Indiependence Festival 2015 – Review
Taking place in the picturesque surroundings of Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, Indiependence festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. First set up in 2006, the festival has experienced a slow steady build in both popularity and reputation in the intervening years and has managed to pull off the rare feat of showcasing a vast display of the very best of Irish talent whilst simultaneously bringing in the big crowd pleasing acts. Over the years, international stars such as White Lies, Feeder, Editors, and Tom Odell have taken top billing, while many Irish success stories such as The Coronas, Hozier, Walking on Cars, Hudson Taylor and Kodaline have all cut their teeth on the Deer Farm festival’s stages. This year’s line-up was as strong as any over the course of the festivals relatively short lifespan, with Irish acts again featuring heavily on the billing.
As eager fans began to converge on the site on Friday afternoon, there was an air of excitement mixed with slight trepidation. With the forecast predicting some heavy rain at several points over the weekend, the luggage of many revellers was topped up with an array of ponchos, rain jackets and wellies. As clouds ominously gathered overhead, local rockers Mindriot kicked off the festivities on the Molson Canadian Main Stage with a powerful heavy rock set that drew in those passing by outside the tent. In what proves to be a masterstroke by the promoters, all of this weekend’s music takes place under roofs which help maintain the festive atmosphere, especially important given the prediction of forthcoming downpours. The setup also meant that the sound was a marked improvement on several other festivals with the strong winds whirling outside causing minimal disruption to sound quality. Friday was the barest of the weekend’s three days in regards to the music on offer, with both the Village Stages closed until Saturday.
Jack Savoretti is an early treat with an excellent set on the Big Top stage, bringing to mind Paolo Nutini at his most heartfelt. Having previously headlined the festival with his band, Feeder frontman Grant Nicholas turned in a solid performance showcasing the best of his debut solo effort, Yorktown Heights. Undeterred by a disappointing attendance on the main stage, tracks such as ‘Tall Trees’ and ‘Soulmates’ sounded every bit as pretty live as on record. While perhaps unfortunate to be given a slot at a time when everyone is most likely still struggling with tent poles, Nicholas to his credit didn’t let it affect his performance. Richie Egan’s Jape are old hands at this festival lark at this point in their career, and their comfort on the big stage helped impress the gathering crowd with a re-worked rendition of their Irish indie anthem ‘Floating’ going down a storm.
By the time headliners Basement Jaxx are due to take their place on stage, the tent is rammed to near-capacity. Refreshingly, rather than utilising a laptop and some big speakers, a full band with numerous live singers take to the stage and the crowd goes wild, a mood which never lets up for the duration of the set. Given that it’s the opening night, fatigue is no problem for those in attendance which means that everyone is dancing in the packed tent. Unsurprisingly, it’s the old hits that are welcomed with the best reception as ‘Romeo’, ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ get the entire crowd bouncing as one. Basement Jaxx’s set goes on to be one of the most talked about in the campsite all weekend.
Under glorious morning sunshine, many a hangover was shaken off for Saturday’s strong line-up. With Indiependence’s aforementioned reputation for booking the very best in Irish talent, it was no surprise to witness the strength of the sets from the festival’s Irish contingent. Kilkenny’s Neon Wolf are forging a well-deserved reputation as a formidable live act having just played the main stage at Dublin’s Longitude festival. Their placing on the quieter Beer Hall Stage (a giant barn with, naturally, a variety of alcohol on sale) may seem slightly strange, but once they get underway, their infectious sound sees the crowd flock inside. With new single ‘A Place to Call Home’ already a genuine contender for Irish song of the year, Neon Wolf put in another excellent performance to further enhance an already burgeoning reputation as one of Irish music’s must-see live bands. Next up, Dublin’s State Lights show why Irish music is booming in the current climate. A young band armed with some excellent U2-style riffs and a singer possessing both a stunning voice and a magnetic stage presence, they may not be widely known to festival crowds just yet, but they already sound ready for much bigger stages. Cavan’s The Whereabouts also turn in a strong performance, with their retro bluesy R’n’B stylings winning over many new fans. Over on the Big Top stage, Little Hours seal their reputation as Ireland’s most promising new act with a stripped down set full of gorgeous atmospheric songs. Frontman John Doherty’s voice is the band’s biggest strength, he belts out breakthrough debut single ‘It’s Still Love’ with a passion that can’t be faked. Ryan McCloskey’s pitch-perfect harmonies mean their two-piece setup doesn’t lack any sonic punch. EP highlight ‘Tired’ and new song ‘Tracks’ show a band who are undoubtedly braced for very big things in the future.
Back on the main stage, UK anthemic rockers Embrace pull a sparse but passionate crowd as they begin their set with the New Order style ‘Protection’. While the band has a back catalogue of songs that could slay any festival audience including ‘Ashes’, ‘Gravity’ and ‘Nature’s Law’, they are an unknown entity to much of the festival’s demographic, which results in a disappointing turnout, a fact not helped by the eight year gap between their last two releases. A real shame given that last year’s self-titled album was an underrated, unheralded masterpiece. With Ash due to headline, the crowd is still relatively small in the main stage tent. While both Embrace and Ash have an array of excellent songs and continue to make great music, both acts reached the peak of their popularity in the late 90s to mid 2000s, so it may not come as a total surprise that they fail to pack out the large tent. With minutes remaining until Ash take to the stage, a voice comes over the speaker to inform us that frontman Tim Wheeler is suffering from flu and the band will play a shortened set due to the effect on their singer’s voice. Whilst very disappointing, nothing can be done as the band wisely open with a new instrumental track, ‘Evil Knievel’, before playing a host of old material including ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ and ‘Jack Names The Planets’. Wheeler explains that the older material is easier to sing, but few in the crowd are familiar with the songs until the closing ‘Girl From Mars’ gives a glimpse of what might have been on a disappointing Saturday night, a feeling confounded by the skies opening up with heavy rainfall outside. However, Irish indie stars HamsandwicH however step in as replacement headliners to somewhat restore the spirits of the main stage crowd.
As the heavy rainfall and strong winds never let up overnight, both the campsite and main arena become a very different experience on Sunday with wellies proving to be pretty much essential. The stormy conditions prove damaging to the attendance figures inside as many seek refuge in their tents rather than braving the elements to reach the main arenas. Mullingar indie stars The Academic help show the main stage audience what festivals are all about with a stunning set from start to finish. Debut single ‘Different’ is already an Irish festival anthem and it won’t be long before the call and response catchiness of ‘Bear Claws’ takes its place alongside. Over on the Beer Hall stage, Daithi’s folk-infused electronic dance is going down well with an impressive turnout until an ill-timed power cut takes the momentum from his set. Back on the main stage, The Dandy Warhols turn in a superb performance. Any initial fears that their ‘under the radar’ status may not be suited to a festival in rural Ireland are allayed due to the sheer quality of the musicianship on stage. Opening with the trippy stoner-rock of ‘Mohammad’, the band instantly win over the audience (many of which are most likely gathered to get a good vantage point for headliners Kodaline). When the familiar hits ‘Get Off’, and ‘We Used To Be Friends’ arrive, the crowd go wild, before the muted drum intro of the Rolling Stones-style ‘Bohemian Like You’ sends the crowd delirious, and has the whole tent jumping up and down belting out the words. Given the song is over fifteen years old, the reception is a pleasant surprise. Ending their set with ‘Boys Better’, the Dandy Warhols are definitely the most unexpected triumph of the weekend. The stage is then ready for Kodaline, one of Irish music’s biggest success stories of recent years. Having first played Indiependence back in 2012, they now return as all-conquering heroes. Opening with ‘Ready’ the band’s setlist is perfectly balanced from beginning to end, with ‘Love Like This’, ‘Brand New Day’ and ‘High Hopes’ proving to be a perfect fit for a summer festival headline slot. It’s not just the singles that impress however, the lesser heard album moments are what really stand out tonight. The catchy mandolin-driven ‘Coming Alive’ sounds colossal with a spectacular light show to match, while ‘Play the Game’ sounds like the perfect melding of U2 and OneRepublic, with guitarist Mark Prendergast proving he is the band’s secret weapon. On this evidence, they should let him off the leash more often, showcasing a blistering fuzzy opening riff which carries the song and displays a completely new side to a band many associate with mid-tempo radio-friendly pop. The closing ballads ‘Love Will Set You Free’ and the ubiquitous ‘All I Want’ are quite simply world class examples of pop songwriting with heart and there’s not a soul inside the packed tent not belting out its closing singalong.
It’s fitting that the standout performance of the weekend comes from an Irish act who first appeared on the festival’s smaller stages when they were finding their feet as a band. At Indiependence, Kodaline’s set consolidated their position as home grown superstars. The only downside is that on their festival showing, they might just outgrow festivals of this size much sooner rather than later. As everyone trudges through the fields and carparks on their journey home after a terrific weekend, it’s clear that Indiependence is now one of (if not the) best small festivals in the country, providing a welcome change from the mass crowds of Electric Picnic and Longitude with this year’s festival attracting 8000 punter (up 3000 from last year). There is a relaxed atmosphere around the site all weekend. One can hope that Indiependence continues to grow whilst retaining what makes it such a special weekend: a wonderfully diverse line-up, the very best up and coming and established Irish acts, excellent value for money ticket pricing, and a friendly feel-good vibe which never wavers over the whole three days despite some challenging conditions. A triumphant weekend, and one which leaves all those in attendance already looking ahead to 2016.
Review by Gary O’Donnell