Q: What is the real underground scene in Ireland right now?
A: There isn’t one.
No real scene, that is, no one, genre-bound seam of gold snaking through the country, uniting long-lost solidarities and laying previous crimes in music to rest. Where there was once a North against South, rock vs rave demand to choose your field and stick to it, Ireland has cast aside another weight of expectation. We’re disparate now, eclectic and exhilarated with it, flooded with choice and preferences.
An Egyptian magazine approached me for a piece defining the country’s underground music climate. How do you explain the buzz preceding a much-anticipated album or great gigs to people who’ve never been at Radiator and have no basis for judgement? What defines ‘underground’? Is it a lifestyle, a fashion, regime, attitude? Is it post-rock, punk or psychedelica? A promise on a flyer? Does underground extend above and beyond pogoing bruisers, stage-diving, moshing? Is it the frisson that comes with breathing the same air as three hundred other frenzied be-boppers at the Saturday night hop?
I think it’s the creeping sensation of secretive smugness when a band command every fibre of my being via soundwaves and I screw up eyes, wishing they never make it big, stay wonderful, obscure and untainted forever. But that’s no defining angle to write from: that’s just me.
Instead I decided to take a unromanticised stance on ‘underground’: the antithesis of corporate Irish music industry, these are The Domestics, Mildreds of Irish music who come out at night when the reps and execs have left, tidy desks and empty wastepaper baskets. They do the hard work. They are unsung, name-known by few and it is they who power rumbling machines in underground chambers.
- Electric Underground made a whopper of a debut in 2007, bringing at least three doses of vibrance to the Liquid Lounge in Cork each week. Scrolling through the glitterati namecheck on MySpace reveals electronica royalty, a staggering feat considering the night’s short tenure. Operating on a purely independent basis, Electric Underground provides a stellar venue for emerging Irish electronic acts to showcase their talents and featured SuperExtraBonusParty and Herv before their more-mainstream success. EU’s home-grown residents Warren Knowles and Kevin Blake demolish and develop citysoundscapes before the sun comes up. International acts Neil Landstrumm and Kenny Larkin came to the People’s Republic on the behest of Electric Underground…the People are grateful.
Electric Underground – Liquid Lounge, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork – Fridays, 10pm.
- Belfast’s Skibunny aka Mark and Tanya, came together as a DJ duo almost a decade ago and went from strength to strength building Belfast’s most reputable weekly Saturday night alternative club. Drawing large crowds, the policy is strict: if it’s good, play it. Such a pragmatic approach applied to their recorded endeavours led to a die-for international career ; they’ve spanned the globe from Japan and Russia to the US and spun the decks DJing and performing with big-hitting names like Erol Alkan, The Rapture and CSS while closer to home have produced stonker remixes for !Forward Russia! and local lads LeFaro and Oppenheimer.
Skibunny Club – Auntie Annie’s, Dublin Road, Belfast – Saturdays, 10pm
- SiSi are Cyril Briscoe and Cian Ó Cíobháinat who established a reputation for seminal club nights in Galway, beginning with 110th Street in 1998 and now residing in the Cellar Underground. Varied, eclectic performances cemented their reputation as high-end live DJs while on the production front they reworked Doves and Mylo and brought 2ManyDJs and Justice Irish club debuts. The resounding succes of SiSi led to An Taobh Tuathail, a radio spotfor Cian on RnaG broadcasting Monday to Friday at 11-1am. Check out their MySpace for copious podcast linkage.
SiSi – Cellar Underground, Eglinton Street Galway – Every third Saturday, 10pm
- Run by local band The Holy Ghost Fathers, Ballroom of Romance would be considered one of Dublin’s most popular club nights with regular stints at Portobello’s Lower Deck…possibly the nicest underground venue of them all. While B.o.R do bring international acts to the Lower Deck, last month’s example being the rather fabulous Papier Tigre, they focus closely on trends in music here at home, associating with hosting some truly electric gigs headlined by local bands such underground faves Large Mound and above-pictured Party Weirdo (clicky for piccies from the LM/Estel B.o.R fundraiser for Seomra Spraoi).
Ballroom of Romance – Lower Deck, Portobello, Dublin – monthly Fridays
- Masterminded by Mici Durnin and Darren McCreesh, Dublin’s Maximum Joy do exactly what it says on the tin, bringing grimy good times to Kennedys’ of Westland Row. Formed from a desire to better the clubbing experience of the post-gig crowd, in two years MXJY have carved a solid niche as the capital’s premier underground club night. Massive past guests include Gruff Rhys, Fujiya and Miyagi and Gay Against You, while equal stage-space is given to quality Irish bands like Crayonsmith and Cane 141.
Maximum Joy – Kennedy’s, Westmoreland Row, Dublin – monthly Fridays, 10pm.
Without the mention of promoters, this piece would be a fruitless endeavour: some of the murkiest work is done by promo-peeps who juggle bookers, venues and bands. These are the brainstormers who organise shows and flyers, arrange line-ups and sacrifice the very air they breathe just to make their punters happy:
- Forever Presents is right: gigs brought together by this group remain eternal mnemonic gifts for those who enjoy the distinct tastes of FP. Created in 2007 after extensive employment experience in promotions, an exciting and hugely promising talent brought THE hottest gigs to town with Explosions in the Sky, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Islands and Uh Huh Her just a few names to tread Irish boards courtesy of the Forever Team, who use these opportunities to give local bands a chance to support big acts, like New Amusement upstairs at Whelans with Nelson last week…
- If one name jumps to mind when thinking of the epitome of Irish musical independence, it’s Skinny Wolves. Entire armies of impressionable young people dream of attaining the level of cool that goes hand-in-hand with the Wolves’ impeccable flair for finding the freshest bands and DJs. Practically every band mentioned in this article have worked with Skinny Wolves, their record label boasting the impressive talents of Cap Pas Cap, Indian Jewelry (US) and Luftkluster (Sweden).
- U:Mack : Liars. Caribou. Battles. “Handing out flyers in the rain” since 1994. Need I say more?
Record labels do their bit in mining nuggets from a saturated rockface and many small labels pack a creative wallop in the publishing field, clawing their way to the top of their game by sheer determination and belief in their artists. Unless you’re a Rolling Stones correspondent of thirty years who was in a similarly-titled band for a brief spell before that, starting up a record label is one of the riskiest business moves in the music industry. Yet the continuing high standard of releases from independent labels are going from better, to best, to better….
- AlphabetSet is a strange one. They give you music gratis, free digital downloads of artists’ older releases. Widely regarded as a premier indie label for groundbreaking electronic music, the ABC set comprises capital of the likes of t-woc, Thalamus, Sarsparilla, Solen and Choice-winners SuperExtraBonusParty. Check out the website for as-mentioned freebies and all the latest news.
- Armed Ambitions/Organised Ideas – A double project of promotions and record label, AA/OI is home to some of Ireland’s most promising new acts. In just five months Barry Lennon’s new company released five high-end EPs, three of which made it into Nialler9‘s top Irish EPs of 2007. Ponies in the stable include Adebisi Shank, Bats, Herv, Terrordactyl and Viminas. All of these bands are faring well in the current climate, with Bats’ recent EP Cruel Sea Scientist released in December ’07 to widespread critical acclaim.
- Agitated Radio Pilot, Directorsound, Mirakil Whip, So Cow and United Bible Studies all signed to one of Ireland’s most diverse small labels, Rusted Rail. Now two years old and not as commercially popular as TMIAT or Lazybird, Rusted Rail was a dream made reality by Galwegian Keith Wallace, a familiar face on the city’s FlirtFM radio since the 1990s. His ideal was to bring more-talented, less-predictable sounds to the rockface by creating intimate bonds with his musicians in order to realise their full potential.
Along with These Truly Are The End Times album on his own Covert Bear label, South Korea-based SoCow released his Best Vacation Ever through Rusted Rail.
- Don’t mind the misleading handle of Lazybird Records: undoubtably one of our hardest-grafting units around, tis they we have to thank for a fabulous cross-section of releases which have dominated Ireland’s playlists. With Choice-nominated Dry County, Chequerboard and Lakker, a weekly webcast on www.powerfm.org and a blog, it’s clear the Lazybird catches the worm…
- As mentioned, setting up a record label is a tense affair, which may account for the moniker of another independent label, one that thankfully hasn’t proved a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yeppers, I mean Limerick’s Out On A Limb Records, home to Crayonsmith, GiveAManAKick, Hooray For Humans TenPastSeven and Rest.
- Looking at the array of artists on Trust Me, I’m A Thief‘s books, you’d be convinced of insider knowledge…or really good taste. Impressive names signed to this label include Si Schroeder, Somadrone, Redneck Manifesto and Warlords of Pez, a who’s who of quality Irish alternative. In keeping with the standard of artists, the TMIAT website contains an array of interesting content for browsers, including digital media packs of info, mp3s, videos and artwork for each of their artists and also its own radio widget to listen to the songs on offer. Notable releases through Trust Me I’m A Thief include Choice ’06-nominated Coping Mechanisms by Si Schroeder and Redneck Manifesto’s I Am Brazil.
So… *drum roll* Based on their music and attitude to the life that goes with it, I’d like to venture my top Irish underground bands/musicians:
- 10: T-Woc
- 9 : Party Weirdo/Bats
- 8 : Noise Control/Team Fresh
- 7 : And So I Watch You From Afar
- 6 : Large Mound
- 5 : Betamax Format
- 4 : Terrordactyl
- 3 : Adebisi Shank
- 2 : Dry County
- 1 : SuperExtraBonusParty – These truly are the end times of underground for SEBP. Go, you are men now!
One thing apparent in compiling this feature was the healthy state of Ireland’s musical appetite. Despite our heavily-foreign imports for radio and television, the seeming dislocation of mainstream society from the nation’s creative pool and the little coverage afforded by major media, our music is thriving. Industry wheels are turning, as are vinyl on decks and scrollpads on iPods: demand and consumption is high and we should be proud of those who’ve made it their vocation to save some souls via sounds. Ireland’s underground scene may be dead to stripes and safety-pins…and alive instead, ripping the knees from the jeans of faker scenes. Ireland’s underground scene is real. Dead real..