March 2nd at Cyprus Avenue sees the Outsiders Ent. collective of rappers, musicians and visual artists take their vision to the next level, after years of work and learning, when the all-night Outsiders Festival puts a spotlight on themselves and their collaborators. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Outsiders Y.P., Kestine and Sai Wing Ho about the process.
A great amount of column-inches and bandwidth have been spent in recent years singing the praises of the rapid development of Irish hip-hop and its related culture, with a vast amount of videos, music and documentary content of various kinds providing the genre with a massive bottom line on which to continue its growth. As the broad fragmenting of listenership continues within the music industry, and younger musical palates are nourished by access to an unprecedented array of artists and styles via streaming services, Irish hip-hop’s rise is tied not only to demographic phenomena, but social change in Ireland. A new generation of multicultural artists whose lives, experiences and creativity centre around Ireland and its society, have vested the genre with their hard work, vision and ambition.
Central to this development among a new generation of Corkonians have Outsiders Ent., a group of creators brought together by common artistic goals, in the manner that’s been happening all over Cork music in the post-recession environment. Threading together music, visual art, photography, conceptual art installations, fashion and publication over the past number of years, the Outsiders’ gutsy take on keeping all of these things up in the air is, as is usually the case nowadays, a matter of necessity, according to co-founder Y.P. “When I was still in Uni, (co-member) Olympìo and I thought of creating a collective. Like, a place to include any person that we vibed with. But it wasn’t until, like, late 2016, that we really started doing anything. We were both kind of busy with life, and still trying to figure ourselves out. To be honest, we still are. But now we are more focused than ever before. We’ve decided to fully commit and put one hundred percent into the year, and hopefully, we get something in return, and help boost the hip-hop and music scene in general.”
When it came time to put names and a mission statement to the group, the process of arriving on common goals, an aesthetic, design, and other aspects of the operation among everyone involved was a natural one, as interests converged and people came into their element as creators. Getting all that together was a matter of coming up with a common workflow to the various things that come with creating and releasing music, which didn’t exactly unfold across a number of meetings, according to Y.P. “I’m in charge of editing, mixing, and mastering. Sai (Wing Ho, visual artist) usually deals with the visual aspects, whether it’s album covers, the logo, overall image, and more recently music videos. The rest of the guys focused on the music really. I suppose now everyone is getting a bit more involved with different aspects of the brand. It’s great to see that. I’m more confident that we can go really far because everyone has their head down and is really pushing themselves. I suppose the mission statement came about when we all agreed on what we felt the main goal for Outsiders Ent was, and is. We want Outsiders to be much bigger than local. I guess that would be our goal this year.”
The various members of the Outsiders have been steadily releasing singles and EPs online over the course of the past few years, almost entirely off their own steam in the absence of any established infrastructure outside of the community. The learning curve involved has led to the lads looking at their own goals as individuals, and as DIY musicians, as opposed to industry-centric heads. “We’re not really like that to be honest”, says Y.P. “Like, we really just want to leave a big impact in the world, more than anything else. We don’t function like a business yet. Although we are working on that this year. I think maybe it’s necessary to think of ourselves as more of a business to maximise our chances of success. We are trying to get more organised, and more precise, and just better at doing things for each other.”
Fellow Outsider Kestine is circumspect about his time in the group so far, the mutual support it offers, and having watched its accomplishments to date unfold. “It’s been quite an experience. Especially seeing Y.P. push through and do his thing. For me, I think, it was the last year where I’ve been really able to put focus on the music. ‘Cause I recently graduated from university, and after my graduation period, it was time to put my focus onto music. But definitely seeing him put in the work, has been inspiring… I don’t want to gas him too much, but he… he is a quote-unquote genius, in his own right.”
Visual artist and video editor Sai Wing Ho’s cinematic visual work for various singles’ promotional videos, like Y.P. and Pharaii’s ‘The Bag’, has done wonders for the group in terms of garnering wider attention online. Now, more so than ever, the idea of garnering traction as an independent artist means going where your people are, and for Sai Wing, capturing sets of eyeballs on social media is part of the process, but design and print are of equal importance to the mission. “To be honest, I only started making videos because we believe that is what people like to see. Releasing music alone is not enough to draw people’s attention nowadays, people like to see more, especially with the internet and social media. Artists have to be able to showcase their persona through different outlets, let it be music videos, social media or whatever… If you look at artists like A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, I love their visual aesthetic and music videos and that’s how I actually become a fan of their music. What I’m saying is that artists nowadays have many ways to become successful, they just need to get creative with it. This year, Outsiders will definitely release a lot more music videos and content, to garner as much attention as we can and hopefully we will see the result by the end of this year. We’ve actually also already worked on and finished our ‘Solitude’ magazine. We hope to release it later this year. It’s like really a representation of what connects us all together, and we hope that everyone that reads it can relate and understand us a little bit more.”
The road to the group’s endgoals goes through The Outsiders Festival at Cyprus Avenue, an all-night gathering of like minds that happens on Saturday March 2nd from 9pm, co-produced by Dublin-based outfit WordUp Collective, of whom Y.P. is a working affiliate. Alongside collaborative and solo performances from the Outsiders themselves, firm festival faves like Tebi Rex and JYellowL are joined by emergent voices like Belfast’s Jordan Adetunji, and hosting proceedings is this parish’s own Stevie G. For Y.P., the gravity of this event is heightened by circumstance, as he, like others, is weighing up his options in Ireland. But in the now, it’s about getting the event over the line. “In terms of organising, it hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to organise events like this. But we are lucky. Just because of the venue and the Word Up family, even though we actually recently had to cancel the daytime part of the event because we were worried about the overall costs. But Ger, who is the owner of Cyprus Avenue, and Eoin who runs the show there, have been super in helping us make this happen. Ger has been one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. So they’ve made it as easy as it could possibly be for us. I suppose the hard part was really getting all the artists, figuring out fees, and trying to promote the event. These are the parts that can be very hard. The Word Up collective was pivotal for that. They helped us get in touch with the artists, and contacted some of their connections to get the word out about the show as well. We’ve had help along the way. You’d be surprised by how helpful people are sometimes.”
The event’s stated goal is to represent a celebration of Irish hip-hop and urban culture in its current form, and what it’s come to, as well as where it’s come from in the form of host Stevie G’s involvement (see panel). It’s a combination of time, place and talent that deserves to be celebrated at this point, as the genre’s mainstream presence in Ireland continues to grow. “It’s looking like it’s gonna go pretty far,” opines Y.P. “The talent, at least for me, is at its peak. I don’t think there’s been this much buzz and quality in terms of urban music at least in my time. I also feel the artists are more internationally-friendly in terms of their sound. Better production, and everything. Even the music videos look way more interesting and creative than before. So we think the potential is huge, and hopefully, it becomes huge, and we play even a small role in making that happen.”
The Outsiders Festival happens on Saturday March 2nd at Cyprus Avenue, with kickoff at 9pm. Tickets €12.50 available now from the Old Oak and cyprusavenue.ie.