Cork Sound Fair: “Challenges of a Different Kind”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cork Sound Fair runs at venues around Cork City between Thursday March 28th and Sunday March 31st. Tickets for all events are on sale now at

Cork Sound Fair: “Be Inventive”

Cork Sound Fair, a crowdfunded, non-profit weekender is set to celebrate the proliferation of leftfield sounds at home and further afield. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator Conor Ruane as the event draws closer.

Cork has, in recent years, firmly cemented its reputation as the home of festivals in Ireland, with the city centre playing host to a plethora of new music weekenders and all-dayers that have taken their place alongside the city’s established lineup of genre celebrations. As the culture of music and its consumption continues to change, so too will the nature of programming and curating events: from community affairs like Soul in the City and Quarter Block Party, to specialist excursions like SoundEye and UrbanAssault, festivals have become at once more singular and more experimental, digging deeper into the interests and frames of reference of genre enthusiasts.

Cork Sound Fair, running on March 23rd and 24th in Cork City centre, is just such an affair. Taking place at historic buildings and music venues around the city, the festival is starting as it means to go on, building on a groundswell of support for leftfield and experimental electronic music. Co-founder and curator Conor Ruane discusses the festival’s beginnings, as a reaction to wider events and expansion on the continental scene. “I have had the idea of showcasing this new wave of Irish producers for some time now, but it wasn’t until I heard an excellent Resident Advisor Exchange podcast by Gosia, of Unsound Festival, that I really found myself thinking ‘I need to do this’, and secondly ‘it’s actually possible to do so’. Hearing the challenges they faced bringing leftfield ideas and sound to Poland and Eastern Europe, I found myself thinking that Ireland also needs push our new and exciting artists, to help the next generation.”

Over the course of its two days, the festival brings audiovisual installations and performances to two of the city’s historic spaces: St. Peter’s Centre on North Main Street, a former church, and Cork City Gaol, a landmark nestled in among the picturesque setting of Sunday’s Well. Working with the venues’ management, the festival’s crew has set about the goal of utilising their unique acoustic properties to add to each performance. “I try to bring something different to each project, and venue selection is a big part of that. As a rule of thumb, I try and source venues which are approximately two-hundred capacity. I think once you start exceeding this, it is hard to maintain the atmosphere and feeling in the room. In my book, each venue should be unique. Unfortunately in Ireland, we lack the unused industrial buildings European festivals like Atonal, Re-wire, and Unsound, have so brilliantly used to showcase their ideas. Furthermore, ideas like these rarely get funding or support from the powers-that-be. So we have to work around this, and be inventive, look at spaces which may be currently occupied, and suggest ideas how they can be used in a different way.”

The festival has been 100% crowdfunded via the fund:it platform, and established as a non-profit, in order to invest funders and supporters with a sense of ownership of the event. It’s relatively new territory for festivals in Ireland to formally announce non-profit status, and take the idea of community involvement beyond local support and regular custom. “The crowdfund has allowed us to put in place key pieces of production infrastructure needed to turn St. Peter’s and Cork City Gaol into venues ready to host live performances. Fund:it are really great, they helped us from the very start, and kept in regular contact helping us create further awareness for our campaign. They are hosting a fund:it day in Cork on the 21st of March (at the Bank of Ireland on Patrick Street), anyone who is interested in fund:it should come along to see what they are about. I decided to set CSF as a non-profit as I want people to feel this is also theirs, and that they are a big reason for this happening. Funding for small festivals is very competitive in Ireland, I believe a festival should help the people taking part, and give back to people who make it happen, i.e. the attendees.”

Among those headlining the proceedings are Derry-based composer Autumns and Corkonian producer/improviser African Fiction, while the festival features a wide array of local and national electronic artists up and down the billing (see panel for more information). Ruane goes into detail on choosing a line-up, and his goals in supporting and featuring the local community. “I had three aims when picking the line up. One, to showcase the best Cork based artists, at St. Peter’s on the Friday night.  Two, to showcase Irish artists who are pushing it internationally, but seem not to find applause here. And three, to bring new sounds and inspire the next generation of producers, with the likes of Autumns and Beatrice Dillon. The state of electronic music is both good and bad. I feel there is really great talent and quality acts in Cork, however – and this goes for Ireland in general – there is still a taboo around electronic music. I look at what is happening elsewhere, and I feel we are regressing. I see places like Berlin, where they are protecting the much-talked-about Berghain as a cultural events center, to Amsterdam and London, who are recognizing the importance of a night-time economy, and are appointing nighttime Majors and Czars to look after venues, and promote night culture. We, on the other hand, are closing venues, and further restricting events to highly sponsored corporate shows which are not giving back to the artistic community or the general punter.”

The lineup showcases the breadth and depth of Cork and Ireland’s electronic music community, drawn from a wide pool of performers and sound designers, some of whom are providing workshops in order to create access to production and composition for the community. It is this spirit and passion that is at the heart of Cork Sound Fair. “The lineup is diverse, but I think a theme which runs through each act is a passion and a dedication to sound and experimentation. For example, Robert Curgenven has had critically acclaimed releases on LINE, The Tapeworm, Dragon’s Eye, Touch Radio and his own Recorded Fields Editions. He has performed internationally at festivals including Maerzmusik, Sonic Acts and Helicotrema. Robert has been fine-tuning his craft for many years, and his new audiovisual show in St. Peter’s will be a dark and dynamic journey with many twists and turns. The workshops are, again, CSF trying to enable and inspire up-and-coming producers. Each class is targeted at beginners, and we are encouraging women and members of the LGBT community to join in.”

With support for the festival in place, and those involved getting in position to give back in various manners over the course of this first instalment, surely this is the beginning of another festival to add to the calendar for Cork’s resurgent independent music community. “We haven’t really thought that far in advance (laughs). This whole process has been a very valuable lesson to me personally. I think once this is all done, we’ll take stock, listen to our attendees and decide what is best for CSF.”