(Photo: Francisco Costa / I Hate Flash)
Last weekend saw the once city-based Beatyard festival move out to the seaside. The switch from various Dublin venues to a new, outdoor home at Dun Laoghaire Harbour was a bold decision given the delightfully temperamental Irish summer but, thankfully, the weekend was every bit as glorious as we could have hoped for.
“Things got a little out of hand there.”
Bilal is seemingly the master of understatement, because throwing your mic stand off the Sugar Club’s tiny stage before jumping down to join it on the ground, rolling around and screaming for the best part of two minutes? That is more than a “little out of hand” – in the best possible way.
Indeed, for all the soulful crooning and R&B-style sensibilities, it quickly becomes apparent from his vivacity and presence that the Philadelphia-born polymath is perhaps best described as a rock star. His band take to the stage first (after a superb support slot from the always impressive Loah), and dive right in to a hefty jam that immediately renders the room captivated. The band boasts absolutely spectacular percussion and strange, squelchy keys that underpin some surprisingly heavy guitars, and gorgeously pure backing vocals.
But it is Bilal himself who brings that je ne sais quoi to the show. It’s something in the way he wears sunglasses when he takes to the stage in a way that should be pretentious but, on him, it sincerely seems cool and self-assured. There’s something in his sheer sensual eccentricity too, as he manically writhes and moans into the microphone. His performance is as weird as it is sultry, and it’s all the more appealing for it.
An unnecessarily lengthy non-Longitude anecdote to begin: it was at an Isle of Wight Festival a few years back when Devendra Banhart was playing in a tent and, knowing I was a fan, my mum and aunt decided to go watch him (assuming I would be there). They accidentally set up deck chairs in the VIP area and noticed people around them were taking photos of their co-VIP friends, so they decided to do the same, clueless about who they were. When they showed me the photos, it transpired they’d been sitting with two members of The Strokes. While my family members were essentially living my dream, I was sitting in a campsite trying to coerce my fellow teenage friends to leave so we could actually see some music. They eventually agreed, and I was afforded the opportunity to watch N-Dubz (no, really).
I eventually realised that I was better off abandoning my peers if I actually wanted to see the acts I was interested in, but the point is that, for a lot of young people, festivals aren’t so much about music. Which is fine at a camping festival – strange lands of tents, hidden raves, glitter, ponchos, pints, endless dancing and a mixture of chippers and pan-Asian food stands. The artists performing are part and parcel of the experience, of course, but a camping festival goes beyond just being a gig – sound at outdoor stages is often pretty terrible anyway, so instead it’s the atmosphere at the gigs which makes it special. But at festivals like Longitude – three non-camping days that ended around 10.45pm – there’s not quite the same otherworldly vibe, and the number of people not there to actually see acts perform was somewhat surprising. This, in turn, impacted said festival “atmosphere” for some of the acts, particularly on the Friday.
It might seem irreverent to posit Manu Chao’s satiny yellow shirt as a definitive characteristic of his Dublin performance; and yet it just about works. It captures the euphoric, brash and delightfully incongruous mood that pervaded miserably rainy Kilmainham.
The Paris-born polymath of genres brought a welcome slice of sunshiney vibes with his La Ventura show, and the gig ended up a veritable dance party under the gloomy grey sky. With a semi-mosh pit of people skanking with reckless abandon and Pride flags waving in the front row, this was the wonderful kind of gig where seemingly everyone had a smile on their face.
Live instrumental music – particularly that of the acoustic variety – is always kind of fascinating. People can’t exactly sing along, and so the audience is left to immerse themselves in the sounds. You engage with the music in a way that is perhaps less immediately comprehensible. This is especially interesting when the venue is the Twisted Pepper, and the instrumental musicians in question are the captivating duo of saxophonist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld.
There is a palpable air of excitement in the Sugar Club. The seats are filling up, the drinks are flowing, and fairylights are glimmering around a stage laden with the instruments of much-lauded Wicklow trio, Wyvern Lingo.
Opening with the charming support of Loah (one of our Plec Picks of 2015), it is hard not to be blown away by the incredibly talented, always-smiling singer. Loah has a powerfully lilting, versatile voice, which is particularly remarkable when she sings in Sierra Leonean language Sherbro for the gorgeous ‘Cortège’.
“I’m just trying to impress my dad,” she grins, pointing him out in the audience. These are sweetly intricate, rhythmic art soul songs. “Imagine having to follow that,” remarks someone sitting near us, and they have a point – playing after such a beautiful set certainly seems to be a daunting task.
As soon as Wyvern Lingo take to the stage, however, it is apparent that there is nothing to worry about. There is a seamless confidence in the way they burst into their first song of the night – the title track from their EP, The Widow Knows. It is immediately clear how much the group have progressed since the release of that EP last year. Everything is fuller and more polished somehow, and it’s a delight to hear.