They could be heroes
Hard Working Class Heroes – Dublin’s premier bands’ festival – remains popular with local fans, but the organisers will have to take a long hard look at themselves if they’re to reach an international industry audience, writes Jim Carroll
WHEN the Hard Working Class Heroes festival began four years ago, it was driven, as these things usually are, by an intoxicating kind of energy. Those behind the trip simply wanted to put on a lot of new bands over a couple of nights and have a bit of fun. This they did very successfully and sent everyone home sweating, making Hard Working Class Heroes one of the best discoveries of 2003.
The fifth HWCH, taking place next weekend in Dublin, now receives funding from Budweiser, the Arts Council and Culture Ireland. More than 100 bands are scheduled to play, and the festival is on a much more professional footing than that first spirited outing. Nothing wrong with any of this, because festivals and projects have to change, progress and form new alliances if they are to survive and thrive.
What’s also changed is the festival’s context. According to the mission statement on the HWCH website, this bash is now about “showcasing the best of Irish music to an international industry audience and discerning local audiences”.
In 2003, there was little mention of an industry dimension, so it seems that the festival now has a different agenda.
These days, the organisers like to position their festival alongside such global new-band bashes as South By Southwest and Eurosonic. Indeed, the term “the Irish SXSW” has been aired a few times in interviews and features.
However, anyone who has actually made the trip to Austin, Texas will know this comparison to be fanciful at best and nonsense at worst. At this stage, I’ve lost count of the number of mini-me SXSW fests around the world.
Even when SXSW was starting out in 1987 with 142 acts, its organisers were already thinking far beyond a local remit. They knew the event they had in mind couldn’t survive on local bands alone. HWCH’s focus – apart from the addition of a couple of bands from Scandinavia (and Canada in a previous year) – remains on the much smaller and lower-yielding Irish market.
Yes, I hear you – we produce big hitters here. We can all point to the same success stories that are always pointed to on occasions like this, but it’s questionable if many in the “international industry audience” really need to hang around for an annual three-day primer in new Irish bands to make their minds up about the health of our talent bank.
Given how the music industry has always operated when it comes to R&D, with teams of local talent scouts and tipsters keeping tabs on local scenes, any band with a modicum of talent or potential will already have been sized-up and rated long before they think about applying for a HWCH slot.
There’s also the question over just what sector of the industry a festival such as HWCH should be targeting. With the record industry changing on a weekly basis, any new bands and their handlers looking for major-label interest from a showcase appearance at HWCH are obviously either a little brave or extremely stupid. Just ask the last batch of Irish acts who jumped through the major-label hoops for their opinion – the ones not already in a home for the bewildered.
Live promoters and agents? Most of them favour the annual Eurosonic festival in the Netherlands. The bands who get to play there are put through some tough, experienced filters before they ever get a soundcheck.
While there’s certainly a consumer demand for a new-band event such as HWCH, it needs extra dimensions to pull in the target industry audience.
The mentoring sessions, for instance, seem to be little more than bolt-ons at present, but adding such elements as debates, panel discussions, keynote speeches, networking and trade opportunities to the event could pay dividends.
It’s all of these, plus the new music showcases, which would really make an event more appealing to an international industry audience. It will take time, effort and patience, but these steps must be taken if Hard Working Class Heroes intends to be around – and relevant – in five years. www.hwch.net Hard Working Class Heroes takes place from Friday, September 28th to Sunday 30th in The Pod Complex, Harcourt Street, Dublin 2
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