If you thought that the festival season started with Camden Crawl or Forbidden Fruit then we’ve got news for you. There’s a new player in town in the shape of Phase One Electronic Music & Arts Festival in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. In the spirit of adventure and trying out all things new State goes along to see what’s stirring on the banks of the Shannon.
Set in a former 19th century courthouse, a stone’s throw from the river, the festival launch takes place at the Dock Arts Centre. Upstairs, in a large gallery space, we listen to Donal Dineen give a nice speech and are treated to some live painting accompanied by Kate Ellis on the cello. Shortly after, producer WIFE plays a short set accompanied by a backdrop of visuals on a huge screen and smaller screens strategically placed around the space. It’s a nice set of blissed-out electronica.
There are three stages set up for music here, one outdoor stage and two indoors. It’s down the stairs then to the stage known as The Space to check out CoEx. This is the project of a gentleman called Klaus Vormehr, a German who has been living in Ireland for many years. Here he is joined by four young band members who take their turn augmenting his compositions on fiddle, melodica, banjo and electronic drums. This result is a virtual United Nations mixing of styles with elements of samba, reggae, bossa nova and trad, often in the course of the same song. Wailing fiddles soar over electronic soundscapes to great effect while the percussion drives the whole band on their journey. It’s easy to see the enjoyment they get from playing their music from the smiles on their faces. We don’t want to write about this band, we want to be IN this band. A sheer delight to watch. Next up are Sounds of System Breakdown, who start their set with a song called ‘Vinegar Joe’ and get a nice dynamic going with their combination of synths with guitar and drums. Songs such as ‘Neon Cocktails’ and ‘Nomad’ follow and get us in the mood for dancing.
We decide to take a wander after this and end up going to the second inside stage which functions as gallery number one when the arts centre isn’t pounding to the beat of kicking tunes. There’s no overspill with the sound either, even though both stages are so close, which is great. A bit more investigation reveals a smaller room off this with some live footage and installations for our viewing pleasure. After this it’s time to get analogue. This means heading back downstairs to check out Polydroid aka Brian O’Malley. Here he is joined on stage by Empire State Human frontman Aidan Casserly and the holy synth trinity of Messrs Korg, Roland & Moog. A selection of cracking tunes from his Imposter EP follows, most notably ‘Day of Rest’ and the magnificent ‘Ode to an Android’. This is old school electronica at its best. Absolute quality.
Le Galaxie are up next. We heard that they had chartered a boat and had sailed upriver to get here. Just to clarify: there was nobody called Fredo on board and no one got whacked. They aren’t too shy in whacking out the tunes tonight however, with floor fillers like ‘Midnight Midnight’ and the brilliant ‘The Night Caller’ belted out with gusto. It’s a cracking set that gets the whole crowd dancing and sweating. It’s the outdoor stage then for tonight’s headliner Ulrich Schnauss. We’re not too convinced that an outside stage in Ireland in early April is a good idea, but luckily there’s not a drop of rain, just a bit of a chill in the air. Herr Schnauss serves up a delicious set of ethereal electronica including the awesome ‘Borrowed Time’ from his latest album A Long Way to Fall.
We’re up bright and early the next morning for breakfast and its back to the Dock we go for a master class in Ableton Live by producer Zoid aka Daniel Jacobsen. This is part of the series of informative classes that are running during the festival. A class in circuit bending where children’s electronic toys are manipulated in such a way as to produce weird and wonderful sounds is also taking place. We leave the Ableton class after an hour and a half feeling more enlightened and in search of the best coffee in town to kick start the rest of the day.
After a couple of hours delay the rest of the evening’s schedule starts at 6pm with the Violet Roadkills. This four-piece have some great tunes, in particular the track ‘Subotnik’ with its rolling bassline and crescendo building synth line. Here they play a selection of tracks from their magnificent Ep Tetramer and really build up a wall of sound over the next half an hour. We are really looking forward to hearing more from these guys. Upstairs Futuresquer is spinning vinyl with a top twenty countdown of Irish producers as voted by the public in an online poll, while Roscommon DJ Alan Kelly is banging out the tunes on the outdoor stage. This brought back quite a few memories as we used to see him playing various clubs and parties around this area 12 or 13 years ago. Where does the time go?
It’s time to check out Sunken Foal after this which is the project of a fella by the name of Dunk Murphy. It actually looks like this is a two man operation but the other guy on stage is actually in charge of the visuals that are projected onto the big screen and quite ingeniously, onto the t-shirts of the protagonists. Images of moths, butterflys and cartoon soldiers flash in time to the music while we are treated to a fine set of tunes from his latest album Friday Syndrome, Vol.1. Great stuff altogether.
Outdoors German duo Coma, who are on the famous Kompakt record label are lashing out the tunes and we have to take a few steps back as it’s simply too loud near the stage. We noticed the same thing during Ulrich Schnauss set yesterday on the same stage. Relocating to the back solves the problem however and we enjoy a good portion of their set until the first rain of the weekend arrives and forces us back indoors where New Jackson are midway through their set. This is a duo comprising of David Kitt and Diamond Dagger who have their own distinctive blend of house driven jams and have tunes such as ‘The Night Mail’ and ‘Sat Around Here Waiting’ in their arsenal. We never thought we would be glad of rain but if we had missed this we would be raging.
Time then for the main man and the undisputed king of ambient music. We are talking of course about Norwegian musician Geir Jenssen, better known as Biosphere. Responsible for such masterpieces as 2006’s Dropsonde, 1997’s Substrata (voted the best ambient album of all time by the Hyperreal website) and our own personal favourite, 1994’s Patashnik, Biosphere is quite simply a genre unto himself. Hailing from Tromso, 350km inside the Arctic Circle his music comprises of long ambient passages often making use of sci-fi samples and loops. We nearly lose our minds when he plays ‘Startoucher’ from the aforementioned Patashnik. Think ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ without the beats. Donal Dineen is proving the visuals tonight to great effect and the various images fit very well with Biosphere’s music. ‘Genkai No. 1’ from his latest album N-Plants follows and he rounds his set up with his remix of Ane Brun’s track ‘Temporary Dive’. The set is flawless and we consider it an absolute privilege to have had the opportunity to see him live. Major kudos must go to the festival organisers for bringing him over.
It’s a DJ set from Donal himself then and afterwards LTJ Bukem and his distinctive glasses close the weekend with a fine set of drum and bass that have the sweaty masses filling the dancefloor. All in all, a great weekend of top quality music and here’s hoping there will be a Phase Two next year so we have an excuse to visit lovely Leitrim once again. Maybe next year we’ll hire a boat.
Main image by Rebeccah Farrell.