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.

The Boys and Girls of Knocka: “The Salt-of-the-Earth, Genuine People”

The massively popular ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group has teamed up with local singers, songwriters and musicians to put together a special CD release to raise funds for local projects, focused on the thoughts and recollections of Knocknaheeny’s people and their relationship with the locality. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with some of the people involved.

The northside of Cork has always been the heart of the city: home to historic trading areas and iconic landmarks, thriving and tight-knit residential areas, and distinguishably working-class arts and culture, from cult post-punk heroes Nun Attax and current black-metal darlings God Alone, to arts facilities like the Firkin Crane Theatre, and rapper GMC’s Kabin project. Concurrent to this fertile ground for artistic development has been an interesting phenomenon, that embodies the potential of the wider social media milieu and its ability to bring people together: The ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group on Facebook. Over the past few months, it’s swollen from a few members from the co-founders’ circles, to over seven thousand members, and plays home to a rich array of historical photographs and material pertaining to the Northside. It’s a study in the reach granted by social platforms to communities, while specialising in local interests and content.

It’s on this group, co-founded by entrepreneur James Twomey and musician Glenn O’Callaghan, that the idea for a song memorialising the old sights and sounds of the area, before they’re lost to regeneration, came about. Sourcing musicians and songwriters to put together an extended-player featuring a song that reflected on the area’s history came slightly easier because of the group’s numbers, says Twomey, as he discusses the group’s community origin. “It was originally Glenn Cal, myself and himself set up the page originally, to collect our old friends from Knocknaheeny, because he lives now in Sligo and I’m in Aherla. We grew up in a big circle of about forty lads, different sorts of groups, as kids and teenagers. As you grow older, guys drift away, so we said it would be great to have everyone in… One lad in particular invited his wife onto the page, and that night, we had about sixty people in total, everybody knew everybody, but the next morning, we woke up and we’d nearly two-thousand people (laughs). I couldn’t believe it!”

Twomey and O’Callaghan weren’t long coming up with the idea for a song chronicling the area’s history and culture, in the Irish folk tradition. O’Callaghan, known onstage as ‘Glenn Cal’, had no problem getting the idea off the ground, and building the lead song for an extended-player for the community. Coming from local entertainment royalty, as the son of Ardmore Avenue’s own country singer Dave Cal, O’Callaghan had the firsthand knowledge and feel for the area to pen a homage, but has also struck out on his own as a singer-songwriter, touring with vocal group Westlife among others, and was able to bring that experience to the table early on. “Myself and James were talking about it, and he put me in touch with Myles Gaffney, a fabulous songwriter from the Northside. I’m living in Sligo now, so I collaborated with Myles at the start, with some ideas, but I’m delighted that he ran with it, but there was a great idea, and the song turned out brilliant. It’s great to have it up there. There’s a few videos up there, of songs of my own, and they got a good reaction, and it’s a great platform because there’s a lot of people on there. It really took off.”

Once Glenn had the idea and the concept behind the CD’s lead song set in stone, it was over to singer-songwriter Myles Gaffney to put together the most important piece of the whole thing: drawing on local knowledge and memories of the Knocknaheeny area through the filter of the community, and its experiences. For Gaffney, the song, which came simply to be titled, ‘Knocknaheeny’, was a painstaking labour of love. “I decided to watch and follow the page, and monitor comments from residents past and present. If a topic, place or subject was mentioned by various people a number of times, I would note that down. The first verse had to describe Knocknaheeny, and where it is, to let the listener know what the song is about, and where the community is. The second verse was to describe the people that came to inhabit Knocknaheeny, the basic houses that were built. Single-pane windows, with metal frames with four bare walls, no thrills, no frills. Proper working-class area and housing.”

“The chorus describes Knocknaheeny for what it really is. Friendship, love, neighbourhood, and a working-class community, very content with what they have. The salt-of-the-earth, genuine people. We know Knocknaheeny sometimes gets bad press, and dragged through the muck, but it’s a very small minority who portray this image. Cnoic Na hAoine, which means “the hill of Friday”, is contained in the third verse. On a Friday, before Knocknaheeny was built, monks would travel up the hill to pray in the fields looking down onto the harbour. Seventeen terraces were built in total between two main roads, Kilmore and Harbour View road respectively. Clubs and schemes are also mentioned. Verse four tells of a true working-class area as seen throughout Ireland. A post-office, chipper, chemist, library, school… basic needs for a community to function.”

Once the historic details were down, Gaffney got straight to the nitty-gritty of arrangement, recording and production. And if the weight of the material and its significance to the community was heavy, Gaffney unmade the burden of producing the song by staying in keeping with his own processes, lending it his own voice in the process. “As I’m a traditional Irish songwriter and artist, the production and recording was basically the same as any other songs I’ve written and recorded. Guitar, bass, banjo and squeeze-box were the instruments I chose for this song, to create the sound I was hearing in my mind. I wanted it to be a singalong song, easy to sing, easy to learn.”

Also appearing on the record is guitarist and songwriter Anthony Cotter, now a part of Ballincollig’s phenomenally successful White Horse Guitar Club ensemble, based out of the town’s folk venue of the same name. With his song, ‘Superman’, Cotter brings a more personal look at childhood in Knocknaheeny, reflecting on the emergence of bullying in schools, and stressing the importance of resolving conflict peacefully and maturely. “I based it loosely on this kid from school who was bullied so badly he brought a bread knife to school in his bag. It’s deep enough, but gets the listener to question the bully, and calls out it’s not right, but also that it’s not okay to fight back with violence. I had a superb childhood in Knocknaheeny myself, and with my involvement with St. Vincent’s H&F Club, we give back to the community. Some clubs make good players at adulthood, we make good people.”

The CD launched at Hollyhill Library earlier this month, with members of the community gathering at the facility to mark the occasion with the musicians and social-media folk involved. The record has been received warmly, with outlets all over the area stocking the physical CD, and enthusiastic local radio play. Gaffney is now looking toward what can be done to put the song in the inherited memory of young Norries. “The song has got a great reception, and I’m glad to say people like it. The next step I would suggest is to get the song into the schools. The children of Knocknaheeny are the next generation to carry on the song. The children can make this their own unique song, just for them. Father Greg in the church is a good man to give a song, so he might sing it at Mass (laughs).” Twomey echoes Gaffney’s sentiment about the song’s potential legacy, and the importance of pride of place. “It’s been brilliant, to be honest with you, there’s a song about Knocknaheeny now, that was never there before. And it’s the history of Knocknaheeny. I hope it’ll go on for generations, now, like ‘The Boys from Fair Hill’. We gave Myles the jigsaw, and he really put it together with his music as the glue.”

Proceeds from the four-track CD will go to support various community projects for the locality, and are part of an overall drive by people from the area to overcome the aforementioned social stigma that often affect working-class areas around the country. ‘Boys and Girls’ group administrator Don O’Sullivan outlines what the group seeks to accomplish, and hopefully take forward into further projects. “With the funds raised from this CD and other projects, that we will be planning whether through sponsorship or local fund-raising, we want to be in a position to help small groups locally, that are struggling to find funds, and to raise funds with them. In the case the majorettes or a dance group can’t go to their competitions or events, we want to be able to send them on that bus, either by paying for the bus or giving donations to help the children perform in their category, and let the children enjoy the activities that they trained so hard for.”

“We have seen groups who might not be well known and don’t really have the experience, or the know-how to raise funds, and we will be there for them, and to provide. When we were growing up, every child in the parish was involved in something. GAA, dancing, sports of all types, and that has seemed to slow down over the years. We want to give that injection of self-belief, that it can be achieved again as in years gone by, and that is where we will step in, as our children are our future. We are in talks at the minute with professionals in running workshops for the youth, and these are not cheap, but we hope to have the funds in place to give back to the youth. We just want to keep it, from what we saw growing up, to give to this generation with the chance we had.”

Speaking further on projects happening locally, O’Sullivan is evidently proud of what they’ve accomplished with this piece of music, but also spurred on by the possibilities of what can happen next, calling attention to access to the arts, but also a very special cause that will be fundraising soon, in the spirit of community. “We will be working together in the future on other projects. I think where we are now, we can get planning outdoor events locally, give the public free gigs, as we know how expensive it can be for families to go to a gig. From experience with the schools, there are some music clubs there, and it’s just tapping into that pool of energy, and nurturing the youth to have them play, or even extra tuition from experienced musicians, if they want to take up writing or singing or playing an instrument. St. Mary’s on the Hill N.S. are trying to raise money at the moment for a sensory garden for children on the autism spectrum. It is a lot of money for this, they are looking at 25k to get it up and running, so we could hold a concert in the school with the singers, and raise a few quid with that, or even other projects to help them out with the sensory garden. Our slogan for the page is: Putting Unity Back into the Community.”

‘The Boys and Girls of Knocka’ Facebook group is open to join on the platform now. The group’s Christmas concert happens at Hollyhill Library, on Saturday December 15th at 1pm, including musicians featured on the new CD, on sale from the Library, Singleton’s SuperValu, and CarryOut at Top of the Hill.

Myles Gaffney headlines at Cyprus Avenue on Saturday December 29th, tickets onsale now from cyprusavenue.ie, and The Old Oak. Anthony Cotter and the White Horse Guitar Club play Cork Opera House on Thursday January 24th 2019, tickets onsale now from the venue box office and corkoperahouse.ie. Glenn Cal’s new solo EP will be releasing in the new year, with songs available to hear in the ‘Boys and Girls’ group now.

Bunker Vinyl: “Everything’s Been Done on a Shoestring”

From social work in inner-city London to providing a space for music lovers in the city, Bunker Vinyl’s John Dwyer brings strong community spirit to his lifelong dream.

It’s one thing to harbour a dream, then tell yourself that maybe it’s a little bit wild for your circumstances, your headspace etc. It’s quite another, though, to drop everything after two decades in one place to finally pursue that ambition. Located on Cork’s Camden Quay, the unassuming surrounds of Bunker Vinyl & Studio are, for co-proprietor John Dwyer, the embodiment of such a decision. “I left London after twenty-one years of being a social worker. I’d always wanted my own record shop, since I was eight, so I started at Mother Jones’ Flea Market, selling out of there for nine months, then opened the shop. Here we are two years later.”

Selling music almost entirely on vinyl, Bunker is one of a clutch of shops that has grown in recent years off the back of the format’s mainstream comeback as an alternative to streaming. Even so, it must have been a challenge taking on something new after being in such a substantative role for twenty-one years. “It was, but I was kind of in and around record shops throughout the nineties in Brighton, I’d be obsessed. Even though I was a social worker, I’d spend my weekend at record shops, clubs, venues, etc. So… I’d the transferrable skills.”

With a strong interest in the UK’s musical underground and sociopolitical ethics fine-honed by his time in the UK’s social-work system, it didn’t take long for those interests to cross over, and for Dwyer to find his niche as a social worker. “Oh yeah, I used to run a music programme for kids with disabilities, and it was basically giving kids the chance to go into studios, learn how to record people, then we had DJ competitions for people. Work with disadvantaged kids, we had a music project in West London, which turned into gigs, and eventually a label, which was funded for a while, until that was taken away by the Tory government. So, it’s interesting to come back and see what’s changed since the boom and bust. Things seem to be improving – seem to be improving.”

After moving back to Ireland to pursue his dream, Dwyer got his start selling records at Mother Jones’ Flea Market, a hub for vintage culture, antiques, and specialist retail. The importance of community made itself apparent from the get-go. “It’s a good place to start. You’re there for three days a week, and you get to meet loads of heads there. There’s a good buzz around the place, you get to figure out who’s who in the city. The overheads are small, so it’s a good opportunity to start a business and see does it have legs, I suppose. Really good place.”

Once the business began outgrowing its capacity at the market thanks to a bottom-line of support and custom, Dwyer was faced with the decision to move, no mean feat two years ago, at the outset of the current property crisis. But doing so has allowed Bunker Vinyl to grow steadily. “Just finding the property in the city was quite difficult, but I luckily found this place, it was the third or fourth shop I looked at. Just a matter of stock, buying in records from all over the place, and doing so on a limited budget. Everything’s been done on a shoestring, only expanding as far as I can afford to, really, and that’s the way the business is growing.”

Alongside the record shop downstairs in Bunker, a studio space has been set up for Dwyer and co-conspirator Aileen Wallace, as a base for lessons, workshops and creativity. “I met Aileen when she was busking one day, she and a few friends were looking for a place to teach music. When I got into this space, I realised we could actually have two spaces within the shop, and Aileen was the first person I thought of that would be good for it. It’s a slow builder, but Aileen’s away doing different things as well, so it’s kind-of become our little musical nirvana.”

The importance of spaces like Bunker Vinyl + Studio to Cork’s music scene cannot be overstated, being as they are, as the song says, the ears of the town. Dwyer will be the first to outline that importance, and pride of place of record shops in the community. “A record shop has always been the place where the person running it is a complete music addict, wants to share music with other people. There is a lot of people that just come in to chat, tell you about their records. You get guys coming in doing posters, telling you about their gigs. You get to know everyone that comes through.”

Bunker Vinyl + Studio is open Tues-Sun at 1 Camden Quay, Cork City, selling music on vinyl and CD, new and secondhand.

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.

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.