Cuttin’ Heads Collective: At the Cutting Edge

Ahead of their first anniversary shows, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Cuttin’ Heads Collective members and DJs JusMe, Ross Herlihy and Six-Foot Apprentice.

In a little over a year, the Cuttin’ Heads Collective of rappers, beatmakers, promoters and DJs have changed Cork hip-hop utterly, unifying some of its main players under one banner for the common good and advancement of beats in the city. On the 19th, the crew will be celebrating that anniversary with a big night at the Liquid Lounge, followed by a winding-down session on the 20th at the Brú.

Co-founder DJ JusMe explains how it all came together. “I guess it started with a couple of gigs a few of us put together last summer; This Side Up, Naive Ted. We were kinda shocked by the success of those nights. That was the motivation to go further with it and put together a team of people to help promote more hip-hop related stuff in Cork. I sent out a facebook message to some people I wanted to work with and it grew pretty fast from there.”

After some initial deliberations, the business of choosing a name led to the team’s distinct moniker, according to Jus. “The name Cuttin’ Heads comes from a blues term.. It’s like a battle between musicians. If you were killing a guy with your performance you would be head cutting. We thought that applied to what we do.”

Assembling a team that included rapper Spekulativ Fiktion, promoter/DJ Shiv and LiveStyles festival head Ross Herlihy, the Cuttin’ Heads folks quickly got to business with a weekly night downstairs at UrbanJungle. Says Ross, “UrbanJungle was a great learning experience for us. Starting off as a weekly night really allowed us to test out different things and grow closer as a collective. After a few months we realised that a weekly night was probably not for us at the time so we moved our focus to putting on gigs here and there and upping the quality overall. We won’t say a weekly night is definitely off the cards for our future, but at the moment we’re very happy running semi-regular nights in a few different venues.”

Jus agrees, having gone through the rigours and helped plan out the next steps. “I definitely think we’re in a better situation now. Instead of the weekly gig in one place, we have a few regular gigs in different bars where we can explore different vibes. We’ve been doing Gulp’d every 6 weeks or so where we focus on more laid back, left field instrumental stuff. We’re going to be doing more gigs in Bru which will be about classic hip hop. Fredz is where we usually put on the more bass heavy stuff. We’ve also done a bunch of one off events in places like the Friary, Amp, the Vicarstown and Pigalle.”

There’s been some big events, too, seeing luminaries of the Irish and American hip-hop scenes pass through Cork. Ross gets into the details. “We’ve been lucky to put on a number of big shows so far, including mynameisjOhn vs. Naive Ted, Illa J, Jon1st, & more. Illa J came from a relationship CHC member Chris Power has with him from working on tracks in the past. The rest of the acts we’ve put on have been crew decisions to book the types of acts we want to see more of in Cork. The workload varies from gig to gig as we try to distribute the tasks around”

There’s been once-offs since, as well as a tour of clubs and festivals around the country. Ross reckons there’s more in the offing. “We’ve nothing confirmed at the moment, but we’ll definitely be looking to tour some more next year. In a short few weeks, CHC played in Galway, Tralee, Limerick & two festivals in Cork. It was a lot of fun getting out there and playing for crowds that don’t get the chance to come to our nights in Cork. We’ll certainly be chatting to promoters around the country and looking at getting a tour going again next year.”

Jus is similarly receptive to the idea of putting the collective on the road. “The touring stuff was a lot of fun. Later in the summer we went did a couple shows in Dublin warming up for the Invisibl Skratch Piklz and Levelz, working Choice Cuts and Front/Left. We collected a lot of good memories over the last year. That’s what its about. There will definitely be more road trips next year!”

The Cuttin’ Heads have also moved into the roles traditionally occupied by record labels – two mixtapes from resident DJ and beatmaker Chris Power have made their ways out on a free/donation basis via digital indie outlet Bandcamp. Declan Carey, a.k.a. Six Foot Apprentice, is measured in his approach. “Yeah, the CHC Bandcamp has been a cool platform for the mixtapes. No plans for any physical releases. The ‘free / name your price’ Bandcamp buzz suits us just fine for now. (Andrew) Gunkel has something in the works, and possibly another from Chris Power, and possibly something from ManMaid, a project of Chris Power & Gunkel. Beyond that, we’ll see.”

Jus chimes in on the topic, regards the reaction Power’s work has received, and how it informed the releasing arm of the collective. “Yeah, we wouldn’t really consider Cuttin’ Heads a label. After we put up the first tape we were getting a lot of messages from people wanting us to put out their projects, but putting out other people’s music isn’t really what we want to be spending our time on. Cuttin’ Heads is about putting on quality hip-hop nights in Cork. The Bandcamp is really just a platform for our members’ releases. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now our focus is on other things.”

The one-year anniversary approaches, and the question comes up of whether or not the events of the last while, and all the activity, has had a chance to properly sink in on the collective. Ross gets down to brass tacks on the question, getting into motivation and questions. “When we started we didn’t really know what the next 12 months would look like, and honestly, it’s hard to say what the next 12 months will look like at this point too. A big motivation at the beginning of it all, was our friends outside Cork & Ireland, and seeing what they were accomplishing, the types of gigs that were working in their cities but not our own. I was constantly picking people’s brains when at gigs in Limerick or Galway or other places, trying to figure out what they are doing right that we maybe weren’t. It really sinks in for me that we’re on the right track when now those people are equally picking our brains about what we’re doing. To know that the people that inspire us on a regular basis are also getting inspired by us is amazing, and really pushes us on forward.”

Ross goes on to discuss the collective’s anniversary night in more detail, detailing how the bill came together. “Over the past year, we’ve been trying to make sure we put on big gigs every few months so our first birthday was always going to be a biggie. We talked about a lot of different acts we could get involved, and timing was on our side. This Side Up & Nylon Primate were both releasing new projects around the time of our birthday, and Bleak Stack has just started to announce themselves to the world. All of them are acts that we really wanted to put on around this time of the year anyway, so putting them on one bill was a no-brainer. Skratch Lords have been on our list for a long time now, so when it came to making sure a top turntablism act was on the cards, they were the first choice. The party is really going to have everything we represent presented at it. Its got two brilliant rap acts, a producer at the top of his game, three of the best turntablists on the scene at the moment, and thats just the headline acts! Throw in more local talent like Nxstalgic, Mankyy, the VINYL BELOW crew running shop in the club downstairs, and it’s going to be a night to remember.”

Jus hops in, making with details of a second night to follow all that up, happening at the Brú bar on McCurtain St. on the 20th. “After the Saturday is done and dusted, I’m just as excited about the Sunday wind down session in the Brú. At that stage the hard work will be over, and we can just relax with a few beers. Free finger food from the White Rabbit next door, and there will be some slices of birthday cake flying around.”

While all this is going on, Declan reveals the next step for the Cuttin’ Heads and their ever-expanding merchandise empire. “Chris Power weed grinders, a Spekulativ Fiktion vegetarian cookbook, and JusMe running for Lord Mayor.”

Cuttin’ Heads Collective’s 1st anniversary bash happens on Friday the 19th at the Liquid Lounge, and Saturday 20th at The Brú.

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