The annual Trinity Battle of the Bands once again offers an opportunity to win a slot at Trinity Ball and a day of recording in a professional studio. The first qualifier of two had some brief highlights, but displayed a low standard of competition in comparison to years gone by.
Connaught-born rapper Uppbeat is challenged with entertaining an early, premature crowd due to a random draw of performance times. Unfortunately, it’s immediately clear that feeding off and cultivating crowd hype is Uppbeat’s main game, and so the Jedward-esque enthusiasm of his hype-men-turn-breakdancers fall flat in front of the dismal crowd.
The four-track set is underpinned by run-of-the-mill trap beats with overblown, ground-shaking bass. There’s no premium on melody or harmonic progression, and so each song lacks dynamics, direction and any sense of climax. Uppbeat’s vocals seem to heavily emulate Matt Champion’s of Brockhampton, though any emotional character is lost in his monotone delivery which is strictly characterised by constant exertion.
After the first track’s sing-along games fail to engage the audience, Uppbeat moves onto “Tsunami”, a sluggish slow-burner that feels so heavy it threatens to fall through the floor and onto the bar below. The auto-tuned backing track is only half harmonised and the live vocals leave a lot to be desired. The intermittent repetition of “bless!” and “bless up!” reek of pop cultural bandwagoning. Next comes a Soundcloud trap track, with its darker tones and tired “I feel alone” narrative. There’s no lack of energy throughout the 20-minute performance, and the movements of the backing dancers do add to Uppbeat’s hectic stage presence, but the crowd just isn’t in it, even those present.
The set is closed out with a cluttered, overproduced instrumental, which borrows heavily from EDM released at the turn of the decade. The high end of the mix is piercing and the lows become atonal in their depth and merge together, masking any strong sense of pulse that may lie beneath. Uppbeat’s lyrics about “the session” are tired from the explosion of Versatile, but perhaps their crowd would enjoy the narrative along with its overblown production. With the right audience, Uppbeat wouldn’t look out of place in a room full of bouncing people, but his lack of creativity positions him far behind the current state of Ireland’s vibrant new hip-hop scene.
TV People are next to take to the stage, and with them come a large crowd of supporters. Though they’re styled like every other four-piece indie band on the planet, they bring a jazzy edge to their jangly guitars, setting them aside from a formula that’s been done to death in every venue around Dublin since The Strokes. The duelling vocals of the lead and rhythm guitarists are a nice touch, even if the harmonies aren’t the tightest, but the contrast in their drastically different timbres keeps the audience on their toes.
The playing gets tighter as the set progresses and the band settles into their stride, aided by the thunderous applause they receive after each song. The latter half of the performance is highlighted by tempo switches, call-and-response-style baritone and tenor deliveries and bouncy, meandering bass lines, but it’s the drummer who steals the show, exhibiting everything from ghost notes to rim shots, all while keeping everything perfectly in time. The band are confidently introduced one by one and by now TV People have found their rhythm, strutting and swaying with the crowd who have come for them.
The penultimate song of the set is crooned Ian Curtis-style over understated lead guitar licks, choppy Chic-esque rhythms and funky instrumental breakdowns, but the closer, “Parasite”, sounds like a Kooks song sung by Bob Dylan meets Ezra Koenig over a four-on-the-floor backbeat. The vocals are flat at times throughout the set and the jangly guitars are sometimes thin and sparse, but TV People are bursting with potential and were easily the standout of the night.
Next up is Fullo, equipped with only an acoustic guitar, a loop pedal and a list of covers. Clearly very nervous, his whispers barely show up in the mix which is swamped by cluttered loops. His airy tone would suit something less brash (Jack Steadman, Sufjan Stevens, Phil Elverum, etc) than Ed Sheeran songs, but sadly that’s all we get after a country-style cover I couldn’t identify. Covers and three-chord tricks aren’t enough to compete at this level and certainly not for such a big prize. Without major emotion evident in his quiet voice, Fullo can’t cut it as a serious contestant.
The night is closed out by Atticus, who begin their set with a glitchy variety of noise rock, though there’s no real direction to their boisterous sounds. The guitar shredding is skillfully agile but solely performative and adds nothing but flash to the sound and image, and the main riff gets lost halfway through the song. The vocals are competent but confined to metal and its many subgenres, and the pedal tricks should be adding texture but are aimless and sound like Tom Morello if he fell on his rig. The audience can’t seem to escape Ed Sheeran covers as the band pull out a metal version of “Don’t”, which on the surface sounds like a creative idea, but the bare minimum is done to transform its sound. The strange vocal effects are more unsettling than entertaining, and the singer struggles to keep up with the song’s blistering tempo.
With a Rage Against The Machine-inspired intro, the third track is delivered in De La Rocha’s style until the chorus when it becomes a melodically stagnant Living Colour impersonation. The band don’t pull out or quiet down for solos, which removes any moments of emphasis, but the crowd are reciprocative for the most part, getting low down in anticipation of some sort of high point, but it never really comes.
Atticus are highly skilled musicians, but sadly stick out as “that metal band” that nobody is crazy about at every battle of the bands competition and though they proceed to drain all of the swagger out of “R U Mine?” that made it a great song, they have a slight edge over both Uppbeat and Fullo in terms of skill and creativity. However, they’re blessed with a lower standard of competitors than previous years, which enables them to progress. TV People come out on top and are the ones to beat in the final. Find out who will become their final competitors at the Grand Social this Thursday at 7pm.