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.

The Crossover: “This is a Way We Can Use Art for Better”

A Leeside initiative to bring local visual art, spoken word and music together has come together with First Fortnight, Europe’s mental health arts festival, for a special event tomorrow night at the Kino. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with organisers and collaborators.

There’s a lot made nowadays of making more of a gigging experience for people. Whether that’s providing densely-packed local lineups, taking advantage of a venue’s capabilities and idiosyncrasies, or delivering once-off experiences, Cork-based promoters and collectives have been driven to consider further the idea of gigs and performances as an overall experience. From this idea has emerged another breakout story in Cork arts in the last year, as events organiser Ciarán MacArtain has headed up multidisciplinary events series The Crossover, which has run in venues around Cork City. Speaking on the idea, MacArtain discusses the impetus for setting it up. “Originally the concept came about as an experiment, to see how different forms of art and performance can compliment each other and enhance an experience for an audience. A group of us working in different media came together to develop the concept, early in 2018. There was a feeling at the time that although there are many artistic events happening in Cork all the time, some of these can happen in isolation, where a lot of musicians attend a lot of music gigs, visual artists attend a lot of art openings/ exhibitions and poets go to a lot of poetry events, without there being much “crossover”. The drive of the original concept was to bring these different artistic communities in Cork together, to try to create something new, and expand the audience of each medium.”

Tomorrow night sees the project partner up with national mental health awareness initiative First Fortnight, running in cities and towns nationwide, providing an outlet for performance, discussion and artistic framing of the ongoing discussion and national experience around mental health. Having run in Dublin for a number of years and quietly getting off to a start in Cork, First Fortnight provides an important focus for artistic practitioners and facilitators on mental health, and for MacArtain, it’s this theme around which The Crossover’s event at the Kino revolves. “It’s a great honour for us to contribute to this festival. We were originally approached by Stanley Notte, who exhibited work at our first event in March, and also does curatorial work for The First Fortnight. The festival have been very supportive of us and have clear ambitions to expand their programme year on year in Cork and around the country. The way the festival has grown in the last few years is highly impressive. For us, the poignancy of its theme and scale of its output make it one of the most important festivals in the country.”

As mentioned, the event happens in the Kino cultural venue on Washington Street, a growing space for spoken-word following poetry collective O’Bhéal’s use of the space for their Winter Warmer weekender last November. It’s a spacious venue with a sizeable stage and cinema-sized screen, but the question of how to fill the stage with largely single-person performances is answered promptly by MacArtain, and his experiences there. “We’re delighted to be working in such an important cultural space as The Kino. We have huge respect for Phil and his family for maintaining the space as a cultural resource, especially considering the amount of artistic spaces that have closed around Cork in the past few years. Personally, I feel lucky to have experience working the space, I did the LX design for the Winter Warmer in November and have co-produced a play in there previously, so it’s nice to have that familiarity with the space as we approach this work.”

Among those in attendance will be rapper and spoken-word artist Spekulativ Fiktion, poet and aspiring journalist Matthew Moynihan, and Waterford wordsmith Alana Daly Mulligan. When speaking of working with an event like First Fortnight, the question of what goes into programming an event around such a theme emerges, but also what these poets bring of their work to proceedings. “It has definitely been an interesting challenge working with a set theme for this event. Previous Crossover events haven’t had a defining theme so it has made the creation of this piece slightly different. In terms of programming, there is a wealth of talent in Cork working in different media, so the consideration really is in building an ensemble. Trying to gauge how artists in different styles and mediums may compliment each other. Everyone involved has given generously of themselves and their talents to the project. It is ensemble based work and each collaborator has really grasped that in how they’ve contributed.”

Matthew Moynihan has emerged as one of the city’s most vital new poetic voices in recent years, in addition to a burgeoning body of student and community journalism, speaking forthrightly and with eloquence on matters both internal and external. The topic of mental health is close to home for him, and it’s this experience that compelled him to get involved. “It’s a great honour to be involved with First Fortnight. The Crossover is going to be a fascinating medley of Cork’s artistic prowess, representing our individual and collective journeys with mental health, and it’s such a pleasure to work with so many talented artists. To be working with First Fortnight is a career highlight, as most of my own subject matter is mental health related, and to get to share our experiences with the audience, and with a bit of luck help somebody, is a great opportunity.”

For Alana Daly Mulligan, a Cork-based spoken-word artist of Déise extraction, exploring mental health via artistic practice, and the links between the two, is a matter of not only looking at immediate issues in human emotion and behaviour, but adopting a more pragmatic approach. “Mental health and art have always been notoriously linked, or so it seems. This is a way we can use art and its platform for better, so people can come and see us through the lens of theatre, music, spoken word, physical performance and so on and try and connect with some of the issues we are discussing. It’s also important to note that mental health is a very open topic, it doesn’t always mean misery, doom and gloom, it is as much about seeing the good side of life as it is about reconciling with the bad ones. One thing I will definitely say about the Crossover is we are not telling anyone how they should or shouldn’t feel, this isn’t a lecture series that gives you the keys to feel happy or anything like that. We are interpreting mental health, using our experience and that of others for good.”

With a lot of effort having gone into curating, production and promoting the event between all parties, MacArtain is ready to present an important part of First Fortnight’s Leeside offering throughout the weekend. “I’m dead excited for it, really. A big consideration is trying to keep our own mental health in check so that we can give ourselves fully to the performance. There are a lot of moving parts when doing work of this nature so I’m trying to keep on top of it all while still maintaining a sense of playfulness and fun around it. I’m dead proud of the ensemble and the work we’ve done thus far so keeping my fingers crossed that we can represent that as best we can.”

The Crossover presents its collaborative event with First Fortnight at the Kino on Friday January 18th. Tickets €10 available at firstfortnight.ie or on the door.

Cathy Davey: “A Very Natural Process of Elimination”

Cathy Davey had a busy 2018, including a career-spanning live album recorded in Dublin and contributing to a national fundraising campaign for homelessness charities. Ahead of the next move, she speaks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about the live record, the return of vinyl, and headlining Winter Music Fest.

It’s been fifteen years since the release of Cathy Davey’s debut EP and album in the same year, a fact surely not lost on the singer-songwriter herself as the dust has been settling on her last studio excursion and related live work. A distinguished body of work that’s seen her become a beloved and lasting fixture in Ireland’s folk scene, her discography provides her a rich seam of songs to mine for live moments such as those captured on ‘Live at Dublin Unitarian Church’, let into the world last year after being recorded at the titular venue in March. And a document of a place and time it most certainly is, with Davey choosing songs that came to her and felt right for the project. “It was a very natural process of elimination. Anything I felt an emotional attachment to playing live, based on the energy returned to me from the crowd, was in. That transaction is the important part, and that’s what I hoped to capture on the night.”

The last decade and a half has also seen the pace of industry change accelerate exponentially, as the format CD fell from grace to be replaced with not only the like of Spotify, but the revival of vinyl as a viable entertainment, the demand for which newly-founded Irish pressing-plant Dublin Vinyl ably capitalises on. Davey worked with the one-stop record shop on a short-run 12” edition of the live record, and is discernibly thrilled at the idea of desirable, tangible formats making something of a comeback. “They were perfect, it’s the most wonderful thing to happen Irish music. People are more excited to make music now, knowing there’s a viable, physical outlet, and the corresponding excitement amongst the public to buy vinyl and actually play records again is infectious. Who would have thought it! We like real things, it’s a miracle!”

Two new tunes are included on the record, nestling alongside tracks from up and down Davey’s discography: new single ‘Uninsurable’, and formally unreleased song ‘Never Before’. For Davey, it was yet another aspect to add to the live-album remit of providing a document of a certain moment, refusing to constrain the record to a simple retrospective or album of stripped-down rearrangements. “It was a way for me to put new songs out there, while I was excited about them. I’m impatient, and want people to hear something while it’s fresh, and my body is excited to express it, while I’m still in love with the song and before its flaws come crashing home to me. Otherwise it could be another five years before my next record, by which time I’d probably have binned them.”

The live album follows fourth studio endeavour ‘New Forest’, released in 2016. Having had time to live with the final record, Davey is satisfied with its place in her body of work, and says the idea of a follow-up seems a little distant. “I don’t particularly like to think of it (‘New Forest) as a product, and the pressure of it being finished, as you’ve suggested, is too weighty to properly acknowledge… but the album is a snapshot of where my mind was at the time, and for this reason, I’ve no right to judge it now. I’m proud of the concept, the tone and arrangements. The next collection of songs have yet to emerge, as I’m focused on other projects presently. My dictaphone will still fill up with motifs and doodles, but I’m a long way off knowing what I’m gonna fixate on next.

The tail end of last year also saw Davey get involved with ‘Street Lights’, a collaborative album that topped the Irish charts this past Christmas week, with proceeds going to homelessness charities. A success by all accounts, the album was a massive fundraiser for the Peter McVerry Trust and other causes, at a time when they’re needed more than ever. “It’s a pleasure to be involved in projects like this. There’s a great sense of hope from everyone involved, the team are comprised of old and new friends, it’s offering a remedy to a huge problem as long as everyone else does their bit, and donates towards the cause.”  

This goodwill carries into the New Year, a time when most people’s cheer and tidings are exhausted in a post-holiday fug. Davey is set to appear at the Dublin edition of mental health awareness festival First Fortnight’s ‘The Art of Anxiety’ panel on January 9th, discussing the effect and experience of anxiety with others afflicted by the issue in the Irish music industry. “This will be a fascinating couple of weeks, there is so much to explore with the relationship between the arts and mental health. I’m so proud to play just this little role. I really hope people embrace it, and continue to let go of the stigma still prevalent amongst our society where mental health affects our work, family and general health. It’s everything!”

Davey is playing the Ballincollig Winter Music Festival on Thursday 24th of this month at the White Horse, opposite the venue’s own in-house Guitar Club’s Opera House excursion on the same night. For herself, getting down and playing tunes from her songbook will be only part of the weekend’s proceedings. “I’d really like to stay on and see Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin & Lisa O’Neill the following night. I rarely get out to see anything these days, so I must take advantage of playing a festival like this. I’d like to get to a trad session too, I’d recommend anyone in the position to be part of this celebration to come let their hair down, drink a Guinness (or ginger ale) by the fire, and soak up some of our trad culture. Perfect entertainment for a winter night!”

God Alone: “This Time We Had a Clearer Vision in Mind”

Having thrown off the ‘precocious youngfellas’ tag by taking on the best of the UK and Irish metal scenes at Mammothfest and emerging victorious, Northsiders God Alone are ready to take the first step into the biggest year of their personal and professional lives, starting with the release of their debut full-length. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to bassist Cian Mullane.

It’s an easy trope to refer to black-metal/post-rock hybrids God Alone as “the pride” of Cork city’s music scene at present, but such truisms aren’t always without cause. Since their emergence from Cork’s relatively cloistered all-ages scene not even two years ago, the five-piece has aggressively gigged around the country, including seemingly weekly appearances at venues around the city, fine-honing a live show befitting the frightening maturity of their material. Claiming influence from bands like our own Altar of Plagues, they’ve also been a rallying point for the metal scene in Cork, as they’ve fostered a lot of goodwill from gig-goers, promoters and venue bookers alike for their hard work, as much as their musical innovation. While it’s also likely lazy journalism to say this of the band, the fact remains: all of this is still immensely impressive, considering some of the band is still only in sixth year of secondary school.

After the physical release of the band’s debut extended-player Intivim, God Alone set about outlining a concept for their debut full-length, and on the sixteenth of this month, the lads’ hard work comes to fruition. ‘Poll na mBrón’ is ready, with production by Rónan McCann (Any Joy) and mastering by local sonic polymath Matt Corrigan (Ghostking is Dead). For bassist/vocalist Cian Mullane, it’s a matter of moving forward musically, while holding a candle to local history. “We started writing the bones of the album around the time of the release of Intivim, with a vision of maturing the sounds of the EP, getting sadder and dancier. The album is a sort of concept album, loosely based on Our Lady’s Hospital Cork, which was an asylum in the Northside of Cork, where most of us live. It’s a harrowing place, and the atmosphere of the place and stories from it, had a massive influence on the music. The overall concept of the lyrics deal with themes of mental health and loneliness, and we use Our Lady’s Hospital as a place for those themes to live.”

Reverting to their home ground of Marlboro Street’s Groundfloor youth music facility, where McCann works as a musical supervisor for the YMCA, the band took the theme of musical progression to the production process, beginning to sharpen their studio chops. “This time we had a clearer vision in mind of what we were doing and what we wanted, and we had a much larger role in the production process. We used way more electronic elements on this album to create a more dense atmosphere than the EP.” The album releases this week via all digital services, and the band are one of the first generation of young artists to be releasing and garnering traction for their music in the post-physical environment, with digital streaming spurring their growth along on a wider national level. That being said, physical CDs, as well as T-shirts of the band’s faux-Gucci logo, have been selling out. The question of a physical release for ‘Poll na mBrón’ is an easy one. “We should have a rake of CDs at the launch, and possibly vinyl within the new year. We just slapped the EP out, and were really surprised and delighted that people were listening to it, and we hope people listen to our album too.”

This past summer saw the band come to international attention after winning the Mammothfest metal weekender’s Best Band Battle, defeating all-comers across multiple regional heats in Cork City, heading to Brighton with fellow Corkonians Bailer and Dublin’s Jenova to compete in the finals, and taking home the gold. “Mammothfest was the best craic of all time. Bailer and Jenova are absolute gents, and it was a fantastic experience. It was mental that we were chosen as the winners of the whole competition, we were just happy to be over there. Also, most people couldn’t understand what we were saying over there, and that was quite gas. We were really surprised and happy with the reaction we got over there.” Their prize for the victory involves an extensive UK and Irish tour next year, around which everyone’s calendar is revolving next year, including State exams and college assignments. The question of work-life-music balance is always a prescient one for God Alone, but it bears asking. “‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ is our philosophy on everything, be grand (laughs).”

The band takes to the stage at the Kino on Washington Street this Sunday, to mark the release of their album, with hardcore/sludge veterans Horse supporting, and an appearance from fellow youngfellas Flatliner. It ought to be a busy affair, both in terms of numbers, and sonically, but sets them in good stead for the year ahead. “We’re really looking forward to playing it. The Kino is an unreal venue and place and the last time we played there it was class. Expect plenty of dancing and shouting and mad visuals. We’re playing with the absolute best biys of Horse and Flatliner which will be class, and to top it all off it’s going to be all ages which is the best craic. This year has been unbelievable, beyond belief and absolute mental. Next year we hope to do even more. We like being constantly busy with gigs, writing, and recording. New year, new us (laughs).”

God Alone release debut album ‘Poll na mBrón’ this Sunday, with a launch gig happening at the Kino the same day. Horse and Flatliner to support, kickoff at 6pm, €5 on the door. You can also catch them opening for Bailer and Worn Out on the 21st at Dali on Carey’s Lane.

Therapy?: “A New Lease on Life, Really”

Off the back of their biggest album and European tour in years, Northern Irish legends Therapy? take on a five-date Irish tour in March, including the brand-new Cyprus Avenue on March 23rd. MIKE MCGRATH-BRYAN talks with frontman and guitarist ANDY CAIRNS about the band’s new album ‘Cleave’, and the tensions that brought it about.

Millions of units shifted, thousands of road miles on the clock and fifteen albums deep into a wide and varied discography, Ballyclare/Larne-originating trio Therapy? have, over the course of nearly thirty years, gone from noisy upstarts, to mainstream superstars, to gatekeepers of the Irish underground, approaching touring and recording with the same grit and gristle as they always have. A few days removed from a month of UK and European touring, though, and it’s a relaxed yet chipper Andy Cairns at the other end of the phone, audibly happy with how things have gone. “We did two-and-half weeks in Europe and two-and-a-half weeks in the UK, both of them were sensational. We’re really buzzing at the minute. A lot of the gigs in Europe, the venues were moved up, and were bigger than we’ve played in years, and in the UK, if we didn’t sell the venue out then attendances and tickets were better than they’ve been in years, so it was all really positive. We’re playing really well as a band, y’know. We’re all really fit, we’re all up for it, and we’re getting a good mix in the crowds. It’s a good night out and it’s given us a new lease on life, really.”

This upturn in fortunes comes off the back of the release of the band’s newest long-player ‘Cleave’, the band’s biggest mainstream success in years. Greeted with critical acclaim and an enthusiastic response from the band’s fanbase, ‘Cleave’ is the band’s highest-charting LP in years on both sides of the Atlantic, and has done well across the continent. “The first thing we’ve noticed is the punters love it, a lot more than any other album recently. I felt they liked ‘Disquiet’ a lot, and I felt they liked ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ a lot, but the punters seem to like this more than any album we’ve done in years. Something about it, I don’t know if it’s the sound, or if it’s the attitude, or whether some of the songwriting adheres to those classic Therapy? tropes, there’s something about the whole package that seems to resonate with people this time around.”

The record is Therapy? in prime alt-rock form, a handful of serrated shards of distortion and volume, bookended by melody and refrains the likes of which will be instantly familiar to lapsed fans revisiting the band after their major-label years. No surprise, then, that they were joined behind the desk by a longtime collaborator in Chris Sheldon, producer for some of the band’s most immediate and impactful records, including 1994 Mercury Prize nominee ‘Troublegum’. “Chris, we’ve known on and off since 1992, and even when we weren’t working with him on a regular basis we would still see him occasionally, socially. And he kind-of knows, because he was there near the start, when we were making records in the ‘Troublegum’ mode, he knows what makes us tick. He’s really, really good as a producer in that he’s bulls**t-free. He doesn’t hide behind anything. He won’t waste five hours using a Chinese gong on a track just to placate the drummer. He will literally say, if the song’s not ready, ‘guys, this isn’t ready, go back and finish it.’ If the song’s too long, he’ll say ‘this needs cutting out’. And we’ll argue the course with him, and we’ll get some middle ground, and it’ll all work for the record, but he’s about making sure the record is really, really good. The other thing, too, is with the amount of time we’ve been around, working with someone you respect and get on with means an awful lot, because it means the whole recording process and creative process goes a lot more smoothly.”

A constant in the band’s discography has been adhering to loose concepts across an album, a creative trait that has allowed them to explore social alienation, political divisions, mental health/illness, and philosophy with consistency while the band’s sound has morphed across line-ups. No time like the present, unfortunately, then, to examine the fears and anxieties of modern life, than the current hellscape of reactionary politics and resultant social issues. “I can pinpoint exactly where the album lyrics came from. Nine times out of ten, when Therapy? writes an album, we’ll write the music first, and I will concurrently write the vocal melody. But lyrics aren’t normally done until we get an idea of what it’ll be all about. We have certain themes running through all our records, but we hadn’t had a theme for this one yet, we had all the vocal melodies, the music was finished, but I was having trouble finding something to hang a theme around the album with. We were having dinner with some friends one night, a classic middle-class English dinner-party. Someone mentioned Brexit, someone brought it up, and I said, ‘y’know, as someone that’s lived in a divided Ireland all my life, as someone that’s seen sectarianism, I really don’t see what benefit we can have from separating ourselves from our European cousins.’ At which point a middle-class Englishman turned around to me and said, without any irony, ‘if you don’t like it, you can always go home’ (laughs). And I said ‘I beg your pardon? Do you want me to go home two doors up the road?’ He said ‘no, you can always go back to Ireland’. So, this is what it’s done to people, and that’s when I started writing about division. And I tried to write from the point of division, I didn’t want to write a specifically ‘Brexit’ record, I used that comment from that pretentious buffoon to jump off and write about division within ourselves, within our countries, and the emotions we give and take from each other. At no stage on our fifteenth album did I want to write a Rage Against the Machine or Stiff Little Fingers agitprop album, because I wouldn’t be very good at it.”

Leadoff single ‘Callow’ is possibly the most immediate example of where the band is at in 2018, addressing the burgeoning issue of prescription medication abuse in a knockabout, almost poppy fashion. While the song was approaching completion, the passing occurred of rapper Lil’ Peep, sadly taken at 21 years of age by an accidental overdose of anti-anxiety medication prescribed for mental-health issues. The reaction of Cairns’ son to Peep’s death spurred on the song’s lyrical content. “Unfortunately it tends to happen, whether it’s Jim Morrison dying, or the suicide of Kurt Cobain, a glorification of the use of Xanax came in the wake of Lil’ Peep’s death, certainly some of my son’s circle of friends were buying Xanax online, and people were nodding off and passing out at parties, seventeen-, eighteen-year-old kids. The whole Soundcloud rap thing, face tattoos, emo crossed with hip-hop, Xanax went hand-in-hand with that. It was all over the press, all over the Internet. But also, whenever you find out that loads of Xanax is being bought online, it’s being prescribed, to kids, which is quite horrifying. One thing I do want to clarify, though, I’m not anti-antidepressants, I think some people see that as the only course that will work for them, and certainly my father had a horrendous breakdown about twenty-five years ago and Prozac was what saved his life. But for certain people it can be like putting a Band-Aid over an enormous scar, and I think talking to people works better.”

Following the band’s touring success on the continent, it’s time for the boys in black to take it home, with a five-date tour in March playing the country’s non-capital cities for a change, including their first all-electric gig in Limerick in nearly two decades. The band’s Leeside stop takes in their customary gig at Cyprus Avenue, playing the newly-constructed ‘new’ room in the venue complex, but also a flying visit around the city. “We’ve been badgering away for a year now to get fully electric shows in Ireland, and it’s never been the right time. And obviously, we’ll have to come back and do Dublin and Belfast at some point, and there’s a few more places we’d like to play, like Kilkenny and Waterford. But, y’know, we’re very, very excited to be coming back. Cork is one of our very favourite cities, and favourite venues, on the entire planet. We always manage, quite rightly, to turn the gig at Cyprus Avenue into a weekender. We normally get over the day before the gig, get out to the gig, go out with friends, and then spend half the next day there getting dinner. So, in March, we’ll have a big star on all our calendars. We’re going back to Derry to play an electric show, Galway, in the Roisín Dubh, which we love, Dolan’s is always a brilliant gig and I love Limerick as a city, and of course we’ve been to Dundalk numerous times but it’ll be good to come back with a full electric show.”

Therapy? play the new Cyprus Avenue on March 23rd, 2019. Tickets are on sale now from cyprusavenue.ie and The Old Oak. The band’s new album ‘Cleave’, is available now on CD and vinyl from Golden Discs on Patrick Street, and across all digital services via Marshall Records.

Stephanie Rainey: “It’s a Very Strange Thing to Get Used To”

Stephanie Rainey’s last throw of the musical dice saw her lay her emotions and experiences bare, before unexpectedly going viral. Three years later, she’s readying herself for her third national headlining tour. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with the Glanmire singer-songwriter ahead of her next Cyprus Avenue date on December 1st.

There’s a lot to be said for patience, and well Stephanie Rainey might know it, as she takes a phone call for a chat after “being stuck in N50 hell”. Trading in an emotive strain of pop songwriting that’s resonated massively with a younger audience over the past few years, the Corkonian singer’s recent successes have been the fruit of endless trial-and-error, struggling with the afflictions of making and sustaining music in what is still a very transitional time for the music industry at large.

The breakthrough came with the upload and viral trajectory of the video for single ‘Please Don’t Go’, dedicated to her late nephew and written in his honour. Over the following months, the video was widely-shared on social media across the world, and the single itself hit the Billboard charts in the US via streams and downloads. It’s by-now a well-documented time in Rainey’s life, and three years on, she’s had some time to look at the experience in the rear-view mirror. “It was a weird experience, having a video go viral, and what ensued was getting involved with labels and management, the whole lot. It’s been a great couple of years, I’ve been very lucky to work with some really cool people on the music that people are hearing on the radio right now. I got to write those songs with some really cool people, and made some really good connections. It’s been a mad couple of years. Musically, I’ve moved away from the slower tunes, and it’s been a great time of building the live shows, and it’s just getting bigger every time.”

Since the whole thing came to pass, a number of other singles have done well across radio, socials and streaming services, all of which have created a bottom line of support around the country. It’s a far cry from the months and weeks before striking gold online, when Rainey was considering packing it in. Just as importantly, though, working with a dedicated team to get a grasp of the intricacies of streaming services has allowed her to cast her eye on the future. “Getting that platform was insane, because it opened a lot of doors, but the grafting is sort of the same, in some respects. Things have changed in the sense that the internet changed everything. Even if you take ‘Please Don’t Go’ as an isolated thing, it was able to spread from Ireland to the US charts. That was all from me posting something in my bedroom back in Glanmire, d’ya know? And then, with Spotify and things like that, you can see where people are listening. Most of my listeners are in America, if you look at the demographics, and that’s a mad way of looking at things. I’ve been lucky to get a lot of radio support, so when you put all these things together, I’m in a good position.”

Though international success might not be far off, you can never take your eye off the ball at home, and Rainey has been pounding the pavement with headline tours, support slots and spot shows around the country. Her current run of dates around the country is her third as a headlining act, and over the course of it, she’s seen the changes in how she’s been received. “It’s very strange, how things start to build. We did our first tour as a support act, then doing our own this Spring as a headline act in smaller venues, and we’re at the point now where we’re doing bigger venues and more of them. I suppose the thing that changes is, people want to meet you after the show, and I think things have progressed in that sense. People know who I am a bit more, and they know the songs. That’s the crazy thing. They’re at the gigs and singing the songs back. That’s one of the best feelings ever.”

Further to her headlining engagements, accompanying fellow pop superstars Kodaline on their major summer dates last year made for a new experience in some ways, as playing in front of thousands of people in major venues will do. That being said, the support slot, including a slot at the Marquee, also reinforced the nuts and bolts of Rainey’s craft in other ways. “It’s mad. It’s only when you start doing it that you realise the bigger stages are just that, they’re just bigger spaces. They’re kind-of the same as any other venue, just on a massive scale. I’m lucky enough to have a chance to have done a couple of things like that, so I’m less freaked out by it now, in the sense that I’m able to just go and do and it, and treat it like any other gig. Obviously, the Marquee was special, as we were the first Cork act to open the first night of the Marquee, this year, and people made a really big deal out of that, and made a real moment of it. It’s a very strange thing to get used to, d’ya know what I mean?”

Of course, the year isn’t done yet for Rainey, who’s preparing for the singles release of a live fan favourite in ‘13’, a song that’s been received well by her now-regular live crowd. In addition, she finds her voice being used in a different context by pop producer G-Kaye, a collaborator of hers, underpinning the release of his solo debut single, ‘Shadows’. “‘13’ is a real favourite live, people are always asking me when I’m going to bring it out, but we’re working on a video for it at the minute, so I’m holding back so we can put that out at the same time. Same with the G-Kaye single, I’m very excited about that, so I want to give it its own space, let that breathe and build. It’s getting a huge reaction, and it’s a very different track for me, it’s a nice way to dip my toe into that water and see how that gets received. He’s an excellent, upcoming producer, he’s produced a few tracks with me, he’s done stuff with the likes of Hermitage Green. I felt really happy to do his first track with him for his own project. Plenty of music to come next year.”

Stephanie Rainey plays Cyprus Avenue on Sunday December 1st. Tickets are €15, and available from eventbrite.ie and The Old Oak.

Cork Music Collectives Pt. 2: “Consider It An Open Call”



For metal, indie and experimental strains of music in Cork city, community and collaboration is imperative. With the help of independent venues and a dedicated bottom line of support, collectives in these genres have turned things around in recent years, and preparing for the future. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the promoters and musicians involved, in part two of an extended look at the city’s community music groups.

While the economic downturn and the changing situation regarding venues in the post-crash property landscape are routinely pointed at as factors for the changes in Cork’s live music landscape after the mid-2000s, there are other aspects to it that can’t be disconnected from the discussion, either: a decline in the numbers of ‘niche’ gig promoters, increased competition at regular doortimes for a younger audience from the re-emergent phenomenon of ‘pre-drinks’, and the availability of Netflix and online gaming services, have all been bemoaned by various musical parties at one time or another, as well as the usual demographic phenomena that beset live gig attendances in a ‘student’ town. All of these factors combined to hit ‘heavy’ music particularly hard during the lean years, as metal, punk, math-rock and post-rock were kept going throughout by a dedicated community of gig-goers and a handful of intrepid DIY raconteurs.

The arrival in Cork of promoter Cormac Daly a few years back proved to be a seismic shift, bringing a new perspective to the business of running gigs in Cork city, starting with his time at the Cork Community Print Shop and running Sofar Sounds’ Cork operation, before announcing the formation of Cosmonaut Music Cork, working diligently to bring aggressive and intelligent music to the city in a way that hadn’t been done before, managing every aspect from aesthetics and branding to live sound and lighting. Along the way, he’s worked with Townlands Carnival and IndieCork among others, and Cosmonaut has become an important port of call, but it was only ever the beginning of bigger things. Last week, Daly and collaborators began to make their vision clear, with the announcement of Real Fear Records, a collectively-run one-stop label and production house, involving himself and the members of Cork alt-pop trio Happyalone. “We originally met when I did sound for Happyalone at a gig”, says Daly. “(From there), I became heavily involved in the design of their live set, and then after that began mixing releases for them, as well as managing the band, and handling their live bookings. Similarly, we began working with some amazing videographers to create music videos and other content. Myself and Baxter (the Robot, pseudonymous Happyalone vocalist) were talking about collaborating with other musicians – who we would like to work with, and what we could offer them, and it just made sense to turn this loose collaboration into something official we could invite other artists to be a part of.”

Comprised of musicians and designers from Cork, Kerry and Limerick, the group behind start-up label Teletext Records span a wide variety of sonic influences, but their recent callout for local bands to work with has thrown up an intriguing roster of releases for 2019, including shoegaze duo Deadbog, sound artist Rokaia, and prog trio Chameleon Fields. Recognising the need to engage an emerging young crowd for gigs in Cork city in ways beyond traditional live music culture, the collective’s live events focus on providing multimedia experiences, placing their artists’ music in new contexts, such as an ‘audiovisual’ showcase earlier this month at the Kino, which took advantage of the venue’s cinema screen. “We were all in a bunch of different musical acts that were hitting a lot of walls in development that eventually broke the camel’s back in our minds, and led to us packing those musical acts in”, says co-founder Donagh Sugrue. “Our aims were essentially to increase legitimacy in everything we were pursuing, but we also had some pretty decent ideas on how we felt organisations like this could/should be structured. Largely, and I imagine this will be the case for most every collective, it’ll start from an antipathy towards a part of the music industry at large. We were getting fed up with two things; emailing promoters & journalists and appearing unprofessional because of the structure of the industry, and bored with playing shows when we felt that the attendees deserved more for their few quid than just two hours in a sweaty room.”

The Paranoid Beast is a two-headed creature: metal gig promoters Con Doyle and Mark Morrissey have been putting together gigs and online spaces for local metal in recent years, and while numbers have been slowly creeping back up, the work that goes into helping rebuild an infrastructure for heavy music for a city is still considerable. But that knowledge of what a city’s crowd for a certain genre needs is what brought them together, and has enabled them to platform heavy music at home, while keeping an eye on broader developments. “Since coming together we have worked hard on social media, through our promotions pages and our community group on Facebook, at building our brand at home and abroad. Over the past twelve months we have put on numerous events in Cork, and have organised two day-long festivals, Monolith in the summer, and Ritual of the Evil Eye in the winter. This would never have been possible if we remained as separate promoters. We work well together and have a mutual respect for each other’s input and ideas. We have an abundance of talent here and they deserve to be heard and The Paranoid Beast will continue to facilitate that going forward. But we are also looking to put Cork back on the touring circuit for international metal acts, (and) starting an Irish metal label to put out some of the Irish acts on vinyl. This would be an overload of work for one person, but as a collective, it has made it much more manageable.”

The Electronic Folk are a collective of musicians working in and around folk, indie and related sounds, including Kevin J. Power, formerly of Cork outfit Versives, singer/songwriter Simon MacHale, and producer Brodie Gee, performing under the name HYPNOTYST. Together, they’ve run a monthly residency at the Roundy venue, worked together on Power’s studio productions and collaborated on each other’s compositions. But creative involvement aside, the practicalities of working collectively have been a major boon for all involved, as the trio have pooled resources and contacts ahead of a busy year of releases. “The major advantage to the collective way of working would be that it follows the ‘many hands make light work’ principle”, says MacHale. “Having put on gigs independently, I realised how difficult it was to manage the whole lot – venue booking/hire, booking bands, equipment, posters, social media promotion, finding a sound engineer, lighting etc. is a tremendous amount to try and do alone. With the collective we could delegate different jobs leading up to a concert, according to our strengths. For example, I would design posters, Kevin would take care of visuals or hiring a videographer, and Brodie would sound-engineer on the night.”

In dealing with the ‘venue situation’ that seems to be an evergreen theme in Cork music, the practicalities of finding spaces at short notice, giving certain venues a rest after heavy runs of gigs, or relocating to try new things is also made easier by a wider web of contacts. It’s served Paranoid Beast well, says Morrissey. “As is the norm in promoting events, some gigs go well, and some not so well. So it’s often the case that you have to move venues. Since we joined together as a collective, it’s made it a lot easier to move around venues as required, because all of us have been involved in the Cork music scene in some capacity for many years, and due to this we have contacts in various venues, which helps because we aren’t tied down to the decisions of a few people.”

While the collective model has already shown tangible benefits for Cork music in recent years, the effects of mutual support those involved cannot be understated in terms of morale and dealing with the pressures of being an artist in the current climate. Across his multiple projects, Daly has found friends and collaborators that have become partners in crime across Cosmonaut and Real Fear, and while there’s ups and downs, staying together and thinking singularly is vitally important. “Keeping this team going has not been easy. We’ve had plenty of setbacks and disappointments, and we have come to rely on each other, as well as friends and family, to keep it going. Anything that slows us down has always been quickly overcome. We are in this for the long haul, and anything that appears to go wrong is just an opportunity to try another approach.”

The ability to take mistakes and problems in stride is all-important when dealing with music, especially on an independent basis. Luckily, independence is the backbone of the Leeside community, and the new lease on life that the collective model has provided for individuals has emboldened people further, resulted in multimedia collaborations that have enriched the artistic life of the city. Looking toward the future, MacHale is hopeful. “Cork is already quite ahead of the game in terms of people who have combined forces in order to collaborate and make things happen. Many are doing the same kind of work we are, even though they might not officially call themselves a collective. I think that Cork has a tremendous amount of talent across all artistic fields – from designers, to dancers, producers, to performing songwriters. I would love to see even more people reach out to each other, and take the step of initiating collaborations with others, even if the end goal isn’t set in stone initially. Attending events and concerts is the best way to meet other people who might share your interests, and even just chatting to people can turn a ‘me alone’ attitude into an ‘us together’ one.”

When asked his opinion on where the growth of collectives and collaboration leads for Cork, Sugrue echoes the sentiment, casting his eye on wider infrastructural issues in the city and how it might look as the city begins its expansion and a period of development that risks alienating the existing city-centre community. “I have no idea, which is what has me so invested in being a part of what might be. I’d love to see more DIY stuff in Cork, and when I say DIY, I don’t mean home recording and self-promoting. I mean occupying spaces, and converting them into venues or into something artistically meritable in its own right. I can feel it in the air, Cork feels like it’s on the cusp of something significant at the moment. I often feel a lot of disdain that music can sometimes take a front seat when people have really exciting ideas about other cultural endeavours too. Is there a DIY animation collective in Cork? I hope there is. I dunno, I always think very hard about how to engage people that aren’t already engaged. If I could plea for anything in the future of music & culture in Cork, it would be to work together; send unsolicited emails, fire a Facebook message, go to events and ask people if you can get involved. You stand to lose nothing, and it’s a good time. Consider it an open call.”

You can find the collectives mentioned across social media platforms, and in your search engine of choice. Keep an eye on Downtown’s weekly gig guide for more gigs as they’re announced.