Irish Indie Label: “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 artforblind@gmail.com.”

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.”

This Side Up: Everything Under the Sun

Ahead of their Cuttin’ Heads Collective show on May 19th, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Shane Leonard, aka Shaaol, of Sligo hip-hop trio This Side Up.

The last twelve months have, for Sligo hip-hop collective This Side Up, surely been a blur. Entering the wider Irish music fray from the ether with debut album Full Fat, self-released to a positive reception from the Irish music press, the trio’s subsequent live appearances have left their mark. The outfit’s growing reputation has led them to a return Cork date on Friday May 19th, headlining the latest live jamboree thrown by Cuttin’ Heads Collective and Dedbeats, a new DJ ensemble. Shane Leonard, a.k.a. rapper Shaaol, divulges on the process that led to the record’s creation. “The process was quitting the jobs and rapping for as long as our loved ones would put up with us (laughs). Trying desperately to fill up notepads and make good recordings. It was stressful, but a wild amount of fun at the same time. Playing it live for the last while has been deadly! It’s sort of strange, the delay between writing and getting things out there, so while the album is going great the mood can drop if we’re not making new tunes.”

The Irish hip-hop scene is fertile ground for collaboration, its community spirit and surplus of talent rendering it ideal for collaborations and crossover. This Side Up have taken fully to this idea, enlisting fellow Sligo man Hamo, Verb T, Moreone, Gaelgóir wordsmith MC Muipéad, and Cork hip-hop stalwart Spekulativ Fiktion. Shaaol gets into the importance of collaboration to the long-player’s creation. “It’s massive. There are loads of amazing MCs out there, and we were delighted to secure the features we did. Having others collaborate with is great, and also testing. It brings fresh ideas to the table. I think hip hop is deadly for that.”

Thematically, it’s all quite heavy, dealing with topics ranging from the realities of life after the bailout and bank guarantee, to calculating its human cost, in attempting to survey the state of mental health and coping mechanisms in Irish society. Yet, the crew’s sense of humour is still there throughout, best seen on Fin del Mundo, as the group muses on how best to emerge from a (literal) apocalyptic scenario. The balance must be a fine one. “It’s sort of normal life here, isn’t it? You can be serious, but never takes things too seriously. Just read that the word ‘avocado’ is Aztec slang for ‘testicles’. Also, first catalogued by an Irishman in Jamaica back in 1696.”

The album seems to have been received really well, with Niall Byrne, the man behind Nialler9, the country’s biggest and most widely-read music website, getting firmly behind the trio, elevating their profile and giving them the chance to capitalise on the exposure. But Irish music press hasn’t traditionally been so welcoming of domestic hip-hop over the years. Shaaol gets into the matter of the Fourth Estate’s arts department and homegrown beats. “I think things are getting healthier by the day. Got a two-out-of-five stars review in the Irish Times singles review there. It’s gas, just to make into the print like that. In fairness Kendrick Lamar got four stars, and Father John Misty got three, so on the scale of stars we did alright (laughs). I think it’s definitely been covered more, and it’s great to see platforms like (Dublin print and online journal) District Magazine pop up.”

Irish hip-hop is growing, and at an exponential pace. The past ten years have seen the genre in Ireland go from a critically-ignored core of dedicated creators and the people around them, to the cusp of a golden age, as young practitioners of the artform emerge with platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp at their fingertips, working with seasoned veterans who themselves, like Limerick noise god Naive Ted, have begun elevating their hard-earned game into performance art. Shaaol provides a laundry-list of his own personal favourites as a reference point for those looking to get into the genre. “Mankyy, Jonen Dekay, Kojaque, GI, Nylon Primate, Naive Ted, Bleak Stack, Same D4ence, Spekulativ Fiktion, Ophelia, Jafaris.”

The last time This Side Up darkened the doors of a Cork venue, they were here was for Cuttin’ Heads Collective’s birthday extravaganza in the Liquid Lounge, one of the final gigs held upstairs in the building before the flash closure of the Clancy’s building earlier this year. “Haha, it was deadly to be back in Cork, and be welcomed back into the Cuttin’ Heads Collective. The gig was savage! The lyrics might not have been the most audible that night, but we tested the construction of the roof in the Liquid Lounge. Place was hopping, atmosphere was class.”

Their Cork return date has a hefty line-up attached to it up and down the billing. The boys are joined by Irish beatboxing champs Amaron and Magic, Spekulativ Fiktion and JusMe are representing the local scene veterans, and Outsiders Entertainment member Rapha is a relatively new property. Shaaol collects his thoughts on the upcoming event. “We can’t wait to get back. Cork is a top spot for music, so we’re delighted to be invited down to play. Haven’t seen any of the beatboxers yet, so really looking forward to that. Seems to be a buzz for this gig, so yes, exciting times!”

It’s been a busy time, but the next few months will be somewhat of a transitional period for This Side Up, as the lads decide on their next creative course of action. “We’ve been gigging loads, which is great. No definite project in sight, but we’re writing away so won’t be long before we have things figured out. We’ll keep you all in the know.”

This Side Up headline a big Cuttin’ Heads Collective gig at the Poor Relation on Parnell Place, on Friday May 19th, in association with Dedbeats. Support from Amaron and Magic, Spekulativ Fiktion, Dedbeats and Outsider Rapha. €7 door tax, kickoff 9pm.