Now in its sixth year, Castlepalooza has become one of the most well-established small festivals in the country. Its main strengths are its cosy feel and the large quantity of quality Irish acts. The festival opened on Friday night with a small selection of acts to keep the early arrivals busy, ranging from the indie electronics of Ghost Estates to the all out party madness of Irish festival mainstays Attention Bébe. Mercury Rev reprised their performance last year with a DJ set to cap the night off.
The festival proper kicked off on Saturday afternoon with a strong run of Irish bands on both the main stage and inside the Big Top tent around the corner. While primarily concerned with DJs and electronica, the Big Top did play host to a couple of bands over the course of the weekend and it began in that vein with solid sets from We Cut Corners and Go Panda Go. No Monster Club were the first act to really kick some energy into proceedings on the main stage. Their recent European jaunt has clearly paid off as the band were tighter than ever and pop sensibility is now right at the fore of their frantic songs, loaded with intricate and catchy melodies. As one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Moths did not disappoint. For a guy with a handful of songs, his first ever live performance held up very well, with the beats that are often subdued in his recordings coming to the front and hitting hard over a large sound system. Visionair played a rare live set to a pretty busy tent and their Boards Of Canada-style electronic jams went down a treat. The party really kicked off as Le Galaxie took to the main stage as twilight set in, throwing hundreds of glowsticks into a huge crowd, many of whom held the band’s “TUNE” signs aloft as they danced. Their synth-tastic party tunes combined with a stunning light show and top class showmanship to deliver one of the sets of the weekend. Hudson Mohawke took things to another level altogether as an intense set of super intelligent post-dubstep bangers. Recent single ‘Thunder Bay’ made a lot of peoples night, sounding just as good as you’d expect at ear-splitting volume. English foursome Clock Opera then took to the main-stage with their clever mix of pop, folk and electronica. Guy Connelly’s pure vocals provided a solid focal point that allowed the music, which could be unwieldy in less skilled hands, to be cohesive and imaginative. The main stage was brought to a close by a typically effervescent full-band Jape set. The new songs were sounding great and with news that his album is finished and almost ready for release, the future is looking very positive over in Richie Egan’s corner.
While the line-up on Saturday was somewhat sparse at certain times, Sunday suffered from no such problems. Getting off to a loud start straight away with hangover-shaking sets from Kid Karate, Jogging and We Are Losers all getting the early crowd’s juices flowing. In the Big Top tent, Enemies played their final show for some time and they gave it everything they had, delivering a set full of finesse and passion, showing the inventiveness and colour that make their instrumental epics stand out from the crowd. The Young Folk are exactly what it says on the tin, as a group of young people playing distinctly pleasant folk music on a warm Sunday afternoon. It’s not exactly original but it worked well in the setting, and their free CDs were lapped up by the crowd. Definitely ones to watch over the next while. On the other end of the experience scale lies synth-tweaking veteran Somadrone. Neil O’Connor took the opportunity to try out many new songs which he described as being in their infancy and while few stood out as much as those from last year’s Depth Of Field album, there was enough to hold interest. It may not have been the most perfect festival set, it will be interesting to see these new songs develop in various environments over the coming months. Another act not exactly suited to festival settings are Sacred Animals. While their live show has come on leaps and bounds over the past few months, especially since the addition of a dedicated keyboard player, and their songs are as strong as ever, music this precise and atmospheric has an unfortunate tendency to wash over talkative, late-afternoon crowds. Diamond Dagger suffered no such issues as his set of banging electronica filled up the Big Top tent and the man formerly known as Sarsparilla impressed everyone in the place. Squarehead were next on the main stage and, though the songs were as strong as ever, the band seemed a little tired after their set at the Spraoi festival Waterford the night before. The sound left a something to be desired and the overall effect was a little more lethargic than the average Squarehead show. Thankfully, Dublin’s original post-rock behemoths, The Jimmy Cake, were pushing the intensity levels on the other stage. After a disappointing showing at Body & Soul a month before due to a really unfortunate Sunday morning time slot, the band really upped their game for this more appropriate occasion. Drawing, as ever, on the best of krautrock beats, droning soundscapes and post-rock dynamic shifts, the Dublin crew really impressed with a set as heavy and overwhelming as it was utterly mesmerizing. Adebisi Shank were next up and they played their usual kind of gig. So, roughly ten times better than any other gig you’ve ever been to. Seriously though, these three guys have moved to a level beyond compare in this country. Fun, frantic, sweaty, their set had everything you’d expect, culminating in masked bassist Vinny leaping from a wooden platform high up one of the tent’s poles into the welcoming arms of his adoring crowd while joyous noise emanated from the stage.
Unfortunately it was at this point that the less positive aspects of the festival became most apparent. At roughly half past ten on Sunday night, at a point where you would really expect a festival to pull out the big hitters, there was suddenly a dearth of activity. Smiths covers band These Charming Men were playing the hits on the main stage and a series of rather odd DJ sets took place in the Big Top tent, none of which were particularly interesting, though the Doves one was at least confusing. Papa Gee’s Afro Beat and Nineties rap leftovers Naughty By Nature continued the underwhelming buzz in the main area as onlookers’ interest was piqued initially by the novelty factor of the acts on stage but soon waned, leaving many to wander aimless around the site or retreat to the tents for a while. The absurdity of putting a covers band on the main stage at peak time was driven home when Onra eventually took to the courtyard stage, home to DJs and a Carphone Warehouse stall for the weekend. The French beat-maker blew the minds of those in the courtyard with a brilliant set of the retro-futuristic hip-hop and soul. Despite not getting to play until half one in the morning, his nigh-on two hour set was close to perfection, with every sample and break-beat filled with buckets of groove. It was a tough act to follow but if anyone was going to do it, Toby Kaar was the man and he did not let anyone down. The Cork man is without doubt one of the finest purveyors of smart, electronic music in the country, operating somewhere between the broken beat of Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint and the clean lines of modern European labels like Kompact. All in all, a truly stirring way to finish a pretty great weekend. If the organizers can inject a little bit of common sense into their line-up programming while maintaining the high calibre of Irish acts, then next year could be an even better event.
Photo by Des Keane.