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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Light Runners: “It’s Been a Journey”

Cork-based reggae outfit The Light Runners are no strangers to the rigours of the road. Recounting their stories in their upcoming E.P. was another process entirely. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to guitarist Mark Fenny.

The Light Runners are a world-travelled proposition to say the least. Featuring a diverse range of musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Denmark and Ireland, the band fuses several elements of reggae from through the genre’s development and history with an African rhythmic sensibility. The end result is energetic but earnest, staying true to the band’s stated aim of maintaining authenticity to roots reggae, aiming to explore and confront the anxieties of the current age.

The band have been gigging steadily for the past few years now, but the band’s background and experience stretches back years, and spans a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, that have shaped and informed the band’s music. Guitarist Mark Fenny explained the band’s convergence on the Irish reggae scene. “We’re a mix of musicians from all over the world, from all different avenues. Myself and the bass player happened to be playing in a cover band at the time, and the lead singer, Lazare, approached us and asked ‘do ye want to be in a reggae band?’ and we said ‘absolutely!’. We’ve been doing that ever since, that was in 2014. We’ve been going from strength to strength, really, we had our debut at Electric Picnic this year. It’s been a nice little journey so far.”

‘War and Migration’ is the band’s new E.P., bringing together work from numerous recording sessions after collaborative songwriting and road-borne fine tuning. The process of bringing all these disparate elements together was another labour of love. “Myself and the bass player wrote the title track, we brought the rhythm and chords to our lead singer, and he did the lyrics to it. He writes about 90% of our lyrics, ‘cause he’s just got a great head for it. The theme is ‘war and migration’ because we wrote it at the time of the Syrian refugee crisis, so it’s very much a reflection of that, it’s not even symbolic, it’s in your face. He wanted to express that message, so he took that song that we had written for him, and wrote lyrics on top of it… (The E.P.) was recorded in three different locations. We did some work with a guy called Ciaran Culhane up in Limerick, great time for him. He did two of the songs, which we recorded two years ago. We got an offer to record in the School of Music, a magnificent studio, and we cut another three tracks. Then we did more vocals in Dave’s (bass player) garden shed. That all got mixed by (Charleville man) Darren Rea, he recorded the last of the vocals, mixed and mastered the whole thing. He’s always amazing at what he does.”

With the combination of experiences and stories that the band’s members have to offer, ‘War and Migration’ is a record heavy with personal investment and earnest storytelling. Fenny gets into the impact on the creative process that these stories have had. “Some of the lads used to play in bands in the Congo, two huge soukous bands, OK Jazz and Zaiko Langa Langa. The latter were a massive band, they toured Africa and Europe. Once they got a bit of money together they said ‘that’s it for us, we’re going to move to Ireland and start again’. Because even though they were playing with one of the biggest bands, they were still being paid very little. The Congo has (also been in the grip of) dictatorships, our drummer was falsely imprisoned for many weeks because of his views on the government at the time. The guys from Ireland? Our lives are very boring (laughs).”

The band have been hard at the festival circuit this year, but a unique stop for them was at IndieCork’s festival centre last month, playing the Dali venue upstairs on Carey’s Lane. For the band, the opportunity to ply their craft through the venue’s newly-installed Arcline sound-system was one not to be passed up. “If you give us a bigger stage, we’ll give you a bigger show, so we absolutely loved being on that stage. It was so much fun, we got to jump all over the stage, we weren’t shoehorned in, like we usually are. So that was a lot of fun, and it was nice for IndieCork to think of us and bring us onboard. We’re more than happy to be a part of Cork arts and culture, and really let people know that we are supportive. We were quite happy with that sound, too.”

The band plays on November 20th at Cyprus Avenue, to launch the extended-player. Although they’ll unfortunately not have the opportunity to christen the building’s new venue, they’re bringing a new setlist and the band’s usual energy to Caroline Street. “We are going to do our best to put on a show for everybody. We purposely made it very cheap, it’s only €5, because we just want to cover the cost of the venue. We want all of our friends and family to come, everyone, have fun, have a good experience, and (help us) officially release the new record.”

The Light Runners play Cyprus Avenue on Tuesday November 20th. €5 in the door, kickoff at 7.30pm.

Elaine Malone: “Like a Little Burial”

With her debut E.P. having launched just this month, and her first Electric Picnic appearance under her belt, Elaine Malone’s time has seemingly just begun. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to the singer-songwriter.

As we get to sitting down at a corner of the bar of the River Lee Hotel, Elaine Malone’s gears are already turning for the next step: after a chat here, she’s out to find the manager, to location-scout some of the hotel’s lengthy corridors for an upcoming video. It’s this kind of seemingly innate ingenue – identifying a means of telling a story in the environment around her, and tying it in to personal imagery, that has made Malone an important part of the Leeside scene in relatively short order.

Her knack for storytelling is best summarised in debut extended-player ‘Land’, self-released over the summer. A collection of brittle, alternative-inflected songs given life by Malone’s clear and increasingly confident voice, the E.P. takes in both external stories and internal monologues. For Malone, it was a long time in the making, but the work is starting to pay dividends. “It was kind of overwhelmed with how well-received it was. People were very generous with their time, their reviews, which is overwhelming, because it’s a nice little bonus, but you can’t rely on that (for motivation in the event of a bad review). I try not to read them too much, but it’s nice to have support from people. I’ve been getting some more opportunities as a result, it’s great.”

Written initially as solo guitar pieces, some of the songs on the record were years in the writing and refinement, before being played and having live arrangements worked out over a number of months at open mics, etc. To finally be sharing them with the world, with expanded arrangements with live band members Sam Clague and the brothers Sampson, represents a turning point. “It was such a long process making that E.P., two years from start to finish, and one of those was written when I was seventeen. I’m 24 now. It’s been a long time. And I suppose, in a way, it was like a little burial of them. I just wanted them to be made, and go into the world their own way, just to find a place there so I could free up space in my mind to write more… Because I started quite young, I think there’s a lot of teenage angst, which I’ve come to realise is kind of funny. It’s a timescape, almost, this little capturing of the last ten years of my life, in four songs. I don’t let go of things, until I make a deadline that’s irrevocable.”

Leadoff single ‘No Blood’, recounting the story of the death of Ann Lovett and its societal fallout in a country that had just begun life under the Eighth Amendment, had been a regular part of her live sets, before being released during the Repeal campaign. Having appeared at several fundraisers in Cork for the Together for Yes civil campaign, Malone is beginning to see the song, and what brought it about, in the rear-view mirror. “I feel immense pride, I think, for the Repeal campaign. Everyone that was involved. It was the biggest example of courage I’ve seen on a wide scale. So many women, and so many men, that were affected by (the Eighth) and had shared their stories. And that was such a pivotal thing: is this going to be a new Ireland, or are we going to stay the way we were? Be oppressed and hold on to Catholic guilt. We’re still not at a point where anything has changed, no legislation has been written. I was glad to be asked to play so many fundraisers. I saw how it affected people. There was no triviality to any of it.”

Accompanying the release of the extended player was a pair of visual pieces, in the ‘You’ and ‘Mindless’ promo videos. In different ways, each draws from the city’s landscape and people, with different circumstances bringing out the best in the pieces’ directors and focal points. “The video for ‘You’ was a last-minute thing. Celeste Burdon was fab, she’s a great photographer. Super-talented, and my friend Izabelle Balikoeva, we both had an afternoon free, it was like, ‘let’s get it done, let’s make it impromptu’, and I love improvising in general. Went home to get changed, pick a cool outfit for the video and shit. And then, I’m outside my house in last night’s mascara, looking really manky. Couldn’t get into the house. Door locked. A broken lightbulb in my bag for some reason. Jesus. I just legged it up to Celeste’s house to try and get something together. I don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable (laughs). A couple of months ago, then, myself, Oriane Duboz, Mary Kelleher and Inma Pavon made this video for ‘Mindless’. It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever been a part of. I suppose I co-directed it in a way. I had this image in my brain of a woman wrapped in plastic, and we were very lucky with where we shot it, it was a lovely space.”

The Cork music community is a tight-knit one, and among dedicated gig-goers and musicians, Malone has been an important part of it: this year alone has seen her open Quarter Block Party, be the first live performer to tread onstage at Dali, and perform at fundraisers for the Sexual Violence Centre. “The city’s so different now from when I arrived. Even the places we used to go to. It goes in waves. A genre grows in popularity and dies off. We’re fortunate to have a group of people that are constant, and are keeping the levels really high. People have space to develop and experiment. There’s some great youngfellas and girls coming out of the city. Jimmy Horgan’s got PLUGD, and the Roundy’s developed a lot more. I’m excited to see more alternative spaces, to be loud and make weird noises.”

With a landmark year nearly sewn up, it’s not too long to go before the next set of milestones presents itself. Malone is looking at 2019 on a step-by-step basis. “To keep tippin’ away. Writing as much as possible. Keep playing. I’m in the frame of mind now where I want to learn more now, about my craft, just being a better musician. That’s where I’m at right now. Maybe a new single after New Year. Just more cool shit like that.”

Elaine Malone’s new extended player ‘Land’ is available now on all streaming services.

Prime Time Clothing: “Cork Has to Be in the Background”

Cork’s streetwear mecca Prime Time has long been a part of the fabric of local hip-hop culture. As the shop looks to the future after 26 years and counting on Washington Street, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to director Niall Hassett.

An undeniable part of the appeal of Cork City is the gems of its independent culture and homegrown entrepreneurship, embedded in the city’s layout and grid of side-streets. As the city slowly gives way to an encroaching monotone in the form of seemingly-endless chain stores and ill-considered installations, the value of the city’s community of independent traders, and the value they offer in local service and knowledge, is drawn into ever-sharper focus. For shops like Prime Time, right at the top of the Washington Street ‘student superhighway’, recognising this value is key.

Established in 1992 and still resident in its original premises, the shop has long been a supporter of local music and youth culture, with its co-founders developing an interest in street fashion amid the plurality of teenage tribes that lay at the foundation of youth culture throughout, according to director Niall Hassett. “(Cork) would have been very ‘High Street’ at the time, so your main drags would have been what they were. One, you could call it following the crowd, but two: no other choice. That’s where we came in, at the right time. We were at the bad end, I suppose, of the ‘first’ recession in my lifetime. There was just a greyness, a deadness to the town at the time. That, in its own regard probably helped us. You can feel the same thing going on now, there’s a lot of monotone fashion, everybody on the one thing, which is where we differ. When you do something different, that helps you stand out. Once you get people in the door, the clothes speak for themselves.”

The shop’s first few years of business were a formative experience for the people behind it, with the aforementioned plurality of youth subcultures providing fertile ground for Prime Time to put down roots. The process of getting a shop together and developing their interest in street fashion into a business presented a profound but vital learning curve. “One of the things was finding a shop. There would have been loads of empty doors, but at our age, late teens/early twenties, you weren’t probably being taken seriously. So if it wasn’t for Andrew Moore, who would have been from O’Sullivan-Moore at the time, we’d probably never have got off the time. Louisa (Heckett, owner) would have been travelling a lot at the time, and would have seen bum-bags in Camden Market, picked up a couple of dozen of them, brought them home and tried selling them at shops around the city. One of the responses was ‘they’ll never take off’ (laughs). I suppose Lou felt that if this was the struggle to get places to stock what she wanted, was there other people that were in the same spot?”

The changes happening to Cork’s music scene at the outset of the Nineties, including the rise of current fixtures like Stevie G, made for perfect timing. Attending gigs and club nights on the regular anyway, Louisa and Niall found it easy to leverage their enthusiasm for local music into a bottom line of support, a relationship that continues to this day. “It’s because we were part of it. We were more the retail, than the fashion end of it. We used to be trying to get into clubs around Cork, in our clothing, and we’d be turned away the whole time. ‘Nah, nah, nah’. The first thing we had to try and change was to get the bouncers on side, and that helped us allow more music events to go on. We used to have DJ contests when we were a smaller store, fashion shows, things like that. That helped us blend in. It’s trying to break barriers down, of other people’s perception of what you were. We looked different, we were a bit noisier, a bit loud. That would have invited (hip-hop people). When they came in, we didn’t look at them, or follow them around the shop. Plus – on Friday and Saturday, we would have been in the back bar, listening to Stevie, in Sir Henry’s. We were part of it, we were enjoying it like anyone else. We gave the understanding that we weren’t whoring the scene, or the music, we were part of it.”

Fast-forward to this year, when the shop led an expansion in social media reach and scope, with a marketing campaign that placed Cork hip-hop personalities centre-stage across a series of videos, including the likes of wordsmith Spekulativ Fiktion. Striking a balance of community and putting its message across was a priority throughout the campaign. “It was more the artists’ idea, to be fair. We have a studio above us where we could shoot it, plus then we could obviously help to dress it, and give it an edge. Most of the things we’ll do will come from brainstorming, I suppose, it’s just people starting to talk. It’s someone coming to us with an idea, and us going ‘we have the ability to do this, fuck it, let’s give ‘em a platform’. What is it? An evening in your life? It’s Cork, it’s local. One of the big things with our Instagram campaigns is, Cork has to be in the background. How did Brooklyn become Brooklyn, how did Fifth Avenue become Fifth Avenue? Because people saw their iconic places. So that was always one of our big things: to do Cork, in Cork. Local music, local artists, local people. We’ve got some great stuff here.”

As the years have worn on, those relationships to an ever-changing youth culture have passed through the hands of waves of young staff and managers. Trusting new people with the direction of the shop and its identity has been a key part of Prime Time’s longevity, but so too has been its relationship with the city itself. “Being local. We never opened another door. We’ve had opportunities to open in every town in the country. We got it all the time, we still get it. Somebody opens a new shopping centre, and they ask us ‘will ye come, will ye come?’. We always felt we couldn’t replicate it, because we’re from Cork. People feel that, whether they’re tourists or a local. I wouldn’t go to Dublin, I think it should be Dublin people speaking their locality, their youth culture, what growing up has brought you to.”

After 26 years at the forefront of streetwear and new brands, the shop maintains a steady trade, change being a constant, as the brands they once stocked exclusively slowly became main-street staples. Staying ahead of the game is foremost in Hassett’s mind, however. “We’d love to do our own brand, it’s something we’ve been tip-toeing around. Obviously we should be selling online, but it’s not as easy as people make out. You’ve got a whole new business in delivery, returns, etc. We did it twice in the past and got stung badly, but we did it wrong. We piecemealed it. We would like to get into that. And the new wave (of staff) do want to open new shops in new towns. Maybe I’m a bit longer in the tooth, but I suppose, if I’m to follow through on leaving the youth do their thing, maybe we should. But the brand is the next thing, and perhaps that will give us the opportunity to sell in different place without having to open new doors.”

Prime Time Clothing is open Monday-Sunday on Washington Street in the city. For more info, check out prime-time.ie or find them on social media.

All the Luck in the World: “We Wanted to Take a More DIY Approach”

Germany-based folk-pop trio All the Luck in the World have travelled all over the continent and racked up hundreds of thousands plays online, and this month sees them finally ready to come home. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with frontman Neil Foot.

Perhaps the inevitable result of a set of circumstances that saw Ireland declare its young people expendable in the face of economic difficulty, a young diaspora of Irish emigrés scattered across the world over the course of the bad years, taking with them their art and ingenue. Stories are filtering back of the musicians and visual artists that settled elsewhere and took authorship of their roots, as well as their body of work, subverting the ‘wild geese’ narrative that romanticises such displacement routinely. Though formed in County Wicklow, where the band’s self-titled debut was recorded, folk trio All the Luck in the World in the end turned to Berlin for a headquarters from which they could realistically plan tours, and be at a continental centre of creativity.

This relocation has led the band to cut its teeth on touring European venues and festivals rather than building a bottom line at home, but also informed the band’s approach to creativity, keeping busy enough in the interim with live activity to approach second album ‘A Blind Arcade’ the way they wanted, says band founder Neil Foot. “Yeah, we’re really pleased with how the record turned out. The writing and recording of our first album was quite rushed and we were determined to take our time with this one, so there was no real chance of us being unsatisfied with it. In the end we probably spent a little bit too much time sitting with it, but we’re just happy to have it out in the world now.

Recorded between the band’s own ‘Haven’ studio in Wicklow and the Golden Retriever facility in Berlin, the band’s more relaxed approach this time around has resulted in a fine example of accessible folk, with textures alternating from brittle string-plucking and baskmasked chords to sweeps of strings. That cavalier mentality of self-direction prevailed, says Foot. “The creative process usually involved the three of us sitting around, showing each other musical and lyrical concepts, and then developing them together. There was no overarching theme to the record, we just wanted to create a collection of short stories that felt like they belonged together.  A good portion of the record was produced at home, we wanted to take a more DIY approach from the outset. When we were happy that we’d taken the songs to certain level, we brought our recordings to the studio in Berlin, where we worked with our producer Paul Pilot, and then back home to add some finishing touches.”

Since the album’s release in February of this year, some three years after work began on it, the band is happy with how things have been proceeding, with positive reviews and growing crowds at their shows. Sharing in that goodwill has been a big part of how the band has managed the slow trickle of success that’s been coming their way. “We’ve been fairly pleased with the reception online and at the shows so far. We’re always hoping to reach a larger audience of course, and that’s not always easy. But it’s great to go on tour and really feel the reaction to the music, and to meet the people who have been listening.”

Being based in Berlin, as touched upon earlier, creates a different angle on the perception and question of creating within the Irish space, at once being able to say they took a go at wider success, while perhaps not benefiting from the tight-knit structure of community that supports Ireland’s DIY music scene. What’s that like as a cultural, diaspora and business experience? “Of course we are Irish artists, but we don’t have a very strong support network here in Ireland, and we’re still relatively unknown, I think. We’re based in Germany, as is our management, distribution, and previous labels we’ve worked with. Most of our touring so far has been in central Europe, this is our first ever Irish tour actually. But yeah, looking forward we’re hoping to make more of an impact (at home)!”

Said excursion happens over the course of next week as part of a wider swing of UK/Irish dates, including a stop Friday week at the Roundy on Castle Street for a show promoted by The Good Room. Foot collects his thoughts on the upcoming dates, and coming to the Leeside city. “Yeah, we’re really looking forward to all of the Irish shows we have coming up, and it’ll be our first time playing in Cork city. There’s a pretty unique energy to Irish crowds, and that’s always exciting. We played Indiependence a few years back, and the crowd were fantastic, so we know there’s a great buzz for music in the county.”

With their second album in the can and another major notch on their touring belt complete after this run of dates, the question of what’s next is quite straightforward for All the Luck in the World. “After these gigs, we’ll take a few weeks off over Christmas. Then we’ll hopefully get straight into writing lots of new material at the start of the new year. We want to share a lot more new music with people in 2019.”

Cork Film Festival: “The Mission Doesn’t Change”

From documentaries and animation to shorts and industry events, this year’s Cork Film Festival sets the annual event on a longer-term path. MIKE McGRATH-BRYAN speaks with producer and chief executive FIONA CLARK.

It’s a little under two weeks to go to Cork Film Festival as this goes to press, and as Fiona Clark, the festival’s producer and chief executive makes her way into the Opera House Café, the Jazz weekend’s street entertainers begin filing past the street-facing windows in uniforms of various, increasingly lurid hues. It’s festival season in the city, alright, and Clark is a mixture of excitement, nerves, and pre-festival exhaustion as the last pieces fall into place for her own project. This year sees the festival celebrate 63 years of operations in the city centre’s screens and venues, launching in 1955, five years after gaining international approval at Cannes (see boxout). 2020, then, marks a milestone anniversary for Cork Film Fest, a fact that is mentioned as a focus of attention for staff in this year’s brochure.

While the approach of a landmark anniversary is apparent, the thought process behind the festival this year is, for lack of a better term, business as usual, according to Clark. “The mission of the festival doesn’t change year on year. We’ve taken some time to consider, refresh and realign what that is, but it’s simple and applies regardless of year: to connect people through outstanding films, and for there to be a shared festival experience of those films across ten days. We have a programming team, and we’re clear about the shape and feel of the festival. We’re the largest film festival in Ireland, showcasing the best in Irish and international film, across features, documentaries and shorts. We’re selecting award-winners from the international circuit, and the festival being on in November is a great opportunity to reflect on the state of the world, and film reflecting that, from throughout the year.”

Irish cinema is indeed in sharp focus throughout the festival’s programming, from the gala European premiere of festival opener ‘Float Like a Butterfly’, directed by Corkonian Carmel Winters, to the prominence of documentaries like archival presentation ‘Cork on Camera’, supplemented by events like special screenings of international co-productions and seldom-seen classics of Irish filmmaking. This year’s homegrown offering anchors the festival’s wider variety of programming, and Clark is rightly excited. “Very strong. It’s important to us to showcase the best of Irish work in the programme, and we’ve certainly got that in spades. ‘The Favourite’, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest offering, an Irish premiere that we worked hard to secure, produced by Element Pictures, that we believe will be a sumptuous feast for people. The award-winner from Galway, ‘The Dig’, ‘Belly of the Whale’… then you’ve got ‘The Overcoat’, a retelling of the Gogol story (see boxout), and we have nine programmes of Irish shorts, including the world premiere, supported by Screen Ireland, of six short programmes. We could go on, and I think that demonstrates our commitment. It’s where new talent is discovered and we’re keen to profile that.”

Documentary programming is a pillar of any film festival, and CFF has a very strong programme of music documentaries happening throughout the course of events (see boxout), telling a variety of compelling musical stories that help flesh out historically important chapters of the medium’s development. For Clark, these films form part of an ongoing and wider mission, regarding the documentary format and Cork audiences. “It’s always been there. Film and music go hand-in-glove anyway. For a wider audience, there’s a lot to take away. The Blue Note documentary will take you through its history leave you with a smile on your face all through it. But there are plenty of films that embrace that element, too, from ‘9 to 5’ to (black-metal biopic) ‘Lords of Chaos’.”

Outside of the realm of the city’s speciality venues and cinemas, the film festival’s remit as a pillar of the civic cultural offering expands into the community. Screenings of selected festival-entered features and classic movies in regional partner theatres are an important part of mid-festival outreach, as well as the establishment of a year-round viewing centre at the City Library on Grand Parade, showing selected festival entries on-demand for members. These initiatives among others are central to the festival’s continued development. “They’re absolutely vital. When I started out in arts education, (my thoughts were) ‘unless you create access and opportunity to enjoy, experience and participate in the arts, why would they be interested?’. And it’s such an important part of the fabric of who we are, and where we live. We’re able to do these regional screenings through our work with Gate Cinemas, our principal venue partners. So, for the first time, we’re going to be running our schools programme in Cork, eight titles in Midleton and Mallow, and building on that, we’ve received 2019/2020 funding to extend the outreach of a pilot for our ‘Illuminate’ mental-health and wellbeing programme to Transition Year students. We’ll be rolling that out in Cork next year, and across Munster in 2020, and that’s a great opportunity to work with young people to engage and express their ideas.”

On the further topic of outreach, a trio of industry-geared events across the first weekend of the festival will allow local filmmakers and arts professionals to interact with industry names and players on topics from training and networking to documentaries and distribution. This degree of engagement with an active and ever-developing core of local creators adds to the value of these sessions to the festival. “What we’ve tried to do this year is recognise that filmmakers need different things at different points in their career, so whether you’re a student or an emerging filmmaker starting out, need advice on funding or promotion, or connect to international industry players to generate markets, that’s what we’ve focused on. We’ve got ‘First Take’ and ‘Doc Day’, and we’ve introduced a new day this year, ‘Focus Forum’, which is a networking and roundtable event to help (filmmakers’) professional development, from shorts to features. We’ve aligned that with the Screen Ireland World-Premiere Shorts, as a lot of the filmmakers will be in town for that, and it’s a free event. Festivals have a role to play. We’re platforming 120 shorts, if we weren’t recognising that they were an important constituent to the festival, and responding to their needs as creators, I think we’d be doing them a disservice.”

With the wheels firmly in motion on the festival ahead of doors opening on the 9th with the gala premiere of ‘Float Like a Butterfly’, Clark collects her thoughts ahead of the big season of screenings, and casts an eye on what’s left to be done. “I’m super-excited. I keep having to pinch myself. A terrific team of people, nearly all returning from last year, so there’s a great sense of collaboration. The programme is really strong and the audience reaction has been very positive so far, and we’re really proud of that. The big push is always to get to the point where the schedule is locked down and we’re able to share it. Our job now is to make sure to make sure people know about it, vote with their feet, come along and have a great time. The best outcome is that the people attending come away from it thinking, ‘I’ve experienced my city in a different way’, or that they visited Cork and thought, ‘that was amazing’. The festival experience is important to us.”

Cork Film Festival runs in venues across the city and county from November 9th to 18th. For more information, check out corkfilmfest.org or pick up a hard-copy brochure in town.

Talos: “There’s Been Zero Change”

With his debut album winning him a major-label deal, and another full-length on the way, Talos’ creative figurehead Eoin French stands on the precipice of mainstream success, ahead of being among the headliners of October Bank Holiday weekend’s Jazz Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with French about the process, the changes, and the hype.

The story of Talos, the nom-de-plume of Cork composer and singer Eoin French, is one that seldom happens anymore. While the post-rock-inflected electronic pop project slowly gathered pace on the local music scene at its outset following the demise of French’s old band, it soon became evident to gig-goers and those in the know that big things were on the way as a revelatory live show began coming together. That hunch soon turned out to be well-founded, and Talos’ debut full-length, ‘Wild Alee’ was picked up for reissue by SonyBMG in an expanded edition that marks the beginning of French’s stint on the label. And while it’s all excitement in camp Talos at present, the mundanities of sealing the deal over a period of months were as much to do with creative as with legal issues. “Signing with them took a while, to put pen to paper, as these things do. It was just one of those stories, where the guy that signed us had an intern that just played the album in the office on a daily basis, and he enjoyed it. He got onto us, and it went from there, it was a lot of back-and-forward. That’s all the boring stuff, I suppose. There were the conversations: were they open to me not being directed in any way, doing what I want, and it turns out they were (chuckles). It was super-straightforward. The reality of it was, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything with anybody that had an input. It was quite easy, they’re quite an open group anyway, so that was handy. That was it, and then we signed it in the States. These things aren’t very interesting (laughs).”

You’d imagine moving from an independent distribution setup to signing with a major would be a sea-change, especially as the traditional industry continues to find a foothold amid constant demographic and technological changes. But for French, revisiting his debut to add new content for its release in the form of an entirely separate EP entitled ‘Then There Was War’, simply bolstered his existing work flow. “There’s been zero change, to be honest. The only thing that’s changed is deadlines, they’ve gotten tighter. The other big thing is, I don’t do anything else now. They were quite supportive of the EP coming out, it was quite a step away, quite weird, quite dark, and I wanted it to be accompanied by these four videos. It was important that they were supportive, and they were. My experience with revisiting the record was placing the EP as a full stop. Setting the thing on fire and seeing what came of it.”

Revisiting ‘Wild Alee’ to put the full stop to it brought out a better understanding in French of the storytelling ability he possesses in spades. With something of a Kierkegaardian take on subject matter, moods and emotional content, French recounts how he became able to draw a line under the record before proceeding. “I don’t really listen back to my work, once I have it mastered. I’d revisit it very, very rarely, but I’m very proud of it. It took a very long time to make. If anything, you’re probably always going to see gaps, which is the only way to make something better. Me revisiting it wasn’t sitting down and listening to it, it was talking about it, d’you know what I mean? You have to do all these interviews about the tracks, and I was looking back at what songs were about, and it was like ‘ah, fuck, that’s what that was actually about.’ In a way, they gained new meanings, which was really interesting.”

One of the great tropes of music in a post-CD age is that the playing field is even, that artists can go ahead and conquer the world on their own with no need for a label (decent PR people notwithstanding). For French, though, it’s been a little of the opposite, assembling as he has a team of collaborators, managers and visual artists working to convey the scope of French’s cinematic pop. In a time when conventional music-biz wisdom is being disregarded, it’s a big move. “It’s just that thing of, ‘many hands’. It was a great benefit, because before the album was released, there was this energy and belief in what I did. That was the best help of all – a support structure propping the whole thing up.” Among those in camp Talos are Feel Good Lost, the audiovisual studio headed up by cinematic wunderkind Brendan Canty, having sharpened his teeth with Scandipop-influenced duo Young Wonder. Canty’s preternatural technical and storytelling ability are a huge part of Talos’ visual identity, and for French, made for something of a sounding board for ideas. “It varies from song to song. I would have had a lot of input on a video, and maybe less so other times. It went that way, y’know? A lot of the time they told very different stories as well, they were kind of detached, and that was important too, they shone a new light on the stuff. They always came in post. The images I wrote from were my own, they didn’t really get transcribed onto the video, but they became something else, kind of tonal, or coloured. We worked together closely on some and maybe not so closely on others.”

One more stop for French, ahead of what lies next, is the release this past month of a live extended-player, recorded at St. Luke’s Cathedral on the city’s northside. Since falling into the capable hands of promoters Joe Kelly and Ed O’Leary (The Good Room), the now-deconsecrated church and its crypt have become a unique destination for culture lovers of all stripes in the city, with gig-goers lining the pews and taking in the stained-glass atmosphere of the building. “I’ve worked with Joe from the very conception of this, prior to that even the band I was in before it (post-rockers Hush War Cry). He’s an unbelievably generous guy, he’s always told me how he felt about the music, whether it was positive or negative. He’s always been really helpful, you’re always going to get an honest and truthful answer out of him. But beyond that, the two lads are amazing promoters, and they have the best stage in Ireland, which helps. The EP in itself is really important to me because that probably is my favourite place on the planet to play. To capture that was a really important thing, to be able to showcase the live show, the six-piece as it is, because that’s a key thread for this project, working with these guys.”

The full live line-up has its biggest gig to date on October Bank Holiday weekend, playing the Opera House as one of the Jazz festival’s non-jazz headliners. It’s not French’s first dalliance with the 800-capacity auditorium, but it is a massively important one. “The Opera House for any Cork musician is a hugely important thing. So that alone is an especially big thing for us. The fact that it’s on the Jazz Weekend as well, as musicians we’d always be aware of it, and growing up, with my parents it was always very much a thing in our house. I’m really, really excited about it. We’ve got a lot of new music that we’re going to play that I’ve been working on for the last six months. I’m intrigued to see how that goes down. It’s a big deal, like.” Talk of new music is the perfect segue to posing the typical ‘what next?’ question, but French isn’t one for hanging around while opportunity awaits. “Literally just finishing my second album. I’ve no dates, I’ve no release stuff yet. There will be something relatively soon, and I hope people hear it and enjoy it. That’s what I’ve been at, down in West Cork, holed up for the last month or two, finishing stuff off.”

Talos play the Cork Opera House on Sunday October 28th, as part of the Cork Jazz Festival. Kickoff is 7pm, tickets are €25.