The Bonk & Percolator: An Odd Venn Diagram

Cork-based improv outfit The Bonk and Waterford shoegazers Percolator are teaming up for a Bank Holiday show at South Main Street’s Spailpín Fanach venue. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with members of the bands about a big double-headline bill.

Psychedelic rock and its associated strains of wayward noise-making have formed an important foundation for the city’s current-day music scene, providing means of sonic exploration and a community to underpin it all. Drawing inspiration from a wide social and geographical web of influences, and running almost entirely on a DIY basis, psych-rock, if not too nebulous a term, has provided a fertile ground for Cork’s musical undergrowth, from which improvisational ensemble The Bonk have emerged. Something of a supergroup including members of O Emperor, The Bonk have been a semi-regular fixture on gig lineups around the city since their inception a few years ago and on May 5th, co-headline a special gig at the Spailpín Fánach alongside Waterford shoegaze outfit Percolator, promoted by Cork-based blog overblown.co.uk.

Initial excursions in live performance were followed last year by the release of debut album ‘Seems to be a Verb’. Bandleader Phil Christie is enthusiastic about how the record has been received in physical form. “We’re very happy with the record ourselves. It was really good fun to record and we were delighted to be able to work with (Irish indie label) thirty-three45 on the cassette release. We were just really glad to get it out there, and start playing some gigs so it was a bonus that people seemed to pick up on some of the stuff when it came out.” Rooted deeply in the improvisation scene that’s been brewing slowly in the city over the last decade, The Bonk’s creative process is lateral at the best of times, but with new material on the way, new directions for their music are emerging. “We have started recording some new tracks in the last couple of weeks, which has been good fun. We also have a good horde of stuff that we have recorded over the last couple of years that we’re still tipping away on, so there’s plenty to be doing at the minute. Our sense of direction isn’t great but so far flutes seem to be featuring a bit more!”

An Spailpín Fánach’s intimate atmosphere and tiered venue layout have provided for a unique gig-going experience, and as it happens, this gig on the 5th will be both bands’ debut within the venue’s stone walls. “I’ve never actually played in the Spailpín but have heard great things. We are really looking forward to sharing a bill with Percolator these gigs – we’re big fans and I think it’ll make for an interesting combination of noises on the night.” After the upcoming swing of gigs that this stop forms part of, The Bonk and its constituent parts are getting down to basics. “We’ve got a good few shows booked over the coming months, but we’ll also be working on getting some new stuff ready for release in the autumn. Myself and (drummer) Dan Walsh have begun working on a new project, The At This Times, which is also a source of craic at this particular time. Music is some effort.”

For Percolator, it’ll be their first gig in the city since appearing among the headline artists at this January’s Quarter Block Party weekender at Amp Venue, an excursion that packed out the Hanover Street club. John ‘Spud’ Murphy, Percolator’s bassist, is effusive about the festival’s whole experience. “Quarter Block Party was amazing. We were very impressed with the organisers’ use of spaces. We had forgotten how many weird and wonderful rooms Cork has to offer. Our show in Amp was a very good introduction back into the live arena, as we’d been working on new material and not gigging for about 6 months. The sound system was great, and fader wizard Joe Cusack did a great job with our sounds.”

Debut album ‘Sestra’ was released last year on vinyl and digital formats via Cork label Penske Recordings, and went on to critical acclaim and an accompanying run of venue-filling gigs around Ireland. A document of a band paying studious attention to its craft, it catches the trio at their odd Venn diagram of Krautrock, shoegaze and psych-rock. At the helm of recording and production at his Dublin-based Guerrilla Sounds studio, Murphy was proud, but is ready for the band’s next move. “We are all absolutely delighted that we managed to get it out of the studio and into the world, after our endless tweaking and re-recording. However, we will never be able to listen to it ever again!”

Alongside a domestic release via Penske, the indie-label operation of Cork musical stalwart Albert Twomey, the album was also issued on wax in France via DIY label and booking partners Permafrost. Murphy goes into detail about the motivating factors of working with both labels, especially dealing with Twomey’s legendary wit and candour. “Penske and Permafrost each gave us the boot up the hole that we had been working towards all these years. Both Albert  and (Permafrost label boss) Etienne are machines, in their own way, especially compared to our quivering gelatinous mess. Albert definitely kicked a bit harder, but it’s okay taking the big boot from one of The Godfathers of the Irish underground music scene.” So, any odds on a follow-up, then? “We’re currently in the middle of recording album number two. Which we’ll hopefully be ready to share with the world something before 2025”, says Murphy, with what looks for all the world like a wry grin.

Katie Kim: “Who Knows What I’m Capable Of?”

Ahead of appearing at Cork Jazz this weekend with the Altered Hours, Katie Kim talks reverb, records and the future with Mike McGrath-Bryan.

An elusive sight on gigging bills, Waterford singer-songwriter Katie Kim carries perhaps more of a mystique for being so, weaving stark imagery and toll-taking catharsis around moody arrangements centred on Kim’s moody but quietly strong tones. Last year’s ‘Salt’ album has had time to settle after the usual whirl of activity around a launch, and after a long development period, she’s had time to consider the album. “Well, the record has been finished for a few years now. And some of the tracks, like for example ‘Day Is Coming’, were written a long time ago. Almost eight years ago. So I’ve had a lot of time with ‘Salt’. For me, a record is a body of work I live with for however long it takes me to finish, to the point where I can listen to it without picking and prodding at elements.

Until I’m happy with it. Then it’s released, and really at that point, I prefer to move on. Maybe that plays quite a bit into why I like to keep live shows to a minimum. I can’t imagine playing the same set list, or having to listen to myself night after night, year after year, I just don’t think I’d have it in me. But I suppose I’ve never tried either so… who knows what I’m capable of!”

The creative process behind the record was a sea-change for an experienced solo composer and performer, but the difference is palpable across ‘Salt’ from earlier work, opening Kim’s voice up to much broader sonic vistas. “I recorded ‘Salt’ in Guerrilla Studios, a studio run by John Murphy (Lankum/Jimmy Cake/September Girls/Woven Skull). Sonically, it was a partnership with him, where before I recorded mainly alone or at home. He’s been with Katie Kim since the beginning in some form or another, and he brought it to quite a dark place. I mean, we had to trim a lot off the endings of many songs where he went deeper and deeper into great big guttural soundscapes, because we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the vinyl otherwise. I recorded my vocals at home where I felt most comfortable, and would then take them to him, and we would record and mix everything else there. Sometimes throwing absolutely everything at it, to then strip it all back again in some cases. But recording it with him helped. He’s so easy to work with, and normally my albums aren’t a hugely collaborative process.”

The album was nominated for a Choice Prize, in a year when nine out of ten albums nominated were (nominally) independent releases. And while criticisms can be levied on music awards, incentivisation, etc., there’s no denying it placed Kim and ‘Salt’ on a wider stage, from RTÉ television and radio, to a short-lived push for the album’s CD press via Golden Discs. “Well, there’s a cash prize that I’m sure helps musicians a lot! That’s one element but I can’t get too philosophical about it, because I just think it’s nice for some musicians to have a light shone on them, if only for a moment. I can’t speak on anyone else’s behalf, but the nomination came, for me, at a time when it was nice to get the nod. I was feeling extremely low creatively after the album came out, and it helped alleviate that, secretly.”

Katie plays with the Altered Hours and Spacemen 3‘s Will Carruthers on Sunday at St. Luke’s in Cork, a venue she’s no stranger to. It’s a big night overall, and the buzz heading into it has been significant. “The venue is breathtaking. The sheer amount of reverb has to be heard to be believed, so I’m quite pleased to be back. Reverb is my closest pal, so St. Luke’s will be a highlight for me, and of course, I’m a huge Altered Hours fan, too. I became a bit drained from live shows I had been going to a few years ago, and an Altered Hours show I was at in Mayo just woke me the fuck up.

And ‘Laser Guided Melodies’ is an album I hold very dear to my heart, so meeting Will Carruthers will be something!” A Galway gig in the Roisín Dubh November 12th has also just been announced, via local collective FEAST. What’s the plan after? “Recording again. I don’t know yet what form the new songs will take, but I’m writing and figuring a few things out, so I’ll have to wait and see.”

Percolator: Brewing New Sounds

Brandishing a sound that resembles a Venn diagram of shoegaze, indie, Krautrock and post-punk, Percolator’s development has been slow and steady over the past number of years, with a series of singles and extended-players finding their way out as the band proceeded. This work has led to debut album SESTRA, releasing this month via Cork’s Penske Recordings, developed concurrently to the band’s output to date, says bassist/synth-slinger John “Spud” Murphy. “The EPs were made during production of the album. They were released kind of as examples of the what we were working on at the time and the sounds we were experimenting with. On the album, the production on each track is different so getting all of the tracks to flow together seamlessly took a lot of work and time.”

The album was recorded and mixed in Murphy’s Guerilla Sounds studio, in Dublin city centre, where unshackled by commercial pressure or label budget, the band could pursue their muses freely and for as long as necessary. “Doing all of the production ourselves was great, because we had complete control and could take as much time as we wanted to experiment and get unique sounds, rather than persuading another engineer to make it sound the way we wanted it. The only drawback to this is that it took us a long time to finish . It being our music, we were extra precious and slaved over every minute detail for years.”

SESTRA releases via a split arrangement with Penske Recordings and French label Permafrost. It’s made the process of releasing an album, and manufacturing the physical product a lot smoother, and lead to more live dates. “It was quite easy to organise. Penske would’ve been at the top of our list of Irish labels. When we gave Albert a listen he was into it straight away. We met Etienne from Permafrost on tour, and he heard the album and was into putting it out in France and organising a tour for us. Having a European label involved means we can cover more ground with the release and share production costs.”

Single Crab Supernova released a week or two back, with an interesting video to say the least premiering a few weeks in advance via Belfast music site The Thin Air. The visuals were the result of some improvisation with filmographer Thom McDermott. “We weren’t sure what we wanted, but an evening messing around with a camera and a projector with Thom yielded some weird results that suited the song, and had the psychedelic imagery that we’re into. It was all kind of on the spot experimentation. We weren’t sure what would work or not but it was nice to be able to try anything.”

The album’s artwork has been laid out by Irish independent music legend Paul G. Smyth, centred around the work of painter Gus Hughes. It’s the reflection of the music the band had sought over the course of its creation. “Hughes’ work is oil-based, with lots and lots of layers that really suits the music, pleasant but a bit odd, and the idea of getting to use the work of someone we know was very appealing. Paul looked after the layout, even down to choice of font. It helps to have an external opinion especially when we tend to be indecisive.”

Of course, Penske Recordings is the brainchild of one Albert Twomey, better known as the mercurial hassle-merchant of PLUGD Records, a Charleville man with an unfortunate love for Tottenham Hotspur. A central figure to Irish independent music, much less the local scene, Twomey’s in-store witticisms, putdowns and one-liners have their own Twitter fan page. The band are effusive when asked to discuss his involvement. “What a legend. Anyone that is even vaguely associated with the underground music scene is aware of Albert, and his Godfather like presence.

The outfit are playing Coughlan’s on April 28th, with Cork psychedelia/shoegaze/alternative youngsters The Sunshine Factory in support. Under the watchful eye of local music personalities like Alliance Promotions’ Gordon O’Keeffe, the band has come on in leaps and bounds since surfacing in 2015, with a tour support for psych legends The Telescopes under their belts. Percolator are relishing the chance to share the stage. “We’ve heard their Soundcloud stream, and are looking forward to seeing how it translates live. I’ve only been to Coughlan’s for a pint, and I really liked it. One of very many pubs in Cork that are nice to sit in. Have heard great things about the venue itself, and we’re really excited about the gig.”

Their upcoming brace of live shows sets them in good stead for further adventures down the line. “We’re doing a two-to-three week European tour in June to support the Permafrost release. We’re planning to do more shows here with a really good Irish band later in the summer. Outside of this we’ll be continuing pre production of our second album.”

Percolator play Coughlan’s on the 28th, with The Sunshine Factory in support. More information on tickets available via the venue’s social media.