Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: an introduction to editor Mary‘s coverage

By on Thursday, 13th October 2016 at 1:00 pm

For the first part of this month, I spent 8 glorious days on the Emerald Isle, first familiarising myself with some of the prettiest parts of the west side of this country. But as this is a music Web site, of course the remainder of my time was spent at my first Hard Working Class Heroes, held over the course of 3 days and six venues across the city centre of Dublin. You might not think the first half of my trip would have had as big of an effect on my time at the festival, but it did. I enjoyed “small-town” Irish people and their ‘craic’: as soon as I explained that I was attending a music festival in Dublin, they were quick to tell them which of their family members made music themselves and which bands they could personally recommend for me to catch at Hard Working Class Heroes…

…because, as you see, more so than people from any other country, music runs in the Irish blood. Everyone’s got a granny, granddad, mum or dad who played fiddle or guitar or some other instrument and would lead family singalongs after dinner. Just like camping festivals like Glastonbury are a rite of passage to the English, this is an idea as alien and foreign to most Americans. So it is no wonder that such a small country and one that was for so many years oppressed by outside forces were driven to make music. They are a people who hold what music means to them close to their hearts. We here at TGTF already knew this from the Irish and Northern Irish showcases put on at SXSW every year, but Hard Working Class Heroes is an Irish artist-specific event to show off the musical bounty from their proud little island.

Achill Island sheep
insert bad Irish sheep joke here

Following the conclusion of the event, feted Irish music journalist and Irish Times writer Jim Carroll wrote this piece Tuesday entitled “Keeping the home fires burning” as an overview of his impressions of this year’s event. Emceeing the various industry panels during the 3 days of Hard Working Class Heroes, he noted that “most of the seats were occupied by musicians rather than the people who seek to represent them.” This is important to point out for two reasons. One, musicians in Ireland are proactively trying to advance their careers and this ever vital, in as Carroll points out in his article that as although Ireland is a small country, it has one of the biggest music economies in the world. Two, there are less discovery-minded people – management willing to sign new acts, music journalists, music bloggers, etc. – attending this event, which means less acts are going to get their chance in the sun. I wonder if the same can be said about the convention portion of HWCH’s English counterpart, The Great Escape. This phenomenon worries me, and I agree with what Carroll says himself in the piece, “the acts who don’t have that [industry and management interest in them] in are effectively shut out of the process. This is something which needs to be changed, but it’s hard to see if the will or means to do so can actually be produced.”

I’m not talking about ensuring everyone gets one of those mega million label contracts of yore, all of which have pretty much disappeared from the industry landscape. I’m talking about even something as small as a mention in a newspaper, magazine or blog in another country that might open the door to further opportunities. During a panel at Hard Working Class Heroes Friday on breaking Irish bands into American media, three American journalists (curiously all women and from New York City: they couldn’t get one man or one person from outside New York?) said that it was virtually impossible for them to pitch a feature to their editor on an emerging band unless there was hype already behind them, because emerging band features don’t do well with Web site hits. As the owner of a music Web site, I understand too well that analytics are king. But what are newer, up-and-coming bands to do if the media leave them behind and are unwilling to feature them?

In America, you haven’t got a chance in hell of getting your band played on mainstream radio unless you have a major label contract or there have already been industry rumblings of your future potential. It has been a difficult, delicate balance for me as editor of TGTF to figure out how best to focus our attention on established artists versus up-and-comers and hyped bands. Hearing what I did and feeling that disappointment, there is no question in my mind that us covering bands as they come up, as they tickle our ears and pique our interest regardless of how big a team they have backing them (if at all), covering the less pedigreed and less hyped ones is a big part of what we’re meant to do and what we’ll keep doing.

Why is this important and especially in the context of Hard Working Class Heroes? This is clearly not a music festival like SXSW where it’s solely about the big acts, about chasing Kendrick Lamar’s secret show or pencilling in a SPIN party starring Santigold and Bloc Party. And that’s a very good thing! This is the kind of event where Irish musicians and bands who haven’t broken yet get their first shot (or at least one of the earliest opportunities) in the limelight, the hyperbole of hype is kept to a minimum and true music discovery is the key phrase here. For most of these acts, you won’t know a lot about them, so any bias you would have had at another festival isn’t at play. There is, pretty much, an even level playing field for all too, so things are optimistic for each and every artist. We all know what happens at Glasto and Reading/Leeds when the Main Stage gets the lion’s share of punters’ attention, don’t we? This is a unique event to showcase the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears, the sacrifices that musicians in Ireland make and give them the platform to show us why they think they should make it.

River Liffey Friday HWCH
Surprisingly, during the entirety of this year’s HWCH, it never rained. Is that some kind of record?

Having been instrumental in their early support of Hozier, it’s not too hard to believe Hard Working Class Heroes will break other Irish bands before anyone else. I have my own list of acts that I think have much promise beyond Ireland, and you’ll read more about them in the coming days. Some of you may remember that the first Irish band I put my money on and tipped was Two Door Cinema Club back in 2009, and you all know what happened to them, so it’ll be interesting in the next 6 to 12 months to see how good my predictions are.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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