Cork Music Collectives Pt. 1: “A Drop of Water Makes a Mighty Ocean”

Leeside music has always benefited from community and common goals, but never before has the importance of pulling together been so evident, than in the post-recession environment. In part one of a two-part special, Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to some of Cork’s electronic music collectives about how they joined forces, and what’s been happening since.

“The process is natural. I was on the bus from Cork to Limerick once, and I was listening to a guy from Charleville speak to a man from Nigeria. I overhead the (latter) state, in his beautiful accent, that ‘a drop of water makes a mighty ocean’. I don’t know why that stuck with me, but that is what it is like. We collectively become something more ocean-like, something larger than ourselves.” No more articulate a man to convey the virtues of collaboration, and sum up the current climate in Cork’s music community, than Humans of the Sesh man Brown Sauce.

The past few years have seen profound change for music on multiple levels. As macro-level changes like the transition to streaming have affected how artists release music and garner wider attention, Cork city’s venue situation has been in flux, amid the churn of the property boom and the usual attrition to which small venues have been subject over the years. Three years, DJ and record-slinger Justin O’Donnell, better known as JusMe, took notice of the changes affecting Cork hip-hop, and set about co-founding the Cuttin’ Heads Collective with other like minds, identifying the needs of genre enthusiasts in the city and the people best-positioned to play a role in addressing them. “I think it was borne out of necessity for us. Running gigs on your own is difficult. You need help, just from a practical standpoint. Cuttin’ Heads came together fairly organically. It’s just a group of mates, really, mostly people I’d worked with on other projects, over the years.”

Celebrating three years together last week, the collective set about running gigs, but also weekly club nights, workshops and a supportive online presence for the genre, providing non-commercial hip-hop with an infrastructure to build upon. On the topic of online presences, social media magnates Humans of the Sesh were brought together by a mutual love of electronic music and its culture. It wouldn’t be long at all, then, until the people behind it leveraged their numbers into SESHFM, an online platform and label run and curated collectively. Brown Sauce explains the rationale behind creating the entity, and its support of leftfield electronica. “We are a collection of people that are aware that our singular efforts are not enough to make an impact in a country like Ireland. Because of a general lack of support, we must support ourselves by collectively promoting SESHFM. It’s the raft that (we have) all chipped in on. When we started building the raft, it was made out of wood, now it’s made out of carbon fibre and has a spoiler, and on this daycent raft we’ll trail the sea of the internet, fishing for venue bookings and more shipwrecked artists.”

Rallying their efforts around a short-notice release and finding their roles as the need arose, HAUSU Records has quickly established itself as a port of call for electronic pop in the city, platforming polymaths like Ghostking is Dead, Automatic Blue and Mothra, among others. With an emphasis on consistent branding and accessibility of material, the collective set out to shoulder a shared burden, according to PRO Colm Cahalane. “When Ghostking is Dead was getting ready to finish Sweet Boy, and with releases coming up from Actualacid, Automatic Blue and (label band) Repeater, we were all really conscious that there was going to be a lot of repetitive work in branding, designing, reaching out to press etc. We knew that by making each of the release phases a group effort, we’d learn something every step, and over time we’d have a process and a shared set of press contacts and such. The idea behind Hausu’s a bit bigger than that – we want to do more events, share more of our process with the public and give more opportunities to our visual artists and designers – but it started with needing to get the music we have to the audience it deserves.”

Working together on a shared goal makes sense, especially with a paucity of resources and a city still smarting from the loss of community arts centres and more eclectic small rooms over the course of the recession. The day-to-day experience of running a collective, accentuating individual strengths and moving forward with like-minded people, has driven the phenomenon to prominence locally, but also benefited individuals hugely, allowing them to expand on their abilities and experiences, such as the case of SESHFM’s DJ Numbertheory. “I’m a lot more of an organizer, and someone with an eye for detail when it comes to piecing a project together. I can contact a very disparate community of musicians, engage them with the idea and get them involved, preaching to them the vision of what’s to come. I can then hand some of the creative reins to Brown Sauce to whip up some aesthetic choices, and come up with some mad tale for promo. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Along with (SESHFM members) Papa Floral and Grand Feen, we all offer different perspectives and come from various musical and philosophical backgrounds so it meshes well. Although I do have to crack the whip sometimes (laughs).”

Where artists and producers are involved, having a skeleton crew of people together to bring coherence to different releases not only makes sense, but is a support system that provides help and feedback at every turn, according to Cahalane. “It’s definitely brought the whole process forward in a new way. Mostly we record together, we post drafts for feedback, mix and master in-house, go through those masters on different speakers and verify them. Every artist has creative space, but everyone chimes in about the way our press is written, our social media is run, our design, the way the music is progressing. We’ve seen a bit of a rise in how press and radio interacts with our work, and it’s given us a banner to use for events and online stuff; we want to step beyond that and get our designers more of that spotlight too.”

The benefits of collaboration are only beginning to make themselves apparent in the larger scheme of things, with collective infrastructure acting as a measure of independence, a means of circumventing restrictions, and fostering a sense of community. For JusMe, the impact of these moves can be seen in the changes in city-centre events. “A lot of the most exciting things happening in Cork at the moment are definitely coming from bigger crews like the Garden Collective, or the metal scene, bands like Bailer, God Alone, Worn Out, etc., who essentially work as a collective. The huge team that make Quarter Block Party possible, that’s a collective. I think it’s the way forward.”

For Brown Sauce, as well as much of the city’s younger musical cohort, working together is not just a boon to the scene, but a lifeline in the face of the legacy of the crash, and the impersonal nature of the city’s impending expansion. “Collective endeavour will save this city from its capitalistic tourist-based hell. Every collective we know, as well as being a group themselves, reach out to other groups from day one. It’s necessary to stay alive. One group might have an issue, another might have a solution. The role of individuals such as Stevie G in knitting these collectives together, and promoting us all as having the one goal, is indispensable as well. Up and down the country, we’ve collaborated on almost all of our projects. (Other groups like) Wriggle, Glacial Industries, Flood – it’s a small scene, and we definitely need each other to come up with creative ways of bringing the people of Cork, and Ireland, this music.”

Next week, we take a look at how collectives have benefited indie, metal and experimental music in the city, and talk about how organisation has helped artists adjust to the current housing and practice-space situation.

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