- Culture – 20 Mar 01
By: Helena Mulkerns
There was a significant Irish presence at the recent Intel festival in New York an event which was broadcast worldwide via the Internet. Report: helena mulkerns.
THE FINAL frontier, it s been called, that great madhouse of attempted world domination, environmental destruction and end-of-the-world excess. I refer, of course, to the United States a hard nut to crack for any working band on the ground in Ireland. However, a quintet of Dublin bands (The 9 Wassies From Bainne, Revelino, The Idiots, Junkster and Blink), decided to boldly go for it, kicking up some dust at Shane Doyle s new venue, Arlene’s Grocery as part of the New York Intel Festival.
Down the years, New York has played host to a number of ground-breaking music conferences, from the old New Music Seminar to the current, technology-savvy Intel New York Music Festival. Significantly, such events have provided Irish bands with a forum to play to American audiences as well as various industry and media types.
To make it in Ireland, you basically need the support of a few key media people, publications and bodies, suggests Matthew Covey, co-organiser of the Irish presence this year. The American market is so huge, it can be staggering for a breaking Irish band even the consideration, for example, that you must budget for about 800 initial sample copies of your CD for press distribution alone.
The recent Intel festival very much emphasised the need for getting the music around as much as possible, not only in terms of the standard national media, but also on the Internet. Featured on http://www.thegig.com, it allowed for live performances in the New York clubs to be broadcast on the net, and offered link-ups with venues in Dublin, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Chicago. So in addition to New York punters bopping in real time, you could catch it at home on your PC.
The Irish have always put up a strong representation, and this year was no exception. Irish-owned venues which hosted the festival in New York included Arlene s Grocery, Brownie s, The Lion s Den and Tramps. It was at Arlene s, however, that the Irish presence was showcased, with five Irish bands performing in a marathon that lasted from about 8pm to 2am.
The evening came about as a result of the efforts of Matthew Covey and Heather Mount, who were looking to stage an Irish music event in New York that would allow several Irish bands to play the city, and hopefully use the experience as a kick-off point from which to make valuable contacts. The duo, who spent time in Dublin with their own band, Skulpey, saw a gap between what was happening in clubs and venues in Ireland and what was available in the US, and wanted to bridge it.
We felt that if we could set up a kind of yearly forum specifically with that in mind, it might help the process, says Heather Mount. Originally, we were hoping for something larger, involving two cities on the East Coast, but financial constraints are a powerful deterrent. We realised that our best bet would be to present an Irish gig under the umbrella of the Intel Festival, and Carol Kahil, the director of the festival, was vital in helping us to bring that about.
An additional bonus to having the showcase under the auspices of a festival like Intel was the fact that both funding and visas were easier to obtain that way. Revelino and The Idiots were lucky enough to get Arts Council flights, while Comhras Trachtala contributed to costs. Invaluable legal advice was provided by the New York-based emigration lawyer, Jim O Malley.
The other advantage is that since the festival provides the basic equipment, the bands just need to show up with their instruments, adds Covey.
The gig certainly had a big pre-event buzz about it. With almost 400 bands playing in 20 venues around the city over the festival s four days, it was quite a coup to draw the massive crowd that showed up on the night.
Kicking off the evening, The 9 Wassies From Bainne delivered a manic assault that has been described as bittersweet twists of Celtic rock , but which incorporates a hell of a lot more in its live incarnation. With their singularly cheeky front man spouting abuse to audience and press photographers alike, they set the crowd going for the night, as outside the worst thunderstorm of the year rattled the streets.
Revelino were next up, the Dublin quintet whose two albums, Revelino and Broadcaster on Dirt records, have established themselves as a solid guitar-based song band. Front man Brendan Tallon and guitarists Bren Berry and Alan Montgomery provided some laughs too: Hello New York! began Montgomery. That s not New York! quipped Tallon. That s half of Ireland out there!
Following at 10pm, The Idiots delivered a heavier, more sombre sound with a relentless bass and Brian Mooney s angry, dark, repetitive vocals. The trio were loud and imposing, performing some tracks from their eponymously titled debut album (also on Dirt records), as well as other, newer work.
Junkster, the only ones in the line-up signed to a major label (BMG), were startlingly better live than they sound on their Al Stone-produced debut album, also entitled Junkster, which will be in US stores nationwide this coming month. Fronted by the winning vocals and stage-presence of Deirdre O Neill, the band were a huge hit, their live presence both gutsy and accomplished.
For the finale, Blink, the popular quarter who are already regulars on the New York scene, blasted through to the end of the evening. Currently working on a new album, the band played five intriguing new tracks from this, but concentrated mostly on crowd-pleasers from their debut, A Map Of The Universe By Blink (EMI).
The next day, The New York Times printed a passionate review. Singling out Revelino, The 9 Wassies and The Idiots as favourites, reviewer Neil Strauss noted that in Ireland there are those who don t need to mine their national identity to create, applauding what he considered the bands non-Irish approach. Oddly enough, he went on to berate Junkster for being a band of the moment . It just goes to show you can t please everybody! And somebody should tell Neil that we re quite happy with our ethnic identity these days, thank you whether it happens to sound like Brian Mooney, Brendan Tallon or Mairiad Nm Mhaonaigh.
Overall, the bands were pleased with the effort, garnering several other gigs around town in addition to the showcase, and managing to get in a fair amount of Gotham sight-seeing upon rousing themselves each noon. The Idiots have secured a gig at the CMJ music seminar in the fall, and for those who sparked industry interest this time around, the next crossing should be an easier one after the outstanding success of the Friday gig.
For those who were not present in real time at the live performances, you might be able to catch a repeat by checking into the event on the Internet, where it is situated at http://www.thegig.com .