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Anois, Os Ard: October In Irish Underground Music By Eoin Murray
Eoin Murray , October 26th, 2021 07:02

In our latest transmission from the Irish undergrowth, Eoin Murray considers reclaiming space and Eimear Walshe’s The Land For The People, plus coverage of new shoegaze, "experimental trad" and Autotuned punk

Eimear Walshe's THE LAND FOR THE PEOPLE (2021) Neon installation on the National Sculpture Factory, Cork. Photo by Jed Niezgoda

On the outer wall of Cork’s National Sculpture Factory, there is a neon sign that reads: The Land For The People. Hanging high in the second largest city of a country strangled by a housing crisis, where countless homes and cultural institutions are being demolished to make room for ill-thought out property developments, the sign’s wording is laden with significance.

Derived from the rallying cry of the Land League, who in the 19th century fought for the abolishment of landlordism in Ireland, and the end of displacement and mistreatment of tenant farmers, these five words feel very relevant today. For artists and cultural consumers alike, their relevance is a cruel reminder that, even as the island opens up, many of the spaces we hold dear remain under threat by those who’d gladly see them reduced to nothing.

The Land For The People installation, which will light up every night between the summer and winter solstices this year, is part of a work of the same name by artist Eimear Walshe, which also includes a printed workbook highlighting the relevance of the 19th century land conflict to the present day.

Through a series of prompts and challenges around the themes of “inheritance, displacement, community organising, and revenge”, the pamphlet presents a “sexual case for land reform in Ireland", and ties in to Walshe’s wider research on the subject of historic and contemporary land contention in the country. A second edition of the sold out pamphlet is currently in the works. You can keep an eye out for it here.

This sexual case for land reform is fleshed out further in another work of Walshe’s, titled The Land Question. Their 38-minute talk, which is currently showing as an installation at the Irish Museum Of Modern Art, is presented with wry humour and musical accompaniment from The Department Of Energy featuring Ian Lynch. In it, Walshe runs through a brief history of land contention in Ireland, including the Land League, and explores how “the history of land relations persistently impacts our most intimate thoughts, aspirations, and interactions".

While Walshe’s work ostensibly and convincingly tackles the question of, “Where the fuck am I supposed to have sex?”, its relevance also reaches farther and wider. Ultimately, what we find is that unless you are a landlord, developer, mortgage broker or an “American lizard”, your claim to land, private accommodation or even communal public space is paper thin. They conclude, “If there is no material infrastructure in place in which we can enact these newfound sexual and social freedoms, then those freedoms are purely notional."

All of this felt sickeningly pertinent earlier this month, when hundreds took to the streets of Dublin to protest planned developments for a nine story hotel at the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield. Fears are that the music venue attached to the pub, which hosts nightly trad sessions, will be demolished in the process, adding to the ever-growing list of venues and cultural spaces being lost to developers and obscene rents. A petition to save the Cobblestone and oppose the development has, at the time of writing, received over 32,000 signatures. You can sign it here. The Instagram account, Dublin’s Not Dead Yet, is also worth following.

Moves to reclaim space for creative communities have proved a heartening source of optimism in the weeks and months leading up to Ireland’s more full relaxation of Covid restrictions. TEST SITE is a “collaborative, urban research project” co-created by Ailbhe Cunningham and Aoife Desmond. Among other events and installations exploring the intersection of architecture and ecology, the project has hosted a number of free gigs on its vacant site in Kyrl’s Quay, Cork, including one from The Altered Hours’ Cathal MacGabhann and Bodycam (the project of Rising Damp and Declan Synnot, whose works have both previously featured in this column).

Meanwhile in the capital, Dublin Alive’s outdoor events programme hosted a series of free outdoor shows, including two wherethetimegoes gigs with Rising Damp, Sean Being, Mama Matrix and Bambi. Another group, Reclaim Our Spaces, hosted a free Walking Festival To End Dereliction earlier this month, aiming to “spotlight how our current system is failing us, using our city’s empty sites as a backdrop” while also highlighting “some success stories which we can learn from to preserve the historical, social and cultural capital that makes our city so special”.

In Limerick, during the exceptionally programmed DIY festival Féile Na Greinne, a guerilla live set from Acid Granny outside Chicken Hut saw a gathered crowd calling out for the restaurant’s famous secret recipe which, to be honest, is just really, really fun.

On 30 and 31 October, Dublin Digital Radio will host Alternating Current. Originally scheduled to take place at the end of March 2020, the festival’s successful rescheduling is yet another ray of light to lift the spirits in the wake of a restriction-lifting process that has been anything but clear cut. Celebrating the independent platform's fifth year of broadcasting, the festival’s day programme will be held in the station’s home at The Complex while its late night programme will take place in a a secret city centre location. With a line-up boasting names such as Natalia Beylis, Lighght, Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh, Dreamcycles, FIXITY and more, as well as a specially curated broadcast programme featuring Jennifer Walshe & Wobbly and The Digital Druids, Alternating Current (info and tickets here) will celebrate the tireless creative buzz at the heart of Ireland’s undergrowth. And no landlord can switch that off. Éistigí

The Altered Hours – Convertible
(Pizza Pizza Records)

The Altered Hours have always operated on their own terms. Over the course of a decade, the Cork outfit have patiently developed their explosive brand of shoegaze-influenced psych with the devotion of a group for whom craft is paramount and compromise is not an option. In the space of just seven tracks lasting 30 minutes, Convertible, their second album, says more than most can manage in twice the space. There’s not a second wasted. From the opening detonation of ‘You Are Wrong’ through to the weather-beaten psychedelia of closer ‘7 Years’, they have never sounded this sharp. The music here is urgent and arresting, with Cathal Mac Gabhann and Elaine Howley’s vocals billowing like plumes of smoke around beams of distorted guitar, Nora Lewon’s crashing drums and Patrick Cullen’s rib-shaking bass. ‘Love You’ is pure rock & roll electricity, with Mac Gabhann’s Kevin Shields-like croon leading the charge into a full shred fest. ‘Radiant Wound’ explodes with frustration at the country’s housing crisis, it’s unvarnished refrain – “city I love, city I hate” – hitting like a punch straight to the gut. Having previously recorded in Anton Newcombe’s studio in Berlin, as well as in the city’s hallowed Funkhaus, the band opted for a different process this time round. For the first time since their 2011 debut, which they recorded in a reclaimed government building in Cork, they took production entirely into their own hands, crafting Convertible over the course of two years in their own Lee Road Studios on the outskirts of the city. The creative freedom this afforded them can be heard in every note of Convertible, a record that captures a devoutly DIY band at one of the most important junctures of their journey. In the midst of an extensive tour in support of Fontaines D.C., this album will be many a rabid rock fan’s introduction to one of Ireland’s most vital bands.

John Francis Flynn – I Would Not Live Always
(River Lea)

On his debut solo album, Dublin folk singer and multi-instrumentalist John Francis Flynn interprets traditional songs with an experimental twist, weaving subtle elements of kosmische and electronic music into the form’s deep roots. These songs, learned through recordings of Shirley Collins, Frank Harte, Ewan MacColl and others, burrow into the soul like parables, carried on a voice that sounds like it’s been pulled from the earth itself. Flynn is part of a new generation of artists leading traditional Irish music into new, contemporary territory, but he’s no passing visitor to the school. A member of the trad group Skipper’s Alley, he’s earned his stripes as a virtuoso musician and vocalist, and his abilities shine on this album. On ‘Tralee Gaol’, the polka is played using two tin whistles at once, a technique he also employs on the mesmerising ‘Chaney’s Tape Dream’. Here, and throughout the album, the drones that tie Irish folk music to numerous contemporary experimental styles gleam; Ultan O’Brien’s dolorous strings are set alongside crackling Tascam tape-loops. Such bonds are emphasised in the presence of Phil Christie (The Bonk, O Emperor), whose cosmic keys nestle as comfortably in these songs as the voices of sean nós singer Saileog Ní Ceannabháin and Varo’s Consuelo Breschi, largely thanks to the Midas touch production of Brendan Jenkinson. Above all though, it’s Flynn who towers over this album’s rugged landscape, from his heartrending rendition of the West Indian halyard shanty ‘Shallow Brown’, to the lurching anti-war ballad ‘My Son Tim’.

Claire Guerin & Eamon Ivri – Entropy
(Moot Tapes)

Glasgow-via-Kilkenny label Moot Tapes has been on a roll lately, with nods owed to Jellypelt’s dusty broken techno collection, 2127 Tanya, and the forthcoming krautrock scrambler from SSMMÜTT, Black Pools – Red Dot. It’s September’s tape from Claire Guerin (of theatrical musique concrète duo, Queef) and Eamon Ivri (aka experimental electronic artist, Lighght), that really stirs the nerve soup, though, with each artist bringing their A-game for an hour of bristling field recordings, gurgling electronic growls and whispered poetry. Divided into four lengthy tracks, Entropy rustles with an improvisational spirit, and surprises at every turn. Deep, industrial drones give way to muttered verses and wavering vocals on ‘Black Moon Tar Pit’, while ‘Sage’ rattles like a broken machine putting itself back together. ‘Crow Silk’ sounds like an angry flock’s interpretation of techno, while ‘​Black Moon Ritual For The Dead Pets’ is like a symphony of captured sounds in dialogue with organ drones. Wade into this release, let its weirdness scratch your ears, let its details scramble your senses a little. Then listen again. You’ll hear something new each time.

Jennifer Moore – Channels of Time

Channels Of Time concerns itself with nature’s persistence, and the streams of time that shift and flow around us whether or not we will them to. Across seven cuts of gorgeous ambient folk music, embellished with the sounds of rushing river water and delicate bodhrán percussion, Jennifer Moore’s resonant words sing of fleeting moments, in which our grave concerns and internal panic become miniscule. Aisling Ór Ní Aodha recites a passage – first in English, then as Gaeilge – from writer and environmentalist Robin Wall Kimmerer in the opening track, ‘Fascination Of The Pool’, which describes the Native American Ojibwe verb “to be a bay”, and the inherent life it implies; Éimear Regan reads a similar text from American ecologist and philosopher David Abram in ‘Shadow Loop’. As the world’s frantic pace resumes, these patient hymns – for fans of Julianna Barwick and Grouper – are a reminder to settle into one’s own pace.

Jane Deasy – Thawing

On the follow up to her ultra-minimal 2020 tape, Notes From The Bath, on Fort Evil Fruit, Dublin-based composer and sound designer Jane Deasy utilises digital and analogue synthesis to sculpt two works of deep, suspenseful music suitable for a psychological drama soundtrack. Opener ‘Close To The Surface’ samples one such film: John Cassavetes’ Opening Night from 1977, in which the actor Myrtle Gordon delivers an eerie opening monologue on the prospect of losing touch with one’s emotions. The piece unfolds at a glacial pace, with minute drones and groaning microtonal textures giving way to an enveloping buzz of distorted applause, uncanny chirps and unintelligible whispers. Like Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s creeping score for this year’s Candyman, It’s a subtle masterclass in tension and unease. From the first track’s internal darkness, ‘Walking’ stretches slowly outward, its lo-fi melodic swells descending like an icy night’s fog across a city; you can practically feel the mist on your skin. Its vibrating tonal chill is enough to leave you short of breath, but somewhere within it is a glimmer of light, and a faint promise of warmth.

Lugh – Erangal OST

From an album that could soundtrack a horror movie, to one that does. C.A.N.V.A.S. label co-founder Lugh’s score for Kevin Brennan’s Erangal is as feverish and experimental as its visual counterpart. A fragmented film made in part-documentary, part-scripted format, Erangal’s video game-inspired vignettes examine “virtual violence as a form of expression and identity whilst scrutinising the predominantly male ‘gamer-bro’ archetype synonymous with these online cultures”. Berlin-based, Galway-native Lugh created the soundtrack for Erangal in tandem with Brennan, with each artist’s work informing the development of the other’s. Across ten tracks, Lugh weaves the film’s in-game style audio – all glistening, grunting and rustling – through dense tapestries of ambient synth and brutal, disjointed distortion. ‘Moan Jiro (w/ Olan Monk)’ repurposes a track from Lugh’s 2018 release, ‘Hélico’, into a noisy portrayal of suffocating machismo; Marie Requa Gailey captures the unsettling atmosphere of the film with her siren-like vocals on ‘Forest Lure’. It’s chilling stuff – now all we need is the film itself to be released.

Olan Monk – Auto Life

What happens when pop music is drained of its glamour? When the commercial gloss fades and all that’s left is an imperfect skeleton of the form. It’s a question Olan Monk attempts to answer on Auto Life, a collection born from a deep love of pop music, but containing a wariness of engaging with its trappings, tied as they are to stardom, perpetual youth and glitzy iconography. Like Yves Tumor’s recent efforts, the Connemara native and C.A.N.V.A.S. co-founder takes the shapes and structures of indie rock and pop and contorts them into something more stark. Opening track, ‘Fameless’, begins with an unsteady synth bass growl and the menacing howl of applause (not unlike that in Deasy’s Thawing). Monk sings perfectly pop suitable lyrics – “life is full of changes, you just need to ride with it” – in an icy, foreboding Autotune before an aptly gnarly guitar lead kicks into gear. It sets the tone for the following six tracks (and both bonus cuts of Jam City instrumentals), which confront the conflict of making art for oneself versus for an audience, and the often overwhelming price of idolatry, of both artists and of the self. That aside, these tracks just hit hard, with their distorted “Autotune punk” force, crashing beats and greyscale palette creating an atmosphere that’s as catchy as it is confrontational.

Sunken Foal – Two Moon Junction

One of Sunken Foal’s primary skills is in making the synthetic feel organic. For his latest offering, the prolific Dublin electronic artist and sound designer programmed an 808 drum machine clone to play algorithmically generated polyrhythms, upon which he could write a collection of tracks. Taking these complex patterns, he augmented their forms and dressed them with upright piano melodies, guitar leads and Buchla synth sound beds. The resulting album is full of life, and is dizzy like a misguided bump of whateveryerhavinyerself. Centrepiece ‘The Medium Is The Masseuse’ eases in like a Tortoise-with-MIDI jam, before tumbling into an industrial acid growl, while ‘Spike The Punch’ is a folk-meets-footwork frazzle. ‘Chicken Switch’ is oddly beautiful, its piano trills glittering above unsteady rhythmic peaks. Falling into step with Two Moon Junction is basically out of the question, but its combo of off-kilter beats and melodic warmth will have you fumbling about giddily, leaning in for more.

Leo Miyagee – Act III

Leo Miyagee cuts a singular figure in Irish hip hop. With a deft flow that dances effortlessly on lush boom bap beats, the young Belfast-via-Zimbabwe MC manages to sound at once assertive and cool as a breeze. Like his contemporaries on both sides of the border, he’s been gently riding on the wave of a thriving scene. Not tied to any collectives or particular labels though, Miyagee’s presence is that of a lone storyteller, whose path is proudly his own. On Act III, the third in a series of Inner City Blues releases he’s dropped since 2019, and his first album proper, Miyagee is at his most assured; his voice strikes with a sense of purpose and determination that was hinted at on previous releases, but is fully fleshed out here. Even as he raps with unabashed sincerity about struggles internal and external, he is razor sharp and confident. Apt samples of a preacher are deployed at several points in the ten-track release, describing the personal conflict and disillusionment one can face when chasing one's destiny.

Gaze Is Ghost – Lapis Colbalt Indigo Blue

Originating as a solo project for classically trained Northern Irish composer and singer-songwriter Laura McGarrigle, and later joined by electronic musician Keith Mannion (Slow Place Like Home) and dummer Casey Miller (Zed Penguin), Gaze Is Ghost craft songs with a masterful subtlety. On their debut album, the trio offer ten stripped-back chamber pop piano ballads; McGarrigle’s compositions are elegant yet complex, her tender yet pointed vocals glide through rolling peaks and valleys of melody and percussion. Mannion’s earthy electronics wrap around orchestral strings by Brigid McCaffery and Eric Thomas. With lyrics inspired by her coastal surroundings, McGarrigle’s poetic odes to the wild landscape are matched with overt concerns surrounding the climate emergency and personal responsibility. Elsewhere, songs seem to explore the notion of the individual’s place in history, and the palimpsest influence of those who came before us on who we are now, such as the women whose voices were never heard (‘In Parentheses’). These existential themes are presented with a painterly touch, and their impact settles slowly, without ever feeling laboured. As ‘Wild Geese’ draws the album to a close, McGarrigle sings a simple mantra above a ruminative piano/synth combo: “I will try to do better”. Without any need for grand gestures, Lapis Colbalt Indigo Blue's gorgeous songs linger on the mind long after the album’s fi nished playing.

Group Zero – Everyone’s Already Come Apart
(Touch Sensitive Records)

On his second outing for Belfast’s Touch Sensitive label, Cathal Cully relishes in destruction and reassembly. Where his previous output as Group Zero and as frontman of the departed outfit Girls Names has focussed on tight, propulsive forms – icy industrial electronics and driving post punk – Everyone’s Already Come Apart is an exercise in freeform experimentation and gleeful audio fuckery. Inspired by his “painter-like need for destruction of the canvas”, Cully took half-finished edits and rough sketches he had lying around and just ran with them, worrying less about form and just letting the music breathe for itself. The result is a five-track collection of electronic unravelling, with smoky melodies and spoken samples unspooling on beds of crispy tape hiss. The motorik pulse that has defined Cully’s work to date does linger, gently guiding these tracks on their routes to wherever, rather than forcing their path. Shifting from lo-fi deep house and downtempo grit into a billowing cosmic conclusion, Cully’s music has never felt this free, or this fun.