Thoughts From a Safe Harbour

Sounds From A Safe Harbour was a necessary force for good in Cork City; an exploration of the unique spaces that the city offers, and bringing together a little bit of a community around love for art and music for a weekend. It showed that Cork is a living, thriving city that serves as an excellent starting point for something new.

Talos performs in the strange world of Bonded Warehouse B11
Talos performs in the strange world of Bonded Warehouse B11

In previous writing for Sharp983.com I talked about an independent spirit of Cork that I was afraid we were losing, but this weekend it fought back with force. We saw it when Richard Reed Parry couldn’t hold back his love, telling us “this has been the funnest festival ever” on the stage of the tiny room in the Crane Lane. We saw it when a huge crowd crammed into The Oval for a chance to see Talos, an up-and-coming new artist, at all costs. We saw it when Villagers’ Conor O’Brien unplugged his equipment, announced “I’m busking this next one”, and led St. Luke’s Church as a choir to sing Becoming A Jackal. This weekend was one that rewarded the curious and the adventurous; that filled the city with wonderful little experiences, and left me hungry for more again.

I saw some music.

Villagers

Read Elena Montes’ review of Villagers in St. Lukes here.

Under the carefully constructed arrangements it’s hard to imagine anyone taking ownership of the venue quite like Conor O’Brien did; with the help of incredibly precise sound engineering, in every echo his voice felt at home.

The absolute highlight of the weekend; a wondrous experience in St. Luke’s church. Villagers yet again prove that they posses a unique charm and love of their craft that allows them to shine as Ireland’s best live act.

“There are no happy songs on this set”, Conor O’Brien outlines midway through; in the depths of his songs of misplaced love and loss, he’s holding every second of our attention. He asks us to close our eyes, “to have a little bit of a moment together” – but when I cheat and open my eyes a little I find captivated smiling faces with their eyes sealed shut to every side of us.

Scenes from St. Lukes just before Villagers took to the stage.
Scenes from St. Lukes just before Villagers took to the stage.

This Villagers performance is a starkly visual one though. Feel Good Lost illuminates the church dome with projections of dreamlike landscapes; circling jellyfish, soft rainfall on a car windscreen; building onto the serenity of the space that St. Lukes is. Under the carefully constructed arrangements it’s hard to imagine anyone taking ownership of the venue quite like Conor O’Brien did; with the help of incredibly precise sound engineering, in every echo his voice felt at home.

It’s never easy to capture the power of a Villagers set; on this album tour we see his old and new material rearranged to take better advantage of his new band, and to weave the individual songs from three albums into a sort of living story.

Lisa Hannigan & Aaron Dessner

Read Cathy Naughton’s review of Lisa Hannigan & Aaron Dessner’s performance at the Opera House here.

Talos

Talos is a project for Eoin French, who in 2014 brought out two songs, Bloom and Tethered Bones produced by Ian Ring of Young Wonder.

On record, it seemed natural to call Talos an electronic act; production on these two songs leaned on sparse, minimal production, but subtle nods at dubstep and Ian Ring’s take on pop. In two very different gigs over the weekend, it becomes easier to see another side to Talos; one entirely organic.

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A tiny, tiny stage of sorts as Talos performs in The Oval

The first Talos gig saw him perform in The Oval for Nialler9’s Music Trail; the poor tiny pub wasn’t ready for the sheer volume of people who tried to get there, and some unfortunately had to leave disappointed.
Those who got in were treated to something special though; a uniquely stripped down performance by Eoin on keys and guitar, and his cellist. Backed only with guitar and cello, songs like “Bloom” gave breathing space to Eoin’s voice; which when heard live and in the flesh is absolutely stunning, with a strange, soothing tone that bears comparison to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

The new songs hold attention; as soon as his voice starts to ring out a total silence of all else descends upon the crowded room.

Ridiculous crowds gather to see Talos at The Oval
Ridiculous crowds gather to see Talos at The Oval

Seeing Talos for the second time brought us to Bonded Warehouse B11; with just a little bit more room (but not much). Using this room to add two more band members, bringing a fully-rounded realisation of his sound on record to the table, and a stunning approach to visuals that sees the band as shillouetes against this powerful blue light, Talos completely proved their value for the future of Cork music.

Definitely one of the best of the weekend, and one to look out for as new material starts to come out.

Slow Skies

The scenes just before Slow Skies performed at BDSM.
The scenes just before Slow Skies performed at BDSM.

Slow Skies inhabit a similar space; quiet, beautiful vocals inhabit a carefully crafted sonic landscape; Karen Sheridan’s unique ambient-influenced folk music shines through entirely in a live context, and drums up lots of hope for a full album after their two stunning EPs. Yet another band that proves their power over a crowd, Slow Skies is incredibly engaging and I can’t wait to see them come around again.

This Is The Kit

This was the weekend that so so many people fell in love with This Is The Kit as they appeared at quite a few locations over the weekend. Sadly, when I went to their gig at the Bodega, a number of technical issues left it to be 40 minutes later than anticipated when they started up – I could only stay for two songs, but they definitely held my attention and I’m very excited about learning more about them. The general consensus from the weekend is that they impressed at every opportunity; I wouldn’t deny it.

Wild Beasts

The closest things the festival had to true headliner moments were the performances in Cork Opera House, and Wild Beasts delivered something truly triumphant. Their brand of indie-rock with just the perfect amount of electronic influence soared through the crowd; which obviously had varying degrees of familiarity with the band’s work. The band’s last performance in Cork was in Cyprus Avenue; but the band seemed more than comfortable on a major stage.

Their set leaned heavy on their most recent album Present Tense, with just the slightest of hints towards their older material to please their more dedicated fans.

A midnight gig in Cork Opera House seemed to be a bit of a hard sell at first, but I absolutely loved it; an injection of life into the city at an hour it would be missing; a perfect closing moment to the final day of the festival. More of this would be perfectly fine by me.

Quiet River of Dust

“This next song is about walking through a wood and you’re hearing voices that sound suspiciously like your dead… ancestors, whispering to you. I think we’ve all had something like that, we just call it different things.”

Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire presented his new band Quiet River of Dust, a band that very rarely appears in public, in the very intimate setting of the Crane Lane Theatre. The little bit about them I read had me expecting some sort of quiet folk band, something more traditional. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I loved it.

Quiet River of Dust make some sort of odd psychedelic pop. There’s rich echoing vocals, there’s beautiful drumming crescendos, there’s these slow-building acoustic guitar patterns that transform into these distorted, reverberating signals. The songs they write are ambitious, challenging, rewarding; the songs defy your expectations and expand outward into beautiful spaces.

Richard Reed Parry himself is a natural front-man, far more than a cog in a machine. Quiet River of Dust shows something lush and a very promising future for him both within and without the monstrously huge rock band he’s a part of.

Quiet River of Dust performing at the Crane Lane Theatre
Quiet River of Dust performing at the Crane Lane Theatre

I can’t speak highly enough of this performance; it seemed polished and pure in spite of Parry’s insistence that the band assembled on the night (which included Bryce Dessner, festival curator, and Deirdre O’Leary from Crash Ensemble) were playing songs they’d rarely if ever played before. The thought of what could possibly come out of a QROD tour when the material is perfected and recording is one to watch out for. Don’t miss them on their inevitable return to Cork.

Showcase Event

Indeed, it was Richard Reed Parry’s glowing influence and the promise of seeing another one of his projects after Quiet River Of Dust that brought me to the Showcase Event at all, an array of performances hosted by Bryce Dessner, the festival’s curator. I was drawn in by the promise of seeing a performance of Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet), a part of Music for Heart and Breath, Parry’s experiment with composing music driven and dictated by each performer’s individual heartbeat and rate of breathing.

I approached Music for Heart and Breath unsure of how such a performance would work, but I was immediately captured by the performance and how each performers’ own rhythm fit into the piece and connected with each other; rather than any jarring disconnect, it felt like a careful, intimate exchange, carried beautifully in place.

Parry’s talents in writing and in innovation clearly don’t find themselves entirely rooted in the field of indie\rock music; he proves himself worthy of praise in both the fields of popular music and contemporary composition. It’s not something that is unique to him on the festival bill however; curator Bryce Dessner comes from a similar background.

I saw two works by Bryce Dessner performed on the night as well, Music For Wood And Strings as performed by So Percussion and Murder Ballads as performed by Crash Ensemble.

Music For Wood And Strings struck as something otherworldly; performed by percussionists on some sort of a strange custom-built instrument called a “Chordstick”, layers upon layers are built by the four musicians creating dense yet intricate soundscapes. Watching a performance of it live and seeing these complex interwoven patterns was stunning, but certainly a little bit intimidating for my first experience with anything remotely like it.

Murder Ballads, designed for a more traditional ensemble, saw old folk songs written in the names of killers and criminals re-imagined as in the form of contemporary-classical. The traditional melodies open up and unravel; darker overtones are left to linger.

Although I had to leave before the final performance, I found the showcase event to be a wonderful introduction to a whole world of music I’d never have experienced before. I’m excited about the possibility to explore this further.

Otherwise…

A Lot Of Sorrow

In the Crawford Art Gallery, the 6-hour film A Lot of Sorrow was playing on a constant loop. Within that repetition is another; for the length of that 6 hours, The National repeatedly perform a single song “Sorrow”, which in and of itself is about 3 minutes long. What I had intended to make as a flying visit left me stuck there for almost an hour. Each repetition of the song carried its own strange differences; softer, quieter, drums, an unexpected guitar solo, a deeper emphasis on certain lines. I’m not sure how far in the segment I had watched was, but the band remained completely in control of their challenge. The video itself was expertly shot and directed, framing one of the greatest live rock bands in a perfect moment. Unexpectedly brilliant.

Boolean Expressions

UCC’s George Boole themed art exhibition was loosely attached to Sounds From A Safe Harbour and gave me an excuse to check it out after much deliberation. A collection of artworks inspired by algorithmic structures, mathematics and data, it acted as an exploration of the world created in the wake of Boole’s legacy.

It’s worth paying a visit. 3D landscapes, walls of LED displays in rapid motion, and large-scale displays of data build up in this strange landscape. Yet in some of the more abstract pieces, where it became clear that individual electronic components were interacting with one another, the frustration of not understanding how these pieces interacted under the surface on a code level was pretty strong. Maybe that’s the point.

In Conclusion

Cork is beautiful and it is the city that I have an eternal love for. In the tiny little spaces over the weekend we watched the city come to life in a way it unlike what we’ve seen it do for so long. Many of these gigs and events will be remembered as significant through time.

The Opera House have outdone themselves, and this festival, a triumphant swan-song for outgoing CEO Mary Hickson, should earn her the freedom of the city. May it be the first of many, a delightful beginning to an expression of what makes Cork truly wonderful.

Statio Bene Fida Carinis.

This review appeared originally on Sharp983.com – another independent media source in UCC.