The Bonk & Percolator: An Odd Venn Diagram

Cork-based improv outfit The Bonk and Waterford shoegazers Percolator are teaming up for a Bank Holiday show at South Main Street’s Spailpín Fanach venue. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with members of the bands about a big double-headline bill.

Psychedelic rock and its associated strains of wayward noise-making have formed an important foundation for the city’s current-day music scene, providing means of sonic exploration and a community to underpin it all. Drawing inspiration from a wide social and geographical web of influences, and running almost entirely on a DIY basis, psych-rock, if not too nebulous a term, has provided a fertile ground for Cork’s musical undergrowth, from which improvisational ensemble The Bonk have emerged. Something of a supergroup including members of O Emperor, The Bonk have been a semi-regular fixture on gig lineups around the city since their inception a few years ago and on May 5th, co-headline a special gig at the Spailpín Fánach alongside Waterford shoegaze outfit Percolator, promoted by Cork-based blog overblown.co.uk.

Initial excursions in live performance were followed last year by the release of debut album ‘Seems to be a Verb’. Bandleader Phil Christie is enthusiastic about how the record has been received in physical form. “We’re very happy with the record ourselves. It was really good fun to record and we were delighted to be able to work with (Irish indie label) thirty-three45 on the cassette release. We were just really glad to get it out there, and start playing some gigs so it was a bonus that people seemed to pick up on some of the stuff when it came out.” Rooted deeply in the improvisation scene that’s been brewing slowly in the city over the last decade, The Bonk’s creative process is lateral at the best of times, but with new material on the way, new directions for their music are emerging. “We have started recording some new tracks in the last couple of weeks, which has been good fun. We also have a good horde of stuff that we have recorded over the last couple of years that we’re still tipping away on, so there’s plenty to be doing at the minute. Our sense of direction isn’t great but so far flutes seem to be featuring a bit more!”

An Spailpín Fánach’s intimate atmosphere and tiered venue layout have provided for a unique gig-going experience, and as it happens, this gig on the 5th will be both bands’ debut within the venue’s stone walls. “I’ve never actually played in the Spailpín but have heard great things. We are really looking forward to sharing a bill with Percolator these gigs – we’re big fans and I think it’ll make for an interesting combination of noises on the night.” After the upcoming swing of gigs that this stop forms part of, The Bonk and its constituent parts are getting down to basics. “We’ve got a good few shows booked over the coming months, but we’ll also be working on getting some new stuff ready for release in the autumn. Myself and (drummer) Dan Walsh have begun working on a new project, The At This Times, which is also a source of craic at this particular time. Music is some effort.”

For Percolator, it’ll be their first gig in the city since appearing among the headline artists at this January’s Quarter Block Party weekender at Amp Venue, an excursion that packed out the Hanover Street club. John ‘Spud’ Murphy, Percolator’s bassist, is effusive about the festival’s whole experience. “Quarter Block Party was amazing. We were very impressed with the organisers’ use of spaces. We had forgotten how many weird and wonderful rooms Cork has to offer. Our show in Amp was a very good introduction back into the live arena, as we’d been working on new material and not gigging for about 6 months. The sound system was great, and fader wizard Joe Cusack did a great job with our sounds.”

Debut album ‘Sestra’ was released last year on vinyl and digital formats via Cork label Penske Recordings, and went on to critical acclaim and an accompanying run of venue-filling gigs around Ireland. A document of a band paying studious attention to its craft, it catches the trio at their odd Venn diagram of Krautrock, shoegaze and psych-rock. At the helm of recording and production at his Dublin-based Guerrilla Sounds studio, Murphy was proud, but is ready for the band’s next move. “We are all absolutely delighted that we managed to get it out of the studio and into the world, after our endless tweaking and re-recording. However, we will never be able to listen to it ever again!”

Alongside a domestic release via Penske, the indie-label operation of Cork musical stalwart Albert Twomey, the album was also issued on wax in France via DIY label and booking partners Permafrost. Murphy goes into detail about the motivating factors of working with both labels, especially dealing with Twomey’s legendary wit and candour. “Penske and Permafrost each gave us the boot up the hole that we had been working towards all these years. Both Albert  and (Permafrost label boss) Etienne are machines, in their own way, especially compared to our quivering gelatinous mess. Albert definitely kicked a bit harder, but it’s okay taking the big boot from one of The Godfathers of the Irish underground music scene.” So, any odds on a follow-up, then? “We’re currently in the middle of recording album number two. Which we’ll hopefully be ready to share with the world something before 2025”, says Murphy, with what looks for all the world like a wry grin.

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