, Metropolis in review: A considered & cultured city festival
Photo of White Collar Boy by Aron Cahill.

This review is sponsored by Visa to celebrate Metropolis’ first year of being a fully enabled #contactless festival.


It’s a wonder no-one did it sooner. Ireland’s insatiable appetite for festivals doesn’t just stop because the sun goes away. Metropolis Festival offers an indoor occasion for the festival calendar at the start of November, right when the temperature drops and the days darken – when we need it most in other words.

The RDS was lit up for the second year as Metropolis took over its halls, offering a mix of music that was drawn from the alternative, the electronic, the club, the new, the legendary and the underground. Set across 4 halls of various sizes and the library room with an outdoor area marked by the world’s largest disco ball, Metropolis was an easy draw.

Top of the pile in status and stature, was Grace Jones, the seemingly-infallible ageless singer (age is irrelevant she likes to say). Jones is foundation of the diva – a performer of magnetic poise and talent; a rare wonder in modern music who has lasted the times and grown her reputation. She headlined Saturday night after her recent special shows in the Olympia, which were shot for an upcoming documentary. Friday’s headliners Moderat were a good fit for the Main Hall’s largesse, their visual-propped electronica filled the considerably-sized hall.

Photos by Aron Cahill.

Running through the vein of programming at Metropolis was a reliance on regular visitors to these shores. Not that it diminished the attraction of Floating Points who was given three hours which included a lot of vintage disco; SBTRKT, Cyril Hahn and Solomun delivered big room dance vibes (the Shelbourne Hall felt like an Ibiza hotspot during the latter), while Jessy Lanza and first-timer Clams Casino represented the fringes in the Serpentine Hall. Fatima Yamaha was moved around to accommodate Klangkarussell’s no show which sadly then clashed with our own Lumo DJ set.

Rap in its various warped forms were represented by the Canadian jazz hip-hop trio Badbadnotgood who always deliver live, UK grime MC Novelist ripped through a set of which his biggest hit ‘1 Sec’ left the biggest impression and Mall Grab, whose year highlight is likely to be ‘I’ve Always Liked Grime’ had the Serpentine Hall packed.

The Sugarhill Gang’s set was equal parts classic and novelty. We shouldn’t expect the band who had the first rap hit in music and who spent the last 10 years trying to get their own name back, to perform anything other than an old-school set. When it worked, it really worked. Their own songs ‘Apache’, ‘Eighth Wonder’ and the curtain-closer ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’ worked well but ‘Purple Rain’ and House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ felt like surplus, as were the long stretches time-filling gaps of talking to the audience instead of playing a song. Still, by the time ‘Rapper’s Delight’ rolled around, The Sugarhill Gang had overcome a quiet crowd to put on the first big celebratory set of the Saturday evening.

There were some cracking performances from Irish acts to be seen at Metropolis. Early set times didn’t help the numbers for great sets from Girl Band (rock music played like techno music), Feather (soothing Afro soul), New Jackson, White Collar Boy (sounding like Depeche Mode at times) and DJ Deece. It’s a pity as these acts are more than worthy of a later slot, asDJ Kormac showed when he filled in at late notice in the Shelbourne Hall.

The Industries Hall also hosted a stage of Irish DJ collectives like Bodytonic, Homebeat, Telephones, Sense, Abstract, Bedlam, 4wrd Grad and others kept a regular stream of people at that stage. I played on Saturday with Lumo Club DJs and we found the crowd most responsive to our set (the afterparty in Wah Wah Club with Crystal Castles too was also pleasure-filled).

DJ Shadow’s opening night performance (with able if early sets from Mount Kimbie and Kormac) arrived at a time in his career where he is dealing with his legacy (releasing a 20th anniversary Endtroducing remix album) and putting his best foot forward (new album The Mountain Shall Fall is widely-considered a return to some form). Josh Davis’ unique position of reverence affords him a place in live music performance that is unlike others. He’s not a DJ pressing play on tracks and reading the room, he’s not a live musician performing his music in full. His hybrid form of performance is a cross between the two. The songs are delivered in suites – packages of music old and new, punctuated by Davis’ explanations, performed with electronic drums, decks and laptop, flanked by screens projecting bespoke visuals and a mesh screen in front adding an extra dimension. There was room for UNKLE, early Shadow, his Zach De La Rocha production ‘March Of Death’, new album cuts and new remixes of his own work by Salva and Clams Casino. The highlight pleasingly, was a new one – a highlight of the year in his collaboration with Run The Jewels, ‘Nobody Speak’ which brought two decades of music and reputation into the present.

Metropolis’ programme of conversations by Red Bull Music Academy was one of the best things on offer across the weekend. Not only were the talks of an interesting subject matter and well-attended, they brought in non-festival performing artists just to participate including Underworld’s Karl Hyde, Chic’s Ralph Rolle and Wolfgang Flür, who gave an account of his time with Kraftwerk. As a drummer he put himself out of a job in the band by helping invent their drum machines. But the most fascinating part of the talk was Flur recounting his chance meeting with old band member Florian in a beer hall, his first in 20 years.

Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor along with Prince biographer Matt Thorne delved into the idiosyncrasies of Prince’s back catalogue with a focus on the unreleased music, which they played to the room. Later on Taylor DJed an all-Prince set in the same room which was a unique aspect of the festival’s programming.

Rapper, poet and writer Saul Williams was another who flew in especially and his nourishing conversation with Emma Warren that addressed frustration at the the slow societal acceptance of concepts like gay marriage, his contradictory love of questionable hip-hop, the power of poetry (“poets are the midwives of reality” as Keats said), how artists present ideas for others (Christy Moore was mentioned), and how he was the one to introduce Rick Rubin to Gang Starr.

The second year of Metropolis Festival then ironed out the creases of its inaugurual year. ‘Its bars were streamlined, its queues non-existent (the presence of Visa contactless at every bar did help), its halls were busy, its stalls were plentiful and its hangout area in the Industries Hall gave an extra beer hall dimension to proceedings. Metropolis was about the music first and it delivered a non-mainstream programme on a large scale that was considered, cultured and varied. It can only grow from here.

Photos by Aron Cahill.

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