Humans of the Sesh: On Coming Home

From stories of the horrors of student house parties, to closing the show at Electric Picnic, the lads behind social media sensation Humans of the Sesh have come a long way, and on their terms. Co-conspirators Grand Feen and Brown Sauce talk with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Facebook, lad culture, and finally having a homecoming gig this weekend.

It’s become a cultural phenomenon, one of the first major Irish cultural reference points of the social-media generation, and one that speaks to the great leveller that is the debauchery of a terrible house party somewhere in suburban Ireland. And yet, for its distinctly Irish voice and sense of humour online, Humans of the Sesh has proven to have a phenomenal international appeal, beginning as a Cork-based Facebook page recounting a range of amusing and misfortunate stories from house-parties before gaining massive traction across a number of platforms, including approaching 600,000 followers on Facebook. Fuelled by a love of cheap cans and Amber Leaf rollie kits, the duo behind the page, Brown Sauce and Grand Feen, have expanded its reach massively into other media, but for Grand Feen, their ascent initially came as something of a surprise. “Seeing the huge numbers of people who were liking and viewing our content felt really strange at the start. An average of about four million people see our stuff each week, and it’s hard to grasp the thought of that.”

It’s difficult not to broach the topic of social media reach with the pair without talking about how they did it in the first place and what advice they’d have: after all, past all the humour, theirs is a presence most marketeers and PR people would hand their firstborns over for. “It seems to be getting harder and harder to get a good amount of reach. Recently Facebook is pushing people more and more towards paid advertising. They’ve cut the organic reach that pages can get without paying money. For anyone starting out, I’d suggest just making content that’s unique. People are more likely to engage and share posts that aren’t the typical drivel you see on Facebook day in day out”, says Grand Feen. Brown Sauce seems to have an amount of ennui for social media and the direction in which it’s headed, and speaks frankly on the matter. “I’m sick of Facebook to be honest. It’s a load of sh*t. It’s mostly advertisements these days, even then, if it’s not an advertisement, it’s a “tag a mate who” post or something else along those lines. But if you really want to get reach, and I suppose this theory translates to all aspects of doing anything slightly creative, get a concept, something you know, and just run with it. That might sound oversimplified, but because so much stuff is so contrived these days, I’ve been noticing a lot of stuff lacks a strong basic concept.”

More so than its reach and cultural import at home among the “millennial” crowd, now almost fluent in the page’s injokes and idiosyncrasies, the page and the aforementioned Irish sense of humour has fared incredibly well further afield, with examples of homegrown slang being popularised among non-Irish audiences easily found on social media. The lads are still very curious about their crossover appeal. “Yeah, it’s really interesting seeing where the people who like our page are from”, says Grand Feen. “For example, we have about 60,000 from Australia and 20,000 from America. I post our merchandise myself, and I always seem to be sending them to mad places like Luxembourg, or something. I’m not sure to be honest. I think people abroad have a liking for Irish people in general so that helps us a lot.” Media interest was always going to follow, as has usually been the case when a social media presence begins making serious noises in the newsfeeds of its contributors: such organs of record in the world of electronic music as Noisey and Mixmag, among others, have profiled Humans of the Sesh in recent times. Grand Feen has no idea what to make of the increased scrutiny and experiences behind these features. “Yeah, it’s really strange! Like, VICE (Noisey’s parent mag) once flew us out to London to meet them, and that was mad. We’re just two lads who talk bollocks and make memes on the internet, so it’s felt weird to have people like them take such an interest in us.”

The most remarkable aspect of the page’s content in recent times is how egalitarian it all is: in character, the page has advocated for social issues such as sensible drug policy, reproductive healthcare, intersectional feminism, and transgender right. At a time when influence and speech are being ever-democratised, at least on the outside of it, there have of course been contrarians to the page’s message of inclusivity whilst on the lash. “So many people have messaged us to say that they’re un-liking the page because we’ve spoken about trans rights or the Eighth Amendment”, according to Grand Feen. “It’s mostly your typical ‘LADS’ who give us hate for that sort of thing. They just want their memes delivered to them without any, as they put it, ‘social justice warrior feminist crap’. I really don’t mind getting hate for speaking up, because I believe it’s important for us to use our page’s reach to spread a good message every now and then. We often get messages from people thanking us for speaking out about trans rights, repeal, etc. and it makes it feel worthwhile.” Adds Brown Sauce: “Yeah, the internet is full of pricks. The worst kind of pricks, like, even worse than coked-up feens in a nightclub who haven’t gotten the shift. A lot of our humour is satire, so, like, on one hand we have the people who are in on the joke, and then we have the people who are reading the joke at face value, so there’s a load of eejits. But it’s the internet. What’s new there?”

At the heart of the page’s humour and reach is a love of electronic music, including a running gag of taking aim at both elitists and casual music heads attempting to take the reins of the tunes at parties and wrecking each other’s heads. It seemed destined to transition into music, and Messrs. Sauce & Feen, alongside other co-conspirators, have embarked upon live, in-character DJ sets, a live theatrical show, and most recently, a weekly podcast curated by friends of the page, SESH FM. The results have been phenomenal, including sellout shows in London, closing the show at Electric Picnic’s After Dark stage, and reaching thousands of listeners independently of the Humans range of pages. “It’s just like, ‘f*ck it’, we were willing to sell the page to advertisers and click bait etc., etc., so I was like, ‘why don’t we make SESH FM?’ We were all into music already, so it seemed like a natural step. It hasn’t been too hard maintaining the original idea because SESH FM has always been a bit separate. It’s like, ‘what’s the craic, just like us? Just like music? Then check out SESH FM.” “It’s been a bit hard, but as Brown Sauce said, I see it as the natural progression of the page. We love music, we’re friends with a lot of producers/DJs, and we just wanted to use the page’s success to get involved in music. We haven’t seen it affect the original idea of the page too much, from what I’ve seen, the people who have no interest in our live stuff or SESH FM just ignore those posts, so there was never too much hassle really.”

The lads are playing the Amp venue on Hanover Street tomorrow for pre-holiday bash, with support from Humans affiliate, producer/DJ and SESH FM regular Numbertheory. It’s finally an official homecoming for the group after accomplishing international success in between fits of activity at college and on their day jobs, and Grand Feen keeps us appraised of how they’ll mark the occasion. “They’re just a bitta craic, really. We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we’ll spend the whole night playing deep, Berghain residents-only techno. For example, I started my Electric Picnic set with Skepta, the mid-point song was by trap artists TNGHT, and I finished on L’amour Toujours. Loads of bangers.” “Myself and Grand Feen are from Cork”, says Brown Sauce with a pointed Leeside accent, “and we still haven’t played a gig there, which is sad considering we’ve sold out shows in London. It’s partly to do with the fact that Cork has a real lack of dedicated venues that support the kinda stuff that we do, but the lovely lads at Generic People sorted this one out for us in Amp, so we’ll be going all out for our hometown crew.”

Grand Feen is optimistic about what lies ahead of the holiday glut of activity, with the page’s steady progression being complemented by an expanded content offering and more shenanigans on stage and via SoundCloud. “It’s looking good. We want to continue making content, hopefully returning to the UK for another few shows, and we’re looking to get more designs onto our online store. Video content is something we want to start working on for 2018 so look forward to that.” They seem to be edging closer to the dream of becoming full-time pintmen, and Brown Sauce’s priority now is making life on the sesh a sustainable endeavour. “We will hopefully have more time than ever to dedicate to it, hopefully, can put more time into podcast things, doing gigs and just making cool sh*t and having a laugh.”

Lankum: On the Cusp of the Unknown

This is the unedited version of the Lankum interview from the October edition of Village Magazine. The print edit is available to read here.

The last couple of years have been busy for Dublin folk miscreants Lankum, to say the very least. Emerging from their roots in the city’s underground, the one-time performance-art have completed a transformation into arguably the country’s foremost folk performer-curators, casting traditional gems and original compositions in a mix of folk, traditional and a variety of modern alternative idioms from drone to Krautrock. It’s seen them go from putting down their first “proper” long-player in a bunker under the city, to playing the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Folk Awards and signing with iconic indie label Rough Trade for new album ‘Between the Earth and Sky’. It appears as though the band are on the cusp of wider success, but for vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Daragh Lynch, it’s just the next step. “The last couple of years have been crazy, alright, from playing on Jools Holland, or in the Paris Philharmonic and Royal Albert Hall, playing on national TV in Ireland, and making friends with the likes of Christy Moore and Martin Carthy, having meetings with the heads of Rough Trade, it’s all seemed like a long series of bizarre moments where we keep turning to each other and whispering, “what in the living fuck is going on?” I’m not sure we really feel like we’re on the cusp of something “bigger”, as such, more that we’re on the cusp of the unknown, with a new album, a new record label, a new name and no idea how the next year is going to pan out. Not that that’s anything bad! It brings a certain level of excitement in its own way.”

Perhaps the biggest milestone, not just for the band, but regard the address of social issues among the Irish musical community in recent times, has been changing their name from ‘Lynched’ to ‘Lankum’. A decision taken to express solidarity with marginalised peoples in the current social & political climate, the new moniker was inspired by Traveller song ‘False Lankum’, and according to multi-instrumentalist Ian Lynch, was a call a few years in the making. “This was something that we had been discussing amongst ourselves for a good year or two, before we made the announcement in October last year. I have to say that apart from one or two comments online, most people have been supportive of the change. I know that some promoters were worried about people not recognising the new name and subsequent slumps in ticket sales, but we seem to have gotten over that stage now, and are still doing well in that regard. It definitely seems to me that we made the right decision and we still stick by it, one-hundred percent. I think now more than ever we’re seeing an alarming normalisation of right-wing ideas across the western world – it’s definitely not a time to be sitting on the fence as it were.” The band’s socially-conscious attitude has always been a pillar of the band’s compositions and selections, and for Daragh, the family name had to come second to the current state of play. “It was a very tough one alright, and it was pretty obvious to most people that the name, which had very innocently been chosen a decade and a half ago, was becoming progressively more problematic, especially as our reach began to expand outside Ireland and the UK, at the exact same time as the current rise of far right ideologies in the US and Europe.”

Signing to London-based Rough Trade also represents another step forward for the band, with Geoff Travis’ legendary label currently standing at the forefront of UK folk. With creative autonomy ensured by the label’s independent status and historical weight, the band took it upon themselves to rise to the occasion, according to vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Radie Peat. “I think on a psychological level knowing that the album would come out on Rough Trade gave us a slightly sharper focus. The stakes felt higher, when we released the last album we didn’t even think we would sell five hundred copies, so this was a very different undertaking.” For Ian, the retention of creative freedom was a caveat of the band’s involvement with any label, wary of the exploitation that continues in the industry’s upper reaches in the post-CD age. “From what I’ve heard read and experienced personally, Rough Trade are one of the only labels around that we would even consider working with. They have consistently been supportive of what we do, and any decisions that they have made have been through consultations with us. Geoff Travis is a legend, and if he is into what you’re doing as a band he will support you all the way. Playing the kind of music we do, not everyone outside of the folk scene ‘gets it’, so it’s great to be dealing with someone who does. Compare this to the nightmare world of 360 deals, labels taking merch and tour money off bands, major labels who tell you that they completely get what you’re doing musically, and then ask you would you consider penning a song for the Irish Team in the World Cup, and you can see why the decision was an easy one.”

‘Between the Earth and Sky’ presents a wider sonic palate than debut long-player ‘Cold Old Fire’ from the beginning, but equally as important as production and composition are the band’s selections of traditional compositions. A number of live favourites of the band make the cut this time, not the least of them rebel-song standby ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ and protest anthem ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’, written and first performed by prisoners of concentration camps in World War II. Ian outlines the process, pros and cons of such curation. “To be honest, the four of us are constantly researching, learning, and singing traditional songs. There is no shortage of really great songs, obscure or otherwise and its something that we’ve always been into. We’re always bringing new songs to the table and we’ve arranged and worked on at least as many as we’ve recorded. For one reason or another we have a huge backlog of stuff that we’ve either arranged and become a bit jaded with after practicing them everyday for months, of songs that we just forgot about. The upside is that when we come to picking new songs for live gigs or for a recorded we have plenty to choose from.” Adds Daragh on the topic: “These things generally have their own internal creative rhythm, so if something really leaps out then we can have the bulk of an arrangement quite quickly, though this doesn’t guarantee that we’ll use it, and we have a bunch of pieces that haven’t seen the light of day.”

From its first note, the tone of the new album is different from its predecessor: album opener ‘What Will We Do When We Have No Money?’ invests Peat’s scintillating take on the old Traveller song with a thick, monotone drone; ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ is pockmarked with military snare and brass, and original composition ‘The Granite Gaze’ features the Philip Glass-like squeezebox parts that the band’s social media teased a while back. Daragh expands on the fullness of sound that accompanies the new platter. “From the start we decided we wanted the new album to sound similar to ‘Cold Old Fire’ but definitely with a bigger, more ‘lush’ kind of sound, with a wider and more expansive and immersive low end, so there’s definitely a bit more drone involved. We definitely spent more time on that when mixing, doing all sorts of mad things like quadrupling drone tracks, putting two of them back through analogue compressors and pushing them out to the far pans, or gradually building up multiple low end drones across a track so that if you listen to it on headphones it nearly sounds like you’re being submerged. It was a lot of fun! We’re all very into different types of music, from Pink Floyd and Brian Eno, to The Jimmy Cake, various Black Metal bands, Autechre, Neu! and so on, as well as traditional music and song. So it’s probably more a case of us incorporating all of those influences into some kind of bizarre, bastard mutant music child.”

‘Cold Old Fire’, the eponymous single of their first long-player, follows the band around: placing the Irish tradition of lament and focusing it on the Ireland of austerity and neoliberalism, it struck a chord with various audiences. ‘Déanta in Eireann’ and ‘The Granite Gaze’, the new record’s pair of originals, act as natural follow-ons, the former follows off from the warm humour in the familiarity of bemoaning the state of things, while the latter looks very soberly at the human cost of austerity and the lost decade. Composer Ian discusses following up on one of their career works. “It definitely depends on the song. With ‘Déanta in Éireann’, I sat down and composed the song in one long go. I had originally intended to write a modern day emigration song – which is what it is – but I definitely didn’t think it would take eight verses for me to get it all out of my system. I sang it around a good number of singing sessions around the country and it always seemed to go down well – I would often have elderly men and women come up to me afterwards to tell me that they really liked it and they understood that you have to use harsh language to describe harsh situations, so that was its baptism in a way. We were talking about arranging it for the band for a long time but could never come up with anything satisfactory. We tried again when we were recording the album and were really happy with how it came out, so it was a keeper.” Meanwhile, ‘The Granite Gaze’ was a more collaborative effort, tackling the realities of post-austerity difficulty and alienation, according to Daragh. “It looks a lot more at some very dark and disturbing elements of Ireland’s recent history, and the very real impact that we still feel from that today. When we sat down to work out the lyrics, we were sure that we didn’t want to spell it out too obviously though, and that it would be a far more effective song if we alluded to things and used phrases that might have more than one meaning, and that this would serve to create more of a general feeling and mood than a straight up commentary. I have to say that I’m pretty happy with the job we did and hope that we can do a lot more of it!”

The next step for the four-piece is to head back to the UK to plug the new album, ahead of the usual extended promotional campaign. At this stage of the game, with the brothers Lynch in particular knocking around in different iterations for over twenty years, the lads have the touring regime down to a fine art, according to Ian. “Well, we’ve been heading off on so many of these tours over the last few years. At first it seemed like hard work coordinating everything, but we’ve done it so much that now we know exactly what everyone should be doing – we’re a well-oiled machine! We now know that the day is too busy to organise to meet your friends in a city, that you’re not going to get to stroll around most places that you play, that someone has to get the merch set up as soon as you get in somewhere, that someone has to organize the itinerary, that you should bring an mp3 player with loads of podcasts and audiobooks, et cetera. All obvious stuff, but you only get good at it through experience. I really look forward to heading off on these tours now. You don’t have any time to relax really, but its all geared towards doing what you love, you get to sing songs and play music with your best friends as well as meet great people every night and the best thing is you’re not taking orders from anyone. It’s better than tarring the road, as they say!”

‘Between the Earth and Sky’ releases on CD, vinyl and digital formats via Rough Trade on October 27th. For more, check out lankumdublin.com, and @lankumdublin.

Women in Cork Music: We Built This City

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with M.SEA, Nicole Maguire and record auteuse Eilís Dillon about the importance of women to the Cork music scene.

It’s difficult to ascertain in a short, convenient space the precise historical importance of women to Leeside music. All one need do is look at the scene’s history. Elvera Butler, Downtown Kampus auteur and Reekus Records head, was among the first of Cork’s contemporary scene to oversee a release, the now-sought after Kaught at the Kampus. Cellist Úna Ní Chaninn was undoubtedly the missing piece in post-punk lads Five Go Down to the Sea’s mad sonic puzzle. Angela Dorgan, formerly of the Triskel Arts Centre and the late Cork Music Co-Op, is now the head of First Music Contact in Dublin, overseeing Hard Working Class Heroes fest and providing a lifeline to artists looking to get started in a difficult industry.

The examples lead all the way out to today, where Aisling O’Riordan is one of the city’s busiest promoters and production managers, musician and promoter Edel Curtin helms the award-winning Coughlan’s venue and Leah Hearne of Cork County Council’s Arts Office has been instrumental in affecting change in the county’s cultural scene. To even boil it down to a few examples is difficult, but such is the importance of women to the city’s music community. Women are an important and strong part of the Cork music scene”, says Eilís Dillon, co-proprietress of Records and Relics, one of a new crop of Leeside vinyl outposts, “they’re taking on leading roles in all aspects of the scene not just as musicians but also as promoters, producers, writers and bookers.”

Cork’s music scene by its nature is close-knit, and mutual support abounds for people pursuing their passions in the face of various obstacles, and the same holds true among women in Leeside music and arts. “I see more and more women on the scene all the time. The number has definitely gone up in acoustic music in the near-decade I have lived in Cork. It’s amazing, exciting and I love the feeling of possibilities and collaborations.”, says Mary Claire Woolley, a.k.a. freak-folk singer M.Sea. Country/folk singer Nicole Maguire echoes these sentiments. “There’s more and more women in the industry, currently, some amazing female talent here, and I’m proud to be called a Cork musician.”

Maguire puts this phenomenon down to the city’s relative indepedence from the auspices of traditional music industry forces. “Because there’s a lack of labels and big-company support in the Irish scene, a lot of the Cork just have balls, they get out there and do what a record label and promoter would traditionally have done. It hasn’t stopped people, and that’s what shines through.” Dillon is quick to reflect the general camaraderie among female creatives summarising their strength in the Cork scene. “There are so many amazing Cork musicians out there to choose from, the ones I know and really love, are the ones who are unapologetically themselves, they are the real role models and heroes for younger generations.”

Elaine Howley (Altered Hours/Crevice/Mourning Veils)
Cork psych-rock quintet The Altered Hours’ calling card is that they “exist in a swirl of the hypnotic”, and it is arguably around co-lead singer Elaine Howley that this sound and fury revolves. A beguiling onstage presence, Howley’s voice, both alone and in tandem with guitarist Cathal MacGabhann, is possessed of almost otherworldly strength and inspiration. Most importantly, it’s backed by a complete fearlessness about its uses across various collaborative projects.

Senita Appiakorang (Shookrah, Lakerama)
Absolutely astounding on-stage, Senita Appiakorang is the voice of Leeside neo-soul collective Shookrah, a preternaturally powerful instrument that carries both the weight of both the band’s more introspective moments and the bombast of its celebratory outbursts, as seen best in the band’s single Woman. Also collaborates with Irish producer Graeme S. as Lakerama, and has guested with the likes of Daithí and Le Galaxie in the recent past.

Rachel “Pixie” Koeman (Young Wonder)
From a diminutive frame emerges the voice that has placed Cork Scandi-pop collective Young Wonder at the forefront of independent Irish music. Accentuated by a theatrical flair in evidence throughout the project’s live outings and jaw-dropping promo videos, Koeman’s tones and lyrical prowess are undoubtedly at the centre of the band’s multimedia experience. It’s done well by them so far – while they’ve been quiet as of late, the band was shortlisted last year for a Choice award.

Roslyn Steer (solo, Mourning Veils, KantCope Records)
To see Roslyn Steer on stage solo is to witness someone transcending herself, becoming lost in the moment and completely immersing herself in her music. Melodic as a songbird, Steer’s voice emerges almost upwards from the noise created by a guitar and barebones effects setup, and creates a haunting dichotomy of sounds in the process, serenely telling some heavy stories. Involvement in all-female trio Mourning Veils aside, Steer is also a prominent figure in Cork independent music’s infrastructure, founding and running cassette label KantCope.

Clare Sands (The Clare Sands Trio)
Raised amid music was Clare Sands, singer, songwriter, and leader of the eponymously-titled Clare Sands Trio. Falling between two pews, Sands specialises in the folkier end of the blues, having been introduced to the genre as a teenager by her mother, although her musical experience goes back to learning traditional Irish fiddle from the age of four. Having done time gigging around New York, she returned to Cork to finish her music degree and begin her solo/bandleader ventures, finally releasing her debut album, Join Me at the Table, this month.

Mary Claire Woolley (M.Sea)
Sometimes, you simply don’t know what’s going to be handed to you. Despite playing guitar from childhood, Mary Claire Woolley hadn’t performed publicly until the last few years owing to various factors. It took a serious hand injury to put her relationship with music and its importance to her in perspective, but she hasn’t looked back since, assuming the mantle M.Sea, and specialising in a bluesy strain of freak-folk. Most recently, she’s launched in E.P., and spoken/performed at TEDx CorkSalon’s #CorkLovesMusic event.

LYRA
Beginning her musical explorations at the tender age of six thanks to some sisterly encouragement, Co. Cork singer LYRA now finds herself at the start of something new, having played her debut Irish shows under the pseudonym at the week of writing. Now based in London, she’s released her debut E.P. W.I.L.D., and working with local management folks Tileyard, has just begun to make her mark with pop music that’s well-honed in the art of dynamics, alternating from big Florence-esque hooks to varying degrees of layered ambience.

Áine Duffy
Coming in for praise from Tony Clayton-Lea and Tony Fenton alike, Áine Duffy has been a presence in Cork venues for the past few years after touring the world and acquiring an accomplished session CV, finding her stride most recently in a new musical partnership with local musical wunderkind The Hypnotyst. Combining their mutual musical disciplines with a mutual love of all things rave, the duo have happened across an extroverted electronic rock sound that carries a distinct accessibility.

Nicole Maguire
Leading with finely honed country-pop, perfected on excursion to Nashville, Nicole Maguire has worked hard to work with the best, among them producer Mitchell Froom (Pearl Jam, Ron Sexsmith). Her apprenticeship in Music City served her well upon her Leeside return, and she’s since shared stages with the likes of Paul Brady, Donovan, and Damien Dempsey. She returned to studio in 2015, and second full-length Wishing Well released earlier this year.

Sara “Bear” Ryan
Making major inroads in the local singer-songwriter scene in the last year or so is Sara “Bear” Ryan, a young Kildarewoman living in the city. A student of the Vocal Performance degree in the Cork School of Music, she’s notched up support slots for Mick Flannery, John Spillane and others in the Irish acoustic oeuvre, releasing debut single Belle in August of this year, replete with a period-piece video shot in Temple Bar and the Wicklow Mountains.

Vicky Langan (Wölflinge)
Referred to as the “queen bee of Irish noise” Vicky Langan is a prolifically-active figure in the Irish avant-garde, working across sound-art, experimental film and installation. Performing solo as Wölflinge, Langan cuts an intense figure, projecting herself and the vulnerability of creativity via an assortment of live and synthesised sounds. A long-running audiovisual partnership with director Max Le Cain has resulted in a residency in the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, next year.

Siobhán Brosnan (Shiv)
One of the central pillars of electronic music in Cork, Siobhán Brosnan, a.k.a Shiv is a DJ, promoter, and blogger, working primarily with London-based techno blog Skirmish, and as part of Cork hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective. Currently co-promoting techno nights at the AMP Venue, the Skirmish crew have most recently joined counter-culture newspaper Rabble as resident music experts, and curate live mixes from a revolving door of Irish electronic artists on Cork community station Room101.

Ellen King (Elll)
Founder of GASH Collective, a group dedicated to the promotion of women in experimental electronics, Elll has been a constant in Cork’s microcosm of drone, noise and minimal techno, as a producer, DJ and promoter. This winter sees the long-awaited release of debut E.P. Romance on Sligo-based label and distro Art for Blind Records.