Record label heavyweights secured for Music Cork

The rude health of Irish music is to be celebrated at a new rock ’n roll festival. But Music Cork promises to be more than merely an excuse to let one’s hair down and rock out, writes Ed Power.

Record label heavyweights secured for Music Cork

In addition to putting a spotlight on up-and-coming artists, the May 10 to 12 happening will be the country’s first dedicated industry event, with record label heavyweights jetting in from around the world to share their experiences and take the temperature of the local scene.

The ultimate aim, says organiser Shane Dunne, is to build up a showcase that can hold its own alongside international think-ins such as Eurosonic in the Netherlands and South by South West in Texas.

“Irish music is hot right now internationally,” says Dunne, who also runs the Indiependence Festival at Michelstown. “The a ’n r guys in the United States and the UK are looking at us more so than in the past. That’s on the back of Hozier, Walking On Cars, Gavin James. A lot of Irish acts have been signed over the past number of years.”

In its inaugural year, the festival has attracted many marquee names, including Island records president Darcus Beese (see interview opposite), Warner / Chappel managing director Mike Smith and Republic/ Casablanca vice-president Rob Stevenson.

“These are the guys at the sharp end of the industry,” says Dunne. “They wanted to come to Ireland and were particularly keen on coming to Cork, as a lot of them had been to Dublin previously. With Cork, there was an opportunity to visit somewhere they hadn’t been before.”

Ireland has one of the highest rates of music gig attendance in the world and the industry here is estimated to employ 30,000. Yet as a sector music has always been haphazardly organised. Music Cork will, Dunne hopes, set this to rights.

“If there is an issue in the pub trade, the vintners groups will be up in arms. In the music industry, promoters are competing against one another, as are labels. From talking to other people in the business, we could see there was a need to get everyone together. It’s not going to be kumbaya, and everyone holding hands. However, there is an imperative for sector to join forces”

Alongside panel discussions featuring the aforementioned industry figures, there will be music showcases and a pub trail. The goal is to foster a convivial atmosphere which will facilitate discourse, deal-making – and hopefully the discovery of new Irish artists.

“There will be several showcases, including one of Cork acts. We are also trying to put on people that have been around for a while.

"Groups such as Little Hours and Fang Club are signed in Ireland. But they don’t always have an international deal – so if someone such as Rob Stevenson wants to bring them to America, they’re ready to go. You don’t want to put on brand new talent for whom this might all happen a year or two before they are ready. It would be a wasted opportunity.”

Closer to home, one thing Cork needs is a mid-tier venue along the same scale of Dublin’s 800 capacity Academy, he says. At the moment acts can be booked either into 300 capacity rooms such as Cypress Avenue or the 1,000 seated Opera House. There is no middle ground for up and coming acts.

One misconception Music Cork will furthermore hope to address is that the business here is somehow peripheral to the arts in Ireland and undeserving of state support.

“I remember being at a Failte Ireland event at which the speaker asked what was the biggest music festival in Ireland. He answered his own question by saying it was the Wexford Opera Festival. Oxegen was still happening at the time – I said, ‘well what about that. It’s doing 80,000 per day – surely it has to be bigger?’

“His response was that they weren’t really talking about that kind of thing. It wasn’t a “festival” in their view.”

The organisers are trying not to over think Music Cork too much. They want to leave space for attendees to take advantage of the opportunities on their own terms.

“I was talking to someone recently who said they have bought a ticket because they wanted to do the pub crawl. Their logic was that, to be seated opposite someone such as Darcus Beese and have a two or three minute conversation would be invaluable. Those are the connections we hope to facilitate.”

  • Music Cork runs at multiple venues in the city May 10 - 12. Details of the speakers and showcase gigs are available at musiccork.com

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