Hot Cops: “It’s Been Borne of Dissatisfaction”

Having put in the hard yards over the past few years on Northern Ireland’s ever-fervent DIY scene, Hot Cops are co-headlining a national tour, including a stop at the Roundy next month. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist/guitarist Carl Eccles.

There’s an immediacy to the music of Belfast trio Hot Cops that’s almost disarming upon further contemplation, really: taking in bits of the indie/alternative oeuvre and melding its poppier aspects to a distinctly Northern strain of smirk and sarcasm. It’s become something of a calling card for the band and their contemporaries, a small but dedicated scene of low-fidelity guitar pop, grappling equally with the current condition of existence, and the post-genre cultural mood. New single ‘Negative One’, the lead-off for an upcoming new body of material, sums this up nicely, a compact running time and pop song structure holding sweet-and-sour riffings together, both lyrical and musical.

Ahead of touring the new single and other new tunes around Ireland with compatriots Junk Drawer in tow, Hot Cops’ Carl Eccles is quick to outline the nature of his compositional economy, and the process that followed it. “‘Negative One’ was the first song I wrote after we had taken a break because of the disintegration of plans we’d made in 2017. I was sitting down to working on the demo for an older song idea, but the main riff for “Negative One” was the first thing I played when I picked up my guitar that day, so I thought I’d just record it quickly in case I forgot. Once I’d written the bassline, I flicked through the notes for lyric ideas I keep on my phone and strung together the ones I felt were most fitting with the tone. It took about an hour to write and record the demo after the conception of the riff, but half the lyrics had been written months before.”

When quizzed on how it’s been received live and among the usual Irish music people, Eccles boils down the process behind the song to its essentials, refusing to ‘pedestalise’ such ideas as wider approval. For Eccles, the feeling of performing it live is the end result in itself. “Most of my writing is coming up with fragments of ideas, documenting them and then just waiting and working on other things until I can find a way to bridge them together. We try not to get too bogged down on the reactions of others, the most important thing is if we’re happy with it, but it’s always nice to get some kind words, and we’re open to constructive criticism. It’s been a highlight in the sets of our last few shows, there’s a real bounce to the track and the audiences have latched on to it.”

This single, and other previous releases, was recorded by Chris Ryan of Robocobra Quartet, an exceptional fusion of hardcore punk, jazz and spoken-word statements, of which two of Hot Cops are members. He’s an interesting dude on multiple levels, from your writer’s experiences in interviewing and reviewing their work, but it’s surely an odd one to work together in studio with someone growing ever more used to horns and string sections? “Chris is a delight. He’s very creative and supportive in the studio and committed to making sure things sound how we want them to sound”, says Eccles. “He encourages any of the more experimental ideas we might have but will be fully honest when he thinks something isn’t working or is taking away from a song. Communication is the most important thing when recording with someone and he’s been very patient with us considering how insufferable we can be. Recording ‘Negative One’ was very straightforward. We did a few live takes of bass, drums and guitar and decided on the best one and overdubbed vocals afterwards as well an additional guitar.”

‘Negative One’ follows on from the compilation and release last year of ‘Speed Dating’, a collection of remastered singles from recent years. Each released on a DIY basis through various online platforms, they formed a contiguous body of work that benefited well from a lick of paint. “This task was pretty simple, as the tracks had been written and recorded around the same period of time. In our minds, they’ll always fit together.”

It seems to be a really good time for DIY rock ‘n’ roll in Ireland again, for many reasons. The amount of great bands that have been touring and gigging small venues around the country lately is testament to this, while it’s a good bet that the industry success of the likes of Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital wouldn’t have happened five years ago. From the lads’ vantage point, it’s an interesting time, to paraphrase the old curse. “I like how it’s been borne of dissatisfaction, and people’s passion for finding a way to do what they love. 90% of artists can’t just be artists, they have to be their own managers, bookers, PR, social media wizards, etc. It’s not ideal, and it’s something everyone struggles with, especially ourselves. But it’ll never stop being inspiring to me to see people put in all the hard work, purely because it’s something they believe in and want to do. Good examples of this are the DIY LK collective in Limerick, who’ve rejuvenated their alternative music scene, and the Pizza Pizza Records gang in Dundalk, an entirely independent label putting out records and putting on shows for acts they love.”

By the same token, Belfast has always been ticking over with great DIY music of all stripes and sorts. Eccles collects his thoughts on the upsides and challenges of being part of that scene. “The upsides are that you’re in great company and there’s such a wide variety of music being made that there’s something for everyone. The people are friendly and there’s always familiar faces at all kinds of shows. The hardest parts are starting out because at first it can seem quite insular and afterwards it’s difficult to successfully expand beyond your own scene just because you’ve grown accustomed to it, playing somewhere new can feel like starting over again.”

Hot Cops are playing The Roundy on April 5th for Alliance Promotions, as part of a few nights of touring alongside Junk Drawer. Gordy and Arlene’s house of DIY wonders has been continuously putting on great gigs for the past few years around the city, taking chances on venues and shoring up the local scene, and on this scene, they’re giving over the floor to new outfit Culture Night to open the show, a side-project of local DIY stalwarts referring to themselves as Cork’s answer to Guided By Voices. It’s a hell of a fray for relative newbies to be thrown into. “We’ve never been to Cork, but we’ve been hearing good things about the Roundy. It’s likely to be a little daunting, but we’ve played with Junk Drawer loads of times, so there’s some reassurance.”

Hot Cops, Junk Drawer and Culture Night play The Roundy on April 5th, an Alliance Promotions presentation. Tickets €10, available on the door.

Bouts: “Nothing Worse Than Seeing a Band Phone It In”

A new album and a UK/Irish tour have been a long time coming for indie-pop four-piece Bouts, who return to the road this month after a five-year absence, including a stop at The Roundy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken and bassist/vocalist Niall Jackson.

Half a decade can be an eternity in the realms of Irish independent music. For Dublin indie-pop outfit Bouts, scattered across the world by circumstance and work, it’s been made an even longer wait by the exponential pace of change in music consumption in recent years. With the exception of intermittent singles and remixes, the band’s last studio excursion was 2013 long-player ‘Nothing Good Gets Away’, a collection of noise-inflected pop that endeared them quickly to a cross-section of music aficionados. When sitting down to talk about the process of writing its follow-up, ‘Flow’, guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken conveys the extent of effort that’s gone into keep the band’s home-fires burning ahead of its release next month via their own Wonky Karousel label. “It’s always immensely enjoyable to record an album. Our process was relatively straightforward, just a little drawn out. First sessions were in late 2016. We grabbed time together when we could over different weekends between then and now, in Ireland and the UK, further rehearsing and refining ideas. Not taking too long to let them become over-thought. That’s the single biggest difference between this album and the last. With minimal band contact, maximum focus was required. The songs were written in a kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere. and it definitely added to their immediacy. They’re as finished as they could be, and a decent representation of where we’re at. Although you usually end up outgrowing them quicker than an audience, due to the turn-around to get tracks from ideas to an actual record.”

The post-production and mixing process for ‘Flow’ featured the re-appearance of a few familiar heads from Bouts’ prior sessions – veteran Irish producer Fiachra McCarthy helped with the album’s direction, and the team of Jesse Gander on mixing duties and former Fugazi collaborator TJ Lipple on mastering, returned from the band’s last record. Bassist Niall Jackson recounts the ‘Flow’ sessions and the process of working together to get the record over the line. “Fiachra is basically one of us, same tastes, values and geekiness when it comes to guitar tones and giving things a lash. We could not recommend him more. I’m sure he won’t thank us for mentioning it, but most days our eight-hour sessions turned in to twelve-hour ones, and it was usually him going ‘G’wan, give this weird Fender Jag-Stang a go’ at the end of a day (laughs). It was our first time working with him, whereas with Jesse and TJ, we’ve never worked with anyone else for mixing and mastering since our debut album in 2013. They do a perfect job every single time, and are very reasonable to work with when it comes to revisions or advice.”

Wonky Karousel is a DIY record label via which the band has worked over the years on the band’s physical self-releases and various side-projects. This time, there’ll be a very small 12” vinyl run of ‘Flow’, as the record goes mostly to streaming services, the biggest change in music distribution over the last five years. Jackson discusses the band’s approach to the short-run release. “Basically, we still have a hundred copies of the first record underneath our beds, so this time we thought ‘well, let’s make it difficult, the other way around’. It means we’re paying more per unit, but at least it puts the impetus on the listener. Do you want to listen to a s**t stream, and have no physical relationship with the music produced, or do you want a great-sounding record and become lifelong friends with us in the process (laughs)? Ah no, we really don’t care how people consume it, the vinyl is there for the people that really want it, or want to help us make more music, the stream/digital version is gonna be more than enough for most these days. The most rewarding thing is people wanting to listen at all.”

Going back on UK and Irish tour to support the record, the question naturally emerges of trepidation or nerves about going back out there ‘as’ Bouts. After everything that the band has been through to get to this point, Jackson insists that it’s simply a matter of getting back on the horse. “We’re doing this as best mates, playing songs we love and wrote ourselves, whether five people turn up, or we pack the places out, and we’re going to give the exact same amount of energy. Nothing worse than seeing a band phone it in.” Likewise, getting back into the swing of doing press and getting radio play, after doing well with specialist shows at the BBC and RTÉ in the past might present challenges, but it’s being taken as par for the course. “Yeah, ‘same s**t, different day’, really. You would like to think people invested in music from Ireland are aware of who we are, and if not, that they might listen and think ‘well, this is good enough to play’. But again, it is pointless worrying about that stuff.”

Friday February 1st sees the band play the Roundy on Castle Street, alongside indie/psych outfit Any Joy and a solo show from the effortlessly prolific Laurie Shaw, in a fantastic piece of booking considering the DIY aesthetic shared by all involved. Jackson collects his thoughts heading into the gig, and expounds on sharing a billing with Shaw in particular. “Ah well, people like Laurie are the reason to get back out there. He really puts a cat, or seventy-five cats, among the pigeons, what with his furious album production rate. As for Any Joy, we’ve yet to have the joy of seeing them, so it’s a win-win situation. We’ve also being dying to see and play The Roundy. At the end of the day we’re all live music fans, and your opening acts should be bands you would pay, or go to see, even if you weren’t on the billing at all, never mind headlining it. Cork has traditionally been very good to us, too, people tend to show up.”

Bouts play upstairs at the Roundy on Friday February 1st, with support from Any Joy and Laurie Shaw. €7 at the door, kickoff at 9pm.

Doppelganger ‘Zine Fest: “It Was Just a Matter of ‘Let’s Do This'”

The history of Cork music and culture has been marked by the development of its community media. In recent times, the humble ‘zine has been hauled from its legacy context, as a vehicle for literary and community exploration. On October 20th at St. Peter’s, Doppelganger sees a celebration of ‘zines’ cultural impact past and present, with speakers, workshops and a library of ‘zines for public perusal. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-ordinator and arts facilitator Oriane Duboz.

From a unique place in the received oral history of Cork music, to formal celebrations and exhibitions in the city’s library spaces, the humble fanmade ‘zine has been an unlikely survivor in a scene marked by near-constant change over the years. Symbolic of the DIY spirit of the city’s creative community, ‘zines find themselves in something of a moment again, allowing publishers and writers to reach people directly, as best seen lately with the success of poetry ‘zine A Vent Zine, an exploration of words and visuals co-edited by Cork-based arts facilitator Oriane Duboz. Following on from the success of the ‘zine and various workshops she’s done with community groups, a celebration of the medium is in order. Doppelganger sees Duboz assemble speakers, workshops and even her own personal zine library for a day-long event in St. Peter’s on North Main Street on October 20th, the result of a lifelong fascination with the medium. “I didn’t know there were ‘zines, as I was getting into ‘zines, y’know? I always liked the content, reading little publications and reading what people do on a small scale, seeing original artwork, political opinions, social opinions. I owned them before I knew what they were, so that’s my personal approach.”

Upon her arrival in Cork a little under two years ago, Duboz’ interest in zines saw her looking to find a project in the medium, amid her work with some of the city’s busiest musicians. Finding a place for it in the modern landscape turned out to be its own challenge, but the creation of A Vent Zine saw co-editor Jonathan Crean provide Duboz with an outlet. “It was brought to me. I wasn’t on the first issue, he created the first issue by himself. Because he was on his own, you know how it is, you can’t do everything. When I saw the first issue, I felt it was unfair that it wasn’t more ‘out there’. I just wanted more people to see his incredible work, and he needed help. I just told people about it, and people were enthusiastic, which is really cool.”

Having garnered an understanding of the Irish ‘zine community by her work with the publication and talking with other ‘zine enthusiasts around the country, the idea for an event that allowed people to see for themselves the impact of the medium wasn’t far behind. How exactly one lays out a ‘zine fair, however, is another matter. “That kind-of evolved. The idea came from people asking me what a ‘zine is, and what the purpose of it is. The old-school ‘zine, which was most popular from the seventies to the nineties, and the new wave of ‘zines are so different, but they have the same purpose, which is to talk about what you want to talk about, without any barriers to communication. I was like, ‘ah, I’ll do that in a pub, people can grab a pint and look at some ‘zines’, so that was the original idea. And then St. Peter’s got interested in the project, and it transpires I have way more ‘zines than I thought. Then Tom from the Forgotten ‘Zine Archive in Dublin let me take a loan of a good amount of ‘zines from the ‘80s. He has over three thousand ‘zines, so I took ‘zines from Cork, Waterford, Sligo. Anarchist ‘zines, feminist ‘zines, some amazing stuff there.”

The highlight of the day-long event for many will be a ‘zine-making workshop, which sees Duboz provide a from-scratch tutorial in creating a ‘zine. Everything from editorial and themes, to binding and presentation is covered, and for Duboz, this workshop is an important entry point for her and attendees to the world of physical DIY publication. “The idea and purpose of the workshop came mutually. People looking for a platform of communication. I was like, ‘I have a platform, if you want, we can do that’. At first, the idea was not to make it a business or anything big, it was just a matter of ‘let’s do this’. Fortunately, it’s become a little bigger than that, again. The way I designed the workshop was with my friends, using their questions and the barriers they encountered. The first thing I want to do is break psychological barriers, that peoples’ thoughts aren’t legit to put on paper. That’s nonsense, but we all have that. So, that’s the first and biggest step. And then we just do it.”

Amassing a huge library of ‘zines between her own collection and trading copies with others around the world, her full library of publications will be available to peruse on the day, with a huge amount of ‘zines on music, culture and politics on hand to read. But adding the final touch to the fair’s offering will be the appearance of speakers from the worlds of ‘zines and DIY music, reflecting on the versatility of the medium. “When you first meet people from the ‘zine community, your instinct is to ‘feel’ if it’s a real ‘zine interest, content and aesthetic and all that. ‘Cause there are people who are interested in the economic side of it, and try to get in and sell a ‘zine for €15. ‘Sure. We’re not even speaking the same language.’ The people I invited to talk, I selected them for that interest. They create DIY, they live DIY, just like punk, y’know. So, Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, a very cool, very DIY person. Declan Synnott, who wrote his PhD dissertation on punk as a philosophical process. Knows his shit. I wanted someone who knows, and studied the theory side. There’s William from Cork Community Artlink, who’s lived a punk life, his whole life.”

Doppelganger: Cork ‘Zine Fair happens on October 20th at St. Peter’s on North Main Street. Kickoff at 12pm, free entry.

Irish Indie Label Day: “Just Getting Off Your Arse and Doing Anything is Worthy of Support”

This coming Saturday, October 14th has officially been declared Irish Indie Label Day in Ireland by a coalition of independent and DIY record labels dotted around the country. An initiative kicked off by Cork’s Penske Recordings and Sligo-based Art for Blind label, it entails a day-long record fair in Whelan’s in Dublin, featuring over a dozen indie imprints’ stalls, zines, and a special gig later in the evening to mark the occasion. For Art for Blind man Dany Guest, it’s the realisation of a long-held concept. “The idea has been floating around my head for a while, and is something me and Edel (Doherty, AFB label partner) have discussed at length over the last few years, having seen the success of things like the Indie Label Market in London. We decided to ask Penske to be involved because we know Albert so well and know he is totally on our wavelength and has been a big supporter of what we do since before we even landed in Ireland. To me the big thing that differentiates it from similar initiatives is that to us the community, integration and social aspects of the event are of equal importance to us as the commercial goal of flogging records and merch.”

Contrary to the idea of the death of the traditional record label model, a very wide spread of labels exists around the country in a number of genres, each facilitating and creating the bottom line for the development of their genre/community. Among the other labels listed alone for this event include: Little Gem (Dublin), Touch Sensitive (Belfast), Deserted Village (Galway), Lunar Disko (Dublin), Distro-y (Sligo), Box Emissions (Cork), Fort Evil Fruit (Cork), Sofia (Leitrim), Bluestack (Sligo), Rusted Rail (Galway), and Rudimentary (Belfast). Albert Twomey, founder of Penske Recordings and former hassler at Plugd Records, speaks on the process of outreach. “We contacted labels that we liked to start with & fleshed out the field as we figured everything out. There were some labels that were not interested/ available to attend & we may have missed out on others but this is all part of a learning curve I guess. Other labels/creatives have been in touch once they heard there was an opportunity to represent. There is still an opportunity for folks to get involved by contacting artforblind@gmail.com.”

Whelan’s is obviously an epicentre of music in Ireland and one that famously deals with a lot of bigger names coming through the doors – Twomey is quick to divulge if they have any hand in what went into the event at all, and what their involvement means to the enterprise. “Whelan’s were very open to getting involved from the start. It is great that we have access to the upstairs area from mid afternoon to the early hours. Not many venues would be able to facilitate a market & event for various reasons. Darren & Dave from Whelan’s have been incredibly helpful. It became evident that Dublin would be the best place to host the market/event but we do hope to replicate it in other Irish cities if everything runs smoothly & venues/labels are interested.”

As mentioned, the festival exists to shine a light on independent labels in the country in 2017, as well as highlight the challenges they face. As mentioned, Twomey runs Penske Recordings, home to The Jimmy Cake, Percolator, and Dan Walsh’s Fixity, and one imagines even with the weight of distributors Cargo behind him, that it’s still a tough game without a big PR presence. What challenges does an indie label like Penske face on the daily? “It can be a struggle, even with the support of an international distro like Cargo. They also take care of the Penske digital catalogue, and my sales rep there has been incredibly helpful. Plugd did lots of business with them, and I reckon they have the best reach and labels on their books: Constellation, Rocket Recordings, Hyperdub, etc. I guess the increasing cost of getting a record recorded, pressed & promoted are the principal challenges for Penske. Building up relationships with record store folks and distros is the easy part, even if I have the reputation of being a cranky-pants.”

As well as labels on the ground, there’ll also be zinemakers and booksellers, occupying an important space in-between slabs of wax at the fair. Rusted Rail Records man Keith “Keef” Wallace speaks of his delight at this area of DIY culture being considered specifically. “As someone who used to sweat over a hot photocopier making ‘zines at the turn of the century, I’m delighted to see the resurgence of ‘zine culture, a physical expression of something which could have been lost in the digital drowning pool. It’s all part of DIY culture, an alternative form of transmission, and that can only be a good thing to add to the conversation around underground musical culture.”

The challenges for record sales extend out to retail, also, a situation Twomey is only too familiar with via his stint with Plugd, an erstwhile hangout of musicians and creatives in Cork slated to reopen in the coming days in the city’s Roundy gig venue. The realities of peddling vinyl from this standpoint are no easier than getting records on the shelves to begin with. “Selling music can be a very challenging endeavour overall. In fact, Belfast is losing a really great store in Sick Records over the next few days. The cost of rent and rates in major cities has always been really prohibitive for small businesses. There is also lots of competition for the small pool of disposable income available to your target audience. Plugd is lucky to have a solid customer base & a very supportive arts/gig-going community. I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty at the market, to be honest, as I’ve missed the buzz of selling records & engaging face-to-face with customers.”

The post-match gig happens in the venue at 8pm, and boasts a suitably strong line-up. Guest gives us the runthrough on who’s who and their relation to the day’s endeavours. “Well, firstly, Alien She are a three-piece experimental post-punk band from Dublin. Their debut LP, ‘Feeler’ will be out on Art For Blind in November. Gross Net is the weirdo noise solo outlet of Phil Quinn (Girls Names). It’s great to have Gross Net as Art For Blind released a Gross Net cassette a few years back, and his debut LP was released by Touch Sensitive who will be joining us at the market from Belfast. Finally Girlfriend is a fledgling Dublin based garage punk/emo band who we are really looking forward to catching live.”