Having moved from a Friday to Sunday model to a Thursday start a few years back, HWCH has the benefit of not staging its final night before an early morning and, as such, Saturday has an energy and buzz about it. State is keen to make the most of it and, as anyone who has been at Iceland Airwaves knows, the pleasure of flitting about the city in the evening, but the stumble-upons that happen as you go about your day. One lucky moment had us wandering into HMV and finding Longford’s Imploded View in the middle of a set. Tightly composed, warm electronica it put some cheer into the day and made us think about the potential for these almost ‘fringe’ happenings as the festival develops.
We’re in the Workman’s Club early too for Benny Smiles, which proves an odd experience. Another one man electronic band, he counters the laptop issues by playing live bass and guitar, as well as singing. The music’s good, really good, but his stage patter of taking valium before the gig, depression and near death experiences leaves the audience in awkward silence.
Acrobat are in Meeting House Square with a ready-made stadium sound, fresh from the box. They sound accomplished at this big crowd-pleasing rock but with perhaps just a few too little hooks to make them stand alone. Me and My Dog offer a more surf inspired spin on pop music and prove to be one of the most enjoyable finds of the weekend, a good natured and slightly ramshackle burst of energy.
HAWK, meanwhile are and the more angular end of guitars. As one warm hook part enters, it’s often a spin-off that pulls the rug from under us. Brave in part, from the London-based band, yet also slightly unsatisfying as they often drift away from us just when we’re getting there. They do look great on stage and have a professionalism which works on the Button Factory’s big stage. Cloud Castle Lake have a different approach by turning off almost all the lights for the entire gig. Perhaps this is an experiment but it feels very disconnecting despite a lush, warm sound from the electronically-lead band set-up. The falsetto struggled a little at times but we are left with a desire to seek out their recorded output afterwards.
In keeping with her increased remix work, Elaine Mai’s set feels caught somewhere between DJ and live performer which, in the expanse of Meeting House Square, proves a few challenges – not helped by a five minute lull when her laptop crashes. The arrival of Leanne Harte on vocals gives a lift and the music side is spot on, there’s just some perfomance questions to work out.
Hare Squead have no such problems, something that’s no surprise to State but sees them take a new audience with ease. Even in the confines of thirty minutes they manage to dart between a huge number styles (perhaps too many if we’re being honest) but it’s encouraging to see how well they translate to the larger stage and still instil a sense of huge excitement. It’s the feeling that Fight Like Apes have always manage to provoke, especially when they enjoyed the status of underdog. Now they’re here as elder statespersons and we’d be lying if we said some of that old edge wasn’t missing. There is an effort to replace it with extra elements (brass, extra vocals), they still excel in the live arena and Mary and Jamie remain one of the great odd pop couples. Time for that third album though.
Princess have packed the Mercantile and their youth and exuberance is winning everyone over. A little psych and a slice of late 20th century indie pop, they look like they’ll never quit playing, a barrage of instruments all falling into place at the right time. Joyful. To close this great weekend off consummate stagecraft is dished out from Spies who give off the look of a sober National, an atmospheric rock affair with DNA of Dublin bands of the early ‘90s and a big open enunciation. Certainly they could own somewhere a lot bigger than Bad Bob’s balcony, but great fun to see them dominate the room.
HWCH 2014 photographed for State by Mark McGuinness