Taking to the Roundy on Saturday night, hip-hop experimentalist Naive Ted sets out a sonic stall of new and unheard tunes, ahead of their release this year. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Andy Connolly, the man behind the mask.
On stage, he’s Naive Ted, a mute, lucha-mask-clad skratchologist with a penchant for levelling venues with his wildly experimental strain of noisy hip-hop and electronica. Off it, he’s Andy Connolly, musician, social music tutor, festival organiser, and the brains behind DIY hip-hop label The Unscene, proving to be a lifeline for those on the genre’s fringes, throughout the country. In 2015, Connolly released under the Ted pseudonym The Inevitable Heel Turn, his debut under the name and first release since splitting up the “one-man duo” of Deviant and Naive Ted. It’s a certified headwrecker, taking in noise, jazz, some heavy-duty beats, and an eclectic array of samples. Connolly’s satisfied with his work. “People did like Heel Turn. I was surprised really. Still am. Suckers for punishment? Heel Turn was the first time I really got to grips with composing digitally, via Ableton Live. With Heel Turn, and in general, I was just trying to make “my” music, free of scene associations or contrivances. Did I succeed? That’s up to the listener. But I’m my own biggest fan, no one loves my records like I do”, he laughs.
Connolly’s new body of work has been bubbling under for a while as well, effectively since the release of the last one, and is ready to be premiered at Quarter Block Party on Saturday. What can we expect to hear blaring out of the Roundy? ”The sound of the new record is…. everything is f*cked and you’re to blame so you might as well have a dance? Which in fairness is very similar to Heel Turn. It’s probably a fair bit faster. Yeah, ’tis certainly a fair bit faster. And has more of Ted playing the synth and guitar pedals. We had a few friends round too. So it’s the same, but quite different.”
2016 was a busy year for Connolly away from the decks, with his release project (rather than any formal label arrangement) The Unscene becoming a real hub, not just for Irish hip-hop, but releases like unearthed tapes from Limerick noise project Agro Phobia. It’s arguably one of the best labels in the country at present, but Connolly is quick to cut out any lofty talk and explain the label’s DIY ethic. “The only reason Unscene exists is to provide space for the music I like, by people that I know. I haven’t the time, nor the inclination to make it anything but a repository for stuff I like that mightn’t otherwise see the light of day. I can write something resembling a press release, we’ve a mailing list, I’ve a few contacts in the media and I know a load of DJs so it’s better than letting it rot on your hard drive. I do tend to keep it lowkey, rather than shout it from the rooftops, call it an aversion to commercialism, maybe, but I also have a day-job so it’s certainly not a real label in any sense of the word.”
The label’s activity is fueled by this desire to document the current body of sound emerging from areas of Irish hip-hop, but stems from necessity and earnestness of endeavour. “I help where I can, some projects come fully formed, in the case of (Waterford beatmaker) Nylon Primate or (Cork/Galway duo) Run the Jukes, I literally just help with any costs incurred, host it and do the PR. In other cases I might help out with the the recording or mixing too. And then there’s the Ted stuff. But it’s all just an extension of ‘doing the art’. For the most part these are skills I’ve picked up from being an artist, e.g. I never set out to learn Photoshop, we just needed a poster for a gig and no one we knew could do it so I downloaded the trial and figured it out. I’m not a mixing engineer but I did MMPT in college and I’ve been mixing music to make music for years and hanging around with people doing cool shit for over half my life, you just absorb it naturally, or pick things up out of necessity.”
Irish hip-hop is in something of a golden age at present, thanks entirely to the co-ordinated efforts of people looking to make things happen on their own. Connolly isn’t alone in his efforts, with Cork playing host to the likes of Cuttin’ Heads, Young Phantom’s Outsiders group and others. He’s effusive about the buzz of the aforementioned. “Cork is great. Always has been, as long as I’ve been going. Being from Killarney, it was the closest city to us, so it definitely has a special place in my heart. So many of my formative musical experiences happened there – it was where I first saw in real life all the shit I had only listened to, and read about. And in that sense Cork continues to be an inspiration. It’s been a real pleasure witnessing the transition of the Cork hip-hop scene from when I entered the fray, from Elementary, into the LiveStyles festival, and now what’s happening with the Cuttin’ Heads collective. I’ve been looking for an excuse to say it and this seems like the place… Jus’Me! How lucky is Cork to have that dude? Hip-hop MVP of the country for years now. Obviously he does so much sterling gruntwork setting up gigs and keeping things ticking over like the underground trooper he is, but his artistry is so damn high level. DJ-wise, on a modern hip-hop tip, there’s not many out there better, it’s a world class standard he’s at. And if you live in Cork he’s probably playing in a pub near you right now. Lucky b*stards.”
A few years ago, longtime pro wrestling nerd Connolly created and composed the ring entrance music for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Bullet Club faction of villains, thanks to an acquaintance with Fergal Devitt, now known as WWE headliner Finn Balor. The theme boosted Connolly’s international presence, as the onscreen rise of the brash baddies coincided with growing interest in the product in the West. They’ve been in contact since, with Devitt even sharing the music of Ted protege Mankyy recently on Twitter. Connolly reflects on the impact the Bullet Club connection has had. “Seeing Bullet Club win the belts in Tokyo Dome with my song playing was pretty damn cool. It was also somewhat of a validation of my own professionalism. I made a song in my bedroom that’s good enough to get played in stadiums and on TV. That was pretty satisfying.”
Another, not so frequently mentioned aspect of Connolly’s work is youth work, as part of Limerick’s MusicGeneration programme. Via this project, he’s reached out to and worked with some fantastic young talent, including rapper Jonen Dekay, beatmaker Mankyy and others. Connolly explores the relationship between the art and its social benefits. “I’d put the label, the youth work and the music as being different sides of the same practice, that they are all indeed one and the same, or at least borne out of the same idea, i.e. that workshops with groups of teenagers, releasing independent music and performing are just ‘doing the art’. I don’t know how else you’d do it. As far as ‘social good’ of youth work goes, you can read about that elsewhere, written by people with far more expertise than I. Suffice to say, I really enjoy and value the work, the young people are continually inspiring and it provides me with a living. Result.”
Connolly is returning to Quarter Block Party this year, after headlining in 2015. What are his memories of this instalment of the event, and what’s he looking forward to seeing in this year’s programme? “First QBP was a fine time. ‘Twas probably the first ‘proper’ Naive Ted show after the previous experiments at Community Skratch events and LiveStyles. Excellently disconcerting and made me think that maybe we were onto something (laughs)… I’m mad to catch Crevice since I saw the vid on YouTube a while back. And last time I saw Arthur Itis, he was onstage smashing a printer with (rapper) Spekulativ Fiktion and (sound artist) First Blood Part Two so I’m keen to see what he’s bringing to the table…”
A big year awaits Connolly and his masked creation after the dust settles on Block Party. “Ted’s gonna be bleeding music for a while this year. There’s an EP with (Unscene artist) Post-Punk Podge in the bag, should be with ye before the end of the month. And then there’s The Minute Particulars. It’s a series of music by Naive Ted with some appearances from friends, neighbours and musical acquaintances. I wouldn’t call it an album. Just keep an eye out.”
Naive Ted plays The Roundy on Saturday night as part of Quarter Block Party. Kickoff at 10.45, tickets €10, or admission with a weekend/day pass.