The Bonk/Fixity: Improv Jazz & Psych-Rock Exploration

One of the sleeper hits of the Jazz Festival is set for upstairs in the Roundy on Castle Street on the Sunday night, as psych-rock outfit The Bonk launch their new album with Leeside jazzists Fixity in a double-headline show. Mike McGrath-Bryan investigates further.

Since debuting in earnest in 2015, The Bonk have been on a slow boil of gigs, including Cork’s Sudden Club Weekender and Quarter Block Party festivals, and intermittent single releases that have been received well critically. Led by O Emperor man Phil Christie, the project explores the influences of he and the revolving door of collaborators around him. Songcraft gives way to spontaneity, and slivers of jazz, Nuggets-esque garage rock and early psychedelia are heard amid the dichotomy of regimental rhythm and melodic liberties. Debut long-player The Bonk Seems to be a Verb has been released this month via Drogheda collective/label ThirtyThree-45. Christie discusses the process behind assembling and producing the full-length. “The album collects pieces from various recording sessions over the last few years. The arrangements are mostly based around rhythmic layers and improvised melodic lines. It’s an approach that allows for a nice variety of directions to emerge and so I thought I would keep going until things started to sit nicely together. The recording process was very good fun and very much driven by curiosity which was nice as the studio can sometimes become a frustrating place if you’re too rigid about the outcomes. It was a pleasure working with Brian at ThirtyThree-45. I came across the 24-hour digital radio station that he runs last year, it’s called ‘The Augmented Ear’ and I highly recommend checking it out! I noticed that he had posted a callout for submissions for the cassette label. As it turned out, we have similar musical inclinations, and we were both glad of the opportunity to work on something together.”

The album does indeed release on cassette, an increasingly frequent reoccurrence that seems to have outlived the initial novelty value of the mini-revival the format underwent at the beginning of the decade. But with so many options available now, more casual music consumers might be forgiven for asking what the attraction is. “With the tapes… there are sides, which is an upside for us (laughs). It’s nice to have to flip them over. Brian comes from an art background himself, and so I think he is interested in the materiality & design of the objects and packaging, and would like to continue building up an interesting series of releases. So, we were also very happy to be a part of that project. Besides that, half of the tunes were recorded onto a four-track cassette recorder, so there was something nice about reproducing those sounds as they were captured.”

The band completed its first round of touring in its current state in April of this year, and while people-wrangling of any scale can be difficult enough, getting a multiple-headed beast like The Bonk around the country must surely have presented challenges. “Given that the band can stretch up to seven of us, the logistical element of the operation can be a little daunting at times but I’ve really enjoyed playing the songs live, and it really makes a difference to have the full group involved. It’s kind of cool because all of the recordings are live versions in themselves, and so every performance stretches the tunes in different directions. This time around I think everyone is a lot more aware of those possibilities. It’s also just a very pleasant experience to meet people in different venues and hang out, it makes the hours of solitary bedroom mixing worthwhile.”

The band’s double-header with Fixity on Sunday October 30th sees the band at the centre of attention in one of the city’s pillar venues for alternative and experimental events, a status backed up by the relocation of PLUGD to the upstairs space in daytime hours. “We’re delighted to be able to have the gig in in The Roundy and very pleased that PLUGD is back up and running. It’s really a testament to all the great stuff that’s happening in Cork that a new home for weird noises and gigs has been provided so quickly since the closing of the venue at the Triskel Arts Centre – respect to all involved, it’s all good news. But yeah, we’re very much looking forward to that show. It’s the last gig of the tour and we’ll have completed four gigs on the trot with Fixity by that stage – the levels of achingly inane psychobabble should be peaking around then!”

Channelling his experience as one of Cork’s busiest tubthumpers via stints with several Leeside bands, Dan Walsh’s Fixity emerged from the fringes of the city’s psych-rock scene, a maze of side-projects from which Walsh distinguished the project with sharp live turns into jazz-tinged explorations. Walsh and collaborators have had a bit of a break from the constant stream of releases that accompanied the band’s establishment in the past few months, the highlight of which was the release of studio full-length ‘The Things in the Room’ via Cork imprint Penske Recordings, on which Walsh is keen to comment. “It was a beautiful experience making that record, from start to finish. When the four of us were in the studio that day, we didn’t foresee someone like Albert (Twomey, Penske/PLUGD) having the passion and capacity for trust to bring it to peoples’ ears in the way that he did with a double-LP on Penske. We were commited to the music we played that day, and that’s still true. (Collaborators) Emil, Nils and Fredrik threw themselves into my music and the present moment with intention and strength of character, and when people do that, it’s a gift to all involved. There have been lots of heavy days of music since for Fixity as a result, and many more to come. I count that as a success.”

Walsh’s work at the helm of Cork Improvised Music Collective in the former Gulpd Cafe seems to have had a knock-on effect on the Leeside scene in recent years: improvisation seems to be returning to the fore, whether it’s Walsh’s projects, the slew of improv bands featuring Shandon-based Darren Keane, or the improvised nature of the work of bands like ooSe and Bhailiú. Walsh discusses the nature of sustainability and effort for the niche in the city’s scene. “I can only really speak for myself, and I’m not sure if improvisation has ever been a large part of what goes on in Cork, but I know that the improvisers I have known here have always been resourceful in putting on independent events so that they can get it done, and encouraging of others in its benefits as a means of music-making. A few promoters like Joe and Stevie in the Pav who put on STINK gigs on the regular, and Jim Horgan in Gulpd taking on CIMC have made a difference in giving myself and others opportunities to continue exploring it. It’s the kind of thing that grows when shared, I think, and that’s part of trying to uphold a rich tradition of its place in music in general if it’s something you are passionate about.” When asked about the next step for Fixity after bringing PLUGD’s jazz proceedings to a close, Walsh is far more succinct: “We’re going to record an album the day after.”

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.

Han-Earl Park: Music for the Moment

Ahead of his upcoming performance as part of the Sirene 1009 ensemble at the School of Music, Han-Earl Park speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about improvisation, musical machinery and more.

For the past twenty years, Han-Earl Park has been on a journey in more than one sense: while travelling the world and collaborating with local musicians and sound-artists in cities around the world, his work has progressively endeavoured to explore the boundaries of noise and musicality. Park outlines the questions that lead him to improvise for answers. “The possibility of music in noise, or of noise in music? For performances that border on chaos, exquisite in detail, yet, in the moment, can convince you of such a thing as perfection? Performances that are physical and social at different scales? Ellington. It all starts with Duke Ellington.”

Seldom do the worlds of music/sound-art and officialdom meet, and it’s always a curiosity to see a contemporary musician funded by the Arts Council. How does it affect/ameliorate one’s work in sound and what does Park reckon of the role in public funding of avant-garde and improvisational music? “I tend to agree that what creative people seek (both artists and audiences), and what art organizations are designed and pressured to support are very rarely the same thing, but, as long as you’re not making art to spec, I think it can be a good relationship. In our post-prosperity, neo-liberal nightmare it’s too easy to redefine ‘access’ into an empty promise, but, funding, done right, is about possibilities—allowing folk beyond the independently wealthy, say, to create and experience the imaginative, the boundary-breaching, the left-field, the subversive or the discordant.”

Park’s dedication to exploration of sound’s outer limits haven’t stopped at his own hand: along with collaborators, he has constructed a semi-autonomous robot, styled after b-movie service droids, to “perform” music of (almost) its own compunction. Io 0.0.1 beta++ performs live, with human collaborators on hand to monitor its physical wellbeing, document its output, and discuss its programming. “Who wasn’t that kid dreaming of machines performing the unlikeliest tasks? Occupying the unlikeliest roles? The idea is as old as the anthropology of robots. My machine musician is a descendent of constructions from the Al-Jazari’s automata ensemble to George E. Lewis’ improvising computer programs to Sara Roberts’ virtual families.”

Park is best known in Cork as a facilitator, more so than a lecturer, of improvisation in UCC’s music department between 2006 and 2011. He discusses his experiences and interactions during his time at the facility as a learning experience of its own. “Teaching improvisation – or creating the social space in which students teach themselves – is like going back to school; you learn a lot, both in terms of clarifying what you already know, and about the learning process.”

His lasting mark on the Cork scene came with the foundation of live event series Stet Lab in 2006. The development of an improvisation scene in Cork followed in close order, with numerous improv and drone outfits in its wake, including the Mersk collective, and coincided with the rise of other strains of experimental event, such as avant-garde outpost Black Sun. Park recalls his time running the events. “Stet Lab almost seemed to exist on parallel tracks from all the other goings on in Cork (and not for lack of effort trying to get cross-pollinations). One thing I will say about the Lab’s effect on the scene: ‘improvised music’ as term of currency in Cork, as far as I know, was a direct result of Stet Lab. Incidentally, I think it’s interesting that certain figures have largely been forgotten, or no longer talked about, in Cork. I’m thinking of Rajesh Mehta in particular. A lot of the structures that we now recognize as underpinning improvisative practices and communities in Cork solidified in the wake of his work here.”

Park performs as part of ensemble Sirene 1009 with collaborators and from the sounds of it, the collective is planning something cavernous for their date on May 19th at the Cork School of Music’s Stack Theatre. “Here’s what the group sounds/looks like from where I sit on stage: Dom Lash’s confident and enthusiastic interjections in sound and line; Mark Sander’s unerring inventiveness – leaping any and all obstacles to musicality with gestures small and large; and Caroline Pugh’s pulling in-and-out of musical and linguistic spaces with her spontaneous conlangs. That’s the soup. The question is: how do those particular elements collide on the night?”

The ongoing journey continues for Park, after his most recent stint in Cork concludes, with another ensemble of his criss-crossing the continent, exploring spaces and venues around Europe. “In November, I’m going on a European tour with Eris 136199, possibly tied as my favorite group. It’s a transatlantic trio with the avant-rock guitarist and computer artist Nick Didkovsky, and saxophonist-composer Catherine Sikora. Eris is a little noisier, if just as musical and unruly, as my other projects – it combines melody and dissonance, ideas of counterpoint and idiom in particular ways that I find always surprising and fascinating. Catherine is also performing at the Stack Theatre (with drummer Dan Walsh), if you want to catch a sense of some of that.”

Improvisation has been a non-traditional route into music for numerous musicians on Cork city’s scene today, as touched upon earlier. On a parting note, Park explores the notion of improv as a non-traditional means of exploring one’s own creativity. “Y’know, I’ve never seen anything nontraditional about what I do. At least for me, the ‘musician’ (as a laboring class) still has the possibility of radicalism—in its physicality, its sociality—so it’s not a question of tradition vs. radicalism, but whether the tradition you’re engaging with, and the way you are engaging with it, helps you dream of the possible, or whether it only allows you to see the-way-things-are (the aforementioned post-prosperity, neo-liberal nightmare, for example).”

Sirene 1009 play the Stack Theatre at the School of Music on May 19th. Doors 7.30pm. Tickets at €16 (standard), €10 (concession) and €5 (UCC/CIT music students) on sale now from

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