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Anois, Os Ard: Irish Underground Music For September Reviewed By Eoin Murray
Eoin Murray , September 12th, 2019 09:18

In the third edition of our column tracking the sounds emanating from the Irish undergrowth, Eoin Murray finds improvised psych hysterics, drone documents of parenthood, expertly crafted hip hop and more

In February 1979, there was a 24-hour party in Dublin. Dark Space Festival took place in Temple Bar’s Project Arts Centre from 10pm on Friday 10th February to 10pm the following night, and boasted a line-up that placed the scuzzy sounds of the capital under a dirty spotlight. Along with international headliners The Mekons, Throbbing Gristle and Public Image Ltd, the festival’s bill boasted a raft of bands from the burgeoning underground, who came from both sides of the border, and offered an unprecedented opportunity for unity in the countrywide, counter-culture.

Among them, Dublin new wave band D.C Nien, post punk goths Virgin Prunes, The Atrix, and Belfast’s Protex, The Idiots and Rudi – not to mention a fresh-faced bunch of (then) punks called U2. Tickets were reduced from £6 to £4 when Throbbing Gristle and PiL failed to turn up, while art installations, film screenings, fire breathing and stand up comedy filled the gaps in a chaotic running order, which saw various local bands playing several times in lieu of actual headliners.

The international no-show turned Dark Space into a more significant event for the local scene, with one punter remarking in a review for Hot Press that the increased focus on home-grown acts allowed them “to sow the seeds of self-conscious community”.

“Nothing quite like it had been conceived as an event in Ireland, and it felt like a sub-cultural monolith in a way,” another attendee, Stephen Averill, told me recently. “It was an ambitious idea, and from distant memory, the actual event was something more ramshackle. The Project Arts Centre itself back then was not what it is today. The actual space was a lot more rough and ready, though not without character and charm. The ‘Dark Space’ of the event title was more than lived up to; I remember moving from smoky room to smoky room, not entirely sure where the floor ended and the walls began.”

“The running order also became quite skewed if I remember,” he added. “So it was a little hard to catch the right band at the right time. This possibly added further to the character of the event, creating some chaos and confusion, and thus, energy. Nonetheless it provided a focal point for music, film and spoken word. It was a real gathering of the tribes… [It] underlined the fact that Dublin and the bands who played the event had a lot to offer. Though there were no attempts to run an event as ambitious in the aftermath, it may be time to [hold] a Dark Space II.”

A Dark Space II would be great, sure, but there’s fat chance of anyone, let alone a bunch of punks or underground artists, getting anything close to a 24-hour licence for a city-centre party in Ireland’s current cultural climate. The government has shown nothing less than contempt for the country’s night time economy in recent years. Oppressive licencing laws have choked venue opening hours to their restrictive limits, and club after club is being demolished or squeezed out in exchange for hideous, needless “apart-hotels” or whatever the fuck it is we’re calling them now. The resulting circumstance is one that can just about facilitate a regular clubbing scene, but it’s also one where emerging local talent has been given little or no opportunity to thrive outside of the most underground of spheres.

One group has spent the past few of years fighting the scourge. Give Us The Night – an independent volunteer group of professionals within the Irish music industry, founded by techno veteran Sunil Sharpe – have spent recent years campaigning tirelessly for an improved nightlife. Along with fellow electronic musician, Robbie Kitt, Sharpe has frequently visited the Dáil to meet politicians and push for progress. With their extensive mandate, the group have highlighted the economic value and societal benefits of a diverse and vibrant Irish night-time industry. In the midst of rabid gentrification, ludicrous property costs and a lack of space in a small capital, Give Us The Night have brought a necessary determination and sense of promise to the national scene, and it’s impact has been palpable.

That determination is hard to miss once you inspect the Irish underground. Just look at Féile Na Gréine. The free festival hosted its second annual edition in Limerick in August, with the very best in Irish experimental, club and underground music taking over numerous venues for a landmark weekend of defiant sound. Club Comfort, a monthly party built on creating a safe-space for queer, trans and non-binary people, has also kicked against venue restrictions in the past year and a half to create the most vital clubbing experience in the country. In early September, they hosted the day-into-night Comfort Carnival as part of the Dublin Fringe festival, featuring workshops, panel discussions and performances, all exploring the theme of new Irish identity. Even some bigger events have started putting an increased focus on homegrown talent, with Higher Vision, Life Festival and even Electric Picnic booking more and more local DJs each year.

Even with that though, it’s hard to be optimistic when, only days ago, news broke that, after months of fighting, Dublin venue The Bernard Shaw is being forced to shut its doors. The news comes after the popular spot was refused permission by An Bord Pleanála to continue operating its beloved outdoor area back in May.

Some rare good news did however come in recent weeks when Cork's former art house cinema, The Kino, announced that it would reopen as a live music venue, theatre space, bar and café. In the midst of persistent doom and gloom, glimmers of light do still poke through. The vigour and creativity on display offers hope, but how much longer can it last in the face of constant beatings from the powers that be? 40 years down the line, the community determination that fuelled Dark Space is more alive than ever, but, without further mobilisation, the likelihood of seeing something like it again just feels more and more like a fantasy.

For now, you'll find some of the best releases to come out of this scene, with honourable mentions owed to Deadly Buzz Aldrin and Mark Waldron-Hyden. From improvised psych hysterics, drone documents of parenthood, to expertly crafted hip hop and more, there's plenty to get into before we return in early November.

Anois, éistigí.

Acid Granny - ‘Chickatweeks’

A video titled Dublin Acid Trolley went viral toward the start of the summer. Filmed by a passing tiler, it showed two shattered, post-sesh wanderers, pushing a modified shopping trolley through a residential area, creating a rusty clatter with the drum machine, dodgy mic and Dora The Explorer keyboard attached to its frame.

After some initial hysteria, it transpired that the pair were part of Dublin improv-psyche troupe, Acid Granny. More videos show incarnations of the outfit playing late-night impromptu sets on the streets of the capital, sending tourists on St. Patrick’s Day into weird frenzies with their hectic jazz explosions – like a goofy Sly & The Family Drone.

Anyway, they ended up releasing that track from the viral clip – credited to Minglord Gran Reilly and Taoiseach Shame. It’s called ’Smells Great’, and it sounds like something gross being yanked out of the Liffey. They’ve followed that up with ‘Chickatweeks’, a frenetic burst of noise, bass punches and chaotic drums. It’s the opening track from a mixtape called ‘Foundation Level Grannies’, which they are currently selling exclusively from the back of the trolley.

Naive Ted - Meanwhile During The War
(The Unscene)

No one does it like Naive Ted. The masked turntablist and producer is a Dr. Frankenstein of sampling – a creator of monstrous, abrasive hip hop and punk beats who fuses chopped and screwed percussive limbs, grizzly melodies and bass guts to irresistibly heavy effect.

The Limerick-based producer is nothing if not prolific, keeping his soundcloud constantly topped up with frantic mixtapes and throwaway tracks. His albums, including The Minute Particulars series from 2017 and 2018’s MAGAZINES, have displayed a penchant for collaboration, featuring the likes of Rusangano Family’s God Knows and MuRli, as well as Lunatic Christ, Post-Punk Podge and Morning Veils. Meanwhile during the war, however, marks his first totally solo outing in some time, released as ever through Limerick’s “not really a record label”, The Unscene. Unsurprisingly, it’s gnarly as hell, its nine cuts spanning surly no-wave grooves (‘Basement Curse’, ‘Hot Drop’), hyperventilating sub-bass (‘You Are So’, ’Situationz’) and disorienting melodies (‘Weatherman’, ‘Pretty Lo’).

Blusher - ‘We All Forget’

Blusher’s debut LP, Tren Rezno, was an intoxicating collage of styles, and comfortably one of the strongest Irish albums of 2018. Released via Dublin label Patrúin, it found the artist, writer, and game designer roughly stitching components of no wave, techno, ambient, traditional folk and Playstation soundtracks together to produce a record that was simultaneously chaotic and cohesive. With dense, ragged percussion, and scratchy, colourful melodies, it introduced an artist with a rare knack for conveying heavy atmospheres without any need for greyscale gloom.

Blusher - 'Strike Horns'

The past two months have seen Blusher sharing two new tracks on their Soundcloud, erring more to the club-ready end of Tren Rezno. ‘Strike Horns’ is fast-paced and heavy, but retains a sweet sense of melody and emotion. ‘We all forget’ samples Dip In The Pool’s Miyako Koda, whose voice keeps things centred and transfixing amid the pummelling kicks and delirious electronics.

Blusher has also just launched a new small press, Rotted Cavern, through which they’ll be publishing “weird fiction, odd comics, strange essays, and peculiar role-playing games”. Wicked stuff.

Alarmist - Sequesterer

Alarmist debuted back in 2011, at the peak of what was a sort of golden decade for instrumental and “math rock” bands in Ireland. The Redneck Manifesto paved the way in the early 00s, tapping into something in the collective bloodstream that drew crowds to jolting rhythms, off-kilter time signatures, staccato guitar playing, and huge dynamic leaps.

By 2010, bands like And So I Watch You From Afar and the now departed Adebisi Shank and Enemies were earning a devoted, cult following at home and abroad under the wing of the Richter Collective label, while the likes of Belfast’s Kasper Rosa and Cork’s Rest brought a heavier, darker timbre to a scene that was becoming defined by its colourful, melodic palette.

Splashes of colour are Alarmist’s forté. Their freewheeling instrumentals, jazzy riffage and kaleidoscopic synths have set them apart, even if infrequent gigging and a lack of label association has left their catalogue largely under celebrated. Just listen to tracks like ‘Carpark Showdown’, ‘Clapper’ and ‘PG Films’.

Sequesterer marks the band’s first new music in four years, following 2015’s Popular Demain LP. It features some of their most sprawling, ambitious work to date, with comparisons to Three Trapped Tigers, The Physics House Band and even Tortoise feeling appropriate as the tracks swerve rapidly down psychedelic avenues (‘District Of Baddies’, ‘Boyfriend In The Sky’), go full-throttle (‘Expert Hygiene’), and offer more languid listening (‘Life In Half-Time’, ‘Nvymr’).

Gadget & The Cloud - ‘Keep You’
(Fort Evil Fruit)

One thing Gadget & The Cloud does particularly well is capture the uniquely lonely feeling you get in a nightclub. The one where you’re ambling to the bathroom or out to smoke, and you catch yourself in your own wavey head for a second, and you feel a whole bunch of inexplicable, dumb things all at once. You can still hear the sub-bass through the wall and all that, but you're pulled out of it for a second and it’s all a bit strange. It's nice though; in a syrupy, droopy-eyed, cold-air-on-a-gurny face kind of way.

Coinciding with the physical release of her 2018 debut album, Songs For Sad People To Dance To on Cork cassette label, Fort Evil Fruit, the Gash Collective member has shared a new track, ‘Keep You’, and it’s one of her finest articulations of that feeling to date. In keeping with the lo-fi electronics and unabashedly emotional ambience of the album, ‘Keep You’ is nothing less than a treat.

The single also comes with a terrific remix from Amsterdam-based, Irish producer Kobina, whose own Bandcamp is a veritable goldmine of lush electronics and dreamy ambience.

Agathe Max & Natalia Beylis - The Garden Of Paradise
(Fort Evil Fruit)

Another recent Fort Evil Fruit release comes in the form of a collaboration between Woven Skull/Divil A’ Bit/Sofia Records’ Natalia Beylis and French violinist Agathe Max. Having met in London, the pair decided to make some recordings together in Beylis’ home in Leitrim after a joint Irish tour. The resulting tape is a formidable exploration of improvisational styles and instrumental manipulations.

With Beylis providing expansive foundations using the piano, mandola and Turkish cümbüş, Max’s violin loops guide the listener through a sprawling forest of sound. Inspired by, and titled after, Harry Clarke's book of illustrations for Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales, the psychedelic turns, spiralling motifs and unexpected turns ensure that this album is as mesmerising and colourful as its namesake.

The Expert - Excursions

We really should be passed the need to inform people that, in 2019, Irish hip hop is where you’re most likely to hear young artists flourishing. The scene is so healthy and varied that to even use the umbrella term “Irish hip hop” feels a little reductive now. When you have a burgeoning drill scene coming from the 090 crew in the midlands, avant-garde and surrealist turns coming from the likes of Citrus Fresh (PX Music), TPM and Frankie Wolf, and the likes of Sim Simma affiliate Denise Chaila, JarJarJr,Nealo, NUXSENSE and Belfast’s Leo Miyagee bringing their own individual sounds to the fore, it’s impossible not to feel the buzz of one of Irish music’s most exciting moments in living memory.

As I mentioned in the first edition of this column, the past four years have seen a genre that was once treated as a pastiche become the most unifying sound in the country’s youth culture – giving a voice to young people of the diaspora, working class kids, and weirdos with something important to say. With word travelling across the water now about the likes of Kojaque, Luka Palm and the rest of the Soft Boy crew, as well as Hare Squead, Jafaris and Soulé, that movement shows no signs of slowing.

Before any of this, however, there was Creative Controle, a hip hop group comprised of of Messiah J, DJ Mayhem and The Expert. Between 2000 and 2002, the trio released two albums, Bloodrush and Check The Rhythm, before Messiah J and The Expert ventured into their own terrain with some degree of success. The Expert has since dropping the occasional instrumental mixtape, and the latest, Excursions, released via Cold Busted, is a late summer gem of languid hip hop, tailor-made for evenings spent catching the last of the sun. Citing the likes of The Rza, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Oddisee, Exile and Eric Lau, it’s a smooth, classic affair – but in the hands of an expert, it feels totally fresh.

Lighght - Gore​-​Tex In The Club, Balenciaga Amongst The Shrubs
(Shadow Gazing)

On his debut LP, Cork experimental electronic producer, Lighght, moves away from the darkness that occupied his 2018 EP, The Skin Falls Off The Body. In exchange of visceral, blood curdling noise passages, Gore​-​Tex In The Club, Balenciaga Amongst The Shrubs offers a replete breath of styles spanning club music, ambience, deconstructed trance, trad and spoken word. The resulting album is sprawling and colourful, with heavy duty club cuts, ‘Love, Life and All of The Above’ and ‘Dark Rush’, nestling comfortably next to the gently plucked harp of ‘Trust In God’ and the maximalist, emotional electronics of ‘Passion Peace’.

Described by the producer as an album that explores, “self-indulgence as a model for self-healing, coming to terms with the arbitrary nature of pain and beginning the healing process whilst in an already vulnerable state,” it’s a complex but rewarding collection that reveals new moments of clarity and tenderness with each listen.

Released via his newly coined imprint Shadow Gazing, Lighght proves himself once again to be one of Ireland’s most adventurous producers, and one who is as willing and capable of carving radiant dancefloor excursions as he is thrusting us into caustic darkness.

Gross Net - Gross Net Means Gross Net

Former Girls Names guitarist Philip Quinn AKA Gross Net is on dark and depressingly timely form on his new album, Gross Net Means Gross Net. While some of the industrial clatter of 2015’s Quantitative Easing remains, this album is an altogether more sombre affair. Written in response to political upheavals in the US and UK in 2016, the refugee crisis, and the consequences of present-day capitalism, these ten tracks are shadowy, forlorn and rife with anguish.

‘Dust To Dust’, ‘Theresa May, and ‘The Indignity Of Labour’ are anxious, mournful laments. ‘Shedding Skin’ and ‘Of Late Capitalism’ lurch forward like dystopian electronic dirges, before ‘Social Nationalists’ closes the album with a corrosive EBM explosion. Painfully prescient.

Seán Clancy - And Then You…

Released in celebration of his son’s first birthday, Seán Clancy’s And Then You… is a touching trip into minimalism and synthesis. Over the album’s three pieces, Clancy explores the emotions he went through as he entered fatherhood, how the experience changed his perception of the world, and how it brought into his life a feeling of love he didn’t believe to be possible.

The album’s first piece, ‘And Then You Came Into Existence’, was composed the night before his son’s birth. Its 28 minutes slowly expand as layer upon layer of electronic sound is introduced, including a motif in homage to Carl Stone’s Sonali. ‘And Then You Smiled’ was born out of a recording made on Clancy’s phone as he played bonangs during a break from teaching a university gamelan class. ‘And Then You Had Sleep Regression’ is also derived from a life recording, this time of Clancy singing his son to sleep, before broad drone strokes move around the faint baby gurgles heard in the background, enveloping the listener in a warm bed of sound.

It’s a delightful release, and one that captures three significant moments for the composer during the first year of his son’s life – birth, the feeling of distance when away for work, and closeness when soothing him to sleep. It all makes for an affecting reminder of minimalism’s capacity to feel deeply personal and purposeful. In a time where there’s more throwaway ambience being flung about than we know what to do with, an album like this is more than welcome.