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.

Cuttin’ Heads Collective: “We’re Still Experimenting”

Cork’s community hip-hop outfit, Cuttin’ Heads Collective, celebrates its 2nd anniversary this weekend with a double-dose of live beats and pieces, including a big blow-out in the Poor Relation. Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with Justin O’Donnell and Ross Herlihy on their journey so far and on whose head the blade falls next.

In the summer of 2015, a group of local hip-hop heads, promoters, DJs and other personalities were brought together for something of a summit after a run of recent hip-hop events went well: the plan was to bring those responsible together to join forces and concentrate on building hip-hop in Cork city on a community basis. The Cuttin’ Heads Collective was born, assembling local veterans like JusMe, formerly of the Impressionists and Ross Herlihy from the dearly-departed LiveStyles Fest, as well as promoters/bloggers like Shiv Skirmish, producers like Mikey B-Side of Run the Jukes, and rappers like Spekulativ Fiktion. Herlihy ruminates on the first year of the collective, and what experiences & lessons year two has yielded. “The first year saw us try lots of different things, in lots of different venues. We had a lot of fun, and were finding our feet. I think in the past twelve months we’ve really struck our stride, and have been putting on some great parties that our crowd want to see happening in Cork. We’re still experimenting with new ideas and working on some stuff, but we’ve a much better sense of what we’re all about.”

The Poor Relation has been home for a great many of the group’s recent excursions, helping establish it as a viable alternative venue in the city-centre at a time when venue closures have been the norm. O’Donnell discusses what makes it work. “The main thing it has going for it, is that they’re willing to put on the stuff other venues won’t. Metal bands, bass music nights like Undercurrent, reggae nights, (“slow dance music” night) Dim The Lights etc. After the closing of some venues around town they filled the gap, and gave nights like ours a new home. They’ve been a pleasure to deal with over the last year.”

The scene overall has been in very good health in the last year. CHC’s successes aside, this parish’s Stevie G has been doing well weekly with student night Good Music, platforming young DJs like NumberTheory, rappers like Jay Ronic and singers like Minnie Marley in the process. Meanwhile, Outsider YP’s new album ‘Alone.Insane.Alive’ was an understated but powerful platter, Spekulativ Fiktion’s return to action with beatmaker Mankyy is on the horizon, and even oddball rapper/cringe content specialist Oscar Benso finally went viral. O’Donnell is quick to add his take on the year in review. “I’m pretty hopeful about the scene in Cork. Beatmakers like Gaptoof (formerly Nxstalgic_) and Jar Jar Jr. are absolutely killing it. I’m excited about the new Switch X stuff. He’s always been an incredible rapper, but he’s finding his sound with the beats now. CHC resident Plonky finally has some stuff on the way. Ophelia is getting back to work on some new projects. She’s put together a very talented bunch of musicians. Proud to say I’ll be doing some work with them. There’s also a lot of young talent coming out of local youth workshops run by Garry and the crew at the Kabin in Knocknaheeny.”

The collective also contributed to this year’s IndieCork festival, premiering the long-awaited “The Truth about Irish Hip-Hop” documentary, as well as providing a stage for Spekulativ Fiktion and Mankyy to win the festival’s Music award. O’Donnell speaks about the doc’s reception. “I liked the documentary. To say previous attempts haven’t gone particularly well would be a massive understatement. They did a pretty good job of showcasing the current crop of rappers in the very limited time frame they had. As is usually the case with these things, it focuses completely on the rapping element of the scene. The couple of DJs and producers who feature are really only there to give their opinion on the rappers. I’d make the argument that rappers probably aren’t the most interesting thing about the Irish Hip Hop scene, but I suppose not everyone would agree.”

Furthermore to that effort, O’Donnell laid genuine claim to custodianship of history in the show-closing act of the group’s Indie effort: a history of Irish hip-hop, told in an all-vinyl DJ set. “There are so few Irish hip-hop things that have made it on to vinyl. It was really all about presenting what’s there in a way that worked. There’s all the old All City stuff which obviously featured heavily. They really defined the sound of Irish Hip-Hop in the early 2000s. While making it, I noticed how many of these artists are consistently left out of the Irish hip-hop conversation. Colm K might be the best hip-hop producer the country has ever had, and he’s never mentioned. He probably prefers it that way, but it annoys me. If you’re not hanging out in Irish hip-hop forums or working with Irish rappers, you’re written out of the history. Ghost and Jay, Hazo, Exile Eye, Captain Moonlight, G Frequency, Relevance… these artists never get the love they deserve. Being limited to the vinyl releases offers an alternative history I suppose, and it weeds out a lot of the rubbish.”

The group’s second birthday bash is incoming, with night 1 alone featuring Lakerama, Naive Ted and more. Being a dab hand with assembling festivals and other big excursions, assembling and pacing it comes logically to Herlihy. “The birthday is always an interesting line-up to put together. When we start throwing around names it can often become top heavy on 1 style of music. Its very easy to look at all the DJs we know doing amazing things, and trying to book them all, or conversely all the rap acts doing the same. It takes us a while to narrow down the list, and get a nicely balanced line-up together. The gig is around 6 hours long, so from a crowd perspective you need to keep things changing up, and try to schedule things to keep people engaged.”

The event is being hosted by broadcaster, kids’ TV enthusiast and general bon vivant Ray “Wingnut” Cuddihy and This Side Up rapper Shaool. Herlihy is effusive when discussing what each brings to the table. “Ray has been the undisputed king of event hosting in Ireland since he first hosted a Community Skratch Games. Not only is he hilarious, but he’s one of the most knowledgeable people with regards to Irish music, and especially the type of music we deal with. Shaool on the other hand is like an honorary Headcutter at this stage. We’ve always had a close link with This Side Up. It was after TSU played Cork that CHC started to come together, they’ve done a lot of work with Spekulativ Fiktion, were our first big gig in the Poor Relation and they absolutely rocked our birthday last year. It’d be weird for us not to have him at our birthday. Like Ray he brings a lot of fun to the stage when he’s up there, and we think the two of them will work really well together.”

With a solid two years behind them and a rep built up for their collective endeavours, the Headcutters are going from strength to strength. “We’re starting to fire on all cylinders at the moment. Our monthly gigs are a lot of fun and we’ll be keeping them up. It took a good bit of work to get that right, but now that we have it’s time to start some new stuff. We’re going to be starting an event for producers before the new year that will be much more of a social event than a gig. We used to run production workshops before, so it’ll be nice to do something with that community again.”

This Side Up: Everything Under the Sun

Ahead of their Cuttin’ Heads Collective show on May 19th, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Shane Leonard, aka Shaaol, of Sligo hip-hop trio This Side Up.

The last twelve months have, for Sligo hip-hop collective This Side Up, surely been a blur. Entering the wider Irish music fray from the ether with debut album Full Fat, self-released to a positive reception from the Irish music press, the trio’s subsequent live appearances have left their mark. The outfit’s growing reputation has led them to a return Cork date on Friday May 19th, headlining the latest live jamboree thrown by Cuttin’ Heads Collective and Dedbeats, a new DJ ensemble. Shane Leonard, a.k.a. rapper Shaaol, divulges on the process that led to the record’s creation. “The process was quitting the jobs and rapping for as long as our loved ones would put up with us (laughs). Trying desperately to fill up notepads and make good recordings. It was stressful, but a wild amount of fun at the same time. Playing it live for the last while has been deadly! It’s sort of strange, the delay between writing and getting things out there, so while the album is going great the mood can drop if we’re not making new tunes.”

The Irish hip-hop scene is fertile ground for collaboration, its community spirit and surplus of talent rendering it ideal for collaborations and crossover. This Side Up have taken fully to this idea, enlisting fellow Sligo man Hamo, Verb T, Moreone, Gaelgóir wordsmith MC Muipéad, and Cork hip-hop stalwart Spekulativ Fiktion. Shaaol gets into the importance of collaboration to the long-player’s creation. “It’s massive. There are loads of amazing MCs out there, and we were delighted to secure the features we did. Having others collaborate with is great, and also testing. It brings fresh ideas to the table. I think hip hop is deadly for that.”

Thematically, it’s all quite heavy, dealing with topics ranging from the realities of life after the bailout and bank guarantee, to calculating its human cost, in attempting to survey the state of mental health and coping mechanisms in Irish society. Yet, the crew’s sense of humour is still there throughout, best seen on Fin del Mundo, as the group muses on how best to emerge from a (literal) apocalyptic scenario. The balance must be a fine one. “It’s sort of normal life here, isn’t it? You can be serious, but never takes things too seriously. Just read that the word ‘avocado’ is Aztec slang for ‘testicles’. Also, first catalogued by an Irishman in Jamaica back in 1696.”

The album seems to have been received really well, with Niall Byrne, the man behind Nialler9, the country’s biggest and most widely-read music website, getting firmly behind the trio, elevating their profile and giving them the chance to capitalise on the exposure. But Irish music press hasn’t traditionally been so welcoming of domestic hip-hop over the years. Shaaol gets into the matter of the Fourth Estate’s arts department and homegrown beats. “I think things are getting healthier by the day. Got a two-out-of-five stars review in the Irish Times singles review there. It’s gas, just to make into the print like that. In fairness Kendrick Lamar got four stars, and Father John Misty got three, so on the scale of stars we did alright (laughs). I think it’s definitely been covered more, and it’s great to see platforms like (Dublin print and online journal) District Magazine pop up.”

Irish hip-hop is growing, and at an exponential pace. The past ten years have seen the genre in Ireland go from a critically-ignored core of dedicated creators and the people around them, to the cusp of a golden age, as young practitioners of the artform emerge with platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp at their fingertips, working with seasoned veterans who themselves, like Limerick noise god Naive Ted, have begun elevating their hard-earned game into performance art. Shaaol provides a laundry-list of his own personal favourites as a reference point for those looking to get into the genre. “Mankyy, Jonen Dekay, Kojaque, GI, Nylon Primate, Naive Ted, Bleak Stack, Same D4ence, Spekulativ Fiktion, Ophelia, Jafaris.”

The last time This Side Up darkened the doors of a Cork venue, they were here was for Cuttin’ Heads Collective’s birthday extravaganza in the Liquid Lounge, one of the final gigs held upstairs in the building before the flash closure of the Clancy’s building earlier this year. “Haha, it was deadly to be back in Cork, and be welcomed back into the Cuttin’ Heads Collective. The gig was savage! The lyrics might not have been the most audible that night, but we tested the construction of the roof in the Liquid Lounge. Place was hopping, atmosphere was class.”

Their Cork return date has a hefty line-up attached to it up and down the billing. The boys are joined by Irish beatboxing champs Amaron and Magic, Spekulativ Fiktion and JusMe are representing the local scene veterans, and Outsiders Entertainment member Rapha is a relatively new property. Shaaol collects his thoughts on the upcoming event. “We can’t wait to get back. Cork is a top spot for music, so we’re delighted to be invited down to play. Haven’t seen any of the beatboxers yet, so really looking forward to that. Seems to be a buzz for this gig, so yes, exciting times!”

It’s been a busy time, but the next few months will be somewhat of a transitional period for This Side Up, as the lads decide on their next creative course of action. “We’ve been gigging loads, which is great. No definite project in sight, but we’re writing away so won’t be long before we have things figured out. We’ll keep you all in the know.”

This Side Up headline a big Cuttin’ Heads Collective gig at the Poor Relation on Parnell Place, on Friday May 19th, in association with Dedbeats. Support from Amaron and Magic, Spekulativ Fiktion, Dedbeats and Outsider Rapha. €7 door tax, kickoff 9pm.

SF Co.: All in the Family

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with streetwear designer and entrepeneur Tomas Mc’Sky, as well as collaborators DJ Jus’Me and Isabela Szczutkowska, about the launch party of his SF label, tomorrow night.

International in origin and distinctly Leeside in its creation, the StreetFamily (SF) line streetwear and accessories launches with a special invite-only event tomorrow, at the recently-opened Village Hall venue on Patrick’s Quay, with a pop-up shop for the label’s first collection, a DJ set from beat curators Cuttin’ Heads Collective, and a photography exhibition featuring the work of analogue snapper Isabela Szczutkowska.

Influenced by designer Tomas Mc’Sky’s lifelong love affair with hip-hop and its subculture, as well as his own upbringing, SF represents the achievement of a long-held dream stemming from the fulfilment of a necessity, according to the man himself. “I think I was around 13 years old. Hip-hop culture brought me to street basketball and graffiti, then it all began… I realised I couldn’t afford imported clothing representing my favourite subcultures, so I decided to make my own for me and friends.”

It was from this decision that Tomas embarked on the over decade-long journey to the creation and establishment of his studio. “I needed to learn graphic design to start with the brand. It’s crazy when I think I bought my first computer when I was eighteen. I also couldn’t afford one earlier on. Asking my mother, raising me and my younger brother on her own was not an option. I was painting a lot but I knew nothing about operating systems not to mention all other necessary software at that time… in college most teachers allowed me to paint graffiti during the classes because I was listening and I could answer their random questions. It was very motivating! Very important part of my life. Two years later I came to Ireland to work and invest every penny in what was necessary to build a studio from scratch. It came together after ten years. During that time I worked and studied design, typography, textiles, screen printing, photography and e-commerce. I am glad to say that the launch is happening this week.”

The layout, planning and process of a fashion label of any sort is something that’s still somewhat alien to those outside of the creative process, and while Cork isn’t short of fashionistas of all stripes to appreciate the work of local designers, Tomas’ breakdown of the work that went into SF’s new collection is staggering. “I break it down to these steps. Inspiration: I find it in music, books – I’m a crazy Taschen collector – film, city spaces and local landscapes. I love west Cork. Usually I start from making notes anywhere, anytime I come up with an idea in my mind. It is the key element.

Graphic design. A pencil and a sheet of paper. I usually do not turn on my computer if I do not know what I am doing. Besides the creative process there is the formal side too. Tags, design, and fabric care information are also necessary, and I’ll consult om that with the fabric manufacturer later on. A small selection of tailorings and colour variations are picked up from the whole bunch, a look book is put together for consultation and reference. Then there’s the final production preparation and documentation. Decoration types, swatches and graphic files are put together in detailed and comprehensive documentation. A collection is huge investment and the last thing you want to do is any sort of discrepancy. With the bigger orders, I manage the production line. It takes a few months before you see the final product and waiting is not my favourite part.”

While the label’s creation and establishment is firmly rooted in Cork, it’s clear Tomas is taking the wider view of its appeal, with ambitious expansion plans already on the way. “Big steps ahead. I’m very excited about 2017, the next collection is being finalised now. Expect something much different from the first one. This year also I am launching branches in Germany and Poland, and in 2018, I’m setting up branches in New York and Long Beach. Later, brick and mortar shops in Ireland and other countries. I hope SF Co. will represent proudly Ireland’s first official streetwear brand across Europe and the globe.”

While working away on the label’s naissance in the city, Tomas settled into the graphic design and identity aspects of Leeside hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective, alongside co-founder and organiser Justin O’Donnell, a.k.a. DJ Jus’ Me. The CHC lads have every reason to be pleased with themselves at present, having topped off their first year in business with a big shindig at the Liquid Lounge. “The birthday is one I’ll remember for a long time. Everything from the performances, the crowd and overall vibe was above and beyond what we had hoped for. There was a lot of love in the room!

There’s already a busy 2017 in it, working with collective member Tomas on his label. Jus takes the time to reflect on the collective’s creation and how Tomas’ work formed an important part of it. “There will always be a strong connection between Cuttin’ Heads and SF. Tomas was with us from day one. He came up with our logo and branding, He does most of our posters and photography, and he’s a killer DJ. The SF influence is all over Cuttin’ Heads. As far as future collaborations, I’m sure there will be plenty.”

Aside from curating the playlist at the launch, the lads are looking after the afterparty downtown at CUBE, the former M-NUS space on Hanover St. There’s something a little special in the works. “We knew we’d need an after party for the launch. We’re DJing at the exhibition but it will be a laid back gallery vibe. The focus is the artwork, we’re just there to compliment it. We thought it would be nice to have somewhere to go after to continue drinking and celebrate a job well done. CHC resident Gary Fitz’s new venture CUBE seemed like an obvious choice. The crowd that go there typically expect to hear house and techno, so we had to find a way to appeal to their regulars while keeping our usual hip hop vibe. We decided to do an 80’s Electro special. These early hip hop records were the foundation for what would eventually become House and Techno so it seemed like a good middle ground. It’s been years since I’ve played a straight electro set, so I’m looking forward to it. Expect plenty of 808s, synths, vocoders and over indulgent scratching!”

Isabela Szczutkowska has been around Cork for a long time now, specifically around the Cork music scene as a photographer and documentarian. Her work has been an important part of the identity of the Cork scene in recent years, specifically its synonymity with the rise of psych-rock five-piece The Altered Hours. Her approach comes from a hands-on, DIY attitude from the outset. “As a teenager, I was part of an art collective called Ośrodek Postaw Twórczych in my hometown, Wrocław, and that is where I got introduced to photography and processed my first roll. I liked it a lot but didn’t completely fall into it just yet, writing was my thing.. and music. Went to study journalism – to be a music journalist – and photography, when I realised it was the language of the world. Went back to study photography in St John’s Central Collage, here in Cork; that’s where it really started to shape – thanks to the best tutors on the planet. To me, photography is very close to the way we see what’s around us, its documentary nature, factual, mirroring but almost always diluted through our personal experience. Just like reality. And I love my twelve-hour printing sessions in the darkroom.”

Being exhibited at the label’s launch is her work with the SF label, a raw and gritty exposition around the city centre that sees familiar places through an unfamiliar filter. “It’s a collaboration for SF. Raw take on fashion and lifestyle photography, where the atmosphere is more important than clothes itself. Grainy, grungy, sometimes bold, blurred, dreamy and colorful. Tom is very brave and open to go with it, although, the final selection of images for the launch may be more balanced too. I don’t want to give away too much, come down and have a look.”

Having been a music photographer the last few years, Izzy has a defined idea of where she sees herself going with her work in the medium next. “As I’m working closely with The Altered Hours, we tour together sometimes. Lifestyle, magazine, intimate picture story – that’s what interests me here, and I would be keen to create more of this kind of work with different bands in the future, like Deerhunter. Also, music videos are a step that I’m slowly taking. There are several personal projects I have been busy with that aren’t connected to music at all. Portraits, and together with filmmaker Christopher O’Neill, we’ve been working on a short film shot on 35mm black and white film, fully made from still photographs.”

The SF label launches tomorrow night at 8pm in a special, invite-only event, featuring the Cuttin’ Heads Collective on decks and the fashion photography of Isabela Szczutkowska. To request an invite, private-message the SF Co. page on Facebook. The party moves onto CUBE on Hanover Street at 11 for Cuttin’ Heads’ ’80s special.

Find SF Streetwear online at streetwearsf.com, and check out more of Izzy’s imagery at http://izyandthesunshines.blogspot.ie/

Cuttin’ Heads Collective: At the Cutting Edge

Ahead of their first anniversary shows, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Cuttin’ Heads Collective members and DJs JusMe, Ross Herlihy and Six-Foot Apprentice.

In a little over a year, the Cuttin’ Heads Collective of rappers, beatmakers, promoters and DJs have changed Cork hip-hop utterly, unifying some of its main players under one banner for the common good and advancement of beats in the city. On the 19th, the crew will be celebrating that anniversary with a big night at the Liquid Lounge, followed by a winding-down session on the 20th at the Brú.

Co-founder DJ JusMe explains how it all came together. “I guess it started with a couple of gigs a few of us put together last summer; This Side Up, Naive Ted. We were kinda shocked by the success of those nights. That was the motivation to go further with it and put together a team of people to help promote more hip-hop related stuff in Cork. I sent out a facebook message to some people I wanted to work with and it grew pretty fast from there.”

After some initial deliberations, the business of choosing a name led to the team’s distinct moniker, according to Jus. “The name Cuttin’ Heads comes from a blues term.. It’s like a battle between musicians. If you were killing a guy with your performance you would be head cutting. We thought that applied to what we do.”

Assembling a team that included rapper Spekulativ Fiktion, promoter/DJ Shiv and LiveStyles festival head Ross Herlihy, the Cuttin’ Heads folks quickly got to business with a weekly night downstairs at UrbanJungle. Says Ross, “UrbanJungle was a great learning experience for us. Starting off as a weekly night really allowed us to test out different things and grow closer as a collective. After a few months we realised that a weekly night was probably not for us at the time so we moved our focus to putting on gigs here and there and upping the quality overall. We won’t say a weekly night is definitely off the cards for our future, but at the moment we’re very happy running semi-regular nights in a few different venues.”

Jus agrees, having gone through the rigours and helped plan out the next steps. “I definitely think we’re in a better situation now. Instead of the weekly gig in one place, we have a few regular gigs in different bars where we can explore different vibes. We’ve been doing Gulp’d every 6 weeks or so where we focus on more laid back, left field instrumental stuff. We’re going to be doing more gigs in Bru which will be about classic hip hop. Fredz is where we usually put on the more bass heavy stuff. We’ve also done a bunch of one off events in places like the Friary, Amp, the Vicarstown and Pigalle.”

There’s been some big events, too, seeing luminaries of the Irish and American hip-hop scenes pass through Cork. Ross gets into the details. “We’ve been lucky to put on a number of big shows so far, including mynameisjOhn vs. Naive Ted, Illa J, Jon1st, & more. Illa J came from a relationship CHC member Chris Power has with him from working on tracks in the past. The rest of the acts we’ve put on have been crew decisions to book the types of acts we want to see more of in Cork. The workload varies from gig to gig as we try to distribute the tasks around”

There’s been once-offs since, as well as a tour of clubs and festivals around the country. Ross reckons there’s more in the offing. “We’ve nothing confirmed at the moment, but we’ll definitely be looking to tour some more next year. In a short few weeks, CHC played in Galway, Tralee, Limerick & two festivals in Cork. It was a lot of fun getting out there and playing for crowds that don’t get the chance to come to our nights in Cork. We’ll certainly be chatting to promoters around the country and looking at getting a tour going again next year.”

Jus is similarly receptive to the idea of putting the collective on the road. “The touring stuff was a lot of fun. Later in the summer we went did a couple shows in Dublin warming up for the Invisibl Skratch Piklz and Levelz, working Choice Cuts and Front/Left. We collected a lot of good memories over the last year. That’s what its about. There will definitely be more road trips next year!”

The Cuttin’ Heads have also moved into the roles traditionally occupied by record labels – two mixtapes from resident DJ and beatmaker Chris Power have made their ways out on a free/donation basis via digital indie outlet Bandcamp. Declan Carey, a.k.a. Six Foot Apprentice, is measured in his approach. “Yeah, the CHC Bandcamp has been a cool platform for the mixtapes. No plans for any physical releases. The ‘free / name your price’ Bandcamp buzz suits us just fine for now. (Andrew) Gunkel has something in the works, and possibly another from Chris Power, and possibly something from ManMaid, a project of Chris Power & Gunkel. Beyond that, we’ll see.”

Jus chimes in on the topic, regards the reaction Power’s work has received, and how it informed the releasing arm of the collective. “Yeah, we wouldn’t really consider Cuttin’ Heads a label. After we put up the first tape we were getting a lot of messages from people wanting us to put out their projects, but putting out other people’s music isn’t really what we want to be spending our time on. Cuttin’ Heads is about putting on quality hip-hop nights in Cork. The Bandcamp is really just a platform for our members’ releases. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now our focus is on other things.”

The one-year anniversary approaches, and the question comes up of whether or not the events of the last while, and all the activity, has had a chance to properly sink in on the collective. Ross gets down to brass tacks on the question, getting into motivation and questions. “When we started we didn’t really know what the next 12 months would look like, and honestly, it’s hard to say what the next 12 months will look like at this point too. A big motivation at the beginning of it all, was our friends outside Cork & Ireland, and seeing what they were accomplishing, the types of gigs that were working in their cities but not our own. I was constantly picking people’s brains when at gigs in Limerick or Galway or other places, trying to figure out what they are doing right that we maybe weren’t. It really sinks in for me that we’re on the right track when now those people are equally picking our brains about what we’re doing. To know that the people that inspire us on a regular basis are also getting inspired by us is amazing, and really pushes us on forward.”

Ross goes on to discuss the collective’s anniversary night in more detail, detailing how the bill came together. “Over the past year, we’ve been trying to make sure we put on big gigs every few months so our first birthday was always going to be a biggie. We talked about a lot of different acts we could get involved, and timing was on our side. This Side Up & Nylon Primate were both releasing new projects around the time of our birthday, and Bleak Stack has just started to announce themselves to the world. All of them are acts that we really wanted to put on around this time of the year anyway, so putting them on one bill was a no-brainer. Skratch Lords have been on our list for a long time now, so when it came to making sure a top turntablism act was on the cards, they were the first choice. The party is really going to have everything we represent presented at it. Its got two brilliant rap acts, a producer at the top of his game, three of the best turntablists on the scene at the moment, and thats just the headline acts! Throw in more local talent like Nxstalgic, Mankyy, the VINYL BELOW crew running shop in the club downstairs, and it’s going to be a night to remember.”

Jus hops in, making with details of a second night to follow all that up, happening at the Brú bar on McCurtain St. on the 20th. “After the Saturday is done and dusted, I’m just as excited about the Sunday wind down session in the Brú. At that stage the hard work will be over, and we can just relax with a few beers. Free finger food from the White Rabbit next door, and there will be some slices of birthday cake flying around.”

While all this is going on, Declan reveals the next step for the Cuttin’ Heads and their ever-expanding merchandise empire. “Chris Power weed grinders, a Spekulativ Fiktion vegetarian cookbook, and JusMe running for Lord Mayor.”

Cuttin’ Heads Collective’s 1st anniversary bash happens on Friday the 19th at the Liquid Lounge, and Saturday 20th at The Brú.

Chris Power: To the Power of Forever

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Cork hip-hop’s busiest man, Chris Power, on tunes, including his new beat tape and upcoming full-length releases.

Prodigiously gifted and massively prolific, Cork beatmaker Chris Power has spent the past few years honing his craft live and in-studio, focusing on solo material and production for several collaborative projects. New mixtape WhytFaux: The Conman and Slim came out this past month via Cuttin’ Heads Collective, the Leeside confab of DJs, beatmakers, and promoters, as they expand their reach into the label end of things.“I’d been telling people that I actually had a lot of music made, and that a huge amount of it would probably never see the light of day. The Cuttin’ Heads were good enough to let me get some of it out. I’d also been watching an unhealthy amount of documentaries about mobsters/gangsters from way back in the day, and I took a particular shining to Iceberg Slim. Through him, I came across this guy Whitefolks, who was a serious character himself. It just kinda went from there, I guess, when I found an interview with IBS talking about Whitefolks. There could be a series of these tapes on gangsters, Lucky Luciano could be up next. Or Chinatown Larry maybe. Who knows.”

The record is littered with various soul samples. Explain for us the process of crate-digging and finding the right few seconds to base a beat on. “Ah, I just listen to a lot of that soul stuff anyway, at this stage. Especially the late ’60s and ’70s stuff. Lots of the soul/jazz type stuff as well. Gene Harris & The 3 Sounds, Michael Franks. It reminds me of sunshine.There was a lot of music played at home when I was younger, especially on the weekends. Dusty Springfield made good cash off my old folks, like. When it comes to finding the right parts, I’ll just play the song a few times while I’m doing something else, and by the time I have it in Ableton, I’ll know where I wanna chop up.”

This is getting a release via Cuttin’ Heads Collective. As mentioned earlier, the lads have already been active throughout the city’s hip-hop and electronic scenes, but the label is the next stage of this collaborative multimedia foray. What’s the plan for the label? “Yeah, the lads have a couple of things in the pipeline. Next up is an E.P. from (producer Andrew) Gunkel, and then after that, a MANMAID (Power & Gunkel) tape. Particularly excited for Gunkel’s release. He’s got some pretty cool stuff on the way, as well as a project with Atari (Jones, rapper) too.”

Speaking of Atari Jones, Power’s collaboration with the much-fancied Cleveland wordsmith with a guest spot on the mixtape, how do you see this continuing? “I’ve never actually met Atari in real life, but we speak almost daily. We’ve a lot of stuff on the way. Two E.P.s coming out in quick succession over the next few months. A video drops this month too. Once I finally get out to the States, we’ll do an album. One of the tracks with (hip-hop royalty) Illa J is on the GreenTalk E.P., there’s a video for that being made as I write this too.”

Alongside all of this is a rake of other collaborative projects. Listening to Power break down his projected schedule alone is exhausting. “Right now I have two E.P.s with Atari, and another full length done. There’s a couple of other bits I’m working on too, with some other Stateside rappers, but for now my main focus is on getting the Atari E.P.s and my own proper full length out before the end of the year if possible.”

Cork hip-hop is coming into its own to say the least, with Power & others making a transatlantic journey via online working relationships, and the like of talismanic orator Young Phantom and silk-smooth beat-builder Nxstalgic doing big things at home. What does Power make of it all, and how it’s been growing? “I’ve actually put two beats away for Young Phantom that I’d intended to send him last week, but I forgot. I should probably do that now (laughs). But yeah I think Cork’s starting to bubble a bit. Myself, Nxstalgic, and (Cork’s) JAR JAR JR have something on the way too.”

From the reception the mixtape has received, things are looking promising. When talk comes to chance of any physical releases in the near future, Power is optimistic. “Yeah, a physical release is something that we’re looking to do from here on out really. Putting this mixtape out was kinda just a good way for me to clear out the vault, and get focused on putting the other projects out. In terms of a physical release for my own full length, I’m trying to take my time with it, and try to find the label that suits me best.

When probed further on big plans for the year ahead, including a previously-announced departure for sunnier climes in LA, Power is quick to provide an update, and a succinct, matter-of-fact note to finish the chats on. “That’s the plan in the long term, anyway. I’m working as a software developer at the moment and I’m actually really enjoying it, so I plan to stick around until the end of the year!”

WhytFaux: The Conman and Slim is available now on Bandcamp.