Jill Staxx: “I Don’t Want to Confine Myself to Any Genres”

Having cut her teeth on Dublin’s community airwaves, selector Jill Staxx is curating a show for RTÉ Pulse. Ahead of appearing at Red Bull Free Gaff, she talks with Mike McGrath-Bryan.

Having been at the cutting edge of Irish hip-hop with the Staxx Lyrical show on Dublin Digital Radio, selector Jill Staxx has been in a unique position to observe the rise and development of the genre from a fringe pursuit to centre-stage in the country’s independent music scene. As moved things forward as a live DJ, however, including an appearance at this weekend’s Red Bull Free Gaff in Dublin city centre, her scope as a producer/presenter has expanded to electronica and into the post-genre mindset. Enter The Jill Staxx Show, her new venture on RTÉ’s digital-exclusive Pulse station, breathing some rarified air as a progressive radio at the forefront of the state broadcaster’s support for Irish artists and producers. “Dublin Digital Radio is an amazing, independent platform which gave me the opportunity to produce and host the Staxx Lyrical show which was dedicated to old-school, independent and underground hip-hop. I was not limited to what I could play at DDR, but when I crossed over to Pulse, I took it as an opportunity to play music which would extend far beyond hip-hop. I am interested in many styles of music and I don’t want to confine myself to genres. My show on Pulse incorporates a wider range of musical styles such as jungle, house, techno and pop among many others. When I started at DDR, I had no previous experience in radio and learned as I went along with the help of some of the incredible people at the studio, in particular Cormac Walsh. Pulse offered me formal training in the weeks leading up to the show which exposed me to many new technical aspects of radio. It has been a great opportunity for me to explore new terrain and develop my sound.”

Whether it’s for a live set, or putting together a show for radio, every DJ has a means of choosing tunes that balance their own listening and creative impulses with empathy for a room, or listenership. Staxx lets us in on her thought process for whittling down her collection for a set like this weekend at Red Bull Free Gaff, and how it changes between live sets and broadcast. “My radio shows can be very different from my live sets. For shows, I’m more interested in showcasing the artists, and playing new releases. It’s a bit more informative, and can easily switch from softer styles into up tempo ones. However, that changes in live shows. I learnt early on that playing laid-back hip-hop at 1am in a sweaty club will leave you with some really confused looking faces so you need to strike a balance between music you love, and keeping the audience moving. Naturally, the music I play out will be dependent on the time, the venue and the event. I’m constantly searching for music to try and keep my sound growing so that I’m not playing the same thing all the time. I think it’s important to constantly challenge yourself, if it feels stale to you it will feel off to your audience. It’s important to take risks, to keep searching for special songs but also not to be afraid to play big anthems when the time is right. Most importantly you need to stay true to your sound and what you genuinely love.

Recent mixes for the show have made clear the aforementioned emphasis on Irish producers and artists, existing within the worlds of hip-hop, bass and electronica that Staxx has been spinning. Much has been made of a new golden age for the genre in Ireland, a continual and ever-shifting narrative trope that changes with times and media, and it’s something that Staxx is passionate about, especially in light of problems with perception that independent music has had in the eyes of casual Irish listeners. “I personally feel the music scene in Ireland is thriving right now, and people are definitely paying more attention to local artists. However, there are times I’m shocked by how often Irish artists get overlooked within their own country. What is particularly interesting about the music scene in Ireland at the moment is its diversity. This is not only apparent in the variety of music styles being produced but also within the range of artists in terms of gender, age, diversity of backgrounds etc. Irish artists I’m enjoying at the moment include Irish rapper and singer Biig Piig. Also, my last show guest LOLZ introduced me to Lee Kelly’s EP ‘Layers of Identity’ which is a really beautiful record I’ve been listening to lately. I would also recommend Dublin’s ‘Wriggle’ collective who all create really interesting bass, hip-hop, trap and some other good stuff I struggle to define!”

Red Bull Free Gaff is happening next weekend in Dublin city centre, with a massive lineup of Irish artists, producers and DJs, right at the forefront of the scene that Staxx has been documenting and platforming. She’s DJing across the weekend, including the weekend’s Sunday Brunch, and for her, the lineup’s homegrown feel is validation for her support. “Yeah, it’s really nice that Free Gaff is a lineup of all Irish artists, it just shows that there is sufficient talent here to have an all-Irish lineup, and that we can use the spaces available to us to create a unique experience for music lovers. I sometimes feel there’s this “grass is greener” mentality to the arts in Ireland, and that as a creative you need to move abroad to get the most out of your creative efforts. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that we’re a small country, and that has its limitations, but I think it’s important to trust in what we can do here to drive things forward. I was also pleased to see the event will incorporate many styles, as I sometimes feel events can be a bit safe and stick too closely to one genre. It gives an opportunity for many different artists to come together and celebrate what is so special about Irish music right now. To be honest, ten years ago I’m not sure if the same event would work. People didn’t respond as well to local scenes like Irish hip-hop the same way they do now. Audiences are becoming a lot more open and interested in local talent. I’m not in anyway against having international acts over here, but casting the spotlight solely on Irish talent sends a really positive message to artists and audiences alike.”

The Jill Staxx Show goes out Sundays 6pm to 8pm on RTÉ Pulse, available at rte.ie, on the Irish RadioPlayer app, on all Saorview devices and on DAB radio.

D.I.E. Limerick: “It’s All Part of Development”

From a student night in Limerick to taking over Townlands Carnival – it’s been a long road for the D.I.E. crew. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with organiser/DJ Dan Sykes about how it all came together.

Townlands Carnival is a little over two weeks away at this point, and the excitement that’s been steadily building throughout the summer is coming to a head. With international headline artists like Sister Sledge and Leftfield’s Neil Barnes providing an attraction factor for new, lapsed and casual music fans, this year’s Townlands Carnival presents opportunities for Irish and independent artists alike to be seen, discovered and enjoyed by a wider audience, including Choice Prize nominees like Bantum and Katie Kim. The Rising Sons stage is custom-made for new Irish music, up and down the billing, while the Sibín allows festival-goers to hide out in the nearby woods and take in some of the festival’s hidden gems, many of whom are taken from the local scene. Between its location amid a tight-knit rural community, and its support for new Irish music, community development has evidently been at the heart of the festival’s rise in recent years, so it’s appropriate that one of the festival’s sleeper highlights comes in the form of Limerick collective D.I.E..

Beginning amid the turmoil of the late-2000s recession and while their city was emerging from years of stigmatisation on a national level, D.I.E. (short for ‘Dubstep/Indie/Electronica’) came along at a time when the playing field had effectively been levelled, and opportunities, if nothing else, for enterprising young music heads abounded, for those willing to put in the work. Recognising an opportunity to establish a multi-space club night in Dolan’s in Limerick, using its various rooms, the crew responsible worked with local student unions to build a bottom-line crowd for the night with Limerick School of Art and Design, providing a space for local musicians and selectors. Co-founder Dan Sykes looks at the effort they put in, and the path it paved for the city’s current golden age. “It’s like anything really, you come in fresh-faced and put work in, over the time your work gains momentum, and can start to go well and influence other people and so the cycle continues. We meet loads of really driven young people these days, who seem lightyears ahead of their years, and they are doing amazing work in putting on parties, etc. It’s great to see music outlets being there for other types of music. Like Limerick right now has so much creativity and this real rawness in the hip-hop scene. They are all really driven, focused and all together. Knowing these things are happening in your city makes everything feel great. I know the internet has changed lots of things in music, but that old social ground is, and always will be, the club. So we’re happy to have a club where we put on music, people come and listen, they dance, they meet, ideas are created and exchanged. It’s all part of development and having a space to do so. Very happy that we may offer that space in some sense.”

Running a club is tricky business at the best of times, amplified by replicating the feat across a number of rooms and even Dolans’ smoking area. The result, however, isn’t that far removed from festival setups up and down the country – different stages need different specs for a variety of musical genres – making the changeover from venue to festival stage takeover relatively easy. “So, it starts at around 4pm. First port of call is lovely, creamy pints to start off. We have a pint and discuss production, etc. After that we then set up, room-by-room. Programming rooms is one thing, but producing the room so all artists, etc. can do their thing, with their preferred spec, takes a little more in terms of planning. Luckily we have an amazing team who all work really hard. For some of us, the best part is knowing that all rooms have been produced to the highest possible standard.”

D.I.E. manages to do what promoters and venues in other cities, arguably including Cork, either can’t or just don’t anymore – maintain a key relationship with the city’s students and maintain their support as a bottom line. Sykes goes into the necessities and changes of doing so. “Well, having the night on a Thursday really makes us part of that student nightlife. However, things are changing, and Thursdays are not the big nights out that they used to be. More and more stuff is happening from Monday to Thursday these days, so as we get older it’s quite hard to keep ahead of different cultural and social changes, if you’re not experiencing them first hand. However, we did start out by running some parties for SUs, and we have always kept up our relationship with them. We still sell hard tickets from the SUs at the student-friendly price of €5… the legacy of the recession (laughs).” So, how can venues and promoters, in cities like Cork, more effectively court a student audience and properly bring out the best in them, in terms of their participation and weekly involvement, making them aware of the wider music community, etc? “That’s a question where the answer could change from one year to the next. I think once you try to give people, or students especially, a top-quality experience; for example the same show they would have got on a Saturday, and to the same standard; then people will feel like they are being catered for properly, and will support more strongly.”

D.I.E. comes to Townlands Carnival to run a takeover of the Hive Stage as part of the weekend’s proceedings. Sykes, Ali Daly (pictured) and other regulars will be overseeing tunes and bringing that trademark diversity to the stage at Rusheen Farm. The community connection at the centre of Townlands was the spark for this collaboration. “So Shiv (promoter/DJ Siobhán Brosnan) got us involved last year, and we approached her about a takeover for this year’s one. For a festival like TLC to happen on our doorsteps is a very special thing. The programming, etc. is different, it’s not the usual big names and suspects that you see at lots of Irish festivals. TLC has a lot of love in it. We were so impressed with last year, we just wanted to showcase at it for this year.”

Cork Sound Fair: “Be Inventive”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Tinfoil: In the Heat of the Moment

Ahead of a big night on Paddys’ Eve at Cyprus Avenue, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with producer Sunil Sharpe, of duo Tinfoil, and Ellen King, playing support under her ELLLL pseudonym.

Great collaborations can come from the unlikeliest of places, and oftentimes, such stories can make for excellent copy. The story of Tinfoil, a collaborative project between producers Sunil Sharpe and DeFekt, is suitably less glamourous, beginning with a chance bit of jamming and developing from there. Sharpe discusses the project’s kickoff in 2014. “One day I started randomly messing on one of Matt’s synths, over a track that he had just started. We jammed for about ten minutes, edited it down slightly, and that was our first track. It seemed like we had achieved a good sound but with not much thought; it was just on instinct. Continuing this as a collaboration made sense.”

In the time since, the duo has brought out a number of EPs, but the collaborative and creative processes have remained consistent in that time between the two of them, according to Sharpe. “It has mostly stayed the same, our tracks come together from jamming on the machines, and keeping the bits we like. Initially we did shorter jams, like ten minutes or something, and cut a track out of it maybe. Now we do much longer jams, as if we’re playing a full live set, and cut multiple tracks out of it. For playing live we discuss some of the ways we could build the set, and certain things we want to make happen, but it only really gives us a rough outline, it always changes in the heat of the moment.”

Tinfoil featured in Vice’s electronic-music sister site Thump last year, portrayed as flying the flag for Irish house and techno in an interview before the release of their third E.P. Sharpe is reluctant to be cast as a spokesperson for the scene, yet is keenly proud of its development. “I think the story focused mostly on the Dublin techno scene, past and present, and our impression of it. I really liked how that piece read. We’re by no means the only spokespeople for this scene in Ireland, we’re just a part of it, but I don’t think we feel strange being highlighted in some way for what we do. It was just written to help promote our sets at Bloc festival I think! Personally I still feel that the wider electronic music media pushes Irish acts down, and holds acts from ‘cooler’ cities or on certain agencies aloft as the ones of note. If you’re from London or Berlin and you’re good, you’re world class, but if you’re from Dublin or Cork or somewhere and good, you’re decent for being from Ireland. I’d like to think that we and the next generations of Irish coming behind us are gonna cut through that bullshit. We’re not here to be “nice little Paddies” or the token Irish. We’re here to make a mark in the techno scene as a whole, and I believe that our sets and our records do that.”

Tinfoil are performing as a duo for the first time in Cork on Paddy’s eve, ahead of a big Paddy’s Day show at Dublin’s District 8. What should people as yet unfamiliar with Tinfoil expect from the live show? “It’s an entirely improvised, live set. Everything is in the moment, which I think makes it interesting for the crowd and us. We’ve released 20 tracks so far I think, so will let people judge from those – Foil 1 and Foil 23 are probably our most well-received tracks so far.”

Cork, like Dublin, seems to be in a bit of a boom-time at present for electronic music, and Tinfoil’s constituents have both appeared frequently independently, sharing a grá for the city’s famed electronic music community. “I love Cork. The spirit and energy of the crowd is always wild and raw. Even when the club scene dropped in the ’00s, Cork still stayed quite strong. I feel very at home in Cork, and am happy to be still playing events with Jamie Behan. He has become a really good friend over the years, and is one of the people in Cork who has always been in it for the right reasons. Obviously if we had more flexible opening hours in Ireland, you could see more depth and creativity in terms of lineups and the make-up of individual nights. The main thing right now though, is that the interest is there, and that electronic music is being enjoyed by a young crowd again, something that took a while to happen. Ireland’s underground club scene is now represented in the way it should always be – Tír na nÓg.”

The duo faces into a busy year between solo projects, new collaborations and more touring for the project. “We’re gigging a lot, both together and individually, with Tinfoil being from now until the beginning of June, when we’ll probably park it until 2018. Lots of records are in the works for us both. Also, Matt has started a collaboration with Maelstrom, and I’ve also been doing stuff with Faetch. It’s a busy enough year ahead.”

Supporting on the night alongside Jamie Behan is Ellen King, better known as producer/composer ELLL. Debut extended-player Romance is finally out, via Cork label Art for Blind, and King discusses the process of assembling and producing it, as well as the feeling of having a collection of work “proper” in one’s hands. “It feels really good to finally have a physical release out there. The tracks were written over the Winter period 2015/16. I had them in mind for EP format at the time. I started working on video and artwork with Dámhín McKeown not long after that, which was really enjoyable as it began to from a more cohesive whole.”

In the months since its release, King has been busy, as the co-founder of GASH Collective, an all-female collective addressing on a national and local level gender inequality in leftfield electronic music. The conversation in general came from various statistics outlining said inequality globally, and the inspiration came from seeing co-ops emerge around the world to counteract the issue. “I took a lot of inspiration from similar collectives: Female Pressure, Discwoman, Siren, Apeiron Crew etc.. The biggest catalyst was the general sense disillusionment felt by myself and my peers at the lack of women on event lineups, involved in music production, technology, DJing etc..”

After a strong start with several club nights around the country, GASH partook in Quarter Block Party in February, as both festival DJs and tutors in a workshop for beginner female-identifying DJs and producers. “The workshops were a new initiative, so we weren’t sure what the response would be like, but it was overwhelmingly positive.”

On the topic of supporting Tinfoil on the 16th, the question emerges of Cyprus Avenue – what is it about that room and techno that has captured a lot of peoples’ imagination? “I think it’s less about the room and more about the quality of gigs. It’s hard not to get excited about them.”

Tinfoil play Cyprus Avenue on March 16th. Tickets available now via Eventbrite and cyprusavenue.ie.

Diffract: Community Clubbing

Ahead of their January outing on Saturday, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Eamon Ivri of Cork club night Diffract about its DIY nature, the Kino and the Cork scene.

An eclectic, community-run club night catering to many tastes currently not being seen to by the big boys in town. This is the idea behind Diffract, a DIY club running semi-regularly from the Kino on Washington Street, the ex-arthouse turned BYOB space/cultural melting pot. Kicking off last year, the night was the result of collaboration, says co-promoter Eamon Ivri.

“Diffract came together from myself, Conor Gilligan, Paraic Joyce (aka, DJ Reich Joyce) and David McGuire. Our original aim was to throw left-of-field gigs, in particular, club nights that weren’t playing the kind of music you’d find in the regular venues: much more subversive electronic music catering to a different palette, techno, avant-garde, electro, minimal with a focus on both live and dj sets. The name Diffract came from Paraic, and local producer ELLLL. The aim was originally monthly gigs but as we get into the swing of things we’ve realised at this time, with our resources, every month is not feasible so we scale it back to bigger events comprised of great line ups which are smartly promoted. Diffract is currently made up of myself, David, and new addition Éabha Hennessy.”

The club night’s residency in the Kino is part of the venue’s eclectic array of events, something that the collective is enthusiastic about their role in. Ivri goes into the venue’s strengths and what it brings to the city’s scene. “The Kino as a space is excellent. We enjoy how open it is, a myriad of different events are held there without any discrimination of type: from raves to folk music to wrestling. One bonus about the space is the fantastic projector set up, which really allows our show to come alive with the visuals we create for the event. The Kino is a lifeline for promoters right now working off the grid. It’s central, on a known street, right beside town, and its doors, usually close at 1am, leaving the crowd to easily head into town once it’s over. No fuss. And of course, Mick Hannigan handles the needs of everyone as best and as diligently as he can.”

Diffract’s “community club” designation is an interesting, one for an overarching umbrella of genres and scenes that’s already quite grassroots in Cork. Discuss? “Well, when you count out a few choice venues, there are very few places that cater to the music that we know is being produced in Cork but isn’t often given a platform to be showcased to the public. Our aim is to create a space where the more experimental sides and sounds of electronic music can exist alongside the danceable aspects of the genre. Open mics, plentiful within this musical city, simply can not accommodate a lot of what non-singer-songwriters want to do. The music being played here is fantastic stuff but of course not chart music, our DJs spin genre classics and underground numbers alike and our bands/producers are gonna be less along the standard lines of the vocalist-guitar-bass-drummer set up.”

February 28th will be headlined by ooSe’s live show. What we’ve seen of them has been spectacular, but what are Ivri’s thoughts on the band and their newfound momentum? “We first came across ooSe at SiDúBí festival, held at Blackwater Castle. A multitude of colourful and strange acts were performing. but this enigmatic 3-piece stood out amongst all this, with their strange style of funk infused licks and techno beats. While their music is different and brilliant in its own respect, they are also all fiercely talented musicians dedicated to cultivating their own sound, and this momentum will be a great inspiration for musicians in Cork creating music that is a little different. We are very much looking forward to their set, and the enthusiasm from the guys is unbelievable.”

Also on the undercard are Lambdancer, the electro-punk project of producer Jimmy Darqhorse and pseudonymous ex-folk singer Moonbird, as Don O’Mahony wrote about in his column last week. They’ll be performing a live set. What should people that haven’t seen them expect? “Lively, ravey, electro, fun, danceable and hard-edged sounds grinding out of their little black boxes akin to the Prodigy. If you’ve seen their videos from the likes of Electric Picnic you will know they keep themselves on their toes and bring the crowd up right up their with them. Jimmy and Sian, who comprise Lambdancer, also have side projects under Darqhorse and Moonbird respectively and their energy combined, can be described as nothing less than monumental.”

Sound-artist Hames is opening the show. He’s been a much-overlooked part of the Cork scene, specifically in the city’s avant-garde. His booking at the start of the show speaks to eclectic line-ups at Diffract, balancing strange sonics and big beats, says Ivri. “Hames is just fantastic. Since his first gig with us, we have been hooked on the man’s eclectic style and we were eager to get him back with us. Anyone who’s heard him live will know where we’re coming from, when we say his mixes provide a fresh, dark and exciting take on his catalogue, creating a brooding atmosphere which you can dance to. In short, weird but brilliant. Which in essence is what we are trying to promote with Diffract: music that you won’t find in commercial clubs in Cork. The balance in weirdness and beats is hard to measure, but it’s quite simple when you hear something you like.”

The Cork scene is awash with great talent at present, but there’s something to be said for Ivri’s earlier statement on the limitations currently affecting promoters owing to a lack of spaces, among other factors. Ivri weighs these two occurrences against each other. “With great respect to the venues and promoters that do a great job of working with limited resources, it’s sometimes a little frustrating finding venues that can accommodate an organised gig. The Cork scene for artists in general is becoming stifled by the economic recovery, which only seems to be driving artists out of spaces they once called home, for example the Camden Palace, who luckily found a new place, and Sample Studios. These artists kept the city an attractive place for people to come to during the hard times. The government has commoditised culture in Ireland, selling it and making plenty of money from tourism. However, if that culture doesn’t fit within a particular brand of “Irishness” it’s left out to fend for itself, which is a sad state of affairs when it is exactly this vibrant arts scene that makes Cork what it is. Nine out of ten people here will tell you about the nightlife and that’s something we should capitalise on, but instead of making a routine of it, how many clubs/pubs have changed name over the past few years, as keys have passed hands, trying to make something out of a spot that’s no different than the bar next to it. or what it was formerly? The lack of support can be damaging and the lack of new ideas being thrown out there or supported is stifling.”

It is in this defiance that Diffract is rooted, and now looks set to grow from. The crew is happy with upcoming dates. “The future looks great, full of opportunity and great music to start getting out there. Our current goal is just to find a rhythm which works best for us, and can allow ourselves to throw gigs of consistent quality, that can be properly promoted and sustainable. Our next gig, which has no set date yet, is already in motion and looks set to feature BiPolar Beats, who is putting out a record soon on Asphalt Pirates, and Cube’s main man and Eclecto honcho Gary Fitz. All in all we are eager to work with more enthusiastic heads, DJs and musicians alike, that seem to be bursting out of the woodwork, the more we delve into the fantastic music scene not just here but throughout the whole of the country.”

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.

Mechner: Surfacing at the Kino

Mechner, a.k.a Jack Ahern, is emerging as a conceptual musician and visual director with debut single Surfacing. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with him ahead of his upcoming Kino gig.

Jack Ahern, formerly of Cork pop-punk kids Mishap, is slowly coming around as a solo artist. Launching his solo debut single and video on the 29th at the Kino, Ahern has assumed the name Mechner for his activities. Your writer’s retro-gaming instincts immediately kick in, and it is indeed confirmed he’s christened himself after legendary videogame designer Jordan Mechner.“One of my earliest memories is being sat at a computer at around three years old and experiencing the opening throes of ‘Prince of Persia’. The game captured my imagination, the vibrant colours, the sound and the adventure had me sold. My father and I spent many happy evenings trying to get past dreaded re-animated skeletons and the mysterious “shadow prince”, some of my favourite memories are from those times. It has directly influenced my life and who I have become, an avid lover of all things video game, art and of course music. Years later on my first full completion of Prince of Persia, I looked into who was behind the creation of my favourite video game, and came across Jordan Mechner. In my research and after reading his personal journal he kept of the time he made the game, I found out that he had not only directed the game and its story, but also wrote the code, drew the animation, provided the music (with some help from his dad) and was a serious procrastinator at the same time. This struck a chord with me because I have always written, produced, recorded and procrastinated through nearly all of my own music myself, with this new project of mine being no exception. I felt it right to give a nod to a man who has influenced my life in a positive way and whom I myself feel akin to.”

New single ‘Surfacing’ came together after an extended hiatus from original live performance, and seemingly came to Ahern from the ether. “’Surfacing’ was one of those special tracks that happens every once in awhile, where you sit down to write and it’s all there, already finished. I hadn’t played original music live for nearly 4 years after the end of Mishap, and on a whim I booked a small gig in the Brú Bar to play my original music, that I had been writing throughout that time. This was May 2015, a week before the gig was due to happen, a switch flicked on in my head and I said to myself, “You have to write something new for this gig and have it there for people to take away.”. It took two days in full to write, record and package, my main focus was to make it sound creepy and unsettling. It was a wonderful release when the track was completed, I hadn’t to that point written music like it and it really gave me a much needed confidence boost at a time when I was unsure if I should pursue original music at all. I did a very limited number of handmade copies, 20 in all. The gig went well and the CDs pretty much disappeared. It was late last year I decided that it would be the leading single of my solo project.”

Cryptic teasers have emerged in recent weeks for the single’s accompanying video, collages of found-footage on social media and posters bearing screenshots. Ahern keeps his cards close to his chest in advance. “The video is something that I can’t talk about in detail ’til after the launch, four people in all have seen the video, and they have been sworn to secrecy on a grassy knoll under the moonlight. I can say however that it is a very cinematic music video, and that the music ties quite closely together with the visual. I wrote the script and it was directed by the incredibly talented Gar O’Rourke of HERE NOW films. The lead actor, Eoghan Collins is one to watch, the guy is a star. All I can say is if you want to see the music video in style, come to the launch night.”

As mentioned, the newly-resurgent Kino will play host to the single’s launch. Back under the stewardship of Mick Hannigan, the former cinema now plays host to a multi-disciplinary arts space. Ahern goes into the trials and tribulations of making the event happen. “When I initially planned this release for January this year, I looked around at Cork’s venues. I wanted a place where I could present a show, not just another gig. Visuals are important to me and I think they make the difference between a good gig and a great gig. I was drawn to the Pavilion, as the venue supported a great lighting rig, a projector and a tiered seating/standing area, which would have been perfect for putting on such a show. But of course, as luck would have it, things weren’t going so well for the Pavilion and it was up in the air about whether they were re-opening or closed for good. As things would have it at the same time there were murmurs of the Kino re-opening and one or two gigs were hosted there to great success. At the same time myself and Gar were in early talks about the music video, once it was completed and I saw how wonderfully it had come together it was a no brainer really, make a big splash and present the music video for the first time in a building which has history as a arthouse cinema. I think its a perfect fit for my project, as I have near complete control on how the venue will look on the night and how the vibe will be set.”

While looking at the panorama of Leeside music venues, the question of the shape of the city’s scene inevitably pops up. Ahern is pragmatic about it. “Cork is a very interesting place for music and always has been, as long as I remember. It is a melting pot at the moment for musicians coming from all corners of the country to live and perform, this in part to the abundance of high quality music courses now available in the city. What I have always appreciated about Cork and its scene is the variety and eclectic mixes of genre and sound. People don’t follow any trend and try to pave their own paths, that’s what makes the music coming from this city so interesting to me. I feel that we are missing one or two real good music venues in cork, that push solely original music. I only wish the city was bigger, with some more real music industry opportunities. Unfortunately most musicians I know have had to leave to make a sustainable career out of original music.”

What next for Ahern after this? “The next move after the single is to record a concept EP completely live, all about “repetition” and release each track as a single with accompanying music videos. I am hoping for late February for the first single.”