Popical Island is without a doubt A Good Thing, in a quite important, structural way. There are a few reasons. Firstly, they are, to some degree, a label. The Popical Island #1 compilation (which is still around on Bandcamp) put a whole bunch of excellent Irish ‘bockety pop’ bands and bedroom projects in the same place and gave it to people in a form that made them take it seriously. It’s amazingly endearing, catchy and great as a collection. Stream it at least if you haven’t heard it. It opens with So Cow literally naming places on the road to Dublin on Exclusive Express Bus Service License Blues, makes Fake Blood by Squarehead available for a thousand potential future girlfriend mixtapes, and introduces a lot of cool music on the way. But it did more than that.
It created a scene. That sounds dramatic, but stuff always sounds dramatic, so let me explain what I mean. These bands existed beforehand, it’s not like they formed just so Popical Island could exist. But they were ‘Thumped bands’ or part of different vague alignments (in my mind at least) – Hefty Horse or whoever. What Popical Island did was to draw a Venn Diagram around indie pop in Dublin and the places that contribute to its scene. Where before, Dublin had indie pop bands, now it has a scene. And that has a home now, too.
I missed Popicalia 1, the first Popical Island club night in Shebeen Chic, but Popicalia 2’s line-up – Hipster Youth, Squarehead and the mighty Grand Pocket Orchestra – was too good to miss. So I shuffled down and got a pint of Harp, as you do. The place is the perfect size – a basement with enough space, but without being cavernous. There’s a distro table with CDs and (naturally) tapes from various affiliated bands, even if they’re not playing, like a hardcore distro or, I suppose, a twee pop one from a place with a slightly stronger tradition. Thumbs up to that, and to the money box concealed within a hardback dictionary. Twee as fuck yo.
Hipster Youth opened in two-piece live format, all crunchy, no-fi beats from a laptop and lapgaze keyboard playing. Despite sinning cardinally and breaking kayfabe by admitting (through a heavily distorted microphone) that they hadn’t practiced in a million years, they carried the lo-fi electronics thing well. Super Fun Hipster Suicide Party’s Twin Peaksy descending melody on the Casio keyboard every suburban house grows organically when the children hit five was an obvious highlight, as was Thursday night which, despite some rust, had enough complexity and belt to work. And then, announced as a Large Mound cover, Gardenhead by Neutral Milk Hotel. Teenage Elders is sold out as a physical release, but you can download it for free if you like, and the guitar lo-fi facet of Aidan Wall’s personality Porn On Vinyl is about to put out a cassette album on his label Long Lost too.
Squarehead came next, marking the third time in less than three weeks that I’ve been to a gig Squarehead played at. Would possibly be retreading to talk about them, but Fake Blood’s still the shit. So good.
But now to the crux of the matter. Grand Pocket Orchestra. Sometimes when you leave a gig, especially with an Irish band you’ve seen before, you get this weird idea that they’ve ‘arrived’ in some un-solid sense. It’s not like they haven’t been good forever – their EPs were brilliant and their album, which eventually came out (on the same day as Fight Like Apes’ second album according to Mary-Kate in UCD’s newspaper) is full of ‘riot pop’ excellence. They were great as a three piece the first time I saw them at HWCH 2007 (seeing as it’s blog birthday week), but now, with Maggie ‘The Social Hand Grenade’ Fagan on drums and Bobby ‘Brain Heat Wave by No Monster Club is finally about to be released this month‘ Aherne on miscellaneous, it seems like they’ve hit the peak of their powers.
How many crowd-surfers do you see at your average indie pop collective club night? Honestly? Well there were upwards of five at this, plus two band members. Mr. Pop-I Ruan’s tweet summarises it well:
Trouble deciding the best moment of tonight…the dweeb mosh-pit or barry lennon keeping them in line.
Barry Lennon’s from Richter Collective, by the way. Footnote there.
Anyway, GPO. It was incredible. Frantic as hell, with album songs sitting confidently as equals alongside the early EP songs. There can’t be highlights when it was so intense for the whole thing – Radio, Get Go, Odd Socks, Ballet Shoes, Basketballs, Worms, all genius. Plaintive requests for water from the band were met mostly with blankness from equally thirsty spectators. The floor got wet, people fell over. At the end of the set, evidently with no more songs to play, they got back up and played Get Go again at about 1.4 times the regular speed.
Anyone I talked to afterwards said it was the best Grand Pocket Orchestra gig they’d ever seen. It was definitely the best I’ve ever seen. Out the back afterwards, in the company of a gypsy euphonium player who can’t actually play any further than the third bar of Happy Birthday but tries anyway, people were comparing wounds. I was wringing sweat from my hair (sorry anyone I dog-splashed), others had grapefruitesque swellings on their shins, bruises in various places, desperate thirsts for water, ill-advised internal urges to take their shirts off.
Goes in the top tier of the memory bank, for sure.