Anois, Os Ard: May In Irish Underground Music By Eoin Murray

In the ninth edition of our column on the sounds of Irish undergrowth, Eoin Murray finds culchie surrealism, rural kosmische, acerbic punk, improvised psychedelia, lo-fi hip hop and much more

Brian Eno’s Music For Fucking Dopes. Summer Songs Rory Gallagher Would Listen To If He Were Still Alive And Not Dead Because Dead People Can’t Listen To Music. Simply The Best UVF. Ballymac Lads Are Hungry For Blood. Dublin In The Rain Is Shit Craic Because Dublin Is A Shit City With Shit Things And The Rain Only Makes It Worse. Carlow Town Is The Cyberpunk Capital Of Europe. Big Booty Boards Of Canada. NOW! That’s What I Call North Kerry Noise

That’s a list of just some of the albums and tracks released under the banner of “culchie surrealism”, a loose descriptor that encompasses anything from Gaelic vaporwave and plunderphonic noise to queasy trip hop, donk, digital hardcore and countless other indescribable sounds. Culchie surrealism is an online scene-of-sorts, based primarily around two labels: Dollar Pickle Records in Kerry, and Scauldwave Records in Wexford. Between them, they’ve released well over 100 albums, EPs and compilations, with roughly 40 artists releasing on each, using a plethora of outlandish pseudonyms.

The general idea? Make and release music as quickly and haphazardly as possible; apply as little reasoning and coherence as you can to produce something that instead responds directly to what’s in front of you. The North Kerry Noise manifesto goes deeper into the artless nature of the music on Dollar Pickle: “You Must Have Your Song Titles Written Before Any Music Gets Written”; “You Can’t Spend More Than Half An Hour On Making A Track”; “Being Serious, In Any Way Shape Or Form, Is Not Tolerated”.

Culchie surrealist labels operate within a strict non-hierarchical structure, and place particular emphasis on the importance of anonymity – many who have put out music through these labels are “serious” artists in their own right, but self-promotion for these releases is broadly discouraged. Often, music will come from young people just looking for a home for their daft software experiments, with the “Everyone Is Welcome” and “For The Most Part. Nothing is Off-Limits” guidelines creating a platform that is severed from the music “industry”, and open to all forms of creative spew (unless it’s "racist, homophobic, misogynistic. Or anything like it").

But what, if anything, is the purpose of culchie surrealism?

“It represents a manic, hyperaware state,” says Scauldwave Records’ Damo Furlong, “reflecting the need for young people in Irish rural areas to keep up with the world around them – almost never the world they immediately find themselves in – which frequently takes the form of near exclusive online contact. A lot of music releases associated with this term approach a point of sensory overload, with as much information compressed tightly into a single space as possible.”

“Culchie surrealism is basically just taking all the usual tropes that one would have experienced growing up in rural Ireland and bastardising them until it fits into what we’re trying to do,” Dollar Pickle’s Mr. Pickle agrees, citing rural comic country songwriter Richie Kavanagh as a mascot for the movement.

Despite their unserious intentions, and the manic, often unlistenable, nature of their output, there is an unavoidable sense that culchie surrealism and its platforms are creating a vessel through which young people can vent their frustrations. As Furlong explains, many releases on the label, consciously or otherwise, are responses to the overwhelming amounts of information we consume both in person and online, as well as the rapidly changing environments we exist in, with little or no control over. It can feel impossible to keep up with discourse and the news cycle, and easy to feel left behind in a society that prioritises rapid economic growth and development above all else. Outside of cities, this can be doubly true, and sometimes the only option is to respond with noise.

“Most of the artists who are from rural Ireland, which is the bulk of the artists, have a very strained relationship with it,” he says. “Many of the areas we’ve grown up in and live in have been deliberately unfunded, under-resourced and aggressively gentrified, to push as many people as possible towards cities… A considerable number of artists on the label identify as LGBTQ+ in one form or another, many artists are also disabled. Some of the releases are depictions of the abject alienation some of us have frequently experienced.”

Within the unwieldy, chaotic catalogues Dollar Pickle and Scauldwave, there are some genuinely special releases: Tosóidh Clársceideal TnaG 31st October 1996 by serial experiments leighlinbridge is a sprawling electronic work built on Irish language TV samples; Dollar Pickle’s NOW! That’s What I Call North Kerry Noise is a 100-track compilation of exhilarating sound experiments and heinous track titles. The recent Do Mountains Keep Growing? I Don’t Think We Know That Yet by HOORS is a genuinely excellent collection of noisy techno, while Damo Furlong’s new one, VIRTUALE MONET is a maximalist electronic eruption all about cryptocurrency (sort of).

And that barely scratches the surface of these labels’ catalogues, so get digging here and here. With plans to continue collaborating, and to host some live events once venues open up again, the culchie surrealism movement shows no signs of slowing. Maybe you could try creating some North Kerry Noise yourself?

In the meantime, this month’s features rural kosmische, acerbic punk, improvised psychedelia, lo-fi hip hop and much more. Éistigí.

Fears – Oíche

The five-year story of Fears’ debut album is one of growth, and the rebuilding of oneself in the wake of trauma and loss. Over ten intimately minimal alternative pop songs, recorded and produced between “three bedrooms, hospital, and at the Domino Recordings studio in Brixton”, the artist documents periods of time before, during and after a mental breakdown, detailing the subsequent process of recovery, self-forgiveness and acceptance with a haunting tenderness and skill. There is a chilling poise to the way Fears shares these stories. Crisp electronic beats, plucked melodies and guitar arrangements embellish her frank lyricism, which never shies from the front of the mix. Opener ‘h always’ was recorded in the music room of a mental health facility, and Fears has described the confusion that can be heard in her lyrics as she processes her feelings around a traumatic situation. Two of the album’s earliest tracks, ‘daze’ and ‘vines’, describe internal struggles and feelings of self-blame that can emerge within toxic interpersonal circumstances. The pain of those tracks is placed next to the sense of promise and familial love heard elsewhere: ‘bones’ is a track about reclaiming one’s sense of stability and self-trust; ‘dents’ is a personal lullaby about forgiveness of oneself; ‘tonnta’ and the preceding recording, ‘Brighid’, are reflections on the love shared between Fears and her late grandmother. Óiche ends with ‘ two’, which was written two years after ‘h _ always’, and is an ode to the winding road of healing, and to her family. It concludes the album on a note of quiet hope, and the acceptance that these journeys are always ongoing. Marking the launch of her TULLE label with Emily Kendrick, which will shine a light on women, gender non-conforming and non-binary folk, Fears’ artistic journey is also reaching new milestones, and it’s a joy to think where it will go next.

M(h)aol – ‘Asking For It’

Fears is also the drummer in feminist noise punk outfit M(h)aol, who released their third single several months ahead of schedule in March amid a tidal wave of fury against persisting violence against women, and the culture of misogyny that fuels it. Catalysed by collective sorrow after the murder of Sarah Everard, and rage at the subsequent police aggression toward those who attended her vigil at Clapham Common, ‘Asking For It’ landed at a crucial time, with all proceeds going toward Women’s Aid Ireland, who provide support to those who have experienced domestic violence. A snarling takedown of the dismissive language women so frequently face when they report abuse – “How much did you drink?”, “Were you asking for it?” – and the systems that blithely treat their fear of walking home alone at night as a given, M(h)aol’s latest is a caustic anthem of defiance against patriarchal structures, delivered like a petrol bomb of drums, bass and distortion.

Various Artists – Chancers
(City Imp Records)

Chopped and filtered Enya vocals, viral Kerry comedy and mid 00s happy hardcore melodies meet Jersey Club beats and rave breaks on this debut compilation from City Imp Records. The newly launched project from City Imp and Roo Honeychild, co-founder of beloved Dublin party Club Comfort, is the latest in a growing list of labels that are shaking up the sound of Irish club music (props owed here to Talamh Records and Bitten Twice). Fuelled by a playful sense of nostalgia for “shifting someone’s mate at a teen disco, cúpla focail Gaeilge bhriste and drinking cans on public transport”, the seven track collection injects hyperactive modern club sounds with roguish touchstones of Irish youth and identity. Toké O’Drift’s ‘OHFCKIT’ kicks the comp straight into gear, while liberally sampling that video of a bat wreaking havoc in a Kerry family’s kitchen. Cuts from Flood’s Doubt and Rory Sweeney & Julia Louise Knifefist trade samples for high-octane trance melodies and gravelly vocals, while City Imp’s own ‘#AonDóTrí Challenge’ blends an Irish counting lesson with a vintage Eurodance lead and a Gwen Stafani vocal chop. It’s back to back bangers on Chancers, as fit a for rusty waltzers and car stereos as they are the dancefloor. Listen to it just about anywhere, as long as it’s loud.

Various Artists – European Endless: 12

In February 2021, Will Cagney Murphy reached out to a number of musicians with a simple creative brief: produce a piece of music, roughly 12 minutes in length, built upon a motorik beat that he would provide. Taking his cue from Neu’s Klaus Dinger, who described the motorik rhythm as being “essentially about life, how you have to keep moving, get on and stay in motion”, Cagney Murphy sought to curate something unifying and hopeful, marking a year since lockdown set in. The idea was that, while each composition would be different, they would share the same rhythmic foundation and length – a minute for every month. The resulting compilation is a feast of free flowing kosmische, krautrock, spoken word psychedelia and euphoric electronic experimentation, with contributions coming from artists all over the island (Arvo Party, Whozyerman, The Bonk, This Ship Argo, Julia McConway, more) and all proceeds going toward the Irish Refugee Council.

Lighght – Holy Endings
(Doom Trip)

Holy Endings holds ambient music under a microscope. From a distance, the Cork artist’s new album feels understated, as though it’s eschewing the energy of his club focussed EPs from 2020, and the technicolor blend of electronic styles heard on his 2019 debut album Gore​-​Tex In The Club, Balenciaga Amongst The Shrubs. On closer inspection though, these six tracks offer some of Lighght’s most exciting music to date – you just need to look beneath the surface. Field recordings, found sounds and lush electroacoustic forms are woven together like a tapestry, revealing a universe of intricate details and idiosyncrasies. Conversational fragments and rustling environmental audio form foggy foundations for electronic melodies to flourish and pulse, while erroneous recordings of wind and fidgeting hands are alchemised into warm sub bass sounds. Lighght stitches countless minute ephemerae together with a careful hand, creating something as striking as it is subtle, as immersive as it is complex. From the unravelling ambience of opener ‘there are parts of my soul i don’t dare speak’ to the billowing electricity of ‘St. Bliss’, this album is utterly alive, and reveals itself more with each listen.

Jehnova, lod – Avenoir
(andfriends records)

Recorded remotely during lockdown, this debut collaboration between Dublin MC Jehnova and producer lod concerns itself with uncertainty. Over just 13 minutes of hazy, lo-fi hip hop, the South Africa-born rapper delivers deft verses that capture a common contradiction of young adulthood: the dread of getting trapped in a laboured, looping routine, and the fear of what could come if that cycle breaks. The message of these seven tracks is one of assurance though: smoky beats built on jazz and soul samples underpin Jehnova’s refined flow, as he resolves to face his doubts head on, and hold his “fate in my control”. There’s an added charm to how these tracks came together, with both artists sending audio files and notes back and forth to one another from across the city at the height of the pandemic, refusing to let stasis stifle their creative process. Lod’s boom bap beats pair perfectly with Jehnova’s voice, while a feature from fellow Dublin artist Uly on ‘hwicky’ makes for one of the release’s most tender moments. Luthorist, one of Jehnova’s comrades in multicultural hip hop troupe NUXSENSE – whose new single ‘TASTE’ is also top-notch – delivers a razor-sharp verse on the blissful ‘ressa’, while ‘is it real’ ends ‘Avenoir’ on a quietly triumphant high.

United Bible Studies – Divining Moments
United Bible Studies – West Kennet Ascension

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of United Bible Studies, the amorphous folk/drone/psych ensemble at the heart of the Irish undergrowth, who have welcomed over 200 contributors from around the world into their creative orbit in that time. With a far-reaching sound palette, and a vast catalogue of live recordings and studio releases on their Bandcamp, the sound of UBS is defined by its sense of experimental collectivism, its affinity with rural landscapes, and its trust in the unifying power of “folk” music, in the broadest, most exploratory, sense of the word. Currently centred on the core group of founder David Colohan, Alison O’Donnell (formerly of Mellow Candle), Dominic Cooper and Matt Leivers – itself, liable to change come the next release – United Bible Studies’ latest offerings are the conclusion to a series launched in 2019 with Cave Hill Ascension. A mixture of “devotional drones and rural kosmische”, Divining Moments is composed of four pieces, exactly 23 minutes in length a piece. Leivers’ saxophone glides gently through the nocturnal fog of organ synths and wordless vocals, like Pharoah Sanders’ astral spirituality encased in dewey moss. An orchestra of keys, accordion, voices and chimes fold around one another throughout this release, like passing clouds merging.

West Kennet Ascension is more active, and sees the group expand to a septet with the addition of Diana Collier, Sophie Cooper, and Graeme Lockett. Recorded mostly at a series of neolithic sacred sites and burial grounds in England, including Waylands Smithy and West Kennet Long Barrow, these six pieces capture the ensemble at their best, offering unaccompanied vocal re-interpretations of pastoral folk tunes next to hypnotic harmonium drone suites. It’s masterclass in the wyrd, delivered by some of its finest modern practitioners.

Post Punk Podge & The Technohippies – Euphoric Recall

Euphoric recall is described as the tendency of people to remember past experiences in a positive light, while overlooking negative experiences associated with them. There could be no more apt a title for the long awaited debut album by Limerick’s DIY hero Post Punk Podge & The Technohippies, an 11-track assemblage of bog gothic dance rock, distorted “ruralcore” and acerbic lyricism. It’s been tempting in the past year to think about how great things were when they were “normal”, and to yearn for some presumed simplicity and joy of the before times when things were, you know, absolutely perfect. The tracks on Euphoric Recall pull things into a sharper focus, with Podge confronting very real personal and societal issues in a stark but deeply approachable manner. Rousing choruses and piercing verses tackle subjects of toxic masculinity, gentrification, addiction, the abuses of the Catholic Church and mental illness. They remind us that, even when the pandemic does end, there remains a steep uphill fight in creating a better Ireland for young people, and for those who are marginalised. These anthemic songs call for unity in that fight, and when live music returns, The Technohippies’ riotous sets will once again become the perfect outlet for those shared frustrations. Viva La Podge.

Electronic Sensoria Band with Gavin Duffy – Live at The Joinery
(Diet of Worms)

Originally released as a run of 50 CDs in 2008, this live recording of Electronic Sensoria Band – sometimes European Sensoria Band, sometimes E+S=B – and Gavin Duffy is a piece of Ireland’s recent experimental music history worth treasuring. Recorded in the now defunct Joinery venue and art space in Dublin, it captures an improvised set of febrile noise jams and distorted free jazz freakouts from one of the undergrowth’s long kept secrets. Fergus Cullen’s clarinet and fuzzed-up guitars screech and buzz around twins Anthony and David Carroll’s twitching bass and drum combo, while Duffy’s often-effect-laced trumpet punctuates the set’s feverish pulse. It’s intoxicating stuff – bottled chaos with a psychedelic chaser. It’s no wonder that two years after this recording, Electronic Sensoria Band would record another live set in Dublin, this time as part of the boundless Damo Suzuki Network. All proceeds from the newly reissued tape edition on Diet Of Worms will go toward the Irish Cancer Society.

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