Cork Sound Fair: “Challenges of a Different Kind”

Following a successful debut last year, Cork’s non-profit electronic music festival returns with a vastly expanded lineup at venues across the city, and new working relationships across its music community. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator and facilitator Conor Ruane about Cork Sound Fair 2019.

Last year saw the debut of a few different festivals and one-day events around an ever-shifting calendar for Cork music, with an increased focus on targeting specific genres and audiences. While metal one-dayers like Monolith, and broad alternative weekender It Takes a Village were among the group of maiden voyages, it was Cork Sound Fair that garnered attention and specialist headlines around the country for its ambitious mission and status as a non-profit. Citing the likes of Dimensions Festival as an influence in terms of presentation and programming, the festival itself was crowd-funded, with all ticket money, donations and merch sales going back into the festival or into artists’ pockets. Combining live performances with intricate sound-system installations and a fair amount of free workshops between its two outposts at Cork City Gaol and St. Peter’s, the festival was a critical success, and its immediate future was set in stone.

This year sees Sound Fair expand into new venues around the city for its sophomore installment. While the Gaol and St. Peter’s are part of proceedings, new spaces like the Crypt at St. Luke’s, and Washington Street venue The Kino form an important part of the proceeding, each considered specifically for their suitability for a certain artist, according to festival director Conor Ruane. “Each venue was chosen with the performing artist in mind. Friday’s show will have a visual aspect to the performances, and the Kino being a former cinema was the obvious choice to host audiovisual acts like Underling. Saturday sees us move into the familiar surrounds of St. Peter’s Church, which will host the UCC Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, a large room with ample floor space was required to host such a performance. CSF and UCC have teamed up to bring UCC’s Sound Sound Day to the Nano Nagle Place, where a series of talks will be held in the conference hall, whilst the live performances will switch to the 150-year-old, and stunning, Goldie Chapel.”

While the festival has been able to sell tickets directly this year, weaning itself off of crowdfunding and other first-year revenue raisers, the learning curve continues, as the expansion of venues and the facilitation of new artists is a never-ending task for any festival that keeps looking forward. The community basis of Cork Sound Fair, however, has acted as a powerful hook for early adapters. “The second year brings challenges of a different kind, new venues pose new production issues, and bringing people back a second year is always difficult, but the response has been great. Many of those who made last year’s fair possible are back again, and we are really appreciative of this.”

This process of setting down roots in the city’s DIY community, and staying true to those ethics, has been a difficult one after a certain point in time for many successful events in Cork, and around the country, as demand drives supply, and the thrill of supporting a small festival dissipates after a certain point in expansion, at which point more casual music consumers become the focus of attention. On its second year, Sound Fair’s trajectory seems to be pointing upwards, but it’s the community aspect that is at the weekender’s heart. “We operate on a non-profit basis. We feel this is intrinsic in ensuring attendees feel they are contributing to the artistic fibre of the community. We all love to experience genuine things in life, however many experiences these days, while very well put together, leave us feeling a little empty. Cork Sound Fair hopes to provide a multiple-beneficial experience, one where artists are given the support and exposure they rightly deserve, and those who enjoy the experience feel that they have help to establish something that is lasting.”

The line-up is hugely diverse, and in addition to the artists mentioned above, headlining acts include Limerick skratch alchemist Naive Ted and crossover metal duo Bliss Signal. The undercard is also, for the most part, drawn from local and Irish talent. Ruane divulges the booking philosophy behind Sound Fair, and the process of confirming a line up. “Last year, we received a number of really great submissions following our programme announcement. For this year, we wanted to give people ample opportunity to apply to play, and that is why we launched our Open Call in October of 2018. The quality of submissions made for tough decisions, a lot of which have gone into the CSF 2019 programme. Open-call artists, along with non-open call artists, were chosen on their proximity to CSF merits and values, which is original live sound and art, with experimental and electronic undertones.”

The festival also hosts numerous workshops and ancillary events again this year, including UCC’s Sound Sound Day, a showcase for the university’s Experimental Sound Practice MA, furthering a rich tradition of improvisation and experimentation with the lines between sound, music and performance art that reaches all the way back to the outset of the Corkonian avant-garde. “UCC Sound Sound Day, and their director Dr. John Godfrey have been doing something similar to what CSF has tried to establish, and as a result, a pooling of resources was a logical move. John has put together a programme of artists and experts, working in experimental sound, and I for one am very interested to see the multimedia ensemble that is CAVE, in the Goldie Chapel on the Saturday of the Fair.”

As the clock ticks down on the event’s big weekend, and anticipation builds in Leeside music circles, Ruane collects his thoughts heading into it, what’s left to get done, and the festival’s future. “I’m really happy for this year’s programme. I’m not going to lie, it’s great fun to put some of your favourite artists on the one bill. But I am also apprehensive, as we still have a large body of work to get through, so I’m not wishing the days away just yet. There are interesting projects in the pipeline, though, like potential input into Cork’s hosting of the annual ISSTA (Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association) conference, which will be launching their own open call soon.”

Cork Sound Fair runs at venues around Cork City between Thursday March 28th and Sunday March 31st. Tickets for all events are on sale now at

Holy Fuck: Electronic Machine Comes to Cork

Nearly ten years removed from their debut full-length, Holy F**k continue to take electronic sounds and reconfigure them on the fly. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with keyboardist Graham Walsh ahead of next week’s Cork gig.

Emerging in 2004 as part of a musicians’ collective in their home city of Toronto, Canada, four-piece Holy F**k take a live performance approach to electronica, that verges on indie-friendliness without sacrificing abrasion. The band are heading to Cork next week as part of touring for the Bird Brains E.P., newly released on digital stores and streaming services. Keyboardist/live effects man Graham Walsh provides some insight into the creative process behind the record, and the no-nonsense attitude the band takes to finishing a release. “The creative process wasn’t really too different than other records we’ve done. We had these songs ready, and really wanted to put them out. We’re very much a four-headed beast when it comes to writing. With most electronic music, it’s usually one person on a computer, but with us, it’s the four of us in a room all hashing out ideas together, and working them into songs.”

Last year, the band signed with independent Innovative Leisure internationally, after a long-standing relationship with British trailblazers XL. Keeping music independent and widely available has presented a well-documented challenge for artists and labels over the years, but Walsh feels well-represented in the band’s output, past and present. “We’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful support behind us from everyone since the beginning. Both XL and Innovative Leisure, and Last Gang Records who we’re with in Canada, are hard-working indie labels, who are savvy to what’s going on. The music industry over the last ten to fifteen years has changed and evolved so much, that it’s great to be with companies like that who can adapt, and be creative with the art of releasing music. As a band, it’s just up to us to keep creating, which is kind of the way you want it.”

The band’s process of creating organic electronic music has been chronicled and fetishised by gear enthusiasts, not to mention demonstrated comprehensively on stage. But aside from sounds from non-musical instrumentation, which non-musical influences or concepts inform Holy F**k’s music? “I think we’re very much influenced by the idea of inserting as much human influence into our electronic music as we can. Most music these days is recorded and produced on computers, ours included, and the tendency is there to try and make everything as perfect as possible. You can Autotune things into key, align every beat perfectly to a grid, and polish everything to the nth degree. We make electronic music as a band. Use real drums and bass, and manipulate sounds with analogue guitar pedals, mixers, and other things. We try and use instruments and gear that you can’t automate perfectly, but have to dial in manually. It might not be precision-perfect but those tiny imperfections are where the beauty lies.”

2016’s full-length Congrats saw the band take a wider step out onto a new label and Walsh is beginning to garner an idea of its place in the band’s body of work. “Congrats was definitely a growth record for us. Then again, I think you should be trying to grow with every record, otherwise, what’s the point? We still feel proud of all the songs of course, and are using the experience of making that record to prop ourselves up as we forge into the future.”

The band’s name, aside from being something that they must surely be sick of being questioned on, was most notably used as an excuse for the Canadian Conservative party to try to pull government-issued PromArt tour funding from new bands and artists. Of all the sensationalism the band’s name engenders, one wonders where a political party putting the band’s name in their mouths to further an ideological agenda ranks. “It was definitely a firsthand view into how the government and press work together. The government have to build a story around something so they can get the general public behind a plan that might not go over too well. If they can shift any negative press away from themselves, and on to a few small scapegoats, then I can see that they’re going to take that opportunity. The irony about the whole situation is that the very small funding we received from that grant paid for a plane ticket, so we could fly to London, England and play. It was on that trip that we signed our first record deal, and really began our careers. In a way, we were the perfect case study for that program working (laughs). We then became a viable Canadian business, who were then investing back into the Canadian economy. Instead, the government framed it differently, so they could take that money back, and use it for something else! Meanwhile, there were plenty of other artists and institutions who lost out big time because of that move. Arts grants are also a very controversial subject, so it definitely riled a bunch of people up. Funny enough, we received a LOT of press about it around that time, so I’m sure that kind-of helped us in a way!”

Walsh himself is a long-tenured producer for Canadian artists of all stripes, including success stories like METZ and Alvvays. It’s a process away from the band’s own compunctions and dynamic, and one which informs his own take on creativity. “Every artist and band works differently, obviously. So, as a producer/engineer it’s important to be adaptable to all the situations you might find yourself in. This can be challenging, but that’s where you really learn and grow as an artist/producer/engineer. Some artists come with very raw song ideas that need fleshing out and arranging, while other bands are already dialed right in, and you just need to stay out of the way, and capture the magic. I get to see how different songwriters and bands create, and really learn from that and get better myself. I can also take those learned experiences with me for every other project I work on, and be as helpful as I can.”

The band plays on August 15th at Cyprus Avenue as European touring for the new E.P. kicks off with a run of Irish gigs. While Leeside road stories are thin on the ground in the Holy F**k camp, their Irish excursions have yielded positive results. “We’ve had loads of fun playing Whelan’s in Dublin. We played Oxegen festival back in 2008, and it was amazing! R.E.M. played, and we got a little shout out in the press from Michael Stipe, which felt great!” Walsh is short and sweet when it comes to what happens after the band’s current jag around the continent. “More touring! And working on new material of course.”

Holy F**k play Cyprus Avenue next Tuesday at 9pm. Tickets on sale from and at the Old Oak.