Cork French Film Festival: “A Collective Achievement”

At a time where the link between culture and international relations is more important than ever, the Cork French Film Festival celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with the theme of togetherness in a time of division. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Jean-Christophe Trentinella.

Since 1989, Cork’s French Film Festival has proved to be an important cultural bridge between Ireland and France, bringing the best of the latter’s storied cinematic history to Leeside audiences every spring, with the help of the local Francophone community, the city’s most dedicated cinema enthusiasts (see panel below), and the infrastructural oversight of Alliance Française de Cork.

On its thirtieth anniversary, the festival’s chosen theme, ‘Ensemble’ (‘together’) is more than apt, coming along at a time of international upheaval as Brexit drastically changes the contours of European relations, and as calls are renewed for stronger ties between the countries. The importance of these two points to this year’s festival were outlined by the presence at this year’s launch of Tánaiste Simon Coveney, acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Speaking at the launch event last year, Coveney emphasised the importance of the international collaboration that underpins the festival annually. “France and Ireland have vibrant and historic ties. Culture is an important part of maintaining and strengthening our links, so it is particularly appropriate that the theme of this year’s festival (explores) how we are all interconnected.”

On the importance of these seismic events to the programming and curation of this year’s event, recently-installed director Jean-Christophe Trentinella discusses the uncertainty Brexit has created, and how it has inspired the festival’s theme. “The imminent Brexit is difficult to ignore, as it’s going to impact everyone in ways that are difficult to foresee because of the multiplicity of ties, cultural, economic, social, etc. that connect nations to one another. So the notion of uncertainty was the starting point of the thought process. However, it became increasingly clear that the focus should be on interdependence, the undeniable fact that, for the better or worse, we are in this together.”

Working with guest curator Marie-Pierre Richard, the process of bringing together this year’s selection of films is the first step in reinforcing these cultural ties, as the festival works closely with filmmakers, distributors to bring these pieces of work to Leeside audiences. “Marie-Pierre and I have been working constantly over the phone and through emails, and it is through our conversations that the theme emerged progressively. Marie-Pierre’s sensitivity helped her select and source films that would speak to different audiences, and would speak to this year’s theme. In a way, the work process itself is an extension of the necessity of working together in uncertain times. In regards to dealing with filmmakers, guests and distributors, Marie-Pierre operated her magic behind the scenes.”

The festival’s spirit of collaboration extends to its opening night, where the gala opening happens at St. Peter’s on North Main Street, with turntablist and DJ Jean du Voyage playing a set, and invited guests from the French film community attending. The importance of these partnerships not only to overall cultural life in Cork, but specifically the Francophone community in Cork city and county, can’t be underestimated. “Partnerships are essential for the life of a festival, that’s why we are so grateful to be supported by wonderful partners and sponsors. Beyond that, fostering partnerships and relationships is at the core of the Alliance Française’s DNA. We are always looking at ways to make our countries and people closer. And bringing the best of French culture to Cork and Munster is an essential part of it, the other main aspect is teaching French. An event like the opening night gala of the festival really embodies what we are all about, because it is thanks to partnerships with the City of La Rochelle, and La Fondation Alliance Française, the support of local food producers, sponsors, the French Embassy and St. Peter’s that we can bring Jean to Cork. And we hope that it will bring both the Irish and French communities together.”

Aside from hitting themes of togetherness on social and political levels, the Festival will also be working with the Cork Environmental Forum and local food producers to produce crossover food events. With food being a large growth sector in Cork county in recent years, and a central component of trade between Ireland and France, the importance of these extracurricular activities to the festival extends beyond secondary programming. “We wanted to make this festival relevant to people by offering a program that reflects the current complexity of life, and also by involving different groups and community groups. The environment is certainly one of the most pressing matters as we may simply end up facing extinction by destroying our habitat. These moments of gathering are essential to connect, bond, communicate and create forces that will drive change. And of course, food plays a big part in the French art of gathering in the dynamic of a festival.”

The festival itself enjoys support from numerous international partners, and as has been stated, is seen as an important link between Irish and French cultures. The diplomatic importance of events like the French Film Festival is seen in the attendance of dignitaries like An Tánaiste and the French Ambassador to Ireland at launch events, and is a valuable opportunity for cross-promotion in the fields of tourism. “There is, of course, a diplomatic dimension to cultural networks such as the Alliance Française, the British Council, Goethe Institute, Confucius Institute etc. in the sense that their purpose is to foster understanding and positive relationships between countries, and good relationships facilitate tourism and business. An event like CFFF offers, incidentally, a window to promote France, its beautiful countryside and invite viewers to come and visit. This is, therefore, no coincidence that some of our partners and sponsors include Cork Airport, or Brittany Ferries.”

As the time draws closer for the festival’s launch, Trentinella’s work is well cut out for him, but with a rich and varied programme of cinema ahead (see panel), getting out to see everything might not be such a clear-cut task. “A festival is a collective achievement, and I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our team, our volunteers, and for the support of our Board, our partners and sponsors. I hope that the choice of films will inspire viewers to come and see them, and that they will leave the theatre with a heightened feeling of connection with the rest of humanity. I personally would like to see as many films as possible, but I know that I will probably only manage to see one or two, as our team and I will work behind the scenes to ensure that the festival runs smoothly.”

Three decades in, the Cork French Film Festival continues against not only a backdrop of international change, but a shifting urban landscape, as the city reacts to expansion and the turnover in venues and spaces available to festivals and cultural facilitators. “Most of the problems we are facing collectively come from a false sense of disconnection. This is symptomatic of the dominant economic model, which relentlessly seeks growth whereas our resources are limited, and our world finite. That’s why we are not seeking growth, but growth within reason, and simply to continue to be a player in Cork’s cultural landscape, and continue to bring the best of French cinema to Cork. As Cork continues to evolve, we will evolve with it. We have been doing it for thirty years already!”

Cork French Film Festival runs from March 3rd to 10th at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street and other venues around the city. For more, check out corkfrenchfilmfestival.com.

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.

Quangodelic: “It’s Like a Runaway Train!”

After years of laying down the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk around Cork City, the multiple-headed beast that is Quangodelic is finally ready to give up their debut album and turn it loose on an unsuspecting population. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with bassist and bandleader Pat Allott.

Your writer can hear the eyeballs rolling in the backs of people’s heads as he types, but there’s always been something a little of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band surrounding Corkonian funkers Quangodelic. If not musically, then certainly in terms of structure, a rotating door of some of Cork’s finest musicians coming in and out as they please, resulting some nights in tight, funky performances, and others in controlled, collaborative chaos. It’s all part of the charm for a band that’s been slugging away for years in Cork city on a fairly solitary path, alternating between tutting, smirking social commentaries and livewire takes on funk and soul classics with a Blaxploitation vibe.

A bit mad for a collective that revolves around adopted Corkman Pat Allott, who reclines in a seat upstairs in the Sin É on Coburg Street, right before the evening rush, and regales your writer with the story of how the band’s aesthetic and original material came together from a regular residency at the Roundy, on Castle Street. “It was always live, but I was a big fan of the Munster Soul nights, there were some really good DJ nights in Cork, so when we started doing it, I was thinking, ‘y’know, we might attract more people if they think it’s a DJ thing’. So, we’d do a Black icon on the posters to make it look like a Munster Soul night, try to sneak people in. It was a stupid thing to do, because we called it Quangodelica, and everyone got confused between the band and the night. It was foolish behaviour, but you learn from the mistakes.”

The band’s self-titled debut intends to act as an introduction for new listeners, and has slowly been on the boil for a number of years, reflective of the band’s approach to creativity, recording and the grand balance between anywhere up to fifteen performers across the record’s duration. The theme for the album came to Allott amid all of that chaos, during their studio time in the sadly-defunct Camden Palace Hotel, and that’s a fair assessment of the experience. “It’s always tricky when you’ve got that many people. The advantages to something that big, is a different energy, live. I’ve played lots of different types of music over the years, and this is so much fun. When you’ve got a big horn section, guitars… you can’t out-’ear-damage’ three trumpeters, they’re so powerful, and it becomes this thing. Sometimes it’s really difficult to stop. Quangodelic on a good night, it’s like a runaway train, you don’t know where it’s going to go, what’s gonna happen or who’s going to show up. The advantage of having so many people, is that you can keep the show on the road if you’re missing a few. It’s a matter of who’s available when, ‘cause people have lives!”

That same recording process, and the resultant herding of cats across several studios and rehearsal spaces, has contributed to the feel of the record, a faithful document to the band’s live experience. Getting that feel has been all-important to Allott specifically, and he’s happy with the end result in that regard. The process itself, though, was a reflection of some of the band’s own circumstances and events. “I think the trick was to not use the click track, get it live as possible. It is that simple. If you overthink it… some of it worked really well, some tunes didn’t come out so good so they didn’t make the album. One of the sessions we did, the drummer had got horribly drunk the night before and broke one of his favourite drum machines, which made him really cross and intense, so the songs that needed to sound relaxed sounded awful, but that songs that needed to sound cross, he was absolutely on it.”

The record was mixed by Charleville man Stephen Rea and mastered by Rockstar Studio in the UK. The real stars of this release, however, are Dublin record-pressers Dublin Vinyl, the first new plant in Ireland in over three decades, and specialists in affordable short runs for indie artists. “I have only got good stuff to say about Dublin Vinyl. I handed over the masters to them, and got back a good, thick, 180-gram vinyl. It sounds amazing so far. We kept the length of sides to the right length. Keep it less than 22 minutes a side, and they can do a good thick groove that sounds right.”

Pat’s own excursions into crate-digging over the past few decades have created a rich and varied archive of releases for him to dig into for DJ sets and other adventures, including a lifetime of engagement with community radio stations. This continues today with his weekly slot with Coburg St.-based online station Room101, ‘The Funk, The Whole Funk and Nothing But the Funk’, a pre-recorded set directly from his decks, and the depths of his collection. “I’ve done a lot of DJing (at radio and in clubs) for a long time, and what happened when I came to Ireland was, I was doing a lot of indie stuff, goth stuff like the Sisters of Mercy to keep the punters happy. Then I moved to Dublin, and I was free to reinvent myself, play funk, hip-hop… Alex at Room101 is dead-on. The big thing is sitting down, playing records, getting them onto MP3. The show is (taken from) my collection, and that takes time, but it’s also really nice. When you have shedloads of stuff lying around at home, it’s kind-of sad, so it’s nice to be able to listen.”

The band, in various configurations, is taking on a small run of dates around the county to launch the record, including a February 22nd trip to the Kino, on Washington Street, for a free gig. The venue has played host to the band in the past, and a stage of that size is well-able to play host to the whole ensemble on the big night. But capacity aside, the venue has a special significance for Allott himself. “We were doing a regular one there for a while, it was lovely. Because it’s an old cinema, it’s a ‘dry room’, and treated in such a way that if you hit a snare, it doesn’t reverberate forever. I love the Kino, I took my daughter to see Studio Ghibli films there when she was young enough, when it was still a cinema. I’m delighted it’s still in action at some level, with lots of good stuff on, it’s a great venue.”

Quangodelic play The Kino on Washington Street on Friday, February 22nd. Kickoff is at 9pm, and admission is free. The band’s self-titled long-player will be available physically on the night.

God is an Astronaut: “Everything Felt as Natural as It Could”

With ninth album ‘Epitaph’, Glen of the Downs post-rockers God is an Astronaut have prepared their most sonically and thematically heavy record yet. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to co-founder Niels Kinsella ahead of their gig at Cyprus Avenue on February 8th.

Traversing the world, and creating a vast palate of sounds in and around the post-rock genre’s outer limits, Co. Wicklow five-piece God is an Astronaut have seen and done possibly everything there is for them to see and do, enduring nearly everything a band could have thrown at them at a turbulent time for independent music. And yet, for all of their accomplishments and a rich body of work, when it came time to face down a profound personal tragedy, the band took shelter, pride and comfort in creating a transformative, wildly cathartic and heartbroken piece of music. In doing so, they’ve arguably emerged with an album that’s redefined them as a creative entity, and bears the hallmark of the kind of soul-searching only that grief can inspire in someone.

New album ‘Epitaph’ released in April of last year via Napalm Records, a new label for the band after years of alternating between UK indies and self-releases. Niels Kinsella, one half of the brother duo at the heart of the band, is careful to discuss the inspiration behind a crushing yet vital musical proposition.We are very happy with the album, even though it was a very difficult for us to write. It was written in memory of our seven-year-old cousin, whose life was tragically taken just over two years ago. Working with Napalm Records has been positive, they’ve been very supportive and respectful of our identity.”

Tapping into the groundswell of emotion and experience that bereavement evokes, the band took a turn for the sonically and thematically heavy, wrenching out of themselves a heavy, at times guttural take on the band’s traditional play with sounds. Oddly enough, then, the record is rooted in the most bare-bones idea preparation one imagines a band like God is an Astronaut engaging in. The songs themselves were written all in the immediate aftermath and were essential for us to try and come to terms with this extremely traumatic event, words could not express our feelings but the music could. All of the songs are about the different aspects of the tragedy so naturally this is by far the darkest and most personal record we have ever written. The songs were mainly written on a Piano, it offers a larger combination of notes than a guitar and helped capture the exact emotions.”

For the first time in the band’s long and storied run, they were joined in studio by a creative ‘third-person’ in a non-production role, with Rob Murphy and Conor Drinane of Dublin electronic duo Xenon Field taking part in songwriting and improvisation, to provide another perspective. “They helped us a lot in post-production, and really understood what we were making. They wanted the style to further reflect the subject matter by making the sounds more broken/imperfect. For example, they put the sounds through various tape devices with bad tracking, the notes warbling in and out tune helped it feel more haunted. Using lots of tape saturation made it feel more stressed. We used lots of experimental plugins like Unfiltered Audio SpecOps, and lots of analogue outboard like the Niio Iotine Core, Mutronics Mutator and Snazzy FX Tracer City.”

Working as a unit between four of them, and including the contributions of former members and guest musicians, Xenon Field ensured the Brothers Kinsella’s trademark sonic interplay would be evident. The group set out to ensure that everything felt as natural as it could throughout production. “We also introduced a doom-laden guitar sound in sections, tuned to drop A, but with a twist. I put an Earthquaker Rainbow pedal on my guitar which warbles the tuning in and out of tune, that combination really captured the dread and ugliness that some of music was conveying. We also used live amps on this record, as amp simulation equipment didn’t quite fit the style. It had to have a raw flavour. Jimmy Scanlon, who owns Jimi’s Music Store, helped me out by supplying lots of vintage amps, and also played on our record. We used ribbon mics to keep the sound warm. The drums were mic’d with a pair of Ribbon Coles 4038, which is something we never used before. It gives the drums a dark sound that the music craved for. It was also the first time we did analog mastering, we wanted something more vintage and authentic.”

There are a wide variety of topics & themes at play in the record, coming under the main theme of grief and catharsis; including imagery of mythology and natural beauty. Arrangement and ideas aside – how was it to focus on dealing with such an overwhelming, universally relatable sadness into a body of work?In one way it was therapeutic for us, but in another it was overwhelming having to relive those feelings over and over again as we worked on the record throughout, at times it even became oppressive. It was important to have some positivity and hope on the album to balance it out.”

The band has recently pressed its entire back catalogue back onto vinyl, on sale now at various tour stops. Kinsella outlines the process of getting the band’s catalogue together after an extended mastering process, and how it was to view an extended body of work in the rear-view mirror, at least in terms of a set of physical pieces.We had remastered our entire discography back in 2012, with Tim Young at Metropolis Mastering Studios in London, so it made it quite manageable to revisit the masters, as they were all on file, and cut them to vinyl. It was very gratifying, and even nostalgic, looking at our entire body of work at the same time. When we laid out all the vinyl on the table so many memories came back to us.”

The vinyl revival is an ideal opportunity to supplement live and merchandise income, but has yet to make up ground for loss of artist revenues as streaming overtakes both CD and now download as the prime digital format. While catalogue reissues and streaming revenues have gone a way to addressing the shortfall from the possible death of ‘owned’ formats, as is the case for many artists, the solution hasn’t quite arrived yet for the band, who also find themselves facing the challenge of changing habits that streaming has caused among casual consumers. “Ultimately streaming hasn’t really helped, if anything it’s lessened our revenue. Fans who have bought our records in the past are now content to just sign up to a streaming service, and the artist revenue from that is significantly less. You can also see trends of listeners just listening to specific playlists, for example ‘ambient music’, where the artist identity isn’t even that important, the listeners are only interested in one specific style to suit their mood, and do not want be subjected to a mixed variety. So that, in my opinion, kills the concept of an album where there is a journey. For us, it’s fifty percent live shows and merchandising, and the other fifty percent is releasing new music, which is a big change in the last ten years, where the revenue was seventy percent releasing new music and thirty percent live shows and merchandising.”

Before heading to Bucharest in May to support the Cure, and ahead of touring the US later in the year, the band returns to Cyprus Avenue on Friday February 8th as part of its coming run of Irish dates, for the first time since the venue completed its expansion late last year. Kinsella collects his thoughts on the old venue, a regular stop of theirs, and anticipates changes.I haven’t seen the changes in person yet, but I am pleased that Cyprus Avenue has finally been expanded. It was difficult in the past to fit on stage, and we had to leave some production out. I think from an audience perspective, it was hard to see a band clearly.”

God is an Astronaut play at The New Cyprus Avenue on Caroline Street, on Friday February 8th. Tickets onsale now from cyprusavenue.ie.

Hilary Woods: “I Do Vibe Off Being Thrown In at the Deep End”

Songwriter and artist Hilary Woods has established a fiercely DIY identity, nestled somewhere between shoegaze and electronica. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the former JJ72 bassist about the process behind her debut solo album, and performing it live at the Triskel Christchurch.

Since returning to artistic practice full-time across songwriting, scoring and theatre, Dubliner Hilary Woods has taken a long and sometimes inward-looking path to establishing and asserting her identity as a solo artist. Across a pair of stunning extended-players, the latter of which, ‘Heartbox’, was crowdfunded to completion, Woods’ own influences and ruminations on the human condition are far removed from her contributions on bass to the sunny, accessible alt-rock of 2000s Irish indie cruiserweights JJ72. Taking control of her artistic destiny, Woods’ solo output has long since outweighed her former project’s, thematically and musically, with an emphasis on tone and texture comparable to contemporaries like Grouper and Marissa Nadler.

Debut full-length ‘Colt’, released last summer via New York indie institution Sacred Bones, saw Woods tie together numerous strands of thought regarding internal monologues, and their effects on perception and mental health. Touring continues for the record this year, but Woods is now living with it as a piece on its own merits, reflective of the circumstances surrounding its creation, but now left open to listener interpretation. “I think my feelings on it change as I gain distance from it. I made the record at a vulnerable time; it’s a personal, intimate record with a DIY heart. I’m not sure an LP is ever ‘finished’, but it’s living its own life now that it’s out.”

The record is indeed weighty throughout, with themes of catharsis in artistic process and making sense of everyday malaise being most prevalent. No surprise, then, to hear that the record is as much a confessional, informed by emotion and experience, as it is a concept piece. “For me, the making of this record arose out of a necessity to address inner currents, and confide them to tape. I never arrived at a concept as such, it was more of a case of the songs imbibing variations of a similar feeling. It has an emotional weight to it, for sure. The record grew and took shape from a long period of time writing and recording at home.”

Woods worked with Corkman James Kelly to produce the album, one of Irish music’s more distinct creative entities, via black-metal outfit Altar of Plagues and solo electronic project WIFE. The process of finishing the album, and working with Kelly on realising what Woods had in mind for the record, was imbued with a mutual understanding of artistic endgoals and frames of reference. “I followed my instinct, and asked James would he like to come on board largely from listening to his Stoic EP, which is a gem of a record. He was very supportive of my aesthetic vision, and we both valued keeping the innate character of my initial recorded takes. I love heavy music, where he was coming from, he has exquisite taste and he understood the core of my record from the get-go and what it needed, which was important to me. Trust played a huge role, it was a gift to work with him.”

As mentioned, ‘Colt’ released physically and digitally via Sacred Bones Records, an independent label out of Brooklyn, New York. A seemingly far-flung journey for Woods’ music to go on, it makes all the sense in the world with a brief perusal of the label’s roster, a who’s who of influential independent artists from around the world in the last two decades. Ahead of putting together her sophomore solo long-player for the label this year, the working relationship has been a harmonious one. “In many ways, I was careful with ‘Colt’, I only wanted to release it out into the world if it was in a way that honoured the enormity of the work that was poured into it. With Sacred Bones I feel at home; we were on the same page artistically from the outset, and they give me the leeway to work in whichever way feels natural. Their faith in me, and my project, means a great deal.”

Work on the record aside, Woods also spent 2017 working in the realms of theatre and film scoring. The former involved building a theatrical piece from the ground up around sound design for the Dublin Fringe Festival as its ‘Wild Card’ artist that year, and in the latter case, creating the new scores to a season of Weimar German films for the Irish Film Institute. “It was the summertime when I delved into those side projects, which presented themselves randomly out of the blue. So I said yes to both, as I felt they were opportunities for me grow as an artist, and to exhale and catch my breath from the intensity of making my record at home. Both undertakings were light in comparison to making ‘Colt’. Making a piece of theatre from sound design was a lot of fun. It was eye-opening to take a peek into another art form, the division of labour in theatre is still something I’m reflecting on, and hearing actors inject my written words and ideas with life, and riff and move and improvise to a sonic palette, was just so new to me, and exciting. Composing and performing solo a live film score was absolutely nerve-racking, but I do vibe off being thrown in at the deep end.”

Woods kicks off her year, ahead of US touring for the record, by playing an intimate show at the Triskel’s Christchurch on Saturday February 9th for Quarter Block Party. The historic surroundings of that part of the building ought to complement live performances of Woods’ perfectly, a challenge she seems to anticipate. “I felt very flattered to be asked to play Quarter Block Party. It’ll be my first time playing in Cork with ‘Colt’. It is a special and rare thing to play an artful, thoughtfully curated festival, that is experimental, and values cross-genre creativity in a wider sense. My pal Juno Cheetal, playing as Flowers At Night, is also opening the show, and the venue too is atmospheric and sits on a Medieval burial site. Perfect.”

Hilary Woods plays Triskel Christchurch on Saturday February 9th. Doors open at 11pm, with individual tickets going for €15 from uTicket.ie. The show is also part of the festival’s ticket bundle deals, with a headliner event and two other gigs going for €25, or two headliners and four other gigs going for €50.

Eddi Reader: “Whatever Flavour My Instincts Desire”

In a career that’s gone from pop stardom, to new-wave and post-punk, to folk and song-collecting, Eddi Reader has long been following her own instincts. As she prepares to embark on her eleventh consecutive annual Irish tour, including the Everyman Palace, she talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about her new album, and being in the moment.

After a few initial attempts to reach Eddi Reader over the phone go unanswered, a warm, Glaswegian-accented voice comes hurriedly down the line, running a tad late from other interviews and quickly settling into one place again. “Ah, you’re from Cork! I know that accent!”, she chuckles when told who she’s being interviewed for, and from there, the floodgates are wide open. Coming from someone with the body of work that Reader has had – UK number one singles with eighties hitmakers Fairground Attraction, several BRITs, an MBE and time on the road alongside contemporaries like the Eurythmics and the Gang of Four – this kind of candour comes as a huge surprise.

New album ‘Cavalier’, co-produced by Reader and her husband/bandmate John Douglas, released this past September, and has been greeted warmly by press and blogs in the UK. Reader is content with how the record has turned out, both as a songwriter and in her capacity as a collector and interpreter of folk songs. “I feel proud of it, and surprised at how unattached I am too. I feel like a postwoman delivering a lovely thing. It usually takes me a while to drop my insecurities surrounding music I’ve committed to forever on a record, but ‘Cavalier’ has given me the confidence of a mother regarding the beauty of her newborn.”

A DIY effort from start to finish, the creation and co-production of the record is reflective of the entirely self-directed nature of Reader’s operation: sessions for ‘Cavalier’ were quick, with Reader allowing her collaborators freedom over their contributions, both in arrangement and performance. “It’s different, because it’s a different time, and I have tried a different production approach. When you have all the final say, there’s nothing to question your artistic decision, and often times there’s a ‘settling’ into old predictable habits in your choices, but a collaboration brings compromise and those two things, collaboration and compromise, although tough for a selfish musician, bring a richer, more expanded experience.”

Challenges typically present themselves in the handling of traditional material on any record, but for Reader, a sensitive and informed approach, as rooted in her politics and compassion for others as much as any adherence to precedent, was the way to go about it. “I didn’t find any of the trad songs challenging except trying to get Mike McGoldrick on ‘Maiden’s Lament’, I sent it to him and waited, and waited, then, just as I was giving up hope, Mike played me what he’d designed for a solo, thinking I had moved on and didn’t need him anymore,  but he had been working on it and it was magical, so we rushed him into the studio and grabbed it… I hear trad songs as brand new songs. Their history interests me, but it doesn’t define the limits of their worth as songs. I don’t hear songs as “now” or “then”. A song sung at 12:30 in the afternoon can manipulate our emotions in a different way as the same song sung at three in the morning. Some adult people have never heard The Beatles, all that will be brand new to them. Also, these trad songs sparked my creativity and newly written songs flowed out to support them. I think the trad and the contemporary songs sound like new songs to me. I called the album ‘Cavalier’ because the word also means ‘freedom’. Freedom to sing in whatever flavour my instincts desire.”

With a career-spanning compilation putting a full stop on her first thirty years in 2016, the question arises of the secret to staying creative and fresh, in the face of an industry that seems bent on freezing veteran artists, women specifically, in a certain place in time. Reader has blissfully distanced herself from both the trappings of ‘legacy artist’ status and a dependence on ‘the hits’ to anchor a live excursion in the eyes of casual music fans. “Don’t get involved in ‘industry’ too deeply.  Do your own thing, and focus on the musical moment as it is happening, and nothing else. Live your life, but when you want to be a musician you can’t survive if you think that only the music industry is gonna allow you to be a good one. Some of the best musicians I know have never had what’s known as ‘a deal’. They set their own gigs up, and finance their own recordings. Having a hit was and still is a great help. But sustainability comes from not trapping yourself. I’ve done plenty of shows that didn’t include one Fairground Attraction song, but not because I didn’t want to sing some of that collection, only because of lack of time, or the set not needing my history. My sets are dominated by free-flowing communication. I instinctively pluck my way through an evening’s performance, and I get surprised and excited at what songs want to be included.”

Reader is heading to Ireland as part of her eleventh consecutive annual Irish tour, taking on a deep itinerary of dates that take in venues around the country, in smaller, ‘secondary’ live-music markets as well as the usual cities. This tour is prologue to a busy 2019 for Reader, as follow-up touring for ‘Cavalier’ takes her to see old friends around the world, and fittingly, partake in new experiences as a performer.  “I head to Japan for a week, then a U.K. tour, which will take me into summer. And I fancy celebrating all my years by busking in the South of France as I did forty years ago. Then Jools Holland wants me on the road with him for October through to November, then it’s Phil Cunningham’s Christmas Songbook… In the middle of it all I’ll be doing what everyone else gets up to: expanding my joy.”

Eddi Reader plays the Everyman Palace Theatre on Valentine’s Day, Thursday February 14th. Kickoff is at 7.30, tickets €30 are available from everymancork.com.

Bouts: “Nothing Worse Than Seeing a Band Phone It In”

A new album and a UK/Irish tour have been a long time coming for indie-pop four-piece Bouts, who return to the road this month after a five-year absence, including a stop at The Roundy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken and bassist/vocalist Niall Jackson.

Half a decade can be an eternity in the realms of Irish independent music. For Dublin indie-pop outfit Bouts, scattered across the world by circumstance and work, it’s been made an even longer wait by the exponential pace of change in music consumption in recent years. With the exception of intermittent singles and remixes, the band’s last studio excursion was 2013 long-player ‘Nothing Good Gets Away’, a collection of noise-inflected pop that endeared them quickly to a cross-section of music aficionados. When sitting down to talk about the process of writing its follow-up, ‘Flow’, guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken conveys the extent of effort that’s gone into keep the band’s home-fires burning ahead of its release next month via their own Wonky Karousel label. “It’s always immensely enjoyable to record an album. Our process was relatively straightforward, just a little drawn out. First sessions were in late 2016. We grabbed time together when we could over different weekends between then and now, in Ireland and the UK, further rehearsing and refining ideas. Not taking too long to let them become over-thought. That’s the single biggest difference between this album and the last. With minimal band contact, maximum focus was required. The songs were written in a kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere. and it definitely added to their immediacy. They’re as finished as they could be, and a decent representation of where we’re at. Although you usually end up outgrowing them quicker than an audience, due to the turn-around to get tracks from ideas to an actual record.”

The post-production and mixing process for ‘Flow’ featured the re-appearance of a few familiar heads from Bouts’ prior sessions – veteran Irish producer Fiachra McCarthy helped with the album’s direction, and the team of Jesse Gander on mixing duties and former Fugazi collaborator TJ Lipple on mastering, returned from the band’s last record. Bassist Niall Jackson recounts the ‘Flow’ sessions and the process of working together to get the record over the line. “Fiachra is basically one of us, same tastes, values and geekiness when it comes to guitar tones and giving things a lash. We could not recommend him more. I’m sure he won’t thank us for mentioning it, but most days our eight-hour sessions turned in to twelve-hour ones, and it was usually him going ‘G’wan, give this weird Fender Jag-Stang a go’ at the end of a day (laughs). It was our first time working with him, whereas with Jesse and TJ, we’ve never worked with anyone else for mixing and mastering since our debut album in 2013. They do a perfect job every single time, and are very reasonable to work with when it comes to revisions or advice.”

Wonky Karousel is a DIY record label via which the band has worked over the years on the band’s physical self-releases and various side-projects. This time, there’ll be a very small 12” vinyl run of ‘Flow’, as the record goes mostly to streaming services, the biggest change in music distribution over the last five years. Jackson discusses the band’s approach to the short-run release. “Basically, we still have a hundred copies of the first record underneath our beds, so this time we thought ‘well, let’s make it difficult, the other way around’. It means we’re paying more per unit, but at least it puts the impetus on the listener. Do you want to listen to a s**t stream, and have no physical relationship with the music produced, or do you want a great-sounding record and become lifelong friends with us in the process (laughs)? Ah no, we really don’t care how people consume it, the vinyl is there for the people that really want it, or want to help us make more music, the stream/digital version is gonna be more than enough for most these days. The most rewarding thing is people wanting to listen at all.”

Going back on UK and Irish tour to support the record, the question naturally emerges of trepidation or nerves about going back out there ‘as’ Bouts. After everything that the band has been through to get to this point, Jackson insists that it’s simply a matter of getting back on the horse. “We’re doing this as best mates, playing songs we love and wrote ourselves, whether five people turn up, or we pack the places out, and we’re going to give the exact same amount of energy. Nothing worse than seeing a band phone it in.” Likewise, getting back into the swing of doing press and getting radio play, after doing well with specialist shows at the BBC and RTÉ in the past might present challenges, but it’s being taken as par for the course. “Yeah, ‘same s**t, different day’, really. You would like to think people invested in music from Ireland are aware of who we are, and if not, that they might listen and think ‘well, this is good enough to play’. But again, it is pointless worrying about that stuff.”

Friday February 1st sees the band play the Roundy on Castle Street, alongside indie/psych outfit Any Joy and a solo show from the effortlessly prolific Laurie Shaw, in a fantastic piece of booking considering the DIY aesthetic shared by all involved. Jackson collects his thoughts heading into the gig, and expounds on sharing a billing with Shaw in particular. “Ah well, people like Laurie are the reason to get back out there. He really puts a cat, or seventy-five cats, among the pigeons, what with his furious album production rate. As for Any Joy, we’ve yet to have the joy of seeing them, so it’s a win-win situation. We’ve also being dying to see and play The Roundy. At the end of the day we’re all live music fans, and your opening acts should be bands you would pay, or go to see, even if you weren’t on the billing at all, never mind headlining it. Cork has traditionally been very good to us, too, people tend to show up.”

Bouts play upstairs at the Roundy on Friday February 1st, with support from Any Joy and Laurie Shaw. €7 at the door, kickoff at 9pm.