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Vantastival 2018 - Sunday Review

  • Published in Live


It’s another scorcher today; highly unusual for a Bank Holiday. After a number of technical problems, the Firestone stage is back in action with a group of fresh faced youngsters called The Skins. They compensate for their shortened set by lashing through a series of high octane, pop rock songs. They're the type of band who would play at the party in an American high school movie; not that there is anything wrong with that. A cover of The Raconteurs ‘Steady As She Goes’ fits the mood perfectly. Even more extraordinary than the weather is the call for an encore at two in the afternoon. It is the first time I have seen a band allowed to continue, outside of a headline slot, at a festival. Presumably the fact that they patiently handled the tech delays before their set is a significant factor.

Callous Crows on the main stage are a guitar and drums duo, heavily influenced by Nirvana. The quiet/loud song structures and harsh Cobain-esque screaming are unmistakable. There's some good interplay between the pair on stage but they sound unfinished and the screams become fainter over the course of the set. Their last song, a previous single called ‘Hurts So Good’, shows what they are capable of. We'll count that as a work in progress.

Next up on the main stage is a band we are very familiar with, our Blogtober headliners Makings. The early evening heat is building up in the main tent. The band have a guest onstage in the shape of Macon, Georgia’s Cairon420, who features on their new single ‘Blackhole’. As well as adding his hip hop touch to that song, he remains with the band for their whole set, which is drawn entirely from their forthcoming second album. There's a greater emphasis on the electronic side of their hybrid sound this time round. Everyone is dancing onstage as they perform. The new single follows ‘Algorithm’, with Cairon raising cheers from the audience. Adding him to the band takes their sound to another level. I’ve seen Makings dozens of times in the last four years and this is their best performance yet. The combination of Cairon’s Deep South delivery and Rick Burn’s falsetto gives the music a whole new dimension. This band continue to impress.

It appears we missed a colour fight while watching Makings. There's a large contingent outside covered in pink, orange and yellow powder. Back under cover, there's a change of pace and tone on the main stage when Varo come on. A trio of two fiddles and a bouzouki /mandolin, the French/Italian group play a stripped down acoustic set of traditional tunes. After the thumping bass of Makings that carried across the field, many outside assume that the music has stopped. The Dublin based instrumentalists put me in mind of Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny from Planxty.

I haven't seen Exiles before but I have heard an EP from a couple of years back and even though the songs didn't grab me at the time, their ‘80s sound and livery linger in my memory banks. Tapping the same vein as The Night Flight Orchestra, they play soulful, retro rock influenced by the likes of Hall and Oates, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. I am dubious about them replicating that sound when I first see them but when they don their shades and Miami Vice shirts, my fears are allayed. Synth player, Darragh O’Connor, doubling up with a Starsky And Hutch themed guitar helps in that department too. As soon as they start playing, it sounds like incidental music from the Michael Mann show. They have the details down pat. The vocal harmonies are spot-on ‘80s pastiche. Even the dreaded gated snare sounds fitting in the context of Exiles’ tunes. It's not what I would usually listen to but, because it's what I grew up with, it sounds great on a Sunday evening as the punishing sunshine starts to abate. They create a fantastic vibe. There's an impromptu dance-off in front of the stage and the lead singer, Jack O’Flaherty, joins in. Exiles have tapped in to something unexpectedly great.

As the sun finally sets on Vantastival, it's Thumper’s turn on the Woodland stage. I've seen these a number of times in Dublin but this is the first time I'll be sober for it. There's a comical opening as they are running late and we watch them soundcheck for 15 minutes. Then they all leave the stage and come back on, accompanied by a musical and lighting intro, shouting “Hello Vantastival!” It's a ludicrous beginning, so it's lucky that they are one of Dublin's most dynamic live acts. The two drummers and three guitars all contribute to the bombast. They are as melodic and catchy as they are raucous and noisy. It's a rocktastic end to the festival and a fitting send off to Vantastival 2018. The weather has helped but this is still a wonderfully friendly and eclectic gathering. The standard of the music is consistently high. Vantastival sets the high water mark for music at Irish festivals, and puts a lot of the more heavily promoted competition to shame. See you next year.


Vantastival 2018 - Saturday Review

  • Published in Live


We’ve arrived by the banks of the Boyne in perfect tent pitching weather. The skies are cloudy. There’s a pleasant breeze. But it’s still very warm. Now in its ninth year, Vantastival is the unofficial start of summer festival season in Ireland. The June bank holiday wouldn’t be the same without it. Featuring a fully home-grown line-up and independently run (with sponsorship from some big brands), it’s established itself as the true home of quality independent music in the country.

With the tent up, food is the first priority and it’s great to find Lala Poutine set up here. The Canadian dish is hard to find in Ireland, so it is a genuine treat to dig in to the many variations of chips and curds. King Kong Club contest winners Where’s Luke kick things off on the Firestone stage with some accessible but earnest rock. Amid the rough hewn planks of the Woodland stage, Kilkenny’s The Southern Fold blend bluegrass and southern rock to great effect. The lead singer’s ZZ Top beard matches his gruff bluesy voice. They have a sweet, soothing sound accentuated by the male/female duo on vocals. It’s only when the pair duet on a cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ that I realise I’ve seen them before.

The sun eventually emerges and soaks the Boyne Valley in baking heat so we skedaddle to the shade of the Woodland again. The festival’s recycling drive is being ably assisted by a troupe of children in hi-vis vests walking around with plastic bags and encouraging the grown-ups to finish their beer so they can take the empty cans. MG favourites Nix Moon played a storming set here last night, if the videos on Facebook are anything to go by. They’ll have won a few more fans in the run up to the release of their debut album. The band are still here and looking remarkably fresh as Sun Mashene hit the stage. The five piece play some loud rock with noticeable influences of ‘90s Manchester guitar pop and undertones of shoegaze.

Back in the Firestone tent, Navan’s Chinese Newspaper are immediately the most impressive act of the day so far. A four piece guitar band who have mastered all the tropes of rock 'n' roll, their songs are packed with ideas and creative play. They are by turns light and tuneful, then crushingly heavy. In his shorts and funky shades, the lead singer is the spit of a young Olga from The Toy Dolls. It’s quite fitting too, as both bands have a similar magpie approach to music, even if they don’t sound alike. The drummer may resemble a hipster Trump but he has the chops to get away with it. He switches from funky to double-bass-pedal insanity with the twirl of a stick. Chinese Newspaper’s energetic and original music draws in an enthusiastic and eclectic festival crowd. They sound like the finished product already. If they can transfer that industry and inventiveness to the studio, they’ll do well.

Elephant take to the main stage. There’s a Future Islands vibe from the music. Front man Shane Clarke sings in a falsetto to a guitar he wears “Beatles high”. He and the guitar are engaged in a duet, and the band fill out the sound to main stage proportions. This band, that he refers to as “the next stage in the evolution of the group: Elephant 2.0”, are unobtrusive but essential to the big sound. It’s simultaneously familiar and different: very much in the vein of Future Islands so.

And that’s the end of a very hot summer’s day outside Drogheda. Tomorrow, we have Exiles, Thumper and our old friends, Makings to look forward to. Goodnight!

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