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Sun.Set.Ships. Interviewed At Vantastival 2017

"We're Sun.Set.Ships and we play electro indie progressive folk.” Ryan introduces the band as we find a quiet spot at Vantastival after their killer set. “I play the laptop and drum machines. We play loops in the background and other sounds. A lot of people say there's an ‘80s sound to it.”

It’s an unusual mix of heartfelt, traditional folk songwriting and modern electronica. “I am surprised there's not more people doing similar things and there aren't more people doing it, mixing the live band and the drum machines. We're delighted that we seem to be on to something that is a bit different”, he adds. Conor (keys and vocals) chips in, “We seem to appeal to a lot of age groups. A lot of older people love our stuff but there's a lot of young people too. It encompasses a wide spectrum.” Guitarist and vocalist Ciaran reckons, “There is that bit of pop to it so everyone can enjoy it”.

The Monaghan band have just played on the Firestone stage and they’ve had an amazing reception with people dancing like crazy. Conor is impressed, “It’s our first time here as a three piece, we (indicates Ciaran) were originally Sun.Set.Ships and we played before. Ryan was meant to play with us but he'd only joined three weeks before. We underestimated how long it was going to take to programs all them drums and stuff on the computer. We used to play off a synth.”

Back when they were a duo, they played chilled acoustic music but what started out like Bon Iver or James Vincent McMorrow became more electronic. Ryan was producing dance music at the time. “It was going that way” says Conor, “It used to be shakers. Then we needed to get a proper beat going. Then the synths came in. Then Ryan came along and he was producing drums much better than our ready-made loops. It was repetitive stuff. Now we have the freedom to do pretty much whatever we want.”

“One of our friends’ dads said to us that we're not a band because we don’t have a drummer, “You’re just DJs with instruments”. It's a lot of work programming drums. It would be much easier for us to have a drummer. We leave it ‘til last. We do everything else and then look at the drums. Sometimes you change the hi-hat a tiny bit and we get really excited. It sounds class. And no one will notice. You make these tiny tweaks that you think are unreal but people are just listening to the songs.”

The songwriting is where the magic happens, according to Ryan, “The songs took so long to write and make. They took on a different look. They didn’t sound like anybody else. But they all sound like us. If anyone brings a song to the table you never know how it’s going to work out. If Ciaran brings a guitar line and we add bass, synths, and drums, you don’t know where it will go, but it seems to work.”

They finished the set with a version of Caribou’s ‘Can’t Do Without You’ that brought the house down. “It's a big festival tune from about two years ago. It's not quite old enough yet to be a classic but we still love it, and we haven't played it for that long.” They’ve been recording in the studio, with that cover amongst the tunes. “We don’t know if it will be an EP or if we'll make it into an album”, says Ciaran, “We all have full time jobs so we only get to meet on Saturday. Something always comes up on Saturday. Like today, we're playing Vantastival so that's the day gone, from a writing perspective.”

The challenge of balancing their musical ambitions with regular paying work is tricky. “We've lots of singles ready. There's one that will be out soon. We might do a few singles. We did the EP and we want to keep it moving”, says Ryan. Conor shares the sentiment, “It took us nearly a year to do a six song EP. We kept adding things and getting delayed. We want to bang out a couple of songs quickly, get a bit of interest. Maybe put up the cover of ‘Can't Do Without You’. We have it recorded already, so maybe bang it up and keep a bit of momentum going. We've been quiet of late.”


Nonetheless they are looking for more festival slots. Conor confirms, “We're playing Arcadian Fields in Bellurgan, the old Vantastival spot. We played there last year”. Ryan isn’t settling for that alone, “We're still hoping to get into Electric Picnic too. We played last year and there's just so many stages, surely we'll get in somehow. We might just turn up anyway with our gear”.


Vantastival 2017 - Day Two

  • Published in Live

Sunday morning and the sun is still shining. The switch from the May Bank Holiday weekend to the one in June has really benefitted Vantastival. Unfortunately the power has gone so we've no proper breakfast. We have to eat fruit like a sham, or a vegetarian. There's a generator running for the coffee machine to keep things running, and together with the BYOB policy means that no one is going thirsty.

It should be a good day for music with Musos’ Guide favourites Mongrel State, Makings and Nix Moon all playing later. With the power back on, and real food in our bellies, it's time for some music. Suso Youth Choir get things started on the main stage. The 20-odd kids look delighted that they are getting away with singing the swear words in Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.

Before singing ‘Like A Prayer’ Roisin reminds us that many of them are sitting their Leaving Certificate exams (A-Levels) in three days, “so make it worth our while”.  Vantastival’s family friendly ethos extends to pets. There must be a hundred dogs here so when an announcement is made that a German shepherd is over heating in a car, the choir lead the chant to “break the window”.

Meanwhile, Modern trad group Al-Fi are entertaining the Firehouse. They banter with the crowd, invite hurts onstage and give us ne interpretations of traditional folk tunes. They incorporate bluegrass and seanchaí music with band leader Fiachra switching between uilleann pipes and flute, and the banjo and fiddle dropping in and out of the mix as appropriate for each song.

The much anticipated rain finally arrives just in time to drive the crowds under the shelter of the tent for one of our own favourites. If you're not already familiar with Mongrel State, the Italian /Irish / Spanish /Argentinian group play southern/western/ latin rock with country rockabilly, blues and the harmonies of The Bellamy Brothers . Their sound has really developed and mutated since the recording of their debit album Mestizo. To the extent that it seems incredible that it was only release last year.

That rain turned out to be a brief shower so the sunlight has returned and Pine The Pilcrow take to the Firestone. Their mournful folk played on fiddle, cello and piano is accompanied by a witch dancing at the foot of the stage. Their inventive and percussive playing elevates their songs above their peers. A cover of Elbow’s ‘A Day Like This’ really suits them.

The final run of three bands in the Firestone is pure gold. Local garagepoppers The Periods are up first . With songs about orgasming while giving birth amongst others, their bockety lo-fi electro pop makes up in charm and catchiness what it lacks in professional sheen. The sextet crammed on to the small fire stone stage embody the creativity and disregard for convention of first wave punk. A bunch of blokey types run in from the rain just in time for the sampled loop of “What is the definition of sexual harassment?” and they immediately look uncomfortable. They're one of our new favourite bands.

And two of our old favourites are next, starting with electro rockers Makings. Their 2015 album Cognition was an assured debut but they're not playing any of it here. Their set tonight is entirely made up of unreleased material from their forthcoming album. The emphasis with this collection of tunes is definitely on the electro side. If they were American they'd surely christen it EDM. The new set goes down a storm with the Vantastival crowd and the sweat rolls like a warehouse rave.

For most bands it would be an impossible act to follow but Nix Moon receive a heroes welcome. They narrowly beat Makings in the final of the Battle Of The Bands to land this coveted headline spot. As they take the stage for line check the crowd chant their name. The celebratory mood continues as they finish their check and “One more tune” breaks out. We're only short of John Terry appearing to complete to congratulatory picture.

The incredible high standard of the bands on show, particularly considering that this is the second stage displays the strength and depth of live music in North Leinster. It's the relaxed atmosphere that everyone talks about but the line up of this wee fest is superior to some larger, more expensive, booze schilling events. See you again next year Vantastival!

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