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Anois, Os Ard: A Column About Irish Underground Music
Eoin Murray , May 23rd, 2019 13:54

Eoin Murray goes in search of New Weird Ireland and finds murky Gaeilge dub; feverish psychedelic improv and Irish-Sierra Leonean Afrofuturist soul

The Irish undergrowth has never been more alive. You can hear it – a rustling, replete and vibrant expanse of sound coming from countless artists, collectives, venues and labels, twisting and weaving together to create a countrywide buzz that now, more than ever, feels mobilised. The question of what it means for music to “sound Irish” is such a thrilling proposition in 2019 that to take those endless possibilities and lay them all out reveals a diverse landscape of experimental pop, punk, avant-garde electronics, folk, club sounds and hip hop – not to mention what’s in between.

But of course, as a number of platforms have reminded us, experimental and independent music has always thrived on the fringes in Ireland. Jennifer Walshe’s Aisteach Foundation for instance – as outlined in a previous interview with tQ – has done a formidable job of documenting the long running history of outsider and avant-garde art and music throughout the country, from the bog-dwelling noise of Galway’s Zaftig Giolla in the early 1930s to mid-century radical queer performance art curator and philanthropist Chancey Briggs.

Look also to Cian Ó Cíobháin’s late-night Irish language show An Taobh Tuathail, which recently celebrated 20 years of broadcasting with three shows and six hours of exclusively produced music from a wide range of emerging and longstanding artists – some of whom he’s been championing for up to two decades. All Chival, an archival reissue project from Dublin label/record store All City has also shone a light on Ireland’s long experimental histories in no wave (Stano), post-punk and disco (Quare Groove Vol.1), minimalism (Michael O Shea ) and, most recently, funk and jazz ( Buntús Rince)

All it takes is a cursory glance to notice that, despite a few recent outbursts claiming the contrary, Ireland’s DIY underground is one built on unity and collaboration, on community spirit and collectivism, from north to south. From small hubs like The Roundy in Cork, Roisin Dubh in Galway, Sandinos in Derry, Pharmacia in Limerick and the Menagerie in Belfast, there are micro-scenes and styles breaking through constantly and with increased fervency – Just look at the number of hard drum producers there are in Cork for christ’s sake. Meanwhile, collectives and club nights like GASH Collective, WWW, Club Comfort and Shivers continue to create vital platforms and spaces for female-identifying and LGBTQ DJs, producers and ravers to practice, learn and lose inhibitions in a safe, open environment.

What this column will seek to do is highlight that spirit of collectivism and experimentation on a monthly basis, drawing lines from the individual artists and bands putting out the most exciting releases in the country to the labels, festivals, parties and collectives that are facilitating and championing them.

Where global audience (and press) interpretations of what “sounding Irish” means have so often been exhaustingly diluted to “diddly eye music”, songs about pints, U2 or, at an absolute push, My Bloody Valentine, the truth has never been more exciting, varied or diverse.

This first edition of Anois, Os Ard (Now, Aloud) – an ode to a fascinating 1920’s Irish text vocal score by Róisín Madigan O’Reilly – focusses on releases from this Spring, with early March shout outs owed to Maria Somerville’s stunning debut LP and Pow Pig/Junior Brother’s split EP on Strange Brew. Keep your eyes open in early June for May’s release round-up.

Anois, Éistigí...

Dublin Digital Radio ddr. Compilation 02

Since launching in 2016, Dublin Digital Radio has become one the most vital cornerstones for Ireland’s underground. With over 50 regular shows, hosted in both Irish and English and covering styles from from house, techno, d&b and electro to ambient, experimental, folk and beyond, the young station was voted Europe’s Best Online Radio Station in last year’s Mixcloud awards.

As well as championing homegrown DJs, producers and presenters, DDR has become a force for positive change in the capital, with its community using the platform to amplify female-identifying and LGBT voices in the arts, as well as raising money for charity. They recently released a new compilation comprised of 11 tracks by artists affiliated with the station. As with another collection released last March, all money raised from sales will go to Dublin charity, Inner City Helping Homeless.

The comp features tracks from the likes of Éna Brennan, whose expert violin playing has featured on many an artist’s music in the past number of years. Her contribution, ‘In É’, is a transportive, droning opus that contrasts nicely with clubbier additions from Fio Fa, Blusher, TR One and Joni feat. The Cyclist. Artists mentioned elsewhere in this column also feature, with Repeater collective and Natalia Beylis providing typically ensnaring sonic experiments to a versatile, worthy collection.

Repeater - Repeater Data Dump

The ever-expanding Repeater Collective outdo themselves on this, their third release. Following two tapes zines (Athrá Titim Gach Rud and Winter Edition: Just Another Day in Dystopia) the Repeater Data Dump comes as a USB lodged in a fake debit/social security card. With one side of the card decorated as an AI designed Public Services identity card and the other as a credit card marking the years of years of Irish Revolution and a comet hitting earth, each data dump contains folder upon folder of music and sound design, visual and written works.

On top of the 21 recorded works, you can expect to find “Ballincollig dub-plates, Keith Flint tributes, what your brother thinks is the worst song he's ever heard, stolen secret vegan cheese recipes, subliminal Keygen messages and so on”.

Sound-wise, the collective’s disparate members offer rumbling drones, shattered beat cuts and EBM, murky dub and brittle, hissing ambience. Spoken vocals drift from English to Gaeilge, confronting themes of Irish history, dislocation, the turmoil of sex and, naturally enough, the data dystopia of mass surveillance. A replete and at times disquieting collection that you can also – because why not – dump your own files into.

Cailín - In My Soul

The third instalment of recently relaunched label Wherethetimegoes’ Potboiler cassette series comes courtesy of Waterford native and Jheri Tracks affiliate Cailín Power. A resident at Subject and formerly of District 8 (Dublin’s recently demolished techno hub, soon to be replaced by yet another hotel), Cailín’s sound offers the sort of raw, analog density that is as rapturous as it is pummelling. Fans of tQ favourites Giant Swan, UKAEA and The Mighty Lord Deathman will find plenty to dig their teeth into here.

Tracks like the propulsive ‘Along The Waters Edge’ and rapid ‘Life 17’ capture the feeling of coming out the right side of a wobbler on a dark dancefloor – wavy, a bit disoriented, but amped and ready to go. The opening title track drones with the intensity of the likes of HELM while ‘Meeting The Wise Teacher’ surges the eight track collection to a close with distorted, dissonant waves. A brilliant and brutal techno tape on a label that has done nothing but deliver since kicking back into gear in late 2018.

God Knows - ‘Crown’

A central figure at the vanguard of Irish hip hop for some years now, Limerick via Clare via Zimbabwe MC God Knows marked his first solo outing proper in April with ‘Crown’. Crafted at Berlin’s hallowed Funkhaus Studios while taking part in Justin Vernon and Bryce Dessner’s PEOPLE festival for artistic collaboration, the track was produced by French artist Awir Leon, whose jolting staccato strings and tumbling kicks dart around a gravelly vocal delivery.

It’s a departure of sorts for the rapper, whose previous – award winning – work with beat-wizard MynameisjOhn and fellow MC MuRli as Rusangano Family lent to frenzied, fervent performances, this is a more collected affair. While MuRli appears with a typically hook-laced refrain, God Knows takes centre stage here with verses that nod not just to hip hop’s global progenitors but to the current wave of Irish MCs like Kojaque, JyellowL and Jafaris who have, along with him, turned the genre and the conversations held therein into a necessary national concern.

The past four years have seen Irish hip hop rise from being seen widely as a pastiche to being recognised as a vital part of the country’s artistic landscape, and to hear one its figureheads use debut first solo outing as an opportunity to shout out a burgeoning scene is testament to the communal spirit of the Irish undergrowth.

Fixity - No Man Can Tell

Since its inception in 2015, Cork’s Fixity has become one of Ireland’s most formidable experimental/ improvisational outfits. With a rotating cast of regular members and guest musicians, improvised live sets built on foundations laid by bandleader/ drummer/ composer Dan Walsh have gained a certain notoriety thanks to their feverish and psychedelic turns. There’s a chaotic energy to it that could invoke the likes of Sly And The Family Drone, but a more “acoustic” line-up of instruments and a keen allegiance to kosmische finds things veering into Popol Vuh territory, or into the propulsive krautrock sphere of Dublin’s The Jimmy Cake.

On their new album for Penske Recordings, No Man Can Tell, the line-up is superb. With Walsh at the helm on drums and vocals, he is surrounded by new and returning members Emil Nerstrand (flute, tenor sax), Kevin Terry (guitar, clarinet), Nils Andersson (guitar) , O Emperor and The Bonk’s Philip Christie (synthesizers, organ) Declan O’Shea (bass), Neil Ó Loclainn (bass, flute) and Cathal MacGabhann (percussion). These players all merge in the capable hands of producer, The Altered Hours bassist Patrick Cullen, to create something that is at once urgent and engulfing, rabid and reserved.

Opener ‘World Line’ demolishes itself and rebuilds again in a brief two-minute jazz burst, while cuts like ‘Woo’, ‘Farrest’ and ‘Becoming an Earthworm’ call to mind TNT -era Tortoise in the best possible way. The title track closes the six-track offering with a dizzying catharsis. All clamour, no filler.

Fehdah feat. Loah - ‘Buffer Fly’

In a recent interview with John Robb, Dublin musician, producer and vocalist Emma Garnett AKA Fehdah spoke about the ingrained links she finds between musical traditions of Ireland and parts of north west Africa. Drawing comparisons between the vocal nuances of Irish Sean Nós style and the ornamental singing of Mali’s Oumou Sangaré, Garnett – herself, Irish-Sierra Leonean – described her own propensity for channelling those techniques and sentiments into her own Afrofuturist soul and experimental R&B.

It’s something she’s triumphed at in the past, on tracks like the Erykah Badu/Four Tet-invoking ‘Like No Other’ and the recently shared N'Saheli which fused the polyrhythmic uplift of Ireland’s departed math rock golden age with Malian Bambara vocals. The latter also married Garnet’s work in astrophysics with her art, its lyrical content exploring the astronomical discoveries of the west African region’s Dogon people, accurately made and locally documented long before modern sciences.

April saw Fehdah unveiling a long anticipated collaboration with her sister Loah, herself a celebrated Irish musician. ‘Butter Fly’ finds Fehdah on propulsive form, channelling touches of instrumental grime with the likes of Lafawndah and Little Dragon. The vocal pairing plays to each sister’s strengths, Loah’s enveloping range weaving around Fehdah’s own urgent verses.

Post Punk Podge & The Technohippies - ‘Heavenly Tones’

Limerick’s Post Punk Podge has fast become one of the most crucial and odd figures Ireland’s DIY punk sphere. Like a bog gothic Sleaford Mods, Podge and his band The Technohippies are as prolific as they are genre repellent. Confronting national and personal issues from homelessness and corruption to anxiety and self-harm, Podge’s up-front lyricism and unabashed determination collide with a raw, scrappy production to concoct an incontrovertible concoction.

A slew of releases and collaborations this year have brought Podge deservingly closer to the public eye. The Post Millenium Tension EP was “a call to arms and a call to the dancefloor against the hypocrisy and mundanity of modern life” while collaborations with wonky hip hop fixtures TPM and Gavin Da Vinci solidified the lyricist’s status as one of the only artists who actually properly earns the overwrought “punk” tag in a world that gives it to anyone who’s singing is a bit shit.

Anyway, new single ‘Heavenly Tones’ is a summer banger, and admittedly a bit softer than the usual proceedings. Fuck, it’s practically tropical. But something about the rabid, scratchy beats and melody, and the desperation in Podge’s voice makes this track feel a bit different. A true melancholic ode to the just-about-warm-but-rain-due-soon Irish summer, amen.

Sofia Records - Songs Of The Lunar Eclipse

As a member of Leitrim experimental/psych outfit Woven Skull, Natalia Beylis’ mandola offers an earthiness and melodic weight to the clamorous percussion and howling guitars that surround it. Outside of the band however, Beylis’ work is much more meditative; less rooted in the expanse of her rural surroundings or the cities her and her band have spent time in, but embedded in houses, pubs, gardens, yards and river banks, or as is often the case with her cassette label, Sofia Records, in a fascination with lunar activity.

Amidst live recordings by Gnod & Woven Skull, and a tape or two from Beylis, Willie Stewart and United Bible Studies’ David Colohan’s Divil A’ Bit project, Sofia Recordings’ penchant has been for compilation cassettes built on responses to the moon. Following Songs Of The Bloodmoon and Songs Of The Supermoon comes Songs Of The Lunar Eclipse. Beylis enlisted numerous musicians to use field recordings and instruments to create pieces on the night of 20 - 21 January 2019 in response to the lunar eclipse and, with contributions from the likes of Karen Browett, Fuzzy Hell and The Altered Hours' Elaine Howley and Cathal Mac Gabhann, the results are beguiling and ethereal. From sparse folk and almost shamanic sound sculpture to distorted ambience and deep drones its a suitably haunting collection that, if purchased on tape, comes in a lovely handmade package “left out under the full moon to get fully charged with lunar powers”.

Davy Kehoe - The Pilot

The ever-elusive and ever-reliable Davy Kehoe of Wah Wah Wino delivers his first album since 2017’s show-stopping Short Passing Game in The Pilot. As ever, comparisons to the motorik pulse of Suicide and Trans Am are there to be made, but this time round there’s something a bit more reserved at play. Where chaos, demented harmonicas and supercharged rhythms informed Short Passing Game, the most striking thing about The Pilot is how little grip it allows you to have, particularly on the intoxicating B-Side. If Short Passing Game felt like tumbling down a hill, The Pilot feels like hanging on a cliff edge for dear life. Baffling, dense, groovy as fuck, and absolutely essential.

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