Sounds Around: Chris Chapman – Open Ear Festival

Posted May 27, 2019 in Festival Features

As festival season kicks off in earnest, the appeal of somewhat far-flung island gatherings shows no sign of abating. Festival organiser Chris Chapman explains the origins and evolution of Open Ear which takes place on Sherkin Island off the coast of Cork on the June Bank Holiday.

“If you want a nice easy route to doing an island festival, buy an island. You can pick them up for less than most houses in Dublin at the moment.”

“My first contact with Sherkin was on a camping trip with mates, organised by my partner Ciara O’Donovan. She’s a West Cork native, from Bantry originally, which is about a 40 minute drive from Sherkin. She’d been a few times and I think she knew I’d instantly fall in love with the place, which I did!

“The idea for the Open Ear music festival was more like a series of serendipitous events and a passion for creating a platform for electronic artists that thankfully culminated in it happening. The initial plan was October ’2015, a small gig with friends, 50-80 people in Sherkin North Shore, Island Accommodation. This idea was cooked up with Mike and Kathy who own Sherkin North Shore and my good friend Dion (OE Artist Programmer 2016 – 2018), we then shelved the October event because of weather, and it turned into a Summer event in 2016. There was a ton of acts that we felt were under represented at other festivals so we wanted to get them all down. We needed a marquee, camping for an increased amount of people, toilets… it just snowballed from the humble gathering we had initially anticipated.

“Everyone’s happy with it so far, but we never take that for granted… on the positive side of things, the festival brings a nice crowd to the island, an increase in visitors, and I think we promote the creative side of Sherkin, it even has its own TU Dublin degree course in Visual Art! A dream island to live as an artist.

“In addition, a lot of the residents make the festival happen and have become great friends of the festival in the process. We try and visit as much as possible, particularly during the winter when it’s quiet. We’ll have a few drinks in the Jolly Roger or go for a ramble and no trip is complete without a dip in Silver Strand. We’d be happy to hand the festival over to the island. That would be hugely rewarding.

“Saying all this…  we are in a small community’s home, so if we don’t respect that we won’t be welcome back and that’s fair enough, if someone came into my back garden and made a mess, I’d tell them where to go!

“Our number one priority is getting around Ireland and connecting with as much new sound as we can fit on the bill, be it avant-garde, noise, dancefloor, anything that can work in the flow of the fest,  we’re open to it!

“This year we are building on the different locations around Sherkin as well as branching out with new projects & collaborators. We hope to create meaningful connections with the Island through use of (experimental) sound and site specific locations, while maintaining the integrity of the natural environment.

“We currently collaborate with Dublin Digital Radio. Last year we did a radio documentary produced by Emma Cawley which was lots of fun and we’re continuing that this year with more onsite recording. We also do a monthly show called Open Air, which is a nice way for people to get taste of what to expect plus it is hosted by all the different people in our family of organisers. DDR have planned, what sounds to be an immersive and technically ambitious installation planned for Sherkin Community Hall & their own DDR platform too!

“Lastly, we’re very excited to be working with TU Dublin formerly DIT’s B.A. in Visual Art course on Sherkin to program a unique project involving all the students of the course. The BAVA course is the longest running island Degree in Europe with a special team made up of artists; Dr. Glenn Loughran, Jesse Jones and Majella O’Neill Collins. Their plan for Open Ear is for a work-shop and event exploring sound as an artform, this will be facilitated by the sound-artist Susan Stenger.

“I love Unsound in Krakow, it was an eye open-er into adventurous use of space and programming. But I suppose in some ways, how we program Open Ear reacts to the Irish festival scene as a whole both the good and the bad.

“If you want a nice easy route to doing an island festival, buy an island. You can pick them up for less than most houses in Dublin at the moment.”

Open Ear takes place on Sherkin Island from Thursday May 30 to Sunday June 2

Line-up and programme details at

Image Credits: Courtesy of Open Ear – Michael Stephens


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