For metal, indie and experimental strains of music in Cork city, community and collaboration is imperative. With the help of independent venues and a dedicated bottom line of support, collectives in these genres have turned things around in recent years, and preparing for the future. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the promoters and musicians involved, in part two of an extended look at the city’s community music groups.
While the economic downturn and the changing situation regarding venues in the post-crash property landscape are routinely pointed at as factors for the changes in Cork’s live music landscape after the mid-2000s, there are other aspects to it that can’t be disconnected from the discussion, either: a decline in the numbers of ‘niche’ gig promoters, increased competition at regular doortimes for a younger audience from the re-emergent phenomenon of ‘pre-drinks’, and the availability of Netflix and online gaming services, have all been bemoaned by various musical parties at one time or another, as well as the usual demographic phenomena that beset live gig attendances in a ‘student’ town. All of these factors combined to hit ‘heavy’ music particularly hard during the lean years, as metal, punk, math-rock and post-rock were kept going throughout by a dedicated community of gig-goers and a handful of intrepid DIY raconteurs.
The arrival in Cork of promoter Cormac Daly a few years back proved to be a seismic shift, bringing a new perspective to the business of running gigs in Cork city, starting with his time at the Cork Community Print Shop and running Sofar Sounds’ Cork operation, before announcing the formation of Cosmonaut Music Cork, working diligently to bring aggressive and intelligent music to the city in a way that hadn’t been done before, managing every aspect from aesthetics and branding to live sound and lighting. Along the way, he’s worked with Townlands Carnival and IndieCork among others, and Cosmonaut has become an important port of call, but it was only ever the beginning of bigger things. Last week, Daly and collaborators began to make their vision clear, with the announcement of Real Fear Records, a collectively-run one-stop label and production house, involving himself and the members of Cork alt-pop trio Happyalone. “We originally met when I did sound for Happyalone at a gig”, says Daly. “(From there), I became heavily involved in the design of their live set, and then after that began mixing releases for them, as well as managing the band, and handling their live bookings. Similarly, we began working with some amazing videographers to create music videos and other content. Myself and Baxter (the Robot, pseudonymous Happyalone vocalist) were talking about collaborating with other musicians – who we would like to work with, and what we could offer them, and it just made sense to turn this loose collaboration into something official we could invite other artists to be a part of.”
Comprised of musicians and designers from Cork, Kerry and Limerick, the group behind start-up label Teletext Records span a wide variety of sonic influences, but their recent callout for local bands to work with has thrown up an intriguing roster of releases for 2019, including shoegaze duo Deadbog, sound artist Rokaia, and prog trio Chameleon Fields. Recognising the need to engage an emerging young crowd for gigs in Cork city in ways beyond traditional live music culture, the collective’s live events focus on providing multimedia experiences, placing their artists’ music in new contexts, such as an ‘audiovisual’ showcase earlier this month at the Kino, which took advantage of the venue’s cinema screen. “We were all in a bunch of different musical acts that were hitting a lot of walls in development that eventually broke the camel’s back in our minds, and led to us packing those musical acts in”, says co-founder Donagh Sugrue. “Our aims were essentially to increase legitimacy in everything we were pursuing, but we also had some pretty decent ideas on how we felt organisations like this could/should be structured. Largely, and I imagine this will be the case for most every collective, it’ll start from an antipathy towards a part of the music industry at large. We were getting fed up with two things; emailing promoters & journalists and appearing unprofessional because of the structure of the industry, and bored with playing shows when we felt that the attendees deserved more for their few quid than just two hours in a sweaty room.”
The Paranoid Beast is a two-headed creature: metal gig promoters Con Doyle and Mark Morrissey have been putting together gigs and online spaces for local metal in recent years, and while numbers have been slowly creeping back up, the work that goes into helping rebuild an infrastructure for heavy music for a city is still considerable. But that knowledge of what a city’s crowd for a certain genre needs is what brought them together, and has enabled them to platform heavy music at home, while keeping an eye on broader developments. “Since coming together we have worked hard on social media, through our promotions pages and our community group on Facebook, at building our brand at home and abroad. Over the past twelve months we have put on numerous events in Cork, and have organised two day-long festivals, Monolith in the summer, and Ritual of the Evil Eye in the winter. This would never have been possible if we remained as separate promoters. We work well together and have a mutual respect for each other’s input and ideas. We have an abundance of talent here and they deserve to be heard and The Paranoid Beast will continue to facilitate that going forward. But we are also looking to put Cork back on the touring circuit for international metal acts, (and) starting an Irish metal label to put out some of the Irish acts on vinyl. This would be an overload of work for one person, but as a collective, it has made it much more manageable.”
The Electronic Folk are a collective of musicians working in and around folk, indie and related sounds, including Kevin J. Power, formerly of Cork outfit Versives, singer/songwriter Simon MacHale, and producer Brodie Gee, performing under the name HYPNOTYST. Together, they’ve run a monthly residency at the Roundy venue, worked together on Power’s studio productions and collaborated on each other’s compositions. But creative involvement aside, the practicalities of working collectively have been a major boon for all involved, as the trio have pooled resources and contacts ahead of a busy year of releases. “The major advantage to the collective way of working would be that it follows the ‘many hands make light work’ principle”, says MacHale. “Having put on gigs independently, I realised how difficult it was to manage the whole lot – venue booking/hire, booking bands, equipment, posters, social media promotion, finding a sound engineer, lighting etc. is a tremendous amount to try and do alone. With the collective we could delegate different jobs leading up to a concert, according to our strengths. For example, I would design posters, Kevin would take care of visuals or hiring a videographer, and Brodie would sound-engineer on the night.”
In dealing with the ‘venue situation’ that seems to be an evergreen theme in Cork music, the practicalities of finding spaces at short notice, giving certain venues a rest after heavy runs of gigs, or relocating to try new things is also made easier by a wider web of contacts. It’s served Paranoid Beast well, says Morrissey. “As is the norm in promoting events, some gigs go well, and some not so well. So it’s often the case that you have to move venues. Since we joined together as a collective, it’s made it a lot easier to move around venues as required, because all of us have been involved in the Cork music scene in some capacity for many years, and due to this we have contacts in various venues, which helps because we aren’t tied down to the decisions of a few people.”
While the collective model has already shown tangible benefits for Cork music in recent years, the effects of mutual support those involved cannot be understated in terms of morale and dealing with the pressures of being an artist in the current climate. Across his multiple projects, Daly has found friends and collaborators that have become partners in crime across Cosmonaut and Real Fear, and while there’s ups and downs, staying together and thinking singularly is vitally important. “Keeping this team going has not been easy. We’ve had plenty of setbacks and disappointments, and we have come to rely on each other, as well as friends and family, to keep it going. Anything that slows us down has always been quickly overcome. We are in this for the long haul, and anything that appears to go wrong is just an opportunity to try another approach.”
The ability to take mistakes and problems in stride is all-important when dealing with music, especially on an independent basis. Luckily, independence is the backbone of the Leeside community, and the new lease on life that the collective model has provided for individuals has emboldened people further, resulted in multimedia collaborations that have enriched the artistic life of the city. Looking toward the future, MacHale is hopeful. “Cork is already quite ahead of the game in terms of people who have combined forces in order to collaborate and make things happen. Many are doing the same kind of work we are, even though they might not officially call themselves a collective. I think that Cork has a tremendous amount of talent across all artistic fields – from designers, to dancers, producers, to performing songwriters. I would love to see even more people reach out to each other, and take the step of initiating collaborations with others, even if the end goal isn’t set in stone initially. Attending events and concerts is the best way to meet other people who might share your interests, and even just chatting to people can turn a ‘me alone’ attitude into an ‘us together’ one.”
When asked his opinion on where the growth of collectives and collaboration leads for Cork, Sugrue echoes the sentiment, casting his eye on wider infrastructural issues in the city and how it might look as the city begins its expansion and a period of development that risks alienating the existing city-centre community. “I have no idea, which is what has me so invested in being a part of what might be. I’d love to see more DIY stuff in Cork, and when I say DIY, I don’t mean home recording and self-promoting. I mean occupying spaces, and converting them into venues or into something artistically meritable in its own right. I can feel it in the air, Cork feels like it’s on the cusp of something significant at the moment. I often feel a lot of disdain that music can sometimes take a front seat when people have really exciting ideas about other cultural endeavours too. Is there a DIY animation collective in Cork? I hope there is. I dunno, I always think very hard about how to engage people that aren’t already engaged. If I could plea for anything in the future of music & culture in Cork, it would be to work together; send unsolicited emails, fire a Facebook message, go to events and ask people if you can get involved. You stand to lose nothing, and it’s a good time. Consider it an open call.”
You can find the collectives mentioned across social media platforms, and in your search engine of choice. Keep an eye on Downtown’s weekly gig guide for more gigs as they’re announced.