‘T.O.N.Y’ (from her 2008 Sol-Angel and the Hadley Dreams album) and career highlight jam ‘Losing You’. Occasional choreographed moves benefitted the show in subtle ways too. It was more a swaying side-to-side experience but it suited her.
There was a run of abrasive shows on the opening night of Primavera Sound in 2017 that featured sets from Slayer, Converge, Death Grips (always excellent) and Aphex Twin. A Richard D James show is like no other and he really took advantage of playing the biggest stage at the festival to deliver an uncompromising two hour set filled with diversions into ten minutes of industrial white noise, acid techno, ambient noise, gyrating IDM , jungle breakbeats and electro weirdness. There wasn’t much to recognise unless you were an uber-Aphex nerd but he did play ‘Roy Of The Ravers’ at one point and one tune that sounded like MIA mashed up, smashed into a reggaeton beat and spat out. Visually, the show was crammed with small screens working in unison, and lights and lasers that extended beyond the festival site. His trick of using the faces in the crowd to project AFX imagery and faces makes the audience an integral part of the show, playing on the discomfort of lingering on someone in the front row’s self-conscious face for far too long to create some truly odd art. In fact, it was so intense I couldn’t last the whole show. How many artists can you say that about? No-one delivers a disorientating experience quite like Aphex Twin.
At 4:30am on the first night, Belfast duo Bicep played their live show which served as a slighty beefier version of their live sets naturally all focused on their own material and delivered with the precision and percussive panache that have made Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar house stalwarts. A run of songs including ‘Just’ , ‘Higher Level’ , ‘In Yer Face’ , ‘Dahlia’ sent us home with grins on night one, eager for more from evening two.
Sampha’s piano torch songs don’t feel like a natural fit for a large festival stage but the dude’s been preparing. With three band members helping him build the beats, Sampha Sisay brought some dynamic energy to his set. There was a circle of a drum-off at one point and songs like ‘Blood On Me’, his Drake-feature ‘4422’ and ‘Reverse Faults’ stood out until he was left to deliver the heartbreaking ode to his mother – ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’.
Run the Jewels
You know the drill by now. We Are the Champions. Two Best Friends. Fists and chains in the air. A Blockbuster Night. El-P and Killer Mike’s on-stage camaraderie isn’t even punctured or affected when the entire soundsystem goes dead for 10 minutes, as they mug to each other and run on the spot. A RTJ show is one of the best in rap and it hasn’t dissipated as the size of the stage has increased.
What encapsulates the differentiation between Primavera and many other festivals is that the closing set of the festival on the only large stage left open went to !!! (Chk Chk Chk). The band encapsulate the festival’s early beginnings as a punk-funk rock band into their current guise as a strutting electronic disco act. Primavera know all you need to do is give !!! the stage and they’ll slay and that’s what they do close to 5am bolstered by the presence of Wnglish vocalist Lea Lea on co-vocals and ass-shaking along with Nic Offer upfront. With their seventh album Shake The Shudder just out, much of the set was drawn from that but two personal favourites ‘Freedom 15’ and ‘Syld’ closed out the show.
In the glut of new releases in the past two weeks, Australian musician D.D. Dumbo’s newest on 4AD, may have been overlooked but the album is a weighted mix of African guitar blues, folk and pop music. He also sings a bit like Sting, but you know, in a good way. ‘Walrus’ is the bright album opener.
Waterford-born Katie Sullivan moves into new territory with her third album Salt released today (Irish Times Irish album of the week). While Katie was always an artist who was interested in the alternative and ambient, who brought a touch of the otherworldly to her songs, even if they were stripped back to their essentials, Salt finds her sonic world sunken deeper into the mire.
An immediate highlight is the skyscraping spectral percussion of opening song ‘Ghosts’.
POLIÇA — Kind (Boys Noize Remix)
This Boys Noize remix of Poliça’s ‘Kind’ is totally my buzz.
The original features on the band’s United Crushers LP but just came out alongside remixes by Task Force and Fog on a new EP.
Of the remix, Boys Noize says he was inspired by the vocal to go “90s vogue house.”
“I ended up going for this 90s Vogue House-inspired dub mix because I just wanted to hear [the lyric] ‘fever high, fever high’ in the club.”
It is, a banger.
Poliça are on tour and play Dublin this Saturday night.
German producer Michael Mayer has a new album the influential !K7 Records label called &. As the title suggests collaborations are at the heart of his third album, and guests include Hauschka, Roman Flügel, Miss Kittin, Prins Thomas, Barnt and Kölsch.
The result is a mix of “hypnotic minimal house, soft trance, indie tech-house and twisted disco.”
His first single, with Barnt, ‘Und Da Stehen Fremde Menschen’ is German and tough while the second single ‘For You’ featuring Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard is decidedly more mellow. It’s a love story really.
Mount Alaska (Twitter) is a new project from former Halfset members Stephen Shannon and Cillian McDonnell.
Since the band disbanded Shannon has been working as a producer at Experimental Audio studio and composing film scores while McDonnell among other things, started the label Music/is/for/losers.
Now, the duo have returned to making music together under the name Mount Alaska.
‘Sine, Cosine, Tangent’ is our first listen to the outcome of their creative pursuit, a wavey experimental electronic instrumental to be released on Language Records on Monday, November 7th 2016. A second single featuring The Gloaming’s Iarla Ó’Lionáird is due in January.
We talk about Oisin’s New Jersey upbringing, grown men crying over beautiful songs stuck in traffic, what it’s like to support Grandmaster Flash, the beauty of a basso profundo voice – the lowest you can get, a Hard Working Class Heroes highlight, the tune Oisin would like his kids to associate with him and a couple of Belfast bangers.