Above: A glimpse of the gorgeous Sherkin Island above. Get praying to the spaghetti monster in the sky for a bit of sun.
Festival season is upon us and the debates are afoot about where the crew should go. Well, here’s a more experimental shindig on the stunning Sherkin Island that ye should start factoring into your antics budget. We caught up with press and artist liaison Dion Doherty and festival director Chris Chapman, to talk about their baby Open Ear.
Jaysus, lads – another festival? It’s pretty crowded out there, so what’s the motivation for taking over a small bit of Sherkin Island on the June Bank holiday weekend and luring folk away from the humdrum of daily life?
Dion: We just felt that there wasn’t a festival based in Ireland that massively appealed to us. There are so many worth hopping on a Ryanair flight for all over Europe.Yet there’s a lot of festivals in Ireland that are quite similar; similar size, similar bookings, similar vibe. Funnily enough since we’ve decided to do Open Ear, some more festival have popped up that seem to be more in line with what we’re into.
Out To Lunch have an amazing line-up of the World’s best selectors coming to play a Japanese restaurant in Dublin this August, while Fuinneamh has a load of top quality Irish DJs playing in Wicklow this September. Which just goes to show that recent piece on Vice’s subpar “Dance Music Portal” Thump might have been onto something when the author opined that “maybe the real answer to this [problem] is more festivals, but festivals that feel vital and necessary and risk-taking.”
Chris : Another huge motivation was the Island itself. The Islanders are so welcoming and Mike and Kathy (who run The North Shore Guesthouse – the grounds of which are where the festival takes place on the Friday and Saturday) are amazing people; Warm, open-minded, generous and accommodating. The reaction amongst the islanders has been amazing, which is vital, when you consider that so many events on this scale come a-cropper due to local resistance. We were out for a recce last weekend and everyone we met was extremely enthusiastic about the venture.
So, what defined your booking policy for the festival? You seem to have eschewed the habit of a lot of festivals in that you are pretty much relying on the home grown scene to power it. There’s no case of Ryanair hopping hotshots soaking up all the glory and being fluffed up by an army of Paddies?
Dion: Well, what we wanted to do was to get together the Irish artists that we felt were making the best experimental music right now. Also those that maybe don’t get enough shine. We wanted to get people from all over and from loads of different crews and scenes to come along, rather than just our mates. So we’ve been actively seeking out new talent. We’ve been reaching out to folks we don’t know, which has been a very rewarding experience and lots of fun.
Chris: Obviously it can’t be wall-to-wall weird shit, so we’ve thrown in some more dance-floor focused gear as well. This will be provided by ace selectors we’ve asked to man the ones and twos. While our focus for the most part has been on getting heads to play live sets, we’ve also thought long and hard about which DJs we would like to play. Picking them on the basis of their skills on the decks and the depths of their record collections, rather than how many gigs they play week to week. We’re also happy to say that we could’ve filled the line-up twice over such is the depth of talent right now in Ireland.
So if a second edition goes ahead (which hopefully it will, so long as we don’t make ourselves redundant by hemorrhaging scrilla) we won’t be short of names to fill it.
What artists are you most looking forward to seeing?
Chris: Ellll makes really off-kilter strange Techno, her live sets are always worth catching. Ed Devane has been someone who’s tunes we’ve liked for years, and he’s going to be debuting a return to beat-focussed music on the weekend. Cholera House is the new project from George Brennan who used to take care of the beats for Melodica Deathship. All we know about his new project is that it involves gongs and guitars. Also very much looking forward to hearing some of Meljoann’s new work.
Dion: School Tour makes some haunting and pretty uncategorisable work. Ordinate bring the Techno doom and the wherethetimegoes lads are an ace young collective from Dublin who have big things in their futures.
Most people tend to think of a festival as three days of madness, but there’s a lot of patient organisation and pure administrative grunt work that goes into the game too. How are ye managing the work load? What are the big stresses and fears?
Chris: The idea is to create a sustainable event, with that we’re doing everything we can for the Islanders, artists, punters and volunteers. Unfortunately the shit that keeps us awake at night is stuff we can’t control so as much as possible we just focus on what we can control and get it sorted. Crucially we have a lot of help and support from seasoned event producers, which makes the work a lot less scary.
Interestingly enough, I notice you don’t have any social media outlets for the festy and it all relies on email lists and the site itself. What’s the logic in this? Are ye sick of time suck honey trap of social media or is it some other reason?
Dion: This is just an experiment I guess. Running events we see that so much of the blather on social media is a race to the bottom and often disingenuous. If tickets to your festival are ‘moving fast’ and close to selling out why are you putting up 5 posts a day trying to get people to buy ’em? Everyone uses the same tricks and the whole thing has become hide bound, with lots of events tailored to how marketable they are on social media. Having said that, nothing’s set in stone and closer to the festival we might have to use social media. Hopefully just with a sense of decorum, treating our audience with a modicum of respect for their intelligence.
In some of the promotional gambit for the festival you mention being inspired by the days of parties like Rathlin island (god be with the days…) and further afield Unsound. For readers out there that might be a bit greener around the ears, can you describe what was so fantastic about the illustrious gatherings on island and how you intended to marry that to the experimental-ism of Unsound?
Chris: Well the two aren’t as far apart as at first it might appear. Rathlin had plenty of weird shit music-wise, while Unsound has some savage dance-floor fodder at weekends in an amazing abandoned communist era hotel. From Rathlin it’s the sense of camaraderie and community that builds up over the course of a weekend on an island off the coast of Antrim, with the boundaries between performers, organisers and punters breaking down.
Dion: From Unsound one of the main things we’ve been inspired by is their unparalleled programming and the way in which for the most part you can see all the acts you want to see as events at the festival run consecutively rather than simultaneously. To this end we are only having one area of music open at one time, on the grounds of the guesthouse on Friday and Saturday, and in the Jolly Roger (an awesome boozer) on the Sunday.
The design for the site and online stuff is nice, pink and minimal. Who was behind that and have they produced much other eye candy worth taking a gawk at?
Dion: That was our mate Austin, he sent us a mail one day saying he had an idea for Open Ear. Then popped over the poster without having been given a brief and it was spot on. I think we only made two changes and one was to change a font. There’s been a few serendipitous things like that, fingers crossed it’ll continue.