Sarah Buckley: “I Saw Things Differently”

Having played a part in the Rising commemorations in 2016 with a ballad of her own creation, singer-songwriter Sarah Buckley is readying herself for a year of new material, and taking on new horizons in the process. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets a word in, inbetween rehearsals.

Patience is a watchword in the music game, especially when operating off your own steam. Things don’t always fall into place quite the way one might like when pushing away at the industry end, while timing and hitting a nerve with the Irish music community can make all the difference to an artist or a band getting started, in creating goodwill and a reputation. Between those two camps falls singer-songwriter Sarah Buckley, who’s been gigging away patiently for the last few years, putting an impressive number of road miles under her belt, including a couple of navigations of the Irish festival scene, including Electric Picnic, Vantastival and other summer-season weekenders, as well as appearances at Cork’s own Jazz Weekend.

Buckley’s debut single ’You Got Me’ rolled out last month, after two years spent getting a tranche of debut material ready for release. Following a strong run of gigging and festival appearances, the tune arrived with a premiere stream on Dublin entertainment mag Hot Press’ recently-renovated web presence. Speaking over the phone as rehearsals continue for upcoming live activity, Buckley seems relieved that her own tireless DIY efforts in getting material out to press and radio has borne fruit. “I suppose it was a relief. I’d the song written, and after working on music for two years, now was the time to get it out there. I was terrified to be producing my first one, but now that it’s out there, the next one will be less daunting, now that I’ve been through the process once.”

Taking no half-measures, Buckley went to work with material that was hard-mined from her own experiences and influences, heading to studio with engineer/producer Karl Odlum (Glen Hansard, David Keenan) and mastering engineer John Flynn (Bjork, among many others) over the course of the single’s recording. “Karl is well-respected in the music industry, and when you work with him, it’s easy to see why. He is really great at what he does, and made the process easy. He has a great balance of being able to give input without taking the song over, and technically, he couldn’t be better. We went through a few iterations of the song, as by the time I got to the end of a mix, I had learned just a little more and so, saw things differently! John is based in London and so I worked with him online, (but he’s) another talented man who made the process straightforward.”

The market for music media in Ireland has changed beyond recognition in the past decade or so, and as listeners’ tastes have fragmented and become more diverse, a great range of online publications and specialist print magazines have emerged over the years to give Ireland’s independent music community its due recognition, on its own terms. With so many options available that are more amenable to newer artists, and with Buckley garnering praise from the like of Dublin’s Goldenplec and Belfast’s The Thin Air magazines, it was quite a ‘get’ for a self-released record like ‘You Got Me’ to get its premiere via Hot Press, whose remit has traditionally been in major-label signings and legacy artists. “I’m working on my own, doing my own PR. There’s a lot you can do nowadays, yourself, until there’s something bigger than yourself to get people involved in, so maybe I didn’t have an enormous strategy (laughs)… I just thought, ‘that’s a great magazine, everyone knows it, it’s well respected, and it’d be great if they got behind it’. People do seek, I don’t know, a level of verification, that Hot Press and RTÉ can offer by coming behind you, people start to pay more attention.

Radio airplay and the aforementioned online exposure swiftly followed, much of it off Buckley’s own back, as stated. Cork’s RedFM, RTÉ’s online-only 2XM outlet and regional stations around the country were quick to pick it up for airplay on specialist shows, but with the aforementioned shifts in both listener habits and overall patterns of media consumption, it’s arguable that the radio business has become ever more risk-averse, with such shows often placed on quieter live slots, or as on-demand online programming. Buckley outlines how she’s tackled the airplay grind, and reaped dividends. “I emailed people that I thought would be interested in the song, and some people (then) contacted me for it online. It was great that a lot of local stations all over the country were happy to play it, and obviously its inclusion on RTE Radio One’s playlisting was a huge boost for the song, due to the audience size. As you say, it can be a difficult sector, with a lot of ignored emails, but in this song’s case, there was enough of a response to not pay an enormous amount of attention to those. There will always be different opinions with music.”

Placements of all kinds have, for better or worse, become a big part of widening an artist’s audience. In some markets, they can dominate the industry conversation, with your writer regularly receiving press releases from touring bands where television and film usage ranks as highly as critical plaudits and road miles. Buckley’s opportunity came with an appearance on RTÉ’s ‘Reflecting on the Rising’ series of gigs in Dublin in 2016, with artists performing newly-written responses to the conflict that changed the course of history. ‘Wedding Bells’, written as one draft in a Dublin city pub, inverts some prominent narratives around the event. “For the 1916 Easter Rising centenary, RTÉ put on a series of gigs around Dublin. It was a great day, and well attended. I was on a side stage in Smithfield, and so the pressure wasn’t huge where I was. Just a great day really, I played a couple of ballads and wrote one for the occasion, (which) was well received on the day. It could probably be considered the flip side of The Wolfe Tones’ song ‘Grace’. It tells the story of Grace Gifford’s short marriage to Joseph Plunkett, on the night before his execution for his role in the rising, from her point of view.”

We’re at that odd stage for festivals, where we seem to be every few years in the current climate: new events like Cork Sound Fair are steadily being announced and work begins on bedding them down into the national music calendar, while others, at the end of that initial period of experimentation, are simply reaching the end of their life expectancies. For Buckley, for whom upcoming excursions will be nothing new, it’s a matter of staying out there and reaching new people. “One of my highlights was Electric Picnic. It felt like a great achievement to just be accepted onto such an important stage. They’re enjoyable from a singer-songwriter point of view. I’ve always had positive experiences so far with the festivals. I’ve always played to people I haven’t played to before, and they’re always glad to be there!”

‘Wedding Bells’ finally sees a formal release on April 15th via all streaming platforms, two years on from its creation and the opportunities that have resulted. Taking everything that’s happened since for Buckley into account, she was quick to further an effective working relationship with Odlum and Flynn, parlaying their work together into a more streamlined recording and post-production process, befitting the personal nature of the material. “That story is very poignant, but all of those stories haven’t been told by the women on the other side. Getting married on the night before the execution, she was obviously very supportive in his story, in what he was able to do, and I wanted to have a woman’s perspective on things. The song didn’t really change, it was written in one draft, and when we brought it to the studio, Karl liked it the way it was. He added a few bits in the background, but it’s one of those one that came rolling out in the first draft.”

Sarah Buckley’s new single ‘Wedding Bells’ hits streaming services on April 15th, and current single ‘You Got Me’ is available now. Buckley hits the road in May and June, for more information and announcements, be sure to find her across the major social platforms, or on sarahbuckleymusic.com.

Cork Sound Fair: “Challenges of a Different Kind”

Following a successful debut last year, Cork’s non-profit electronic music festival returns with a vastly expanded lineup at venues across the city, and new working relationships across its music community. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator and facilitator Conor Ruane about Cork Sound Fair 2019.

Last year saw the debut of a few different festivals and one-day events around an ever-shifting calendar for Cork music, with an increased focus on targeting specific genres and audiences. While metal one-dayers like Monolith, and broad alternative weekender It Takes a Village were among the group of maiden voyages, it was Cork Sound Fair that garnered attention and specialist headlines around the country for its ambitious mission and status as a non-profit. Citing the likes of Dimensions Festival as an influence in terms of presentation and programming, the festival itself was crowd-funded, with all ticket money, donations and merch sales going back into the festival or into artists’ pockets. Combining live performances with intricate sound-system installations and a fair amount of free workshops between its two outposts at Cork City Gaol and St. Peter’s, the festival was a critical success, and its immediate future was set in stone.

This year sees Sound Fair expand into new venues around the city for its sophomore installment. While the Gaol and St. Peter’s are part of proceedings, new spaces like the Crypt at St. Luke’s, and Washington Street venue The Kino form an important part of the proceeding, each considered specifically for their suitability for a certain artist, according to festival director Conor Ruane. “Each venue was chosen with the performing artist in mind. Friday’s show will have a visual aspect to the performances, and the Kino being a former cinema was the obvious choice to host audiovisual acts like Underling. Saturday sees us move into the familiar surrounds of St. Peter’s Church, which will host the UCC Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, a large room with ample floor space was required to host such a performance. CSF and UCC have teamed up to bring UCC’s Sound Sound Day to the Nano Nagle Place, where a series of talks will be held in the conference hall, whilst the live performances will switch to the 150-year-old, and stunning, Goldie Chapel.”

While the festival has been able to sell tickets directly this year, weaning itself off of crowdfunding and other first-year revenue raisers, the learning curve continues, as the expansion of venues and the facilitation of new artists is a never-ending task for any festival that keeps looking forward. The community basis of Cork Sound Fair, however, has acted as a powerful hook for early adapters. “The second year brings challenges of a different kind, new venues pose new production issues, and bringing people back a second year is always difficult, but the response has been great. Many of those who made last year’s fair possible are back again, and we are really appreciative of this.”

This process of setting down roots in the city’s DIY community, and staying true to those ethics, has been a difficult one after a certain point in time for many successful events in Cork, and around the country, as demand drives supply, and the thrill of supporting a small festival dissipates after a certain point in expansion, at which point more casual music consumers become the focus of attention. On its second year, Sound Fair’s trajectory seems to be pointing upwards, but it’s the community aspect that is at the weekender’s heart. “We operate on a non-profit basis. We feel this is intrinsic in ensuring attendees feel they are contributing to the artistic fibre of the community. We all love to experience genuine things in life, however many experiences these days, while very well put together, leave us feeling a little empty. Cork Sound Fair hopes to provide a multiple-beneficial experience, one where artists are given the support and exposure they rightly deserve, and those who enjoy the experience feel that they have help to establish something that is lasting.”

The line-up is hugely diverse, and in addition to the artists mentioned above, headlining acts include Limerick skratch alchemist Naive Ted and crossover metal duo Bliss Signal. The undercard is also, for the most part, drawn from local and Irish talent. Ruane divulges the booking philosophy behind Sound Fair, and the process of confirming a line up. “Last year, we received a number of really great submissions following our programme announcement. For this year, we wanted to give people ample opportunity to apply to play, and that is why we launched our Open Call in October of 2018. The quality of submissions made for tough decisions, a lot of which have gone into the CSF 2019 programme. Open-call artists, along with non-open call artists, were chosen on their proximity to CSF merits and values, which is original live sound and art, with experimental and electronic undertones.”

The festival also hosts numerous workshops and ancillary events again this year, including UCC’s Sound Sound Day, a showcase for the university’s Experimental Sound Practice MA, furthering a rich tradition of improvisation and experimentation with the lines between sound, music and performance art that reaches all the way back to the outset of the Corkonian avant-garde. “UCC Sound Sound Day, and their director Dr. John Godfrey have been doing something similar to what CSF has tried to establish, and as a result, a pooling of resources was a logical move. John has put together a programme of artists and experts, working in experimental sound, and I for one am very interested to see the multimedia ensemble that is CAVE, in the Goldie Chapel on the Saturday of the Fair.”

As the clock ticks down on the event’s big weekend, and anticipation builds in Leeside music circles, Ruane collects his thoughts heading into it, what’s left to get done, and the festival’s future. “I’m really happy for this year’s programme. I’m not going to lie, it’s great fun to put some of your favourite artists on the one bill. But I am also apprehensive, as we still have a large body of work to get through, so I’m not wishing the days away just yet. There are interesting projects in the pipeline, though, like potential input into Cork’s hosting of the annual ISSTA (Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association) conference, which will be launching their own open call soon.”

Cork Sound Fair runs at venues around Cork City between Thursday March 28th and Sunday March 31st. Tickets for all events are on sale now at eventgen.ie/cork-sound-fair

Alex Petcu and Peter Power: “We Let the Building Win”

The Cork Orchestral Society has brought together two leading local lights in new music for a  show in the Curtis Auditorium, playing with new compositions and touching on the development of contemporary classical. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with percussionist Alex Petcu and sound designer Peter Power.

In addition to maintaining a home for classical music, and a platform for generations of emergent genre musicians from Cork’s conservatories for eighty-one seasons, the Cork Orchestral Society has long been a place for classical music and its practice to develop. In this spirit of innovation, the Society’s latest collaborative concert sees composer and sound designer Peter Power and seasoned percussionist Alex Petcu come together for ‘On Sequences’, a show that brings together elements from each of their respective backgrounds. Hitting on standards from the percussion repertoire, new compositions of Power’s, and previously-performed collaborative work, the show also allows for improvisations, using a wide array of instruments that help blend percussion pieces together.

Although percussionist Alex Petcu was born into a musical family, and benefited from an upbringing within the School of Music’s walls via both his parents being teachers there, it was another passion of his that has informed his body of work, both as a more traditional percussionist, and as a researcher in sound and the properties & potential of everyday objects that create it. “I’ve got a science background. I did physics in college, actually. One thing that drew me to percussion, really, was that, I like all these crazy instruments, it feels almost like a lab, y’know? You come up with all these crazy sounds, and anything becomes an instrument, really. Sometimes things don’t sound like how they should: certain things will sound nasty because that’s what you’ve heard them be, but actually, they can sound completely different, depending on what you do with them, how you hang these things.”

Over the years, Petcu has followed in the family footsteps, partaking in various shows and currently participating as the college’s artist in residence, taking opportunities to develop his craft, and fine-tune concepts like the upcoming Curtis Auditorium show. His formative years being spent in the School of Music have been key to this development. “It helped me a lot. When I didn’t have many instruments of my own, I come in, get practice, get lessons. If I wanted to do a certain piece, most of the instruments, I’d find them there, set them up and rehearse there. It was a safe place to practice, rehearse and get better. With the new building, having the concert hall… when I was there, doing my Master’s, I could use the Curtis Auditorium, and put on my own shows, there. I also organised a couple of group projects there, and it’s nice to get access to a venue like that.”

For Peter Power, the pursuit of sound and its design has been all-encompassing to his development as a practitioner and as a professional. Working with collaborator David Duffy in audiovisual outfit Eat My Noise, Power has run shows in venues all over the city, including installations in St. Finbarre’s Cathedral, and on his own, has worked on commercial projects like Prodijg, at Cork Opera House. Shifting between composition and sound design, this line between the two disciplines is where Power’s contributions to proceedings lie. “I don’t mean to be blunt, but sound design is design, more so than composition. A lot of your role is to become part of the concept, and creative generation of a piece. You’re brought in, there may be a script, or a show idea, built around dancers or singers, and your job is to come in and conceive of the ‘sound world’ that that piece of work occupies. It’s a mixture of technical roles, like knowing how to setup different sound systems; how the software works, presentation, etc., with the creative side of things. It’s quite a funny thing: if you’ve done your job correctly, people don’t realise that it’s happening… or if the sound design is very brash or very loud, people can obsess on it.”

Taking his own musical background into consideration, somewhere between scoring and contemporary composition, the experience of working with Petcu on this collaboration is new territory for the pair, interacting with pre-existing work new and old, but their upcoming Curtis Auditorium excursion is far from their first rodeo. “We’ve collaborated before, more so in these big-scale things, like shows. In this instance, he came to me, said, ‘I’ve approached by the Cork Orchestral Society to do a concert, and I’d like to do something a bit more unusual’. I’d love to work with him, as you rarely get to work with someone like Alex in your musical career. We wanted to do some work that wasn’t just mine, so half of the show is the work of other composers. I said I’d like to write some new pieces, and perform one or two older pieces that are presented in a new way. And how the collaboration grew from there was, Alex and I went to what we called ‘workshop’, where Alex brought in every instrument he had, and we just played, and took notes.”

Speaking on their collaboration, Petcu points out that Power’s experience with big installations, as well as the rapport between them from previous collaborations, has been a difference-maker for his own process in this case. “I’ve done a couple of projects with him already, as part of Eat My Noise, one of them was called ‘Moiety’, which featured percussion, and included myself and a lad called Tomas Gaal. We built on that, but it’s the two of us now, for this gig. It’s not going to just be our stuff, it’s going to (feature) some pieces that I might bring to the table, one piece by Steve Reich, one piece by Michael Gordon…it’ll be (a good mix).”

With a world of big-hall experience between them, the third participant in this experiment becomes ever more important, as the acoustician-designed Curtis Auditorium is custom-built to deliver world-class sonic experiences from live performance. With a DIY approach this time around, the sonic aspect of it is taken advantage of in this case, says Power. “A large part of this was, it’s not a massively-funded production, so there are immediately limitations. It’s what would be called ‘extended concert’ form. It’s going to be presented as a concert, but in a slightly unusual way. It’ll be massively stripped back, there won’t be much in the way of complicated lighting, or any of that. A big concern of this concert for us was how to integrate electronic music, composition and spatial audio into an acoustic percussion ensemble. The thing we’ve been experimenting with the most is a way for the sound to blend, so that it sounds like a new instrument. We allowed the building to ‘win’. It’s huge, it’s got a four-second reverb, it’s unwieldy, and it doesn’t have a huge technical crew, so now what we’re doing is presenting ourselves before the audience, and take some risks, musically.”

‘On-Sequences’ happens at Cork School of Music’s Curtis Auditorium on Thursday March 14th, at 7.30pm. Tickets €20 on sale at the door or corkorchestralsociety.ie.

Craic Boi Mental: Ireland’s Greatest

AUTHOR’S NOTES: The following article is that rarity of all things – a feature-length piece on Irish music news site nialler9.com. Having ceded interest in reviews and the larger breaking-news cycle in favour of a balance of new Irish music and international pop/electronic news stories, it took the subject of this article disrespecting the site on numerous occasions to allow a response.

Having taken the verbal savaging in good humour, editor Niall Byrne gave the all-clear to the below piece after the rapper’s slowly-building cult online presence garnered a head of steam after numerous Twitter mentions by Rubberbandit/podcaster Blindboy Boatclub. It ended up being one of the most-read stories on the site all year, so far.

It was going to happen eventually. It had to. Everyone’s been talking about this. Shots have been fired in all directions since beef kicked off a few weeks back between this parish (bar its Southern Correspondent, hopefully) and one Craic Boi Mental, a rapper, producer and online agent provocateur from Cork City, with a knack for lo-fi production, and an innate ear for an inescapable hook.

This morning early, those in the know were eagerly standing by for the release of latest mixtape Cork City Anthems, by far his most polished work to date. Online feuds with this organ and District Magazine (since squashed) aside, Craic Boi Mental’s relentless work ethic and deeply idiosyncratic style have won him many admirers from Irish hip-hop’s inner circle, drawn equally in recent times for his DIY production prowess, as for the heroic feats of online tomfoolery that brought him to wider notice.

This camaraderie has resulted in appearances on the new mixtape from drone-tone wordsmith Invader Slim, Dublin rapper Fynch, and producer Fomorian Vein, among others; while recent online accolades have come from none other than Blindboy Boatclub, an early influence, grime figurehead Mango along with a Kojaque diss track. Meanwhile, a video for leadoff single ‘Ná Caitheamh Tobac’ is nearing completion, directed by Humans of the Sesh/Somewhere in Ireland man Brown Sauce.

As unrelentingly odd as he is, though, he’s not been without love all along: hip-hop veteran Rob Kelly (a one-time collaborator) and trailblazing skratchologist Naive Ted have publicly been accounted for among his fanbase.

The first question that comes to mind for those just introduced to the manifold wonders of Craic Boy Mental and his many aliases, is usually ‘is this lad for real?’. And it’s within this uncertainty that he’s put down roots in Cork hip-hop, not so much debuting, as simply manifesting himself online, in the middle of 2015. Under the moniker of Dudewithswag, he inexplicably dropped an EP with vocals recorded entirely in a reedy, accented falsetto, and shooting Movie-Maker-calibre videos from his family home.

Infusing the emergent ‘lo-fi hip-hop’ phenomenon so prevalent in online circles at the time with a recognisably Corkonian sense of scut-acting that has closer mirrors in the likes of Nun Attax and Sultans of Ping than anything in current Irish hip-hop, TAFKA Dudewithswag proceeded to relentlessly troll online listeners with increasingly belligerent, hyper-real takes on hip-hop tropes across countless online releases and arbitrary (and almost always unprovoked) acapella diss videos.

From there, a multitude of seemingly-baffling personae have emerged from the young lad’s frame, populating a comic-book-esque universe, referred to interchangeably as #PreciousPosse, #RoyalBoyzGang, #8HourBoyz, etc.: bragadocious King Flora, barely-verbal rapper Sulk Boi, lofi popstar Oscar Benso (below), and truculent banterLAD Yung Gowl are among but a few of his creations.

The differences musically are subtle, but a gift for zero-resource performance art has emerged and made itself apparent over the years, honed by a consistent and very real work ethic that’s seen Irish rappers and memelords alike take him to heart. This has perhaps best been seen in recent times with the cult Leeside success of ‘Polos is Life’, a heartfelt tribute to his favourite impulse consumable.

It’s mad to look at all of this happening in a four-year span, though it’s oddly fitting, with a production style that takes the accelerationist aspect of vaporwave and other online microgenres. into heavy consideration when taking a mirror to certain elements of Irish hip-hop.

And his journey has brought him together with his wife, known Leeside as singer and choreographer Kalikah, who together comprise lo-fi pop duo WhipMental. The duo have even documented their honeymoon around the cities of Europe, for a series of music videos to go with their debut collaborative tape.

Theirs is an odd but engaging story: one that flourishes in the lines between performance/conceptual art, on-the-button Irish humour, and a very real love of hip-hop and its cultural tapestry.

Craic Boi Mental’s “debut” mixtape ‘Cork City Anthems’ is streaming at the top of this article, and available for download exclusively from Datpiff.

An interview in District today is required reading, and Dublanders can catch him in all his glory at Yamamori Tengu, for Good Name, on March 28th.

Already know what it is, lads.

Míde Houlihan: “I Wanted to Create Something That Was Sadness and Comfort”

Having put her debut album out into the world and put in the hours on gigging, Cork-based singer-songwriter Míde Houlihan is continuing as she means to, with a new E.P. suitably titled ‘Shifting Gears’. Mike McGrath-Bryan has a chat with Houlihan ahead of her launch gigs at Coughlan’s and Golden Discs.

Momentum can affect artists in different ways, and what quickly goes from self-expression or jamming with the lads once a week, to suddenly becoming a set of responsibilities and obligations, can affect one’s creative process and desire to continue pushing themselves. Clonakilty singer-songwriter Míde Houlihan knows this all too well, between years of gigs and the success of 2015 debut album ‘Coloured In’. The latter met great critical acclaim and specialist radio playlisting, with IMRO following up by presenting her with a Christie Hennessy Songwriting Award that year.

The next step for Houlihan was a matter of patience, but manifests itself in ‘Switching Gears’, releasing next month. Timing aside, a focus for Houlihan was on narrative and storytelling, going straight to the very basics of the craft. “I’d been sitting on these songs for some time, trying to decide how I wanted them to meet the world. I think, as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve wanted to created situations that people can relate to, and make people feel like it’s okay to feel the way they do, because other people do too. I wanted to create something that was sadness and comfort, so it needed to be upbeat at the right times.”

Once this delicate balance had been settled on in Houlihan’s own time, inbetween a hectic schedule of gigs, making a coherent studio statement meant finding the right person for the job, and translating her internal language to a common process. “I’d heard great things from people who had worked with Christian Best (of Monique Studios), and loved the production on so many things he’d done, so I contacted him. We hit it off in the studio straight away. He just got it. We used images like ”monkeys on a train” to describe the way we wanted the song to feel, and we’d both laugh, but also know exactly what we were talking about.”

The extended-player is also the very first release for local label Unemployable, spearheaded by local raconteur Michael Grace, following a run of gigs around the place under the marquee. The boom in local labels and collectives has been well-documented in these pages as of late, and the combination of elbow grease and shoe leather is, as ever, the key for artists and their collaborators. “They’ve been incredible, we’re in contact almost every day, and they have news about potential gigs, interviews, etc. They always have their eyes peeled for new opportunities, and they work so hard to get them. You can tell they really believe in what we’re doing.”

Houlihan has been gigging around the place for eight years, with the Brú among her regular haunts. She’s quick to offer her take on the scene in Cork city and county, as well as an eternal conundrum that afflicts new and new-ish artists everywhere. “I think for a cover band or act, it’s not so difficult to get started in the Cork gigging scene. I do remember there being more songwriter sessions a few years back, and I think they’re a great platform for original music. It’s hard to convince a venue that you will bring a crowd if nobody’s heard your material, and it’s hard for people to hear your material if you’re not playing any gigs.”

‘Shifting Gears’ launches with a gig in Coughlan’s on Douglas Street on Friday 15th, as well as a lunchtime instore gig at Golden Discs. On the topic of the former, Houlihan exudes admiration for the place, and relays her experiences eagerly. “I’ve played Coughlan’s as a support act on a number of occasions, and have absolutely loved it every time. People go there for music, they respect and enjoy the music, and that’s a real treat, when you’ve played so many noisy bars. You get that pin-drop moment, and it feels like you and the whole room are sharing something pretty awesome.”

That gig is followed by a homecoming show in DeBarra’s on the 24th, that plays straight into Houlihan’s upbringing and local history. Familiarity, warmth and the end of a national touring cycle will make for a special gig for Houlihan herself.  “I’m really happy to be finishing there, because I grew up in Clonakilty, and everything about that venue feels like home. It’ll be like a huge, comforting group-hug at the end the tour, which I probably will enforce (laughs). I’ve seen and played some of my favourite gigs there. They even make sandwiches for the acts at the end of the night. I don’t think it gets more homely and lovely than that!”

The title ‘Shifting Gears’ is a statement in and of itself, but is no trite affirmation, as Houlihan will attest to: after the success of her debut, the time is now to simply hit the road and put the effort in. “I just want to get out there, and gig as much as possible. Play as many festivals as will have me, do an Irish summer tour, tour outside of Ireland, get singles and music videos out there, and work really hard to push this as far as it can go.”

Míde Houlihan’s new EP ‘Shifting Gears’ launches on CD and across digital platforms on Friday February 15th, with a daytime gig at Golden Discs on Patrick Street at 1pm (free), and an evening gig at 9pm at Coughlan’s on Douglas Street (€5). The launch continues on Sunday February 24th at DeBarra’s in Clonakilty.

Story Mode: “The Music I Listened To Then Shaped Who I Am Now”

Ahead of a celebration of the legendary soundtrack curations behind the ‘Tony Hawk’s’ series of skateboarding videogames, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with dedicated series fan Darcie Faccio about its impact on Irish youth subcultures, and videogaming as a force of cultural import.

Next month at the Workman’s Club, a distinctly Irish celebration of a pervasively all-American phenomenon takes place. Graphic designer, DJ and returning promoter Darcie Faccio gets behind the decks and curates visuals for ‘Story Mode’, a multimedia celebration of the Tony Hawk’s series of skateboarding videogames, and more specifically, their carefully-curated soundtracks. A window to a wider musical world for working-class and rural strands of the post-’alternative’ generation of kids, the games introduced young players to a variety of heavier and more eclectic sounds, from American hardcore and punk to pioneering hip-hop. From a social point of view, moreover, it did so right before a time that long-entrenched youth-culture tropes were beginning to give way to wider social trauma brought on by world events, economic crisis and technological disruption.

TOTALLY DUBLIN: It’s one of those thing that was so prevalent in certain circles that you’d be surprised no-one thought of it sooner. But tell us about your experiences with the Tony Hawk’s games and their soundtrack?

DARCIE FACCIO: I was very much a ‘Tony Hawk’s Underground’ kid. It was released while I was in the middle of my “I love Bam Margera” phase, and through that I discovered the previous games. I was twelve, poor and had no idea about “good” music, outside of the one single I owned: Korn’s ‘Thoughtless’, which my friend had robbed from Virgin and sold to me at a massive markup. Through the games, I discovered bands like NOFX, Stiff Little Fingers, Refused, the kind of thing I never would have heard organically as a kid in Crumlin. We didn’t have SKY Digital, so I couldn’t flip through Kerrang or Scuzz (RIP), so this was how I discovered music. As I’m sure is true for most people, the music I listened to then shaped who I am now, and lead to a lot of the formative experiences in my life, as well as connecting me to mates I still have now. Plus Create-a-Skater was great craic.

TD: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 really hit the ground running in late 2000, a few years after the sun set on the wider grunge oeuvre, and just as a lot of broad “alternative” Americana was coming our way – nu-metal, Jackass, etc. Irish pop-culture almost seemed to take a back seat to our interpretations of all this, and the channels it reached us through. What are your thoughts on the cultural import that whole aesthetic had for a generation of young Irish people?

DF: I feel as though, apart from the whole Blog House scene in the early 2010’s, that that was the last great immersive youth subculture. Things like hanging out at the Central Bank, Blast gigs, and getting egged for being an Emo, there hasn’t been a subculture that aesthetically definable since. It was tribal, and gave us a sort of family of people who always knew where to find each other. It was all-encompassing.

TD: We can talk about the soundtrack and the aesthetic all day, but ultimately it comes down to the game: we can talk forever about physics, score-beating, challenges, etc, but what was it for you that makes the games and series stand out to you all these years later?

DF: For me, it has to be how they managed to contribute to a worldwide movement, that in itself is incredibly rare for a videogame franchise. Skateboarding was a fringe sport before the release of Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding. They also managed to capture the real-life difficulty of skating, you failed and failed often, but it managed to instill you with a determination rather than frustration (most of the time).

TD: Looking at how the series died a death, and the failures of (series reboot) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, it’s awfully like a microcosm of the greed and wheezings of AAA gaming in general. Ironically, though, gaming is a greater cultural force than ever now. What do you feel is the series’ legacy to gaming?

DF: I think when it really died was after Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. It was so ingrained with Jackass, that it became a sort of parody of itself trying to pander to that crowd, which at the time of the release of American Wasteland was already in its death throes, though this speaks to how deeply, as a game, it was ingrained in youth culture. I think a lot of sports games now are concerned with realism, the TH’s series wasn’t, it was more about making the player feel like a pro skater. I think this style of emotional gaming has informed today’s gameplay outside of the sports genre, and I would love to see another TH’s release recapture some of that magic. After all this I honestly wonder: will Tony Hawk’s legacy be his skating or the games?

TD: The night itself also has visuals taken from classic skate tapes, the likes of the cKy series.. What was the process of sifting through all of these like?

DF: Made me feel all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia. Some of those tapes remind me of one of the best times in my life. It also really made me miss skating, I regret quitting, I could have been a pro, but now we’ll never know.

TD: This is your first gig back as a promoter, and the first under the name DADDY. What brought you back into the dark arts of talking people into a building, and what do you make of the current musical landscape in Ireland?

DF: In short, it gives me a great buzz. I love seeing people have fun, there is so much crap going on in the world that’s difficult to make sense of, and we need an outlet more than ever. Unfortunately, as a city our creative institutions are being ripped away from us at an alarming rate. There is so much class talent out there, and a lot of unique and experimental things going on, and it’s very important that we give our talent a place to express themselves or risk them (and they are) leaving. Let’s try and hold on to our amazing musicians and creatives and give them room to thrive. The media is saying young people aren’t going out anymore, and I think we need to look at why, as a young creative myself I disagree with the theory that it’s a lack of interest in music/clubs. Lots of European cities are thriving. Oppressive licencing laws as well as a lack of support and funding are just some of the reasons we need to take a look at.

TD: What next for both the extended idea of a Tony Hawk’s series soundtrack night, and for DADDY Presents?

DF: The night was only ever intended to be a one-off, a bit of fun to help me ease my way back into the game after such a long hiatus, but the response has been huge. For part 2, I would love to introduce some consoles into the mix so people can play while they pint, a live band would be another element I’m looking into. For DADDY, there are some international acts being announced in the near future, as well as homegrown talent. I saw JK Flesh in Workman’s last year and discovered that as a venue for techno, industrial and dance music in general it’s a massively untapped resource, so that’s something I’m planning on exploring. Really, if I’ve given even one person an escape for a few hours, and put a smile on their face, then that’s my job done.

‘Story Mode’ takes place at the Workman’s Club on Friday February 8th. Kickoff is at 11.30pm, and tickets are available now at TicketWeb.ie.

Outsiders Festival: “We Want It to Be Much Bigger Than Local”

March 2nd at Cyprus Avenue sees the Outsiders Ent. collective of rappers, musicians and visual artists take their vision to the next level, after years of work and learning, when the all-night Outsiders Festival puts a spotlight on themselves and their collaborators. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Outsiders Y.P., Kestine and Sai Wing Ho about the process.

A great amount of column-inches and bandwidth have been spent in recent years singing the praises of the rapid development of Irish hip-hop and its related culture, with a vast amount of videos, music and documentary content of various kinds providing the genre with a massive bottom line on which to continue its growth. As the broad fragmenting of listenership continues within the music industry, and younger musical palates are nourished by access to an unprecedented array of artists and styles via streaming services, Irish hip-hop’s rise is tied not only to demographic phenomena, but social change in Ireland. A new generation of multicultural artists whose lives, experiences and creativity centre around Ireland and its society, have vested the genre with their hard work, vision and ambition.

Central to this development among a new generation of Corkonians have Outsiders Ent., a group of creators brought together by common artistic goals, in the manner that’s been happening all over Cork music in the post-recession environment. Threading together music, visual art, photography, conceptual art installations, fashion and publication over the past number of years, the Outsiders’ gutsy take on keeping all of these things up in the air is, as is usually the case nowadays, a matter of necessity, according to co-founder Y.P. “When I was still in Uni, (co-member) Olympìo and I thought of creating a collective. Like, a place to include any person that we vibed with. But it wasn’t until, like, late 2016, that we really started doing anything. We were both kind of busy with life, and still trying to figure ourselves out. To be honest, we still are. But now we are more focused than ever before. We’ve decided to fully commit and put one hundred percent into the year, and hopefully, we get something in return, and help boost the hip-hop and music scene in general.”

When it came time to put names and a mission statement to the group, the process of arriving on common goals, an aesthetic, design, and other aspects of the operation among everyone involved was a natural one, as interests converged and people came into their element as creators. Getting all that together was a matter of coming up with a common workflow to the various things that come with creating and releasing music, which didn’t exactly unfold across a number of meetings, according to Y.P. “I’m in charge of editing, mixing, and mastering. Sai (Wing Ho, visual artist) usually deals with the visual aspects, whether it’s album covers, the logo, overall image, and more recently music videos. The rest of the guys focused on the music really. I suppose now everyone is getting a bit more involved with different aspects of the brand. It’s great to see that. I’m more confident that we can go really far because everyone has their head down and is really pushing themselves. I suppose the mission statement came about when we all agreed on what we felt the main goal for Outsiders Ent was, and is. We want Outsiders to be much bigger than local. I guess that would be our goal this year.”

The various members of the Outsiders have been steadily releasing singles and EPs online over the course of the past few years, almost entirely off their own steam in the absence of any established infrastructure outside of the community. The learning curve involved has led to the lads looking at their own goals as individuals, and as DIY musicians, as opposed to industry-centric heads. “We’re not really like that to be honest”, says Y.P. “Like, we really just want to leave a big impact in the world, more than anything else. We don’t function like a business yet. Although we are working on that this year. I think maybe it’s necessary to think of ourselves as more of a business to maximise our chances of success. We are trying to get more organised, and more precise, and just better at doing things for each other.”

Fellow Outsider Kestine is circumspect about his time in the group so far, the mutual support it offers, and having watched its accomplishments to date unfold. “It’s been quite an experience. Especially seeing Y.P. push through and do his thing. For me, I think, it was the last year where I’ve been really able to put focus on the music. ‘Cause I recently graduated from university, and after my graduation period, it was time to put my focus onto music. But definitely seeing him put in the work, has been inspiring… I don’t want to gas him too much, but he… he is a quote-unquote genius, in his own right.”

Visual artist and video editor Sai Wing Ho’s cinematic visual work for various singles’ promotional videos, like Y.P. and Pharaii’s ‘The Bag’, has done wonders for the group in terms of garnering wider attention online. Now, more so than ever, the idea of garnering traction as an independent artist means going where your people are, and for Sai Wing, capturing sets of eyeballs on social media is part of the process, but design and print are of equal importance to the mission. “To be honest, I only started making videos because we believe that is what people like to see. Releasing music alone is not enough to draw people’s attention nowadays, people like to see more, especially with the internet and social media. Artists have to be able to showcase their persona through different outlets, let it be music videos, social media or whatever… If you look at artists like A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, I love their visual aesthetic and music videos and that’s how I actually become a fan of their music. What I’m saying is that artists nowadays have many ways to become successful, they just need to get creative with it. This year, Outsiders will definitely release a lot more music videos and content, to garner as much attention as we can and hopefully we will see the result by the end of this year. We’ve actually also already worked on and finished our ‘Solitude’ magazine. We hope to release it later this year. It’s like really a representation of what connects us all together, and we hope that everyone that reads it can relate and understand us a little bit more.”

The road to the group’s endgoals goes through The Outsiders Festival at Cyprus Avenue, an all-night gathering of like minds that happens on Saturday March 2nd from 9pm, co-produced by Dublin-based outfit WordUp Collective, of whom Y.P. is a working affiliate. Alongside collaborative and solo performances from the Outsiders themselves, firm festival faves like Tebi Rex and JYellowL are joined by emergent voices like Belfast’s Jordan Adetunji, and hosting proceedings is this parish’s own Stevie G. For Y.P., the gravity of this event is heightened by circumstance, as he, like others, is weighing up his options in Ireland. But in the now, it’s about getting the event over the line. “In terms of organising, it hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to organise events like this. But we are lucky. Just because of the venue and the Word Up family, even though we actually recently had to cancel the daytime part of the event because we were worried about the overall costs. But Ger, who is the owner of Cyprus Avenue, and Eoin who runs the show there, have been super in helping us make this happen. Ger has been one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. So they’ve made it as easy as it could possibly be for us. I suppose the hard part was really getting all the artists, figuring out fees, and trying to promote the event. These are the parts that can be very hard. The Word Up collective was pivotal for that. They helped us get in touch with the artists, and contacted some of their connections to get the word out about the show as well. We’ve had help along the way. You’d be surprised by how helpful people are sometimes.”

The event’s stated goal is to represent a celebration of Irish hip-hop and urban culture in its current form, and what it’s come to, as well as where it’s come from in the form of host Stevie G’s involvement (see panel). It’s a combination of time, place and talent that deserves to be celebrated at this point, as the genre’s mainstream presence in Ireland continues to grow. “It’s looking like it’s gonna go pretty far,” opines Y.P. “The talent, at least for me, is at its peak. I don’t think there’s been this much buzz and quality in terms of urban music at least in my time. I also feel the artists are more internationally-friendly in terms of their sound. Better production, and everything. Even the music videos look way more interesting and creative than before. So we think the potential is huge, and hopefully, it becomes huge, and we play even a small role in making that happen.”

The Outsiders Festival happens on Saturday March 2nd at Cyprus Avenue, with kickoff at 9pm. Tickets €12.50 available now from the Old Oak and cyprusavenue.ie.