The rundown to a Corkonian addition to Brighton’s Mammothfest metal extravaganza is almost over, and on the 26th at The Poor Relation, four bands compete for the Irish Best Band crown. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with promoter/organiser Danny Fitzgerald ahead of a fatal four-way of Irish heft.
“Rock and metal” is a nebulous designation for heavy promoters and festivals at the best of times, especially with full consideration for the nuances and subtleties between bands and subgenres. With that being said, though, as loud, noisy music deals with venue restrictions and changes in demographic all over the continent, festivals have become ever more important as a musical and social forum for devotees of distortion. In the UK, Brighton’s Mammothfest has been an upcoming presence on the annual calendar, providing an all-indoor billing of emerging metal from around the world across the stages of the city, linking in with the promoters’ network of media and event contacts to establish themselves as a destination for riff purveyors and connoisseurs alike. Eventually, the hype was going to spread.
Cork has been a quietly resurgent outpost for metal in the country in recent years, with this past Saturday alone offering no less than four gigs of interest to heavier palates. It makes sense, then, that a festival like Mammothfest would choose Cork as the Irish outpost for a Best Band competition, with the winner taking a prized festival slot this October. Promoter and local affiliate Danny Fitzgerald explains how he came to be involved. “I really wanted to put on a battle-of-the-bands show in Cork that appealed to metal bands and a metal audience, as all the battles-of-the-bands I’d seen and been part of were all up in Dublin. The way the voting works sometimes, it can be a bit of a home-field advantage for Dublin bands, so when a Cork band goes up to play, they’ve already lost on the crowd vote. I just wanted to create something different, something fairer, so that the best band gets through, not just the band with the crowd. I looked up a few festivals that didn’t have a battle-of-the-bands, but that had exposure and would give us exposure in turn. I saw Mammothfest and saw previous lineups, messaged them to ask if they had a stage for new bands. They sent me a mail directing me to apply, I went into further detail to explain that I was looking to set up a competition. That’s when I found out that the guy replying (and handling socials) was the boss of the whole thing and not just someone working for them. And we just went from there.”
Heaviosity in Ireland is in as rude health as it’s ever been, with Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway all boasting distinct scenes with venues and promoters underpinning each, while cities like Waterford have slowly been rebuilding after the toll of the bad years was taken. In the first year of Best Band’s Irish excursions, however, and even with a very selective process of entry, the uptake on qualifying slots has played on an old rivalry. “So, it was essentially a split between Dublin and Cork. There wasn’t a whole lot from anywhere else except for The Crawling (death-metallers from Belfast who were booked for the festival itself after applying). They’re well able for it. As far as I know with others, it’s first-come first-serve, but with this, we wanted to trim the fat and get down to the best band going through. So, we wanted a competition where every band that entered the first round had the potential to win. No unfair heats. Bands were to send in EPKs, we looked on all of that, and made decisions based on quality.”
The established Irish music industry in general, much less metal, is based squarely in Dublin, and has often been accused of operating in that bubble, for better or worse. As touched upon earlier, basing a big promotion and recruitment mechanism like the Best Band contest for a big festival like Mammothfest in Cork could be seen as something of a transgression in itself, much-needed as it has long been. Fitzgerald’s shop-talk pace of conversation slows somewhat when quizzed on the matter. “To be honest, I’ve only received good stuff from all the other promoters. Robbie McCabe in Dublin has been very helpful, has offered a hand with promoting up there. He has a good thing going up there (with Bloodstock Festival’s Metal 2 The Masses contest). We’re not competition, we’re the same cause. It was rough at the start, alright, but more down to gig clashes in town than anything else. You can never judge it, but we’re confident, especially with Bailer headlining the final, they’ve never had a gig that wasn’t insane. We want Mammothfest to see the best of what we have to offer, and see that it can be sustainable after year one.”
The format of a metal battle-of-the-bands sprawling across multiple dates and venues potentially provides excitement, anticipation, and for the dedicated, an opportunity to compare and contrast bands, engaging in fantasy matchmaking and following their favourites over the course of it. It’s a format that gig-goers have been quick to pick up on here in Cork after years of indirect exposure via Dublin promoters’ ties to big UK fests. But there has been trial and error like every other music start-up. “It’s definitely a lesson we’ve learned, that spacing out gigs is important rather than promoting weekly, people’s lives are just too busy. It’s the way things have fallen: we didn’t have a whole bunch of time and we had ten other Battles around the UK to organise in correlation with. We had to schedule the Final for a certain night so the Mammothfest crew could attend. There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room this year with dates. Next year: I would like them more spaced-out and running deeper into the summer.”
The running has been tight, and the quality has been competitive with anything the country has offered in the last two decades. And the hard graft of everyone involved has produced a top-quality line-up for the final, happening on Saturday 26th at the Poor Relation. Post-metal youngsters God Alone are maturing and improving at a rate best described as frightening, sludgers Coroza have quietly solidified a presence in local metal, no-wave-inflected weirdos The Magnapinna bring an obtuse angle to proceedings, and Dublin’s Jenova have impressed in the heats. In combination with local heroes Bailer in the headline slot, it’s shaping up to be a monumental evening for metal in the city. Fitzgerald relays his personal thoughts heading up to it. “I think it’s going quite well. Some nights have been rough, but that happens, mostly Fridays (laughs). It’s not been about making money, but it’s about finding a band that is ready to go to Mammothfest. The commitment is there among gig-goers, more so among older heads, but hopefully younger metallers in time… the atmosphere will pull you in.”