Cork Sound Fair: “Be Inventive”

Cork Sound Fair, a crowdfunded, non-profit weekender is set to celebrate the proliferation of leftfield sounds at home and further afield. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator Conor Ruane as the event draws closer.

Cork has, in recent years, firmly cemented its reputation as the home of festivals in Ireland, with the city centre playing host to a plethora of new music weekenders and all-dayers that have taken their place alongside the city’s established lineup of genre celebrations. As the culture of music and its consumption continues to change, so too will the nature of programming and curating events: from community affairs like Soul in the City and Quarter Block Party, to specialist excursions like SoundEye and UrbanAssault, festivals have become at once more singular and more experimental, digging deeper into the interests and frames of reference of genre enthusiasts.

Cork Sound Fair, running on March 23rd and 24th in Cork City centre, is just such an affair. Taking place at historic buildings and music venues around the city, the festival is starting as it means to go on, building on a groundswell of support for leftfield and experimental electronic music. Co-founder and curator Conor Ruane discusses the festival’s beginnings, as a reaction to wider events and expansion on the continental scene. “I have had the idea of showcasing this new wave of Irish producers for some time now, but it wasn’t until I heard an excellent Resident Advisor Exchange podcast by Gosia, of Unsound Festival, that I really found myself thinking ‘I need to do this’, and secondly ‘it’s actually possible to do so’. Hearing the challenges they faced bringing leftfield ideas and sound to Poland and Eastern Europe, I found myself thinking that Ireland also needs push our new and exciting artists, to help the next generation.”

Over the course of its two days, the festival brings audiovisual installations and performances to two of the city’s historic spaces: St. Peter’s Centre on North Main Street, a former church, and Cork City Gaol, a landmark nestled in among the picturesque setting of Sunday’s Well. Working with the venues’ management, the festival’s crew has set about the goal of utilising their unique acoustic properties to add to each performance. “I try to bring something different to each project, and venue selection is a big part of that. As a rule of thumb, I try and source venues which are approximately two-hundred capacity. I think once you start exceeding this, it is hard to maintain the atmosphere and feeling in the room. In my book, each venue should be unique. Unfortunately in Ireland, we lack the unused industrial buildings European festivals like Atonal, Re-wire, and Unsound, have so brilliantly used to showcase their ideas. Furthermore, ideas like these rarely get funding or support from the powers-that-be. So we have to work around this, and be inventive, look at spaces which may be currently occupied, and suggest ideas how they can be used in a different way.”

The festival has been 100% crowdfunded via the fund:it platform, and established as a non-profit, in order to invest funders and supporters with a sense of ownership of the event. It’s relatively new territory for festivals in Ireland to formally announce non-profit status, and take the idea of community involvement beyond local support and regular custom. “The crowdfund has allowed us to put in place key pieces of production infrastructure needed to turn St. Peter’s and Cork City Gaol into venues ready to host live performances. Fund:it are really great, they helped us from the very start, and kept in regular contact helping us create further awareness for our campaign. They are hosting a fund:it day in Cork on the 21st of March (at the Bank of Ireland on Patrick Street), anyone who is interested in fund:it should come along to see what they are about. I decided to set CSF as a non-profit as I want people to feel this is also theirs, and that they are a big reason for this happening. Funding for small festivals is very competitive in Ireland, I believe a festival should help the people taking part, and give back to people who make it happen, i.e. the attendees.”

Among those headlining the proceedings are Derry-based composer Autumns and Corkonian producer/improviser African Fiction, while the festival features a wide array of local and national electronic artists up and down the billing (see panel for more information). Ruane goes into detail on choosing a line-up, and his goals in supporting and featuring the local community. “I had three aims when picking the line up. One, to showcase the best Cork based artists, at St. Peter’s on the Friday night.  Two, to showcase Irish artists who are pushing it internationally, but seem not to find applause here. And three, to bring new sounds and inspire the next generation of producers, with the likes of Autumns and Beatrice Dillon. The state of electronic music is both good and bad. I feel there is really great talent and quality acts in Cork, however – and this goes for Ireland in general – there is still a taboo around electronic music. I look at what is happening elsewhere, and I feel we are regressing. I see places like Berlin, where they are protecting the much-talked-about Berghain as a cultural events center, to Amsterdam and London, who are recognizing the importance of a night-time economy, and are appointing nighttime Majors and Czars to look after venues, and promote night culture. We, on the other hand, are closing venues, and further restricting events to highly sponsored corporate shows which are not giving back to the artistic community or the general punter.”

The lineup showcases the breadth and depth of Cork and Ireland’s electronic music community, drawn from a wide pool of performers and sound designers, some of whom are providing workshops in order to create access to production and composition for the community. It is this spirit and passion that is at the heart of Cork Sound Fair. “The lineup is diverse, but I think a theme which runs through each act is a passion and a dedication to sound and experimentation. For example, Robert Curgenven has had critically acclaimed releases on LINE, The Tapeworm, Dragon’s Eye, Touch Radio and his own Recorded Fields Editions. He has performed internationally at festivals including Maerzmusik, Sonic Acts and Helicotrema. Robert has been fine-tuning his craft for many years, and his new audiovisual show in St. Peter’s will be a dark and dynamic journey with many twists and turns. The workshops are, again, CSF trying to enable and inspire up-and-coming producers. Each class is targeted at beginners, and we are encouraging women and members of the LGBT community to join in.”

With support for the festival in place, and those involved getting in position to give back in various manners over the course of this first instalment, surely this is the beginning of another festival to add to the calendar for Cork’s resurgent independent music community. “We haven’t really thought that far in advance (laughs). This whole process has been a very valuable lesson to me personally. I think once this is all done, we’ll take stock, listen to our attendees and decide what is best for CSF.”

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