Denise Chaila: “Every Time I Listen, I Flex”

(This is the full, unedited version of a piece published on on Friday April 12th, in advance of the brand’s ‘Free Gaff’ weekender event in Dublin)

Following the release of two-track single ‘Duel Citizenship’ in January, rapper Denise Chaila is poised to change Irish hip-hop, combining a newfound confidence with a burning passion for addressing the big social questions facing the scene. Ahead of her appearances at Red Bull Free Gaff, Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down with the ‘Man Like Me’ wordsmith for a conversation.

We’re approaching the height of exam season, and amid all of the usual stress and strain that students all over the country face, Denise Chaila conveys a quiet, well-spoken confidence down the phone. Fair play to her for keeping a level head: balancing a sociology degree with a burgeoning musical reputation is no small feat. Not that she’s one for small feats: having contributed to the success of Limerick/Clare outfit Rusangano Family as a spoken-word collaborator, Chaila directly addressed some of the major discussions in Irish hip-hop in January with the release of debut extended-player ‘Duel Citizenship’, almost immediately garnering wider attention, and premiering tunes via tastemaker blog

The road to ‘Duel Citizenship’ was a long and winding one, taking in her involvement in the ever-vibrant Shannonside music scene, and spoken-word work. Bringing her ideas and vision to Rusangano man MurLi, the process of getting the music out and into the world was the end of another journey. “(Now that it’s out), it puts me into this space where there’s so much more I want to create… the process of working with MurLi probably began in 2012, when I moved to Limerick. I was around when they started the band, a really cool thing to see happen. In some ways, I’ve been working on a body of work for quite a while, and when I decided my emotional and mental health… all these things were in a place where I could commit to music, MurLi was the first person I rang. I went over to the house that night, and MurLi’s always cooking. He was able to compose this stuff, and marry it to my hopes and dreams, really, as fluidly as if he was living in my own head!”

The E.P.’s leadoff, ‘Copper Bullet’, addresses the conversation of what a ‘female rapper’ is, and rightly calls out the idea of gender or identity as a sub-genre, a novelty to be used as a tagline for promoters or music writers. It’s met a hugely positive reaction, and most importantly, has initiated conversations. “I think it takes more than a single statement to effect change, but it’s made people more conscious of how they use the terminology. If that’s happened, I’m really grateful, because we define our world by the words that we use, and if I’m not going to say, ‘she’s a female architect’, or ‘she’s a female doctor’, I really see no reason why we should keep to this idea of ‘femaleness’ as a novelty, not something that you can represent within the canon of musical literature. I think that what it’s done is made people more conscious of that while talking to me about their favourites, which is an interesting byproduct of that. Just the fact that it is being emphasised makes me proud. I want to hear your Foxy Browns and Lil’ Kims next to your Jay-Zs and 2Pacs.”

Nowhere is Chaila’s resurgent swagger more evident also than in her contribution to Sim Simma Soundsystem’s track ‘Man Like Me’ alongside God Knows, taking direct aim at some of the insecurity inherent to male-dominated cultural spaces. It’s a big tune, tackling a big inequality, borne from collaboration and mutual support among friends. “It was fun, and it’s a song that came from such a place of joy, that every time I listen to it, I flex (laughs). God Knows’ little sister, Geraldine, that song is hers. It belongs to her, and my little sister, and so many others… my family has taken that song and ran with it. I thought that was really interesting, because I’m also finessing pronouns. I’m frustrated by the way people speak about me on that song, like ‘do you need to have a conversation on gender?’, but at the end of the day, it was incredible to see so many people across an age spectrum really adopt (that attitude). In the studio, Ben (Bix) did a tonne of ad-libs that made us shook, we were vibing and dancing to it, it was just… joy, and by the end of the track, I’d imagined this angry song, I was just giggling, I lost the plot in studio.”

Studying sociology at the University of Limerick has informed Chaila’s ballsy approach to the conversations of gender, sub-genre and identity in Irish hip-hop, but that love in turn was sparked by music to begin with, something that’s evident when she talks about how she implements those ideas. “For me, music is a process of trying to create the world around me. There’s a writer, Anais Nin, and she has a quote, ‘one writes, because one has to create a world to which one relates’, and sometimes you look at the world that your parents or school have made for you, the way people have taught you to define yourself in relation to other people, and it just doesn’t work. I went into academia as a child of grime, hip-hop, dancehall, someone who has learned to remix my reality, to make it fit me before I understood what it was, because culture wasn’t made for me, I didn’t fit in the boxes my friends did growing up, and it gave me a real sensitivity to language.”

Red Bull’s ‘Free Gaff’ weekender, happening in Dublin city centre from April 19th to the 21st, will be her first major live outing since the extended-player’s release, and she finds herself sharing the billing with some of the country’s most vital artists, producers and DJs, across three stages. It’s the kind of challenge she’s been waiting to take. “I’m excited. I’m more nervous about the fact that I want to see people play, and want to be part of this space as a punter. I’m also really excited to see my name on that line-up, with Jill Staxx and Daithí, all those people that are just… I’m nervous (laughs). I’m really excited about the idea of being onstage again, after all this time, having been a rapper, intermittently, it’s the exception, rather than the rule. Having a space where I can look around, and just vibe. I feel like there really wouldn’t be a better place.”

With her year off to a huge start, and Free Gaff serving as an essential port of call in the run-up to the summer festival season, there seems to be no stopping Denise Chaila at the moment, a state of affairs that’s being backed up with more music and projects in the pipeline. “More music. More music this summer, actually. I’m still in studio with MurLi, and we’ve been really cooking. I think that’s what startled us a lot about the reception to ‘Duel Citizenship’: when we put it out, I just wanted to say ‘hi, world’, and the world said hello back, and it was like, ‘oh, hey’ (laughs). I thought I would just slide through, and go back into hibernation, and no-one would notice, but now it’s really amazing. I’ve been playing, making things, reading and writing, and learning, getting to know my artistic personality. Now that I’m settled, the next thing is a mixtape, then getting ready to tour and gig more consistently than I am now!”

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermitage Green: “We’re Very Bloody Lucky to Be Doing This”

Hermitage Green vocalist Dan Murphy speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Townlands Carnival, following up their debut album, life on a major label, and more.

The run-up to this year’s Townlands Carnival is another in a long series of winding turns for Limerick-based folk-rock outfit Hermitage Green. Formed in the earlier part of the decade, the five-piece have been on a slow, but steady upward curve that’s taken in festivals, European touring and time with Sony Ireland among other milestones. But to vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dan Murphy, it’ll always be just something that emerged from a jam among buddies. “The way we came together was natural, as friends do. We all had jobs or college at the time, but we all loved music. It was literally as spontaneous as ‘let’s get together tonight and have a jam in the Curragower, which is myself and Justin’s older brother’s bar in Limerick. We used to just sit in the back room and jam. The five of us that turned up – Dermot, our bodhrán player, joined us a little bit later – we just used to do that, for a couple of months, and that developed into going out into the front of the bar, where people could hear us. For us, that was a huge step (laughs).”

In the intervening six years, the band has set about establishing themselves as a draw for fans of contemporary folk around the country and further afield, but despite some recent downtime to record their next extended-player, the band are no more tired for looking back at the road they’ve travelled. “It’s a strange industry to find yourself involved with, to be honest, the music industry. Strange industry. Constantly changing. Sometimes it changes for the better, sometimes it changes for the worse, and it gets harder for bands to make a living. We’re very privileged to be able to do that between five of us from touring, do gigs, and have punters come in and pay money to see us play music. We’re very bloody lucky to be doing this at this stage, but that’s where our heads are at. We have to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that this came from something as humble as the back of a bar in Limerick.”

The band signed to Sony in 2015, and released debut album Save Your Soul via the major label. Coming along at a time when hooky, accessible acoustic music was becoming as vogueish as it is presently was a blessing for the band, but also presented challenges in terms of the mould with which artists of this ilk are presented. “To be specific about Sony, they were really good to us, for the most part they were hands-off the creative process, they weren’t too pushy. There’s the stereotype of the evil record company coming in and forcing you into a mould. They gave some direction and said their bit, and then left us to it. That was nice, because you do hear horror stories.” On the difference between independence and major-label engagement, Murphy observes the wider picture, and the future of the music business. “It’s certainly not essential anymore, given the power of the Internet. It has its drawbacks in that people don’t go out and buy CDs anymore, but if you can put something together that will engage people, whether it’s an album or your live stuff, it’s really easy to get your music out to the masses and build on it. All we’ve ever done is work hard and keep traction on our social media, which is really a way to get your art out there.”

With the record out for over a year, and with the follow-up now in the can, Murphy is quick to address his goals for the new record when discussing how he feels about the band’s debut. “We’ve just finished recording what’s going to be our next E.P., we’re releasing five tracks in October. The energy around the E.P. was a response to what we didn’t like about Save Your Soul. There were lots of things we liked about it. But there were some things about it that didn’t represent us the way we would have liked to. It was five years in the making and we were a band that, up to that point, had never had any luck getting on radio, etc., and you hear a band that was frustrated with that. We started writing our songs to be three-and-a-half minutes, we were chasing that, which is a bad way to make art. It’s too contrived, and it’s not very natural. It shows in parts of the album that people didn’t really like, that didn’t really resonate with people. It becomes formulaic, and we definitely learned from that. Don’t try too hard, make music you love, that represents you and your identity as a band.”

Any band is the sum of its parts, and Murphy’s journey has been eclectic, going from being a teenage metaller to travelling to Kolkata, India to study the local traditional music of the area. A radio-friendly folk combo sits awkwardly among all of this, but for Murphy, the band has been a labour of love. “I’m very proud of everything we’ve done. I’m still learning, all the time. Particularly songwriting, I was never a natural songwriter. I was late taking up music, didn’t do it ’til I was fourteen or fifteen. Now, I’m not an amazing musician by any means, but if you give me an instrument, I’ll pick it up relatively easily. But songwriting was always something I found really challenging. Hermitage Green has really forced me to step up to that and hone that craft. We’ve all done that together and become stronger writers. In terms of my journey as a musician, Hermitage Green has been the chapter where I’ve had to kick my own ass with songwriting and go, ‘come on, no excuses, stop procrastinating, sit down and write, express yourself'”.

Hermitage Green play the mainstage of Townlands Carnival in a few weeks, and Murphy has a few picks of his own for the weekend. “We were down there two years ago. It was brilliant, just such a cool little… micro-festival that pops up in rural Cork. It’s grown a lot the last two years, but it really has this bespoke feel, campfires everywhere and wigwams. One of those things where you almost hope people won’t find out about it so it’ll stay the way it is. It’s still at that level where they’re still left-of-centre but they’re progressing nicely. The lineup is awesome. Our own Limerick brethren, the Rubberbandits, are on (Saturday night), I’ve got mates coming from the UK, they’re in a band called Slamboree. As well as domestic acts, there’s a lot of cool international stuff coming in too. We’re watching our calendar and hoping we have the nights around it off, so we can stay and party.”

After the festival grind, Murphy’s got his thoughts firmly set on returning to the grindstone of the record release cycle. “We’re doing a couple of mixing sessions in London (this week), to hopefully get the E.P. boxed off. There’ll be a single coming out in the next six weeks, with a full E.P. coming out in October. I should let Cork people know, we have a big announcement for a gig coming very soon. We’re playing the Olympia in Dublin on the 22nd of September, and we’re going to the U.S.! We’ve got a U.S. tour in August, and some other stuff we can’t talk about at the minute (laughs).”

Hermitage Green play Townlands Carnival on Saturday July 22nd, appearing on the Main Stage at 8pm.

Naive Ted: “I Don’t Know How Else You’d Do It”

Taking to the Roundy on Saturday night, hip-hop experimentalist Naive Ted sets out a sonic stall of new and unheard tunes, ahead of their release this year. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Andy Connolly, the man behind the mask.

On stage, he’s Naive Ted, a mute, lucha-mask-clad skratchologist with a penchant for levelling venues with his wildly experimental strain of noisy hip-hop and electronica. Off it, he’s Andy Connolly, musician, social music tutor, festival organiser, and the brains behind DIY hip-hop label The Unscene, proving to be a lifeline for those on the genre’s fringes, throughout the country. In 2015, Connolly released under the Ted pseudonym The Inevitable Heel Turn, his debut under the name and first release since splitting up the “one-man duo” of Deviant and Naive Ted. It’s a certified headwrecker, taking in noise, jazz, some heavy-duty beats, and an eclectic array of samples. Connolly’s satisfied with his work. “People did like Heel Turn. I was surprised really. Still am. Suckers for punishment? Heel Turn was the first time I really got to grips with composing digitally, via Ableton Live. With Heel Turn, and in general, I was just trying to make “my” music, free of scene associations or contrivances. Did I succeed? That’s up to the listener. But I’m my own biggest fan, no one loves my records like I do”, he laughs.

Connolly’s new body of work has been bubbling under for a while as well, effectively since the release of the last one, and is ready to be premiered at Quarter Block Party on Saturday. What can we expect to hear blaring out of the Roundy? ”The sound of the new record is…. everything is f*cked and you’re to blame so you might as well have a dance? Which in fairness is very similar to Heel Turn. It’s probably a fair bit faster. Yeah, ’tis certainly a fair bit faster. And has more of Ted playing the synth and guitar pedals. We had a few friends round too. So it’s the same, but quite different.”

2016 was a busy year for Connolly away from the decks, with his release project (rather than any formal label arrangement) The Unscene becoming a real hub, not just for Irish hip-hop, but releases like unearthed tapes from Limerick noise project Agro Phobia. It’s arguably one of the best labels in the country at present, but Connolly is quick to cut out any lofty talk and explain the label’s DIY ethic. “The only reason Unscene exists is to provide space for the music I like, by people that I know. I haven’t the time, nor the inclination to make it anything but a repository for stuff I like that mightn’t otherwise see the light of day. I can write something resembling a press release, we’ve a mailing list, I’ve a few contacts in the media and I know a load of DJs so it’s better than letting it rot on your hard drive. I do tend to keep it lowkey, rather than shout it from the rooftops, call it an aversion to commercialism, maybe, but I also have a day-job so it’s certainly not a real label in any sense of the word.”

The label’s activity is fueled by this desire to document the current body of sound emerging from areas of Irish hip-hop, but stems from necessity and earnestness of endeavour. “I help where I can, some projects come fully formed, in the case of (Waterford beatmaker) Nylon Primate or (Cork/Galway duo) Run the Jukes, I literally just help with any costs incurred, host it and do the PR. In other cases I might help out with the the recording or mixing too. And then there’s the Ted stuff. But it’s all just an extension of ‘doing the art’. For the most part these are skills I’ve picked up from being an artist, e.g. I never set out to learn Photoshop, we just needed a poster for a gig and no one we knew could do it so I downloaded the trial and figured it out. I’m not a mixing engineer but I did MMPT in college and I’ve been mixing music to make music for years and hanging around with people doing cool shit for over half my life, you just absorb it naturally, or pick things up out of necessity.”

Irish hip-hop is in something of a golden age at present, thanks entirely to the co-ordinated efforts of people looking to make things happen on their own. Connolly isn’t alone in his efforts, with Cork playing host to the likes of Cuttin’ Heads, Young Phantom’s Outsiders group and others. He’s effusive about the buzz of the aforementioned. “Cork is great. Always has been, as long as I’ve been going. Being from Killarney, it was the closest city to us, so it definitely has a special place in my heart. So many of my formative musical experiences happened there – it was where I first saw in real life all the shit I had only listened to, and read about. And in that sense Cork continues to be an inspiration. It’s been a real pleasure witnessing the transition of the Cork hip-hop scene from when I entered the fray, from Elementary, into the LiveStyles festival, and now what’s happening with the Cuttin’ Heads collective. I’ve been looking for an excuse to say it and this seems like the place… Jus’Me! How lucky is Cork to have that dude? Hip-hop MVP of the country for years now. Obviously he does so much sterling gruntwork setting up gigs and keeping things ticking over like the underground trooper he is, but his artistry is so damn high level. DJ-wise, on a modern hip-hop tip, there’s not many out there better, it’s a world class standard he’s at. And if you live in Cork he’s probably playing in a pub near you right now. Lucky b*stards.”

A few years ago, longtime pro wrestling nerd Connolly created and composed the ring entrance music for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Bullet Club faction of villains, thanks to an acquaintance with Fergal Devitt, now known as WWE headliner Finn Balor. The theme boosted Connolly’s international presence, as the onscreen rise of the brash baddies coincided with growing interest in the product in the West. They’ve been in contact since, with Devitt even sharing the music of Ted protege Mankyy recently on Twitter. Connolly reflects on the impact the Bullet Club connection has had. “Seeing Bullet Club win the belts in Tokyo Dome with my song playing was pretty damn cool. It was also somewhat of a validation of my own professionalism. I made a song in my bedroom that’s good enough to get played in stadiums and on TV. That was pretty satisfying.”

Another, not so frequently mentioned aspect of Connolly’s work is youth work, as part of Limerick’s MusicGeneration programme. Via this project, he’s reached out to and worked with some fantastic young talent, including rapper Jonen Dekay, beatmaker Mankyy and others. Connolly explores the relationship between the art and its social benefits. “I’d put the label, the youth work and the music as being different sides of the same practice, that they are all indeed one and the same, or at least borne out of the same idea, i.e. that workshops with groups of teenagers, releasing independent music and performing are just ‘doing the art’. I don’t know how else you’d do it. As far as ‘social good’ of youth work goes, you can read about that elsewhere, written by people with far more expertise than I. Suffice to say, I really enjoy and value the work, the young people are continually inspiring and it provides me with a living. Result.”

Connolly is returning to Quarter Block Party this year, after headlining in 2015. What are his memories of this instalment of the event, and what’s he looking forward to seeing in this year’s programme? “First QBP was a fine time. ‘Twas probably the first ‘proper’ Naive Ted show after the previous experiments at Community Skratch events and LiveStyles. Excellently disconcerting and made me think that maybe we were onto something (laughs)… I’m mad to catch Crevice since I saw the vid on YouTube a while back. And last time I saw Arthur Itis, he was onstage smashing a printer with (rapper) Spekulativ Fiktion and (sound artist) First Blood Part Two so I’m keen to see what he’s bringing to the table…”

A big year awaits Connolly and his masked creation after the dust settles on Block Party. “Ted’s gonna be bleeding music for a while this year. There’s an EP with (Unscene artist) Post-Punk Podge in the bag, should be with ye before the end of the month. And then there’s The Minute Particulars. It’s a series of music by Naive Ted with some appearances from friends, neighbours and musical acquaintances. I wouldn’t call it an album. Just keep an eye out.”

Naive Ted plays The Roundy on Saturday night as part of Quarter Block Party. Kickoff at 10.45, tickets €10, or admission with a weekend/day pass.

Rubberbandits: Horse Sense

After selling out one show and announcing a second for St. Luke’s, the Rubberbandits top off a banner year with a trip to Cork. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Blindboy Boatclub ahead of their Leeside engagements.

It has to have been an exhausting year for Limerick comedy/performance-art duo The Rubberbandits. The duo of Blindboy Boatclub and Mr. Chrome, along with collaborators, have been at it for years, but their groundswell of support and grassroots influence has grown massively. Progressing from prank-calls and early tunes to post-austerity commentary, the Rubberbandits have made their thickly-accented voices heard, most notably the anti-materialism of 2012’s Horse Outside, and last year’s Dad’s Best Friend, a chilling examination of male mental health issues in modern Ireland.

The Rubberbandits’ Guide has just finished up after a four-episode run on RTÉ, that followed last year’s Rubberbandits’ Guide to 1916. A series of explainers, the show takes on overarching social and philosophical issues, from the nature of reality itself, to addressing Ireland’s changing attitudes to sex. It does so while taking in the spectrum of the Bandits’ self-created universe; the boys take slightly off-kilter advice from puppet odd couple Beckett and Joyce, and are witness to the ongoing self-inflicted suffering of the Trout of No Craic. But rather than an exercise in injokes, the Bandits cast their net out wide in balancing comedy and comment. The Irish pub/nightclub is recast as Attenborough-esque point of observation; reality stars sit befuddled as the pair test their perceptions of reality; and the early internet is characterised as a pond, replete with various dodgy activity in the reeds and pirated Metallica C.D.s floating at the surface.

The duo have dealt with RTÉ before in different capacities, but the question is, how different was it to get a show as far-reaching as Rubberbandits’ Guide to RTÉ, getting stuff green-lit, etc.? “We had complete creative control with the show. That’s the only conditions we’d work under. We know exactly what we want to do and how to do it, we rarely need outside help. At this stage, we’ve proven ourselves internationally enough for RTÉ to fuck off and leave us to our own devices. That’s what we did.”

An underrated aspect of the Guides has been the soundtrack – metal veterans Deftones, Nigerian synth-funk maestro William Onyeabor and vaporwave figurehead Macintosh Plus feature prominently, among others. Who managed to sneak those past RTÉ’s music department? “We had full creative control. RTÉ is great for music, in fairness, they have a blanket licence on everything except The Beatles. I’m a huge music fan, obviously. I love how a piece of music can change the tone of a scene on TV. We also knew that there were no plans for a DVD release, which would have meant losing the music in favour of library tracks, so we went mad with tunes. Picked some savage stuff for it. Samuel Beckett shooting James Joyce in the head while he’s listening to Deftones is what the TV license fee was made for.”

Another major piece of the Bandits’ year was providing ITV’s comedy contest show Almost Impossible Gameshow with play-by-play commentary and colour analysis. Blindboy addresses the subject of any concerns from producers unaccustomed to the duo, as to their voices, senses of humour, etc., while breaching how MTV been to deal with, for the American adaptation. “The UK version was great craic, we got to be very subversive with our humour for that. The American one that’s showing on MTV at the moment is a pile of shit, I won’t even watch it. We just did it to earn a few quid. The type of thing we were going for just doesn’t work with Yanks.”

But more so than any professional aspect of the duo’s body of work, the defining aspect of the year for the Bandits has to have been their increased visibility in Irish media, pertaining to mental health and the crisis we have at present. It’s a topic that official Ireland stayed silent on for a very long time before public discourse finally necessitated that discussion. Blindboy talks about how that has changed, and the Bandits’ role in that discussion, looking back on the last 12 months in particular. “We view ourselves as socially engaged artists. We view art, not just as a way to affect social change. The mental health crisis in Ireland is something that affects ourselves and all of our friends. So fuck that, if no one else was going to talk about it, then we would. None of the stuff that I say about mental health is novel or original, I’m just regurgitating what I’ve read from psychology books. We should be asking why our politicians aren’t informed on this stuff, rather than focusing on why I am.”

The other question pertaining to the topic is the now-hackneyed assertion that “the man with the bag on his face makes more sense than the man in the suit”. Boatclub and Chrome have utilised the lines between comedy and commentary expertly, but what further role does Blindboy see for artistic practice in Ireland as a tool of discourse and change, given the relative lack of support from officialdom, and where does he see the discussion going? “I think, with the internet, artists don’t need any support to get their stuff out there. To earn a living they might need support, but to create change, all you need is a message and the Internet.”

Boatclub and Chrome have been practicing artists from a very young age, and they’ve changed medium with the times, turning juvenile scutting into a fully-fledged, ‘dole-queue Dada’ artistic school of thought. But where next for Gas Cuntism? “We haven’t a clue, that’s half the craic. We’re both fairly handy visual artists. I can paint, and Mr. Chrome can sculpt. I’d say we might give that a lash. But there’s still loads to be done with music, theatre and writing.”

After selling out their first date on the 22nd of this month, the boys are playing St. Luke’s for a newly-announced second show on the 21st. After the big year it’s been, what can we expect from the live show this time around? “Two apes from Limerick wearing plastic bags on their heads, singing a load of songs about greyhounds, and a shower of eejits from Cork in the audience loving it.” And as an arguable career year comes to a close behind them, Blindboy is to the point about what further to expect from the Rubberbandits in 2017. “I’m writing a book and we’ll have a lash at a musical.”

Your writer and Blindboy have spoken before about Cork, before their Everyman performance of musical Continental Fistfight, and his feelings on the city. Blindboy further considers his relationship with the real capital, through the prism of his own home city. “Cork is class, it has the feeling of Limerick about it. But ye’ve a better buzz and ye have yere shit together. It’s like watching an older brother get a mortgage, while we’re still smoking rollies and combing our pubes.”

As our interview time draws to a close, one question remains to be asked, and that’s the plight of the Bandits’ close associate (and Salmon of Knowledge relative) the Trout of No Craic. Seemingly mired in his own ever-worsening misery, he reached his nadir during the Guides series, engaging in sexist & transphobic outbursts, and letting his various urges destroy his relationships. Blindboy, with a heaving sigh, simply proffers: “He’s trapped in the prison of his own negativity. The key to his escape is compassion, but he’s too busy sucking boobs for that.”

The Rubberbandits play St. Luke’s on the 21st of December, with CCCahoots in support. Tickets €25 from

Windings: Honesty is the Best Policy

Before Windings launch new album ‘Be Honest and Fear Not’ on the 15th at Coughlan’s, Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with singer/guitarist Steve Ryan.

Limerick five-piece Windings are the sort of band that subtly confound any easy labelling, moving fluidly between pop, alternative and folk oeuvres as the band’s music does. Nowhere is this more evident than in newly-released album ‘Be Honest and Fear Not’, launching at Coughlan’s on the 15th. Steve Ryan goes into the details of a more relaxed, protracted process on this occasion. “It was quite different this time around to be honest, but then again, so has the process for every other album we’ve written and recorded. I guess we’re all at the stage of our lives where we have families, careers, studies and all that kind of thing. We realise we’re quite lucky to be five people in the same band who are all willing to put 100 percent of whatever bit of spare time we have into this. We recorded this record live in three days in August 2015, a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I believe. We then left it for a while, and didn’t even think about mixing it until March or April, around the time we released ‘Stray Dogs/Helicopters’. Now it’s October, and we’re releasing the album. We haven’t felt any pressure this time, nor have we put ourselves under any. We’re so, so proud of this record, and we didn’t want to rush anything at all. But hey, here it is now!”

Leadoff single ‘You’re Dead’ is evocative to say the least, gently summoning old childhood fears and dreads in its lyrical imagery. It’s as heavy as the title suggests, a deliberate move on Ryan’s part. “The song comes from what I consider a place of zombified numbness. More and more we are faced with atrocities and horror, and more and more we become almost complacent. When I was a teenager, I read a lot of Hubert Selby Jr and Bukowski, and watched movies by Todd Solondz and the Dogme 95 crew. This was a formative period in my life, and even though these books and movies were both shocking and coruscating feats of gritty realism, I still found it easy to compartmentalise them into what was fiction, and what was real. I don’t really see these boundaries anymore. Now all that is actually news. It’s sometimes too much to take. Sometimes it’s just easier to be numb. I don’t know really, the song definitely isn’t providing any answers.”

Recent free-download single ‘Stray Dogs’ came bundled with a B-side called Helicopters, seemingly addressing Limerick’s suicide watch. What was it like attempting to sum those feelings up in song, number one, and secondly, the song was done with Limerick weirdo beats don Naive Ted, how was he to work with? “Well, it’s really just addressing the feeling of hearing those helicopters late at night as I lay in bed, and knowing that some bad shit has gone down. I hear it all too regularly from where I live. I just felt I needed to say something about that. I don’t pretend that I am an expert on issues relating to mental health, but there’s a real problem here. Working with Naive Ted was excellent. I know him and work with him at Music Generation Limerick in other capacities, so I was delighted he was willing to give some windings stuff a go. I told him I had this tune with not many words, I told him what it was about, and he recorded me playing all the instrumentation. Then I didn’t hear from him for a week, and then he sent me Helicopters as you hear it now. It’s pretty much perfect to me, and I’ll freely admit that I could never have made it sound like that. He’s a rare talent. I’m working with some other non-windings stuff with him and Liam from windings at the moment.”

Ryan is similarly ebullient about working live with Limerick hip-hop standouts Rusangano Family. “Yeah, I work with those guys in Music Generation too. They’re friends. A year or two ago, they asked me to come out to their studio and play some guitar on tracks they had, just to see how it went. It went well! So I ended up playing on two or three of their recordings now I think, ‘Heathrow’, ‘African Shirts’, and ‘Wasteman’. When they asked me about joining them live I immediately said yes. They’re without doubt one of the best live acts I’ve seen. I’ve been sneaking guitar into a couple more tunes now these days, and getting away with it so far!”

A performer of Ryan’s tenure in the Irish scene of course has a few Cork stories ahead of coming back. “I have, you know. One time in Cyprus Avenue, we shared a dressing room with Aslan, who were okaying downstairs in The Old Oak. When we came offstage, they’d beaten us to the dressing room by about 10 mins, so we only really had a tiny corner to ourselves. Christy Dignam said ‘hi’ and headed away pretty much straight away, but the rest of them toweled their sweaty naked bodies down, while shouting that we better not be doing drugs over in that corner, cos they don’t do that anymore. That’s a keeper, that story.”

Ahead of finally getting to Coughlan’s, Ryan is happy that the deal is finally done. “We’ve heard all about it! We’ve wanted to play there for a while now, so we’re delighted to finally do it. We’re also delighted that Glimmermen were able to come down and play the show as well. It’s going to get sweaty!” Once the current round of dates and record-slinging is down, what’s next for the band? “Regroup and assess the damage, I guess. There’s a couple of other bands we’d love to play some gigs with, so maybe we’ll do that early in the new year.”

Windings play Coughlan’s on Douglas Street on the 15th, with support from Glimmermen. Tickets available now.

Anna’s Anchor: Holding the Brú

Ahead of his gig in The Brú on Friday night, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with singer/guitarist Marty Ryan, a.k.a. Anna’s Anchor.

Limerick man Marty Ryan, a.k.a. Anna’s Anchor, stops in Cork on Friday night in a full-band show at the Brú on McCurtain Street. Adopting his nom-de-plume for both solo and ensemble recording projects, it has it roots in travel and self-discovery. “In the Summer of 2014, my old band decided to take time off. I was at a loose end, having just finished college, so I went to Montana for the Summer on a J1 visa, I spent the time there writing and by the end of the Summer, I had worked enough that I could book some studio time and I recorded a 4 track EP. I always wanted to tour more, release more music and be more productive so doing Anna’s Anchor gave me an outlet to do this as I would be the only one holding myself back.”

New album ‘Nautical Miles’ follows on from previous recording project Islands, which provides an insight to the ambition and lust for life behind the earnestness of Ryan’s music. “In terms of writing, off the back of the Islands project in the Summer of 2015, which was an eight-week project where I visited 8 islands, played a gig on each island and then wrote, released and recorded a song each week, I felt like I was only really hitting my stride by the end of it so I kept writing straight after. Luckily my close friend and amazing drummer from Clonakilty, Brian Scally (B-Positives) happened to be back in Ireland the same time. Once I had the bones of the ideas written, we spent a couple of weeks in a rehearsal space in Dublin Hill at the end of August and like that, the album was pretty much written. One drawback of writing a full band worth of material by yourself is writing each individual part on each instrument so this takes at least 4 times longer than a normal band, and I spent the next few months until the recording sessions working hard on that at home in Limerick.”

The recording of the album proved to be a criss-cross affair across the Irish Sea, in pursuit of working with one of his favourite producers. “With the recording of the album, I was really drawn to a producer’s work in Manchester called Bob Cooper. He had done some of my favourite records and he was really in tune with the scene over in the U.K that I’d be involved with. However there was one problem. Whilst I consider Anna’s Anchor a full time endeavour, I still have a full time job, which is essential to be able to do things like record an album. I wanted to keep my annual leave for touring so I booked five weekends’ worth of flights back and forth between Shannon and Manchester, luckily the flights were all at the right times and the studio was relatively close to the airport so from leaving my house to getting in the door of the studio, it was only a 3 hour journey. Logistically it was eye of the needle stuff for it all to work out. Pretty brutal not having any time off what so ever over 5 weeks, but we made it happen. Working with Bob was a dream, he’s really particular about guitar sounds, and we spent a lot of time trying to get the most interesting and appropriate tones. He knows the genre inside out too, so the ideas he came up with and tweaks were all hugely helpful.”

Lead-off single ‘Hampton’ crystallises the earnestness of Anna’s Anchor, a dichotomy of hopeful alt-rock and painfully introspective subject matter. “When I first started Anna’s Anchor, I did want it to be as honest as possible. A lot of the time even when bands state they’re being open and honest, I think there’s a lot more to give. I wanted the songs to be really thought provoking and a rollercoaster of emotions. For me personally, I actually find it really helpful to put exactly what’s in my head to tape. I’m an only child and have a tendency to keep things to myself a lot, getting it out there however personal it is, I find really helpful for my mental health, that said, Hampton is about my mother’s struggle with alcohol and how it split our family. It was a difficult and confusing time that really took its toll on me.”

Keeping an eye to the future, however, Ryan has packed the rest of his year with an extensive tour around Europe. “I’m doing a large number of dates, both full-band and solo across Ireland, the U.K and even a trip to Germany over the next few months, you can find all these dates on my website. Once the album is out, it’s a case of gigging as much as possible and winning them over one by one!”