Ian Maleney made the trip to Leitrim for this year’s Hunters Moon Festival.
The less-than-picturesque environs of Carrick-On-Shannon, County Leitrim are home to Hunters Moon, a music and arts festival full of adventurous noises and visions. While the town would seem more at home with its large crowds of stag/hen party-goers, the small crew behind Hunters Moon manage a good stab at turning the place into a counter-cultural mecca for one weekend of the year. While the majority of events take place in the dedicated festival venues of St. George’s Church and the Dock Arts Centre, independent businesses around the town are exposed to the weirder elements through some stripped down performances in cafés and an art trail that sees artists exhibiting their photos, collages, sculptures and paintings on the walls of non-gallery spaces.
Having had to miss the opening night’s proceedings due to work, unfriendly train timetables and all-round tiredness, our festival started on Saturday afternoon. Sadly we missed a Ludo Mich set which was an incredible experience by all accounts. After getting our bearings in the cold, hilly terrain of Leitrim’s primary town, we settled down in the similarly cold, bare St. George’s Church for Swllws. Sian Macfarlane’s droning vocals and wishy-washy sample work does little to warm up either body or mind, coming across as lightweight and under-developed.
After a break for a few swigs of gullet-warming whiskey, we returned to the church for Finnish artist Tsembla, who occupies much the same territory as Swllws but manages to connect to something deeper and more engaging in her performance. Her low, warm drones never quite expand to fully fill the church but her world is solid enough to hold attention and invite imaginative engagement.
Core Of The Coalman was the first act to really take full advantage of the huge space of the church with a sound that pushed into darker territory than those before him. Expansive, detailed and immersive, his set combined drones, full-on noise, looped samples and some versatile violin playing to magical effect.
The church’s events finished up with an improvised drone collaboration between artists participating in the festival and, lit by candlelight as night fell on Carrick, a rag-tag group of about ten musicians contributed voice, violin, pipes and hurdy-gurdy to a deep, meditative drone.
Down at the more traditional Dock venue, Wolfbait ripped the crowd a new one with atmospheric and heavy-as-fuck doom-leaning metal. One of the most intense and bleak sets of the weekend. Due to a late arrival, Wizards Of Firetop Mountain came on stage earlier than expected and, with the help of some hilariously apt Hot Chick Stoner Barbeque visuals, played a solid set of classic metal in the Sabbath vein. It’s nothing new or particularly adventurous, but it is fun in a certain context.
Jan Anderzen, another import from Finland, closed out the night. His set as Tomutonttu was a blissful montage of bright samples, loops and whirring effects, sounding innocent and nostalgic but never simple or plain. The fact he once released a split 7” with Oneohtrix Point Never should point you in the right direction sound wise, though Anderzen’s aesthetic is less stoner/spacer and much more down-to-earth.
The first major issue with Hunters Moon (aside from the Arctic weather) arises as soon as Tomutonttu finishes up. It’s 11pm and there’s little to do except retreat to our rented apartment and attempt to make something of the night from there while the artists themselves (who make up a large portion of those attending the festival) head for a yoga compound outside of town. Options in the town are limited to pubs jammed with the aforementioned stags and hens, or the inviting cultural space of Club Kiss. Either way, what actually happened is lost in a haze of illegally cheap Buckfast so it’s all of little consequence.
On Sunday we were awoken by the doom/noise/jazz madness of Tarracoir emanating from the nearby Larder Café. Sensitive heads were unsuited to over-exposure at such an early hour but it sounded like pure cracked noise genius from the vantage point of our kitchen window. The excellent food in the Larder was later accompanied by the gentle, emotive strains of Yawning Chasm. While the soup was deliciously spicy, the Galwegian’s performance was bland, comprised of uninspired songs and an awkwardly nervous demeanour. While the latter is excusable, the former made for a set of songs which echoed their influences in an unfortunately watered-down way which never really gave a sense of real identity or purpose.
The hugely annoying cancellation of Russian vocal group Phurpa (due to some nasty visa issues in Switzerland) saw proceedings in the Church pushed back an hour while various workshops took place in the Dock. No-wave film maker Vivienne Dick talked about her films (and their subjects) while Ludo Mich explored the combination of movement and sound in his film works and Dublin tinkerer Moose gave a workshop on how to make your own droning oscillator pedal.
When things did kick off in the Church, it was Jennifer Walsh that made the first real impact. Her set consisted of deeply unsettling, gasping vocals, droning loops and dynamic, screeching bowed strings. It was terrifying, engaging and unlike anything else you’re likely to hear this side of a horror film.
Josephine Foster and her band were then the complete opposite. The recent Wire cover star brought her operatic take on folk tradition to the church, which was not entirely suited to the full-band setup. Once you got over the way it all sounded, it was interesting enough though as Foster’s songs took Spanish techniques and married them to old time American folk traditions, stringing them together with her unique voice. Her husband provided histrionic electric guitar which fell flat as often as it worked and Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle/Zwan contributed expertly grooving bass, spot-on harmonies and some casual viola towards the end. It was a bit messy and the rock and roll theatrics of the final songs left a bad taste but it was nonetheless an enjoyable way to experience a one-of-a-kind artist in a special setting.
A slightly longer than planned visit to Chung’s Chinese restaurant (excellent food, if a little expensive) meant we missed Woven Skull at the Dock but we made it in time for Melodica Deathship‘s clumsy mixture of sea-shanties, beats and spoken word. It’s all a bit messy and cheesy and it doesn’t really take things anywhere new or particularly interesting. While the same could be said of Wizards, at least they are fun to watch.
Black Sun Roof upped the ante with a short set of layered relatively inscrutable noise. The new project of Skullflower’s Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies sees them creating vast swathes of blackened noise and drone. Bower’s guitar work is expertly refined, finding rhythms and textures within the noise that made the sound so much more engaging that just your standard 20 minutes of feedback.
Last, but certainly not least, came Gnod. Their set was a tense and thrilling rush of damaged techno rhythms and droning synth textures effected in real time while the singer rolled, jumped, screamed and whispered in front of the audience. As a band they make little sense before or after the fact but when you’re in the middle of their sonic construct, they have an undeniable power. Accompanied by Illuminati-baiting visuals, they were the first act to really push the crowd toward a physical euphoria, with the closest thing to a mosh pit erupting front and centre towards the end.
Overall, it’s a difficult little festival to figure out and that is probably what makes it so interesting. It’s a unique line-up with an atmosphere unlike any other festival in Ireland and there is much to be learned from, and admired in, their no compromise approach. Whether or not Hunters Moon will continue to be a viable option for its organisers remains to be seen but such guts and dedication deserve the support of people who want or need an alternative to the ever more corporate, boring and repetitive festival circuit in Ireland.