Spekulativ Fiktion: “I Sense a Storm Building”

One of Irish hip-hop’s most authoritative voices is back. Corkman Seán Murphy, aka Spekulativ Fiktion, talks about his new EP, the scene in Cork, and even improvises a short tale for Mike McGrath-Bryan.

2017 has been a year of profound change and development for Seán Murphy, a Cork wordsmith, rapper and beatmaker plying his craft under the pseudonym of Spekulativ Fiktion. Having emerged at the start of the decade with a seemingly ready-made knack for intelligent yet defiantly-accented wordplay, and an equal grasp of matters both social and emotional, Spek followed a quiet few years with a full-blown return to live and recorded activity, gigging intensely around the country. His efforts have borne fruit: his next EP ‘Effigies’, a long-mooted collaboration with Clare beatmaker Mankyy, is about to be released this month via Limerick-based outlet The Unscene. “Mankyy is a workhorse, and would send me beats all the time. If a beat clicked, I’d move forward with an idea that I felt suited. Lyrically, every song was approached differently. I definitely invested the most time into ‘Epilogue’. At points I would have completely filled the front and back of an A4 page only to end up using four lines out of the whole thing. Then I’d move onto another page and repeat. There was lots of drafting and scrapping before completion. I intentionally put the outro section of the song to the wayside until the recording stage, where it came together quickly with a large input from Mankyy. There are flows and schemes in there I wouldn’t have experimented with, had it not been for the collaborative effort.”

But the process isn’t always a matter of carefully-laid building blocks coming together. “Other tracks were written completely on the spot during the final recordings. You can put months of preparation and have material ready to go in advance of studio time, but you can’t replicate that spontaneous energy of banging something out in a few focused moments. My favourite material on there came about that way. It’s good to surprise yourself. I think of it almost like freestyling but you’re giving yourself an extra few minutes to cut away the excess and polish everything. Both the vocals and the beat for ‘G’luck’, the EP’s final track, came out of nowhere when we were just sitting around. State of flow they call it, right?” The dalliance with Mankyy has already borne fruit, with a special live performance of the record at IndieCork’s music programme winning the festival’s music laurels and leading to a premiere for EP leadoff ‘Epilogue’ via tastemaker blog Nialler9. It seems as though the pair have happened across something special. “There are certain aesthetics in art that we both delight in. Things that are dark but goofy, sarcastic but stirring, bleak but tireless. And I think we explore this world quite effectively together. We also don’t hate each other.”

The Unscene is the right place at the right time for Spekulativ Fiktion. The Shannonside not-quite-a-label has positively been on the tear throughout 2017, acting as a documentation post for a wide variety of Irish beats ‘n’ pieces. At its forefront: skratchologist Naive Ted, a lucky charm for the outlet whose last five EPs, a series called ‘The Minute Particulars’, were released in the space of a few months. “Talk about work ethic. The guy is a mad scientist. He once showed me a “draft 47” of a tune that would go on to appear on ‘The Minute Particulars’. I want to know how he keeps his skull from exploding! Mankyy’s ‘Character Development’ set the bar on January first of last year. There’s nothing like it. It’s Blade Runner 2049 if Ted’s ‘Send in the Hounds’ was Ridley Scott’s original. And when you get through that there’s another twenty something fresh EPs and albums in the Unscene catalogue, none of which try to hop on the sound of now… or the sound of any time for that matter. If I’m being honest, I reckon all these tunes came from an alternate reality.”

Ted and the Unscene are at the vanguard of a wider hip-hop uprising in Limerick that springs from an investment in music education in the city. Ted, among others, is involved with MusicGeneration Limerick, and in Spek’s estimation, it’s not long until similar effort pays off Leeside. “All you need is a quick glance at MusicGeneration Limerick’s gurus, disciples, and affiliates to understand huge things are happening there: Naive Ted, Rusangano Family, Same D4ence, Jonen Dekay… However, I sense a storm building in our own neck of the woods in the MusicGeneration department. There is a serious calibre of young talent on the rise, under the guidance of Garry McCarthy who is definitely ‘not’ GMC/Kalabanx. I have a feeling 2018 is Cork rap’s renaissance year.”

It’s been five years now since the release of Spek’s debut full-length, ‘Deathly Words’ – the tone and tenor of which was an uncomprising analysis of Irish society in the depths of deranged, misplaced austerity measures and their social consquences, but also the source of much praise from Irish music press of the time. Beats from Naive Ted and Cork veteran JusMe provided the backdrop for lyrical explorations of both internal and external issues, and Spek outlines where he was mentally when creating a record that would go on to be a portent for the development of Irish hip-hop in the years to follow. “I had a broken heart, was struggling to find direction in life, and saw corruption everywhere. I’m glad I had an outlet to combat the pain, and I worry about those who never find one. That therapeutic thing is one of the biggest reasons I’m still at this. I was completely sincere in everything I put to paper for ‘Deathly Words’, and I’m still proud of it. ‘Effigies’ probably has thematic parallels with it in a lot of ways. Half a decade has passed, and I have accomplished things in my life, but there are always challenges, and the world is just as crazy. I’m just telling my ongoing story and that of the world around me as I see it.”

The following years were spent collaborating with Naive Ted on their ’48’ extended-player, as well as making guest appearances for Sligo troop This Side Up, among others. As if possessed by the spirit of creation in the moment, Murphy treats us to a piece of O’Brienesque narrative, a chronicle-verse of his time in the wilderness. “With Ted, it was plenty of cups of tea, and homemade veggie curries. Not at the same time. But never say never… emerging from the spectral woods I find myself atop a behemoth of hulking rock. The breeze is enlivening. The view is transcendent. How did I get here? I glance to the side. It’s Clerk 5 and Shaool from This Side Up. We played a blinder in Sligo town last night, and are currently struggling through a hip-hop hangover up Benbulben like a pack of sick dogs. What would a glorified mosher such as myself be doing in a place like this, with a scut from Ennis who looks like he robs car radios and a viking/teddy-bear cross sporting a windswept afro? What could we possibly have in common? Oh yeah! We’re all grown men, who rhyme words loudly into other peoples’ faces as a pastime.”

Murphy balances life as a poet, beatmaker and rapper with the grind of a workin’ session musician – functions, corporate gigs, sessioning for theatre, etc. They’re seemingly at odds with the work and message of Spekulativ Fiktion, but Murphy makes it work. “The more I think about this stuff, the less gets done! But from a performance point of view, one is always informing the other. Whether I’m singing that bloody Wham! song again at a Women’s Little Christmas party in a country hotel, or spitting post-apocalyptic raps at tripping art students up in Dolan’s, there’s always a trick I’ll learn in one situation that can be be utilised in the other. The covers and entertainment side of things usually entails giving the people what they want. Environments and circumstances might change a little here and there, but more often than not, I just turn up and do pretty much the same thing I did last time. I like to think I do it well, mind you, and it’s what people like. Job done. Spekulativ Fiktion is a different animal, however. He’s my outlet. It’s more than ‘learn setlist, perform setlist and repeat’. Spek is in a constant state of flux. There is always new material in the works and new plans being made. That can fry my head sometimes. Maybe, what I’m trying to say though, is that these two sides of the coin balance each other out.”

Spek and Mankyy launch ‘Effigies’ on the 26th, with a whole host of phenomenal Irish rappers on the undercard, including Limerick rappers Jonen Dekay and Aswell, and an open-mic contest on the night. Murphy is amped for the line-up and to see other rappers in action. “A while back I heard Jonen Dekay described as the best rapper you’ve never heard of. These days, he’s a lot closer to being the best rapper you have heard of. Aswell is the rap version of that voice in your head that picks apart your confidence and calls you on your flaws, while doing so with such self-assurance and swagger that you’ll be nodding along believing it’s a good thing! SwitchX provides some Cork representation on the night and between you and me, he is sitting on the best rap song to come out of this city. Ever.”

That open-mic is the latest in a series at Cuttin’ Heads Collective (of whom Murphy is an affliate) events, and a proving ground for the next wave of MCs, poets and orators. For him, this is the highlight of the night. “I am excited for the open mic. There are a lot of hidden gems around these parts. At one of the bigger shows of the summer, I threw the mic to the crowd at the end of the night. The rest of the audience were left in shock. Myself included. Who the hell are these people?! Poets, freestylers and spoken wordsmiths are crawling out of the woodwork, along with your more typical rappers and coming to these events. That’s what’s needed for that Cork rap renaissance I mentioned earlier!”

Spekulativ Fiktion and Mankyy launch ‘Effigies’ with a special gig on the 26th of January at the Poor Relation on Parnell Place. Support from Aswell, Jonen Dekay and SwitchX, as well as a solo set from Mankyy and an open-mic contest. Kickoff at 8.30pm, €7 at the door.

Cara Kursh: “I Sit Down and Wait to See What Pops Up”

There are many strings to the bow of Cork-based Galwegian Cara Kursh. Mike McGrath-Bryan sat down with a poet, a singer-songwriter, and a promoter of the arts in the city.

Since opening its doors over two years ago, the Friary pub, situated at the corners of Shandon Street and North Mall, has become something of a hub for Cork culture, hosting gigs, open mics, film screening, exhibitions, DJ nights, and even full-on festivals. A great amount of this eclectic nature and grassroots work is down to the venue’s events collaborators and curators, among them Galwegian singer, poet and creative Cara Kursh. Speaking on the topic of what brought her to the city in the first place, Kursh speaks of an affinity for the city’s civic pride and creative community. “I moved to Cork nearly two years ago. I really like living in the city because it feels very accessible. Everyone is friendly and open and if you have an interest in something, it’s a lot easier to get involved in what you like doing. It’s less cliquey than a lot of places and I feel like people have more of a community spirit here which is so vital to have”, she says.

The venue’s diminutive stature belies the growth it’s taken on in the past few years, mostly down to the openness of landlord Mike d’Arcy to new ideas. Kursh was immediately engrossed. “I was there for a Ska night, and saw that there was a beautiful little space upstairs that would be perfect for an acoustic night. I helped out with (music night) Sofar Sounds, so was on the lookout for lovely spaces to put on gigs. I was talking to Mike about it, and he asked me to come in that Monday. When we chatted, he was really open to all my suggestions on what events could be done in the bar, and I’ve been really lucky to have a creative input in what goes on here.” Kursh’s creative work with the Friary in a full-time events capacity carried on until late last year, at which point a change in pace was undertaken to diversify her own interests. She remains involved, however, and the aforementioned openness of the venue to her ideas continues to be a challenge and a muse. “I really like that all ideas are welcome and considered. It’s great being able to come in with a mad idea and not have it laughed at, but encouraged! It’s a lovely pub, it has no airs and graces and when I come in I always feel as if I’m almost popping around to a friend’s house. When I helped put on The Friary Cork Festival, after all the preparation, it was so rewarding seeing how much people enjoyed themselves at it, I was really proud of our little bar.”

Since changing roles over at the Friary, Kursh is now primarily in charge of matters pertaining to Sling Slang!, a monthly poetry and performance event held in the venue’s upstairs space. Kursh goes into how the spoken word entered her creative processes and how the night came together. “I love words! I’ve written poetry for a long time. I’ve been songwriting for the last few years, so my poetry has been sung as opposed to read, until very recently. I went to O’ Bhéal a few times last year, and recited some poetry for the first time. I loved the atmosphere, the platform it gave people as a creative outlet, and I felt encouraged and inspired to write and perform more. During the Summer I started creating raps. I love the way words can be percussive, and feel so powerful when you speak about things that are important to you through rhyme and rhythm. I have friends who are rappers, but everytime I hear them out at gigs, the lyrics are a lot less decipherable over music. I wanted to create an event that focused on word appreciation and host all different varieties of wordsmiths to come and be their creative selves. I love seeing people go up on stage and perform their own poetry. To be able to create a platform for people to do that in a nurturing environment is a really special thing.”

The effort ploughed into Sling Slang! has cemented the monthly night as another reliable outlet in the city for poets and writers, and helping further establish the Friary as a safe haven for creative endeavour in a city under pressure for those exact spaces. “So far, we’ve had some beautiful nights with a different variety of guests. To name a few: Dave Rock, Spekulativ Fiktion, Cormac Lally, David Jackson, Stanley Notte, Julie Goo, Ben Burns… all magic in their own way. Every Sling Slang there is a new host, two guests, an open mic and a communal poem made by the audience. We have a group on Facebook called ‘Sling Slang!’. I’d encourage anyone who writes or performs spoken word to join and share their mind-mumblings with us!”

Supportive of the wider cultural scene in the city, as many of Cork’s cultural practicioners are, Kursh enthuses further about the state of the spoken word, Leeside. “It’s amazing! There’s so many people who are so passionate about poetry and spoken-word in Cork. They are a beautiful group of people who are so welcoming and open to anyone who wants to become a part of it. O’ Bhéal is on every Monday from 9.30pm in the Hayloft at the Long Valley Pub. The Garden Collective, which you can find on Facebook, will be releasing videos of Cork Spoken Word artists very soon! Spotlight Poetry, ran by Mathew Moynihan, ended recently unfortunately, but it was a beautiful night.”

As mentioned earlier, Kursh has also been performing around Cork the last while as a singer-songwriter, and explains the importance of her art and process to herself personally. “Creating songs and singing them to people is the most important thing in my life. Any time I feel I’m caught up in some feeling or if I feel I’m in a place where I can’t think properly, I sit down with my guitar and wait to see what pops up. Usually something I didn’t realise had been plaguing me just comes out as a song. When the song comes out, I usually then have a lot more clarity of mind. When I sing my songs to people, I feel like I’m giving them a snippet of myself. It’s scary singing in front of a lot of people because my songs are extremely personal, and you’re always afraid that people won’t like them, but doing it is so cathartic.”

This twin experience of catharsis and trepidation fed into the creation of her debut record, an extended-player due to release soon. A mix of her songs and spoken-word pieces, Kursh found a way to involve the wider spoken-word scene in the creation of her first collected body of artistic work. “I decided to make a booklet to go along with the E.P. that will include lyrics to my songs, and it will feature some poetry by some of my friends from around Cork and Galway. I’ve asked if people could write poetry around the themes in my songs, as I would like the E.P. and the booklet to have a story in it that the listeners and readers can come up with the meaning themselves.”

It all points to a busy 2018 for Kursh, between her roles in the creative community via the Friary and her own creative explorations. The Tribeswoman is starting the year as she means to go on, and makes as much apparent when conversation turns to what’s next. “The E.P., and more Sling Slang! I’ll also be organising a fundraiser for DAWG on the 3rd of Febuary in the Friary from 3pm until 7pm. There will be vegan snacks by Cool Beans, some music, and a raffle!”

Rubyhorse: Ready to Shine

Having blazed a trail around the world for Cork’s indie scene in the late nineties and early noughties, Rubyhorse are lined up for a return this January at Ballincollig’s Winter Music Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Joe Philpott.

One of the great hopes of the city’s music scene as the nineties wound their way into the millennium, childhood friends turned alt-rock powerhouses Rubyhorse found success upon taking flight to Boston in search of a wider audience. Having established themselves and dallianced with major labels, the band are set to return after playing a run of shows in 2016, with a new body of work finished and planned for release later this year. Guitarist Joe Philpott delves into the band’s creative process this time around. “It’s been unusual for us. In the past, we used to take Decky’s songs, and shape them on the road, in the rehearsal room and the studio. With these tracks, Decky had them lying, and felt they might suit Rubyhorse so we got together just to see what would happen. They were put together in Deck’s studio, very much in a nuts and bolts fashion, and we figured out how to play them live afterwards. In essence, the opposite of what we used to do!”

With the songs and stories therein under wraps for so long, the conversation inevitably turns to the finality of completing a piece of art. It must be difficult, drawing a line under these songs after a long gestation, and so much work, before letting them go, in a sense. “It’s always hard, because nothing ever feels finished. We actually did about three versions of each track. The challenge is not to forget it’s about the song, and the emotional delivery of that. You can spend an eternity adding ear-candy and production tricks, but there’s a line you need to draw before you start getting self-indulgent, and start thinking that adding more stuff is going to make a difference. It won’t, and that’s just artist insecurity.”

Another sojourn Stateside is also planned for the new material, a market with which the band has long had an affinity, and tangible critical & commercial success. Though the band intends to return to where a core following exists in order to share new music, they’re planning on playing it by ear somewhat. “We have a fanbase in the States, if the new material strikes a chord, and it feels right to play out there we will. We’ve had offers to play, so that is exciting. We’re not going to overthink it. Even though technically we’re still signed out there, we’re probably going to put this out ourselves. Again, it goes back to doing this for ourselves, as opposed to having a big master plan.”

Any self-respecting music hack would be remiss if they didn’t ask about that aforementioned tangible success, in this case, a hit that at one time was frankly inescapable. ‘Sparkle’, acknowledged as the band’s big single and one that follows the band around thanks to years of airplay and ad placement, has generated endless goodwill and set the foundation for the band as a going concern among the wider indie/alternative listenership in Ireland. “I love it. It’s a great song, is still playing on radio today, and it still sounds great. That period for the band was incredible. We were lads from Cork in our twenties, literally living out our dreams, seeing the world, and playing music.”

The sessions for the album from which ‘Sparkle’ came, ‘Rise’, included a guest appearance from now-departed Beatle George Harrison, on slide guitar for album cut ‘Punchdrunk’, also due for a special anniversary release this year. How did that come about? “It goes back to the surreal nature of our lives back then. We were in South Beach, Miami, mixing the record, and we were having an argument on a beach in December as to whether we should ask a Beatle to play on our album! We did, and he said yes.”

Back to the present day: the band has a couple of Cork dates ready to go before heading out further afield with their new stuff, including Ballincollig Winter Music Festival at the White Horse, on the 27th, and Cyprus Avenue the following week on the 3rd. Following the pressure-cooker of the studio, Philpott collects his thoughts on heading back out in front of hometown audiences. “It’s a great feeling to be playing Rubyhorse gigs again. We’ve always enjoyed the live aspect of the band, and home has always topped our expectations.”

Cork’s scene is healthier and more eclectic than it has been in a very long time, as has been well-documented. When asked for his take on recent events, Philpott offers a glowing appraisal of the city’s soundscape. “I think Cork has always been a vibrant city for music. From Rory Gallagher to Fatima Mansions, if you threw a stone where we grew up, it would land on a band room. It’s the diversity of the artists, and the audience that makes it unique. In the past the scene may have relied on a movement, be it blues, folk, punk, trad, new wave, dance, electronic or pop, and then everyone got the same haircut and bought the same shirt. Now you have great stuff happening across the board, and a more open-minded gig-going crowd, which makes for a creative, vibrant scene all round.”

Humans of the Sesh: On Coming Home

From stories of the horrors of student house parties, to closing the show at Electric Picnic, the lads behind social media sensation Humans of the Sesh have come a long way, and on their terms. Co-conspirators Grand Feen and Brown Sauce talk with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Facebook, lad culture, and finally having a homecoming gig this weekend.

It’s become a cultural phenomenon, one of the first major Irish cultural reference points of the social-media generation, and one that speaks to the great leveller that is the debauchery of a terrible house party somewhere in suburban Ireland. And yet, for its distinctly Irish voice and sense of humour online, Humans of the Sesh has proven to have a phenomenal international appeal, beginning as a Cork-based Facebook page recounting a range of amusing and misfortunate stories from house-parties before gaining massive traction across a number of platforms, including approaching 600,000 followers on Facebook. Fuelled by a love of cheap cans and Amber Leaf rollie kits, the duo behind the page, Brown Sauce and Grand Feen, have expanded its reach massively into other media, but for Grand Feen, their ascent initially came as something of a surprise. “Seeing the huge numbers of people who were liking and viewing our content felt really strange at the start. An average of about four million people see our stuff each week, and it’s hard to grasp the thought of that.”

It’s difficult not to broach the topic of social media reach with the pair without talking about how they did it in the first place and what advice they’d have: after all, past all the humour, theirs is a presence most marketeers and PR people would hand their firstborns over for. “It seems to be getting harder and harder to get a good amount of reach. Recently Facebook is pushing people more and more towards paid advertising. They’ve cut the organic reach that pages can get without paying money. For anyone starting out, I’d suggest just making content that’s unique. People are more likely to engage and share posts that aren’t the typical drivel you see on Facebook day in day out”, says Grand Feen. Brown Sauce seems to have an amount of ennui for social media and the direction in which it’s headed, and speaks frankly on the matter. “I’m sick of Facebook to be honest. It’s a load of sh*t. It’s mostly advertisements these days, even then, if it’s not an advertisement, it’s a “tag a mate who” post or something else along those lines. But if you really want to get reach, and I suppose this theory translates to all aspects of doing anything slightly creative, get a concept, something you know, and just run with it. That might sound oversimplified, but because so much stuff is so contrived these days, I’ve been noticing a lot of stuff lacks a strong basic concept.”

More so than its reach and cultural import at home among the “millennial” crowd, now almost fluent in the page’s injokes and idiosyncrasies, the page and the aforementioned Irish sense of humour has fared incredibly well further afield, with examples of homegrown slang being popularised among non-Irish audiences easily found on social media. The lads are still very curious about their crossover appeal. “Yeah, it’s really interesting seeing where the people who like our page are from”, says Grand Feen. “For example, we have about 60,000 from Australia and 20,000 from America. I post our merchandise myself, and I always seem to be sending them to mad places like Luxembourg, or something. I’m not sure to be honest. I think people abroad have a liking for Irish people in general so that helps us a lot.” Media interest was always going to follow, as has usually been the case when a social media presence begins making serious noises in the newsfeeds of its contributors: such organs of record in the world of electronic music as Noisey and Mixmag, among others, have profiled Humans of the Sesh in recent times. Grand Feen has no idea what to make of the increased scrutiny and experiences behind these features. “Yeah, it’s really strange! Like, VICE (Noisey’s parent mag) once flew us out to London to meet them, and that was mad. We’re just two lads who talk bollocks and make memes on the internet, so it’s felt weird to have people like them take such an interest in us.”

The most remarkable aspect of the page’s content in recent times is how egalitarian it all is: in character, the page has advocated for social issues such as sensible drug policy, reproductive healthcare, intersectional feminism, and transgender right. At a time when influence and speech are being ever-democratised, at least on the outside of it, there have of course been contrarians to the page’s message of inclusivity whilst on the lash. “So many people have messaged us to say that they’re un-liking the page because we’ve spoken about trans rights or the Eighth Amendment”, according to Grand Feen. “It’s mostly your typical ‘LADS’ who give us hate for that sort of thing. They just want their memes delivered to them without any, as they put it, ‘social justice warrior feminist crap’. I really don’t mind getting hate for speaking up, because I believe it’s important for us to use our page’s reach to spread a good message every now and then. We often get messages from people thanking us for speaking out about trans rights, repeal, etc. and it makes it feel worthwhile.” Adds Brown Sauce: “Yeah, the internet is full of pricks. The worst kind of pricks, like, even worse than coked-up feens in a nightclub who haven’t gotten the shift. A lot of our humour is satire, so, like, on one hand we have the people who are in on the joke, and then we have the people who are reading the joke at face value, so there’s a load of eejits. But it’s the internet. What’s new there?”

At the heart of the page’s humour and reach is a love of electronic music, including a running gag of taking aim at both elitists and casual music heads attempting to take the reins of the tunes at parties and wrecking each other’s heads. It seemed destined to transition into music, and Messrs. Sauce & Feen, alongside other co-conspirators, have embarked upon live, in-character DJ sets, a live theatrical show, and most recently, a weekly podcast curated by friends of the page, SESH FM. The results have been phenomenal, including sellout shows in London, closing the show at Electric Picnic’s After Dark stage, and reaching thousands of listeners independently of the Humans range of pages. “It’s just like, ‘f*ck it’, we were willing to sell the page to advertisers and click bait etc., etc., so I was like, ‘why don’t we make SESH FM?’ We were all into music already, so it seemed like a natural step. It hasn’t been too hard maintaining the original idea because SESH FM has always been a bit separate. It’s like, ‘what’s the craic, just like us? Just like music? Then check out SESH FM.” “It’s been a bit hard, but as Brown Sauce said, I see it as the natural progression of the page. We love music, we’re friends with a lot of producers/DJs, and we just wanted to use the page’s success to get involved in music. We haven’t seen it affect the original idea of the page too much, from what I’ve seen, the people who have no interest in our live stuff or SESH FM just ignore those posts, so there was never too much hassle really.”

The lads are playing the Amp venue on Hanover Street tomorrow for pre-holiday bash, with support from Humans affiliate, producer/DJ and SESH FM regular Numbertheory. It’s finally an official homecoming for the group after accomplishing international success in between fits of activity at college and on their day jobs, and Grand Feen keeps us appraised of how they’ll mark the occasion. “They’re just a bitta craic, really. We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we’ll spend the whole night playing deep, Berghain residents-only techno. For example, I started my Electric Picnic set with Skepta, the mid-point song was by trap artists TNGHT, and I finished on L’amour Toujours. Loads of bangers.” “Myself and Grand Feen are from Cork”, says Brown Sauce with a pointed Leeside accent, “and we still haven’t played a gig there, which is sad considering we’ve sold out shows in London. It’s partly to do with the fact that Cork has a real lack of dedicated venues that support the kinda stuff that we do, but the lovely lads at Generic People sorted this one out for us in Amp, so we’ll be going all out for our hometown crew.”

Grand Feen is optimistic about what lies ahead of the holiday glut of activity, with the page’s steady progression being complemented by an expanded content offering and more shenanigans on stage and via SoundCloud. “It’s looking good. We want to continue making content, hopefully returning to the UK for another few shows, and we’re looking to get more designs onto our online store. Video content is something we want to start working on for 2018 so look forward to that.” They seem to be edging closer to the dream of becoming full-time pintmen, and Brown Sauce’s priority now is making life on the sesh a sustainable endeavour. “We will hopefully have more time than ever to dedicate to it, hopefully, can put more time into podcast things, doing gigs and just making cool sh*t and having a laugh.”

The Shaker Hymn: “There’s No Redoing Things”

New single ‘Dead Trees’ sees Corkonian poppers The Shaker Hymn in hollering, apocalyptic form. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist Caoilian Sherlock about the process behind the band’s upcoming third album.

It’s one of those odd things, independent music: for a wide umbrella of music that prides itself on creative freedom and cultural autonomy in order to help progress the overall artistic discourse, there’s also no shortage of revivalists of various stripes, putting a new lease of life into previously well-worn sonic tropes. It’s been hard in the past to look at Corkonian psych-poppers The Shaker Hymn and not get some degree of the warm-and-fuzzies: emerging from teenage adventures in the folk and alternative genres, second album ‘Do You Think You’re Clever?’, self-released last year veered wildly into tape-hiss, big sounds and the kind of vocal harmonies the like of Supergrass would have been envious of at the outset of Britpop. It was a mix that intrigued a lot of people, and preceded a furious touring schedule in small towns and small venues all over the country, before the band took a breather to try other things and collect their thoughts before readying another salvo of new material.

In that context, then, the band’s new single, ‘Dead Trees’, is something of a surprise: though the hard-won authenticity of fuzz and hiss is granted permanence via recording directly to analogue tape for the first time, it’s something of a beast of its own. Vocalist/guitarist Caoilian Sherlock, a naturally happy-go-lucky fellow, drops the youthful distrust of the band’s post-Millennial fug in favour of fire-and-brimstone doomsaying, warning of an uncertain future, in direct contrast to his fine fettle as we meet at L’Attitude on Cork’s Union Quay for a natter. Sherlock is relaxed about the response the single has met with at the band’s gigs so far this winter, a return to live activity that foreshadows an upcoming third album. “It’s been good. I forgot what it was like to do gigs. We hadn’t performed in about a year, except for one gig in Belgium where we tested out all our new songs. It’s nice. The songs are different. It seems boring to other people, but they’re longer. I guess we’ve given up the idea of trying to impress anyone else, I think. When you’re a bit younger, you try and write something to get in the charts, or something. We’ve been doing that since we were sixteen. We’re twenty-eight, twenty-nine, now. The point of us being in a band to give us that expression that comes from being together, so there’s less rules and a lot more of a democratic process going on between the four of us. The intention is to make the most exciting thing we can.”

The process of creating music for record is obviously far different now than it would have been in the days of the band’s broader influences, and in trying to put down a document of where they are at present, the outfit have opted to keep recording their third album on tape, in order to instill the same sense of urgency, immediacy, and the finality of limited takes into their tunes. “Music nerds will be like, ‘oh, how exciting!’, but for those that don’t really care about the music recording process: we’ll be recording to tape, like they did up until the late Eighties, early Nineties. It means everything has to be done live. That’s exciting for us, ’cause it’s a different process, there’s no sitting at the computer and redoing things. If you sound good or bad on the day, it doesn’t matter: that’s what happened, and that’s really exciting for us. We recorded two albums in three years and before that tonnes of EPs, so the recording process can get a bit flavourless, so for us, this is a bit of spice,” smiles Sherlock.

‘Dead Trees’ itself touches on some fairly hefty business, shifting creative focus from bon-vivant appraisals of the maladies of twenty-somethings in the binds of austerity and ladder-pulling, like in previous single ‘Trophy Child’, to altogether broader subject matter as mentioned at the outset of this piece. The question is: what prompted this turn for the thematically heavy? “’Trophy Child’ was on our last album, and I couldn’t help but write about things that were going on around me. All my friends were going away to the UK, leaving Cork to go to Dublin, go to Australia and New Zealand, coming back, then going to South East Asia… much of that album was about that lost kind of feeling, not that I was lost staying in Cork, but a lot of people around me were having the conversation of not knowing where to go. So a lot of the songs were about that. This time around I wanted to write from a more thematic point of view, as much as I could, but not so personal, more universal. So, I was doing a lot more travelling, as this album began to be written. I got to go to Iceland and LA, and other places I’d never seen, new landscapes, so I wanted to write something about nature, and the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t not write about the world after Trump, and Brexit. There was a heavy feeling at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so there’s a lot of that on this new album. There’s also a lot of joy and excitement, and a feeling of ‘ooh, what’s gonna happen next?’”

The band’s recent downtime allowed Sherlock to spread his wings on a solo basis as Saint Caoilian, releasing his debut one-man effort, ‘The Faraway’, earlier in the year. Away from a shared creative process, Sherlock’s tendencies toward lovelorn pop, bearing the hallmark of power-pop pioneers like Big Star, are writ large all over leadoff single ‘I’ll Be a Fool For You’. It led to a massively busy summer of gigs, both in support of his own record and of fellow Corkonian troubadour Marlene Enright, and with the ball rolling on the endeavour, there’s little stopping him from continuing his path inbetween bursts of band activity. “I’m recording another EP this December! It’s funny, the reason Saint Caoilian came about was because I had about fifty demos at home. They weren’t going anywhere, and they weren’t necessarily Shaker Hymn songs. On top of that, I’ve been in this band since I was sixteen, you can’t expect three other people to travel all the time, can’t expect them to drop everything because you’re anxious about your life. I wanted to travel for the summer, so I recorded an EP that gave me an excuse to do just that. The process of the Shaker Hymn will take another year or so, but with Saint Caoilian, I can do everything in a week or two, book some dates.”

Sherlock’s tour of duty over the winter also extends to festival management of one of Cork’s most important festivals, Quarter Block Party, transpiring this year from February 2-4th along the city’s historic spine. Among the first wave of acts announced so far for the Main Street community extravaganza are comedienne Alison Spittle, fresh off her new work with RTÉ, and Waterford post-punks Percolator, returning to the city after launching recent LP ‘Sestra’ on Cork-based label Penske Recordings. Rolling out more announcements, fundraising & organising for the event itself will occupy Sherlock’s entire remaining free time for the winter, and he’ll not be able to raise his head above the parapet much. “Between here and Quarter Block Party, I can’t see much further than that. Keep the head down over the Christmas, then Quarter Block Party on the first weekend of February. After that, maybe sleep for about a hundred years?”

The Shaker Hymn’s new single ‘Dead Trees’ and Saint Caoilian’s extended-player ‘The Faraway’ are both available now across all digital services. Quarter Block Party tickets are onsale now, more info and lineup updates at quarterblockparty.com.

Young Rebels: The New Faces of Cork Music

As the Leeside scene turns a corner, Mike McGrath-Bryan salutes eight of the city’s hardest-working young music professionals.

While the city’s venue situation slowly comes around of its own accord after a traumatic eighteen-month period of closures and gentrification, the roots of the beginnings of a renewal in Cork music lie embedded in the fertile soil of Cork’s promoters, music writers, DJs and organisers. Names and faces often count for a lot in any small community, and over the last decade or so, a generation of young music heads have been slowly learning and fine-tuning their craft around the city, gutting out the depths of austerity and the recession, finding ways of making it work. Though by no means a definitive list (and there’s enough to fill another four instalments of this length by this writer’s count… hello, editors), here’s a look at eight Rebels who are doing their part in changing the game in the city by the Lee.

AISLING O’RIORDAN (Co-promoter, Southern Hospitality Board/Quarter Block Party; vocals/key/guitar, Morning Veils/HEX; co-presenter, Quiet Angry Women; disc-jockey)

With a singular focus on local cultural life, and a vast array of experience across numerous music and cultural roles, Aisling O’Riordan has undoubtedly become central to Cork music. As one-half of influential promoters Southern Hospitality Board, her stewardessship of Quarter Block Party’s music programme has formed an important part of the February festival’s identity, while her role as one-third of folk doomsayers Morning Veils has helped bring about some cracking tunes and memorable live appearances for the seldom-seen trio. Regular radio show Quiet Angry Women provides her with a platform via online station Dublin Digital Radio, spotlighting female artists and featuring mixes curated by women in Irish music, and as a record-slinger, she’s shared billing with some of Irish music’s best and brightest, including a set in front of a packed Vicar Street in support of Girl Band and Rusangano Family, among others.

CAOILIAN SHERLOCK (Co-promoter, Southern Hospitality Board/Quarter Block Party; guitars/vox, Saint Caoilian/The Shaker Hymn/The Creeps/Worm; presenter, Dublin Digital Radio; label co-head, Small Town Disco; disc-jockey; freelance sound engineer)

A bon vivant, a troubadour, a raconteur: Caoilian Sherlock is an eminently likeable everyman in Leeside music, embodying the best and most worthwhile aspects of the musical existence. His music, whether as Saint Caoilian or as part of The Shaker Hymn, takes his influences & experiences and turns them into smirking, humourous reverie, while his work with Southern Hospitality Board, and before that The Pavilion, with Aisling O’Riordan, has placed him on the frontlines of new and interesting music in the city. His renaissance man status sees him involved on multiple fronts with Quarter Block Party, while his ventures into net-label territory and online radio under the Small Town Disco banner see him flexing those organisational muscles in a new context.

EMMA KELLY (Promoter, Merakindie Presents/The Roundy/PLUGD Records)

Emerging from a background in food and hospitality PR to tap into her passion for music, Emma Kelly established herself in earnest by taking the lead on the Mardyke Complex’s now-defunct UrbanJungle project, hooking up with community music groups like Cuttin’ Heads Collective and Room101 online radio to set the foundations of a potential centre of arts and other endeavours. Since striking out alone under the moniker of Merakindie Presents, Kelly established a near-impossible feat in early 2017, booking an incredible twenty-four dates of an Irish tour for a triple-bill of Wexford singer-songwriters, exploring restaurants and clothing shops up and down the country in addition to small venues and bars. Since then, working relationships with the likes of Fixity, The Bonk and Clang Sayne have kept Kelly busy, while her latest coup, helping reopen PLUGD Records upstairs in The Roundy bar on Castle Street, has placed the venue squarely at the centre of eclectic and eccentric sonics in the city. Recently-announced new-music night ‘Signal’, in collaboration with Cosmonaut Music and Overblown.co.uk, sees a meeting of some of Cork’s sharpest musical minds.

CORMAC DALY (Promoter, Cosmonaut Music/The Listening Room/Undercurrent; music coordinator, IndieCork; freelance sound engineer)

Having moved to Cork only a little over two years ago, the pace of Cormac Daly’s integration to the Leeside music scene has been astonishing. Kicking off with gigs and sessions in the now-defunct Cork Community Print Shop, Daly’s current promotion schedule sees him run events and gigs under numerous marquees, and across a wide spread of genres. Cosmonaut Music is his baby, providing a home for all things heavy, noisy and strange; The Listening Room transforms The Village Hall into a living-room acoustic session; and Undercurrent brings together Irish electronic music’s most vibrant and vital. Add to this a burgeoning rep as a freelance engineer, and the goodwill generated as an important part of the IndieCork festival team and you have one of the pillars of the city’s music community. The addition of the Signal night to his portfolio is another feather in an enviable cap.

SIOBHÁN BROSNAN (Blogger/promoter/DJ, Skirmish; press relations officer, Cuttin’ Heads Collective; promoter/organiser, Townlands Carnival)

One of the behind-the-scenes stars of electronic music in Cork, Siobhán Brosnan, a.k.a Shiv, has ploughed a furrow as a DJ, promoter, and blogger with London-based techno blog Skirmish (affiliates of cultural-commentary mavericks VICE), and as part of Cork hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective. Having worked with counter-culture newspaper Rabble as a resident music expert, and curated live mixes from a revolving door of Irish electronic artists on Cork community station Room101, Shiv also currently works closely with the Townlands Carnival festival out of Macroom, and as part of Skirmish, co-curates mixes for London-based Future Radio and moderates the wonderful Music People Have to Hear group on Facebook.

DARREN KEANE (Bass, Not Earth/MueseuM/Worm/HAGS/many others; music journalist, State/The Thin Air; member, The Dead Pigeon Club; disc-jockey)

A Clonmel man with a penchant for throwing himself headlong into his creative outlets, Darren Keane’s spells as bassist for HAGS and other outfits, combined with music writing for the UCC Express and experience in managing bars in both his home and adopted towns, provided the perfect frame of reference for an explosively productive few years. Having handily cut his niche, his return to live performance with improv outfit Not Earth has inspired several other of his own projects, including MueseuM (ambient improv, alongside Arthur Pawsey) and Worm (noise/ambient, with Caoilian Sherlock) while his work in music writing for State and The Thin Air presents an insight into the thoughts of a passionate, yet no-nonsense music man. His Prince-only DJ sets have become the stuff of urban myth, also.

KELLY DOHERTY (Composer/producer/DJ, Gadget and the Cloud; presenter, Dublin Digital Radio; promoter, Future; music journalist, The Thin Air)

One of the first generation of Irish music journalists to operate free of print media’s predominance, Kelly Doherty began writing about music at the tender age of 16 for various online outlets, including her own blog, the now-defunct Alternative Tone. Being emboldened in the process to throw herself into every aspect of music, an encounter with Jon Hopkins while reviewing Electric Picnic 2015 set Doherty on the path to composition and production, emerging as ambient/aesthetic sadgirl beatsmith Gadget and the Cloud. Under the same name, Doherty is rapidly becoming a regular presence on local bills as a DJ, while also maintaining a weekly slot on Dublin Digital Radio. Her work for Belfast-based national music blog The Thin Air has also keenly honed her journalistic and editorial voice, while, as a member of female DJ advocacy group GASH Collective, is outspoken about the importance of rebalancing gender in Irish music. Most recently, Doherty has led the foundation of queer/feminist night Future at the Poor Relation, as part of her comprehensive student activism.

OUTSIDER YP (Rapper/beatmaker; promoter/organiser, Outsiders Entertainment; conceptual artist, designer, writer)

Ambition, it can be said, is nothing without earnestness of endeavour, and this can truly be said of Cork-based rapper Outsider YP. With an intrepidness born of the immigrant experience in small-town Ireland, he invests hip-hop with an ear for psychedelia and pop-culture reference points, dipping liberally into his pains, joys and conflicts to present a frankly thrilling vein of conceptual art. Over the past few years, this has been accompanied with a flair for high-art multimedia experiences, including a lush video shot in Hong Kong City for single ‘Saddest Day’. As one of the Outsiders group of rappers, producers and graphic designers, Mavambu has dipped his toes into everything from promotion and booking to fashion and fiction, currently nursing a concept multimedia series among a number of other long-term projects.

Movember Cork: “It’s An Awful Shock to the System”

For many men, the discovery and treatment of cancer and other illnesses can be a very close shave. The Movember campaign, now in its ninth year, aims to grow awareness of the importance of men’s health and issues. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Movember campaigner Ashley Hobbs on his Movember experiences.

For the past nine years, the annual Movember campaign has done unprecedented work on the national and regional levels for creating awareness and raising funds for men’s physical health issues. The idea, if it has somehow escaped your notice in recent years, is for participants to shave their beards on the first of November (see what they did there?), and over the following thirty days, cultivate a handsome soup-strainer & document its progress. Throughout the month, as with the rest of the year, the onus is on participants to discuss the importance of getting checked for illnesses like prostate cancer, and just as importantly, raise funds in their communities for the cause via sponsorship, events or other means.

Rowing in behind the cause in Cork City this year are John “Coach” Kavanagh, mixed martial artist and coach for UFC champion Conor McGregor, and his brother, Snapchat-famous media personality James Kavanagh. Speaking at the event’s launch recently, John Kavanagh spoke on his motivations for mucking in, new campaigns, and Growing a Mo’. “I am getting behind the Movember 2017 campaign because I know men are not talking about their health enough, both physical and mental, and we need to get a big conversation going, so men know what they can do to safeguard their future health. I am really impressed with the Movember MOVE initiative, as I think it is important for physical and mental health that men get moving. MOVE is great because it’s not about being the fittest or the fastest, it’s about having fun, doing good, while raising funds along the way.” A social media superstar in his own right, James Kavanagh added: “Movember is not just about growing a moustache for November! People should log on to Movember.com to register and get involved, and raise funds by hosting your own event or donating online.”

Corkman Ashley Hobbs is partaking in Movember again this year after growing a mo’ in previous years as part of the campaign, having been directly impacted by cancer in his lifetime, and helping others emerge on the other side. “Everyone is affected by cancer in some shape or form, be it a relative or a friend or family member. My own father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Thankfully, he came through it, mainly down to early detection and hard work by medical professionals. My grandfather died of prostate cancer, I know numerous friends and family that have had cancer down through the years, and that’s the main reason why I got behind Movember.” Since launching in Ireland in 2008, Movember has been the primary funder of prostate cancer initiatives around the country through a working relationship with the Irish Cancer Society. The crux of the campaign is the fact that most cancers are treatable and preventable, through a combination of early detection and small, manageable lifestyle changes. For Hobbs, this knowledge is something he wishes he knew while heading into his father’s cancer journey. “When you first hear the words ‘it’s cancer’, it’s an awful shock to the system. Years ago you daredn’t even mention the ‘c-word’. It’s something you didn’t even talk about, like if someone had cancer, ‘oh god, that’s it, he’s finished’. When I first heard those two words with my own father, it was shock, it was disbelief. It’s a case of ‘was there a mistake, are we sure about the results?’ You automatically assume it’s a death sentence. What I wish I’d know going in is that many cancers are treatable, and recovery is possible. That’s the biggest thing.”

Movember goes into its ninth year in Ireland in 2017, and has become a cultural phenomenon, coinciding as its emergence did with such happenings as the return of the moustache as part of mainstream fashion, even inspiring legions of knockoff, mustachioed clothing in high-street shops (none of which benefited the charity despite selling off the back of its popularity). At time of interview, Hobbs was on day eight of his 2017 moustache, feeling good about the year’s campaign. “The fuzz has taken hold (laughs). I’d to put a little note on the shaving mirrors at home, not to shave the moustache ’cause it’s a habit. Friends, family and colleagues have been very generous. Everyone has been affected in some shape or form by cancer, and when they hear about a worthy cause, they can be very, very generous. Last year was my most successful year, and this year we’ll push on as well. As I call it, Movember month. At the start of the month I went on Facebook and apologised in advance before I start sharing away. But people are very generous not only with money, but with their time and initiative. They just sometimes need a nudge, but people are good souls, they rise to the challenge.”

Amid all the fun and the broader social goals are some hard numbers to contend with. Neil Rooney, national lead on the Movember project, recently said in a statement: “Movember has set a 2030 target to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%. Men are dying an average of 6 years younger than women, and we want to highlight ways to tackle this.” Hobbs, having been through the wringer on more than one occasion, is more than able to testify to the difference the awareness that Movember generates makes. “It’s been mainly through Facebook and Twitter, as well as work. This year, we’re offering that the highest donation gets to shave it off! (laughs) Mainly through social media, getting out there, discussing it and talking about it. I’ve had numerous conversations with people that you wouldn’t realise had been affected by cancer, or suicide, or mental health, all off the back of a couple of silly pictures of me with the moustache, and updating it through the month.”

An often-underestimated point of the cancer recovery journey is that of mental health, both for patients and their loved ones, with the shock and displacement of the initial diagnosis giving way to uncertainty, stress and worry. However, the Movember campaign has coincided with the rise in awareness over the austerity years of the importance of maintaining one’s mental health. Opening up, sharing experiences and continuing to talk is key, as Hobbs and his father can attest to. “It’s much more open. People will have a conversation with you, be it about their own experiences, those of a family member, friend, or whatever. You do see it an awful lot more, people are a lot more aware of the issues. It’s through talking, early detection and counselling, that whether it’s cancer or mental health issues, if people just reach out, that alone can make an awful difference… the normal channels can be very much (health-focused). Saying that, my father had to travel to Galway for his own treatment. There’s no way he could have travelled up and down, gone to hospital for treatments, etc., so the likes of CancerCare West, who put him up in their hostels overnight, and while he was there… for an example, he did yoga one night (laughs). My father’s very old-school, and just even being where other people had it, and was able to talk to others, I think that helped an awful lot. It’s not something the older generation want to talk about, but people have to realise it’s not a death sentence in all cases”

The issue of men’s healthcare is especially important and urgent in the greater Munster area, where the issue of prostate cancer in particular is need of addressing, according to Rooney. “According to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, there has been an average of almost 900 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Munster since 2005. We want men suffering from prostate cancer to maintain control of their lives as they undergo treatment, improve their mobility, mental wellbeing and, ultimately, their quality of life. With these statistics in mind, Hobbs is keen for people to keep in mind the endgoal of Movember, and dispenses advice to prospective Mo’ Bros. “Keep growing the Mo’s. Cancer will be beaten. It’s something we need to talk about. Keep talking about it, raise the profile. Men are stubborn. They don’t talk, they don’t go to the doctor. ‘Sure, it’ll be grand’. But if they leave it too long, it might not be.”