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Output Belfast 2020: Music Showcase Roundup (Part 2)

 
By on Friday, 21st February 2020 at 11:00 am
 

Missed part 1 of my Output Belfast showcase roundup? Head back here.

Back to life with something with a bit more meat and teeth, and only so many steps back upstairs. Like Trick Mist earlier, Silverbacks had to travel some distance to showcase at Output Belfast (and from Dublin), and I was very glad that they did. I did not get a chance to find out what exactly is their preoccupation with primates, but that isn’t important here.

Silverbacks Output Belfast 2020

What is: their delightfully cacophonous 2018 single ‘Just in the Band’ (live here on Instagram) and singer Daniel’s David Byrne-esque vocal delivery. 2019 single ‘Sirens’ seems like a psych band doing The Futureheads, while its official video looks like it got pilfered from Teleman. Even weirder, they told me that they are getting some songs mastered by a studio in Washington, DC, where I’m from, which means I suppose I might run into them randomly one day when I’m going about my usual business. Totally bonkers. By a mile, they were my favourite find at Output. Someone sign them already!

I wanted to check out the outdoor venue at The National, and even mates trying to dissuade me from seeing the next band on my list were not enough to deter me. You’ll be bored with Cloakroom Q, they said. They did a cover of Joy Division’s ‘She Lost Control’ a few years ago, so I was intrigued. I dunno. There is a strange hypnotic quality to ‘People With Energy’, and their assertion that their music is founded on “…abrasive instrumentation” and “jagged rhythms” isn’t wrong. I’m not sure there’s a full album in them, yet, but I wasn’t bored at all. To be honest, I wished I had arrived to the Chordblossom and Stendhal Festival showcase earlier.

Aside: I decided over a year ago that I was not going to continue TGTF the way that we had been going for the last 9 years under my guidance. I was going to do something different. Namely, I was going to eschew the very events that had become all too ‘comfortable’ to me and instead attend the events that I had never been to before, to give me the chance to interact with the kinds of crowds and people I would not have had the opportunity otherwise.

Having one of only two American accents in all of this festival made my identification to others much easier I suppose, ha. While at The National beer garden, I stopped to talk with several punters and hopeful musicians, all who appeared to be buoyed by the fact that someone like me had the wherewithal to travel overseas to an event like Output Belfast and that I had chosen their city to visit. Some were surprised that I had traveled to Belfast alone. This is a common statement I have received as a single woman over the years in my travels, for music or not. It always strikes me as odd because surely a man my age or younger never fields the same comment? I can laugh it off now with a smile and a swift “oh honey, if I waited for the right partner to find me and travel with, I would be sitting on my hands in Washington an awful lot.” I have to admit the first time I traveled to the UK, I was alone and experiencing a mixture of excitement and terror. That’s normal. But life is short, friends. Do the things you want before you are unable to. Because that time will come up faster than you think.

Back to the Duke of York to listen to a band that perhaps less devoted music fans might associate more with Ireland as a whole. No Oil Paintings starred a banjo and indeed, he was the only banjo I saw during my entire time in the Northern Irish capital. Was it the late hour of their set, some time after 11 at night, that explained the big crowd that gathered for them? Was the loud, drunken crowd watching them cheering for their harmonies and those banjo plucks or for the drinks in front of them? I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure. As those of you who have read TGTF’s reviews of SXSW know, Irish artists have been invited to perform at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion event. I never really understood why there was this affinity between what I consider schlocky American country music with what feels to me like more sophisticated, more heartfelt folk coming out of Ireland. Weirdly to me, along with The Lost Brothers who are so beloved to me, No Oil Paintings seem like they could have been a bunch of guitar-toting bandaleros from the Bible belt instead of from Belfast.

I returned to Black Box to see Strange New Places. Led by their charismatic female singer, the themes in the band’s songs – insecurity, depression and heartbreak – are easily relatable to all. Conveying these themes through anthemic power pop or otherwise boisterous musical means, the infectiousness of their music got tail feathers and hands in the air.

Strange New Places Output Belfast 2020

Correction: This article was amended on 24 February 2020 to correct a gender issue.

 

Output Belfast 2020: Music Showcase Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Thursday, 20th February 2020 at 11:00 am
 

Some may say they love the outdoor charm of a camping festival. But for me, the best reason to attend a city music festival is getting to know the town you’re in and its music-going citizens through their venues. Output Belfast is special in that the evening showcases are completely free to attend. That means if you are a music lover, all you need to do is happen to be in Belfast on the Thursday night, and the entire buffet of bands and artists is available to you and without separating you from your money for a pricey wristband. Pending venue capacity, of course. I regret that I did not make it out to Voodoo on this trip but that’s okay, because now I have an excuse to come back and see a proper show there.

I caught sets by nine artists in five of the twelve venue spaces. Based on my conversations with some artists earlier in the day, I was beginning to feel like there would not be much choice beyond hip-hop collectives and all-female bands. I found myself in the upstairs of the Ulster Sports Club, and its setup felt oddly familiar. Swathed in red light and sporting (no pun intended) a tinsel-themed back curtain, I felt like I was on the set of many a sleazy club music video. I was beyond delighted to begin my evening with an electronic artist and better yet, one with an intriguing voice.

Trick Mist Output Belfast 2020

Trick Mist is the stage name Gavin Murray, a one-man band who began the evening at Nialler9 and Pizza Pizza Records showcase. Originally from Dundalk, the electronic musician and producer now calls Cork home. On ‘Crumbs Abound’, the repeating, spare guitar notes acting as a simple frame on which the rest of the atmospheric track, including his emotional lyrics about love, can hang on. Imagine Matt Berninger of The National backed by moody folktronica, and you’ll be close to what Trick Mist sounds like live; you can also check out a live clip I recorded from the set for Instagram here. Be sure to check out his 2018 album ‘Both Ends’, available now from Pizza Pizza. For sure, Murray was one of my favourite finds at Output Belfast.

Laytha Output Belfast 2020

Following the spellbinding performance upstairs, I went downstairs to a completely different atmosphere in the lounge bar of the Ulster Sports Club for a few tunes by Laytha. Previously known as Taobh Eile, I’m going to guess they decided to go with a phonetically easier artist name to pronounce. The female representation (either full female bands or at least bands with at least one female member) at Output was quite inspiring. These two young ladies recently signed to the late Lyndon Stephens’ local to Belfast record label Quiet Arch did the Champion Sound and Word Up Collective showcase proud. I can appreciate that the singer/songwriter genre is impossibly crowded in Ireland. Niamh And Philana’s harmonies recall the likes of First Aid Kit and The Staves.

It was a relatively quick pop north and back up the street and under the “there are seven kinds of rain in Belfast” neon lighting to the well-lit Duke of York. Normal lighting made shooting Beauty Sleep downstairs at the Midnight Mango and Music Venues Alliance showcase an utter breeze. Cheylene Murphy and Ryan McGroarty used to be in another, more in-your-face band that Carrie and I saw some years ago at SXSW. That feels like several lifetimes ago, so I will not dredge up those drunken memories we would like to forget, but I am very glad that Cheylene and Ryan are still in Belfast, still friends and still making music. Their energetic performance in the crowded side room at the Duke of York was met with resounding cheers.

Beauty Sleep Output Belfast 2020

I mentioned to Cheylene afterwards that I could still hear whispers of their old band in their current music, though Beauty Sleep is definitely more chill dream pop, exemplified by their 2019 single and ‘Be Kind’ LP track ‘Rainbow Ballroom’. A veiled but loving dedication to Lyndon Stephens as part of an introduction to a song did not go unnoticed by me and others present, and it reminded me of why smaller music cities kick the arse out of the soulless conurbation that is London. Belfast has its own identity, spirit and energy.

Next up was a few songs from Gender Chores from Bangor, previously only known to me as the place that birthed Two Door Cinema Club. They appeared at the PRS for Music and Women’s Work showcase at the Black Box. They are unapologetic at their feminist punk ethos: their Facebook tagline includes the phrase “tackling life’s grievances and offending ur local white boy one angry punk song at a time”. As you might imagine, their live performance was satisfyingly visceral: “no, we won’t conform to the construct / to the misinformed, you can get f*cked”. I lean towards the more melodic punks, of which Gender Chores nicely fall with it. While as an American I cannot say I completely understand what Norn Iron is going through under the Boris, calling out capitalism and the DUP in Belfast in the same song is freedom of speech I can get behind.

Gender Chores Output Belfast 2020

I returned to Ulster Sports Club downstairs for the highly anticipated, very new (read: one single to their name) duo Dark Tropics, also signed to Quiet Arch. Self-describing their genre as pop-noir, there is a smoky feeling to their music, both from singer Rio’s sultry vocals aching with emotion and a suitably understated instrumental backing. This isn’t my cup of tea; however, this is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect the millennial market and shoot up the Spotify (and Deezer?) breakthrough playlists. Stay tuned and place your bets, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Part 2 of my roundup of the evening showcases at Output Belfast 2020 will post at 11 AM GMT tomorrow.

 

Output Belfast 2020: Music Conference Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 19th February 2020 at 11:00 am
 

For years, I had truly meant to visit Northern Ireland and specifically for Output Belfast. But it never quite worked out previously. Part of it had to do with the amount of previewing I would be doing here at TGTF for SXSW a month later, whether I was doing the work alone or with a team of TGTF writers. It somehow felt irresponsible to take a trip across the pond to attend this right before the global event of the year in Austin. And since I’m bandying around the word ‘irresponsible’ in this article, then there probably should be a mention here about the fact that I have thrown all caution to the wind to pursue a longtime dream of mine, and I feel like I had good fortune that Output Belfast would be the first event I covered as I take a giant step forward towards that dream.

Belfast, as some of my longtime friends from the city ‘warned’ me, is not a large city. For a girl of the suburbs, this is perfectly fine, and to be honest, the location made my first time attending Output a breeze and a pleasure. It is certainly a music town, with a series of interesting music shops, big and small. To have the opportunity to see both Tim Wheeler of Ash and local artist Arborist performing in two of them on the same Saturday afternoon is pretty neat. And even though the capital of Northern Ireland might be considered small by its own denizens, Output Belfast is a well-attended conference. So well attended that I was thwarted in getting into the opening keynotes sessions that began the proceedings on Thursday because it was already full up when I arrived. After consuming a consoling gluten-free flapjack from the MAC coffee bar, I settled into “A Biased History of Music in Advertising”, a talk by Josh Rabinowitz of Brooklyn Music Experience.

As we think about the ubiquity of advertising and syncs in today’s world, it’s easy to forget that around 35 to 40 years ago, sampling of music for the purpose of mass market advertising was just not a thing. From British Airways using a Beastie Boys’ clip without permission to the Beatles’ Apple Records siccing their lawyers on Nike for using ‘Revolution’ to sell fancy trainers, there was a time when music use and advertising did not go hand in hand and to the artist’s benefit. It should also be noted that sync placement has led to awareness of and increased popularity for an artist, probably best exemplified by Australian rockers Jet and their song ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’, used to great effect in an Apple iPod commercial that I can still hear playing in my head. Rabinowitz says there’s a reason why so many artists want in on an Apple music promotion, and it’s because Apple do a great job in highlighting the right kind of music that fits into their campaigns.

In next session “Music PR in the 24-Hour News Cycle”, we learned from several PRs about what it takes to keep artists ‘in’ within a crowded business that, like New York City, never really sleeps. I think one of the most interesting takeaways was from Bee Adamic of Liberty PR, who do press for Northern Irish artists ROE and Beauty Sleep. Adamic said that it was important to her and her colleagues that they truly understood an artist they represented and the image that they wanted to put out to the world. In an industry where image is king, I can see where trying to play up a certain image to target a particular demographic can lead to the detriment of the artist’s work, and where the artist may lose him/herself in a chase for what may be the Holy Grail of images to some Prs and management. If we talk about younger artists and emerging talent, they are the most vulnerable (if you will) and malleable to image pressure.

In contrast, the “PRS Foundation Presents: Funding Opportunities in Northern Ireland in 2020” session was interesting in that it had representatives from PPL (Davy Wales) and Arts Council NI (Jo Wright) talking about their roles in helping local artists secure much needed funding and why such funding is so important. Maybe I should stop being so surprised, but after years of attending various events like this, it is still gobsmacking to me that there’s quite a few bands who aren’t aware they are eligible to apply for grants to get them where they need to go. This is not to say that grants are for everyone: you must prove to the funders that you are at a certain level of your career and that you’ve thought through how you would use the funding if awarded it. But half the battle appears to understanding what is available and how to go about requesting help.

TGTF is familiar with artist manager Declan Legge, as he manages Jealous of the Birds (Naomi Hamilton), and I’ve watched Naomi and her band move from strength to strength over the years, playing some of their best shows ever at SXSW 2019. Legge made several very useful comments to the artist-heavy crowd, including truly considering what level of funding you actually need at your current level instead of asking for the moon and the stars.

For a brief time early on at my tenure at TGTF, I tried my hand at song syncing, submitting my pitches to briefs that came my way. It isn’t easy to get a song placement and there are many reasons, including the sheer volume of responses to a brief, finicky and fickle clients and the ability of clear a track for use. So when I heard there would be a live demonstration of how successful sync professionals in the music business work at Output Belfast, I definitely wanted to be there.

What ensued over the hour was five of these folks, cans on ears, working furiously through wifi to come up with an appropriate track for an Orange Theory fitness club advert. The five people had different career backgrounds, and when we listened to their selections against the visual backdrop of the fitness club brief, it was just amazing to see how each of the selections worked and in their own way. It just goes to show that there are different approaches to placement: there is no set formula or ‘right way’ that works every time, which means us the listeners will continue to be surprised as new music and new adverts pop up.

The final conference session of Output Belfast occurred on Friday morning. Entitled the “Deezer Optimisation Session” with Adam Read of the streaming service, I learned quite a lot on what Deezer can do for artists. Perhaps because it was the first time I’ve really had someone explain to me how these services can help break an artist, but I was really impressed, especially with the stone-cold examples of how Deezer’s commitment in 2018 to leverage Lewis Capaldi and Sam Fender have led to their mega success in the UK and beyond. As an American, I am much more familiar with Spotify, though I may dip my toes into the Deezer pond and see if I may want to switch allegiances.

As is the case whenever industry professionals attend events like this, you never get to see everything and talk to everyone you want to. It was oft repeated by many who attended this year’s event that it could easily go into a second day next year to decrease the clashes and increase the knowledge sharing. Time will tell if Output will indeed expand. In any event, it was a job well done to the organisers, panelists and moderators, and sponsors, and Output Belfast proved definitely to be a worthy event to attend for artists, management or really anyone in the UK or Europe interested in learning some major keys into how to roll with the punches in this ever-evolving industry.

 

Preview: Output Belfast 2020 – The Conference

 
By on Monday, 20th January 2020 at 11:00 am
 

Last week, the full daytime schedule for the highly anticipated 2020 edition of Output Belfast was released. Taking place on the eve of Valentine’s Day, the daytime schedule for this annual event held in the capital of Northern Ireland is chock full of interesting speakers and useful sessions not just for those living in Northern Ireland, but for anyone involved in the music industry. I was kindly invited to this year’s proceedings, so I have come out of ‘retirement’ and am pleased to provide you the following outline on what I plan to sit in on while in attendance there.

The programming is bookended with two fantastic keynotes. The day will begin at 10 AM with The Music Industry in 2020 – Tracks, Trends, Opportunities, a three-person panel starring Paul Pacifico, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Music (AIM); Beverley Whitrick, Strategic Director, Music Venues Trust; and Tom Kiehl, Acting Chief Executive of UK Music. Hang around for the whole day, because from 4 to 5 PM, things finish up with Blurred Lines – When Two Tunes Collide – Who Are You Going to Call?, the closing keynote led by musicologist Peter Oxendale and focussing on the big issue of music copyright infringement, plagiarism and litigation, which has become the one of the biggest elephants in the room in our industry since the dawn of the Internet.

The above paragraph should have convinced you that it’s worth it to stay at the MAC all day for Output. But what will you be doing in the intervening hours? In the 11.30 AM slot, you can learn about the key developments of music usage in the last 2 decades from former Director of Music at advertising firm Grey Josh Rabinowitz. This session, entitled A Biased History of Music in Advertising, will be hosted by Output Belfast’s own Mark Gordon. In the Irish Music Rights Association (IMRO) presentation How to Write a Hit moderated by Mary-Kate “May Kay” Geraghty (ex-Fight Like Apes), we’ll hear from Philip Magee, producer for two bands we love here at TGTF, Kodaline and The Script, and Ross Gautreau, A&R Director of Karma Artists. For some local flavour, attend Branded – Creating And So I Watch You From Afar’s Branding, which will see Rory Friers from the enduring Belfast instrumentalists and graphic designer Tim Farrell chat with Thomas Camblin of Rally. We will no doubt learn about that famous triangle that has become an important part of the band’s identity.

In the 12.40 PM ‘brown bag’ slot, two of the sessions focus squarely on the big bad “B” word of the music industry. Yes, folks, I mean business, and we’ve all heard the horror stories. In Music Industry Contract Essentials – Copyright and Monetising Your IP, lawyers Jonathan Tait (BTO Solicitors) and Pete Bott (Sound Advice Solicitors) will discuss contracts, copyright and music law with Score Draw Music’s Mary Johnston. While the the EU economic situation continues to be a tricky one with the uncertainty of the UK’s Brexit, there is some good news. The Creative Europe-presented Music Moves Europe – Accessing Funding will touch on the funding available to Northern Irish organisations and venues through the EU’s programme to support the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors. This session will feature Rosie Le Garsmeur of Creative Europe Desk UK, Jess Partridge of In Stereo Group and Keychange and Paul Pacifico (AIM). NB: In the following time slot, there will be the similar but artist-directed Funding Opportunities in Northern Ireland in 2020, presented by PRS Foundation.

There’s more interesting sessions to be had post-lunch at Output Belfast. I had considered several times to start my own record label at TGTF, and the tips to come from The Joy of Running an Independent Label – How to Set Up and Grow Your Own would have come in handy. Rubyworks’ Ceri Dixon, Scruff of the Neck’s Mark Lippmann, and Pizza Pizza Records’ Joey Edwards will be sharing their own experiences in the trenches. And in a session I had never thought I’d see a music conference, there is a religion-themed talk in the form of Praise You – How Worship Music is Hitting the Mainstream. I was not aware that religious music had hit the mainstream, but Doug Ross of Stabal Music and singer/songwriters Lucy Grimble and Steph Macleod (singer/songwriter) will be convincing moderator Paul McNeilly of Fuel Events of this.

In the penultimate slot at 2.45 PM will be the How Did You Manage That? live podcast with Trevor Dietz, manager of Fontaines DC, introduced by Jane Stynes of Music Managers Forum and with moderators Ally McCrae of the BBC and Sophie Paluch of Pouch Music. As one of the most exciting exports from the island of Ireland in the last 12 months, I’m expecting this session to be filled to the gills. If you can’t get in, equally interesting and more likely helpful to an artist’s bottom line is the session entitled Anatomy of an Advertising Placement, where John McCallion (Music Supervisor at Warners Dublin), Dina Coughlan (Planet of Sound), Phil Jones (Park The Van Records and Manager of The Magic Numbers and Yeasayer), Francesca O’Connor (Champion Sound and Quiet Arch), and Mark Gordon (Score Draw Music and Output Belfast) will be put to the test live, given a brief for which they must place a track to the brief by the end of the session. In my early years as a music editor and journo, I tried my hand at some briefs like this. This sounds much easier than it really is. The session will be moderation by Josh Rabinowitz.

Sign up for this year’s edition of Output Belfast, the 13th of February, at the official website. There, you will also find the entire conference schedule. This daytime event will take place at the MAC, 10 Exchange Street, West, and the Oh Yeah Music Centre, 15-21 Gordon Street, Belfast. Information on the free music showcases are set to follow.

 
 
 

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