Cathal jams at length with music journalist Mike McGrath-Bryan to figure out why you should check out Cork’s music
Hello! As promised, here’s the longer version of my interview with Mike. There was so much good stuff that just couldn’t fit into the print issue (although I’m very happy with the article), so we had to put it up online! This is the almost-full transcript, lightly edited for clarity and readability. Enjoy, check out Mike’s work elsewhere and have a nice day!
Photo Credit: Shane Horan
I wanted to start off by asking: What do you think is unique and special about Cork’s music scene compared to say, Dublin and Limerick, in terms of what types of music/genres are being made here?
Okay, before I start, I wanna say that Limerick is a fantastic music scene at the minute and is… my Corkonian civic pride will only let me say the matching of the Cork music scene, but I was at Limerick a couple weeks ago for Féile na Gréine and the vibes that are there right now are magnificent. Go to Limerick for a weekend, go to the gigs, talk to the DIY LK people, the Music Generation people, Post Punk Podge, et cetera.
Music in Cork is unique because… There’s not been a sustained music industry presence here, ever. The traditional music industry was always based in Dublin and was always making the majority of signings in Dublin.
You can go back as far as blues rock happening on the Docks or post-punk in the late seventies/early eighties at the Arc Ballroom, which is now Arcadia Hall—much of which was overseen by UCC Music Society! [UCC Music Society] were bringing in big names like UB40 and the band that would later become U2 to headline their gigs, alongside local bands like Nun Attax, Mean Features, Urban Blitz. In fact, UCC Societies’ Elvera Butler oversaw the first contemporary music release out of Cork at all, which was recorded via a recording van that came down from Belfast and lined into the sound desk via hundreds and hundreds of metres of cable to record off the stage a split EP called Kaught At The Kampus which, by coincidence, is up on Spotify right now. If anybody wants to see how far the roots of weird music go back in Cork all you have to do is look it up.
Photo Credit: Mike McGrath-Bryan
Because Cork bands have had that breathing space to do what they want and develop their own ideas away from the spotlight of magazines and of much radio, you saw people coming up with their own ideas and being fearless with how they covered everyday things and that quirkiness has stayed in the water. You go forward again from Microdisney and Nun Attax to Cypress Mine, and the outset of house which became massively popular in Cork after discos closed down, all the way to the early nineties where you had the double thing of indie bands like the Sultans of Ping and the Frankenwalters becoming huge independent successes over in the UK and bringing that star power home and then Sir Henry’s down the road not only being a big venue for the likes of the Sweat night, which was a legendary dance night, but also you had Sonic Youth and Nirvana doing double bills in there as part of their touring.
Every forty-something in town claims to have seen Nirvana inside in Henry’s, but the attendance record says something different. The recording of Nirvana in Henry’s is actually up on YouTube too. The man at the sound desk was wise enough to grab tapes of everything he was working.
That turned out pretty well.
It certainly did. There’s photos there too.
There’s this context that people don’t know about: Every five or six years when young people start bands, they’re kind of extending that history of oddness that they don’t know about. You go from the early 1990’s into the late 2000’s where we had everything from post-rock stuff like Rest and Waiting Room, or you had post-grunge stuff like Hope Is Noise, and that in turns feeds into stuff like Terriers, stuff like Terror Pop/Elastic Sleep, Former Monarchs all the way up to today, where we’re in the post-genre times: Everybody’s listening to everything so the kids that are now seventeen-eighteen years of age, they’re not punks/goths/hippies/alt rockers… Everybody’s listening to everything, so you have things like the bedroom-pop stuff that Hausu are doing. They’re an amazing group of autodidacts, that do so much for themselves and for each other, and other people.
So, what makes Cork music different is… The fact that it’s had this time to develop and be its own thing. People have taken up the mantle without even realising it because they chose to be here rather than be takin’ industry-conditions-by-proxy by dint of being in Dublin or maybe Belfast.
Yeah, there is this kind of feeling that Cork is a place where stranger ideas can generate into a big soup in weirder stuff like Happyalone. , or Ghostking is Dead.
Absolutely! If you have the freedom to experiment and the freedom to create, you’re gonna come up with things a lot quicker and… Necessity is the mother of invention. If you don’t have a label nearby, or if you don’t have an industry presence nearby you’re gonna start talkin’ to people manually, you’re gonna start finding your ways and means of getting things out there, and collectives have always been a thing in Cork, especially recently with everybody from Hausu, to Teletext, to Cutting Heads all coming together and allowing people to pool their skills to create a decentralised infrastructure.
That’s really been the joy of it. That’s also not a new phenomenon. You look at Sick Note Records which was running bands like Ladydoll and Fingersmith, regularly gigging out of The Quad down the street, which is now the function hall of The Bowery. People have just found ways and means of doing things, and they’ve managed to make it sustain itself, if not themselves, over the period of years.
You can see it when you have lads that are playing their weird music and the stuff that they love well into their fifties and sixties and onward because they managed to make it happen themselves. Burnout happens from time to time and life gets in the way from time to time, but even in recent times, alongside Pretty Happy and Hausu and all those I’ve interviewed, I’ve also had the chance to interview Boa Morte doing their third album in twenty years, or the ex-members of Nun Attax and Five Go Down To The Sea pulling 300 people on a Tuesday night for their Finbarr Donnelly anniversary show.
It’s all there. What keeps Cork music special now is what always kept Cork music special, and that is that something in the water.
I suppose, similar to that is-
Fuck I gave you six minutes of an answer, Jesus Christ!
Do you have any personal favourite bands that you would recommend people to listen to to get into Cork music, or just bands that you would recommend people follow?
At present, in terms of metal, God Alone are my favourite. Black metal fusionists, eighteen-nineteen years of age, still with their lives ahead of them, having put so much groundwork into not only establishing themselves but into their compositions and their stagemanship, it’s incredible. Also Coroza, Parthenon, there’s such a great metal scene here.
Photo Credit: Greig Clifford
In terms of hip-hop, I always say that one of the mainstays of modern Irish hip-hop and a much under-appreciated pillar of the current Irish hip-hop revival/revolution/golden era/call it what you will is Speculative Fiction, who was a man that addressed the ideas of emotional intelligence and toxic masculinity in 2013! When nobody else was doin’ it! He’s one to look at.
In terms of what’s happening at the moment in bedroom-pop stuff, the Hausu collective guys like Ghostking Is Dead, Automatic Blue, they have such wild ideas on their own and then they help each other realise those ideas. From a journalistic perspective I love that story, and as a listener I always love when Colm DMs me the new things to pitch.
Photo Credit: Bartek Gruba
One thing that I found difficult when I was getting into Cork music is figuring out where and how to find good gigs and good music, because so much of it is done through social media. It’s very atomised.
You’re getting what the algorithm is feeding you.
Regarding difficulties of getting into Cork music… See, in previous generations there would have been the local magazine, or there would’ve been the Downtown section in the Echo and that would’ve carried an ungenred gig listing so you could pick and choose what you wanted from it. It still does today.
Meanwhile, social media is so atomised and artists can only reach so many people on their feeds without paying for sponsored content… Facebook groups has helped people circumvent that a little bit with genre specialty groups. In terms of where metal fans can go, there’s a Cork Metal And Hardcore group on Facebook. Where do Cork Hip-Hoppers go? Cork Hip-Hop on Facebook. There’s an amount of forums out there, it’s just a matter of doing some diggin’ and figuring out what’s what.
I do think that there are people making an effort like, cheap plug, I do the Nialler9 Cork Gig Guide on Fridays so for City Centre residents that’s handy in case you’re stuck at the last minute without things to do. The G-Man does a more generalised gig guide at thegmanworld.com earlier in the week. As somewhat of a folkie, his coverage is gonna lean more in that direction.
The Point Of Everything does some fantastic podcasts and feature-length music journalism as well. Very much taking his cues from the music journalism style of The Guardian in terms of analysis.
GoldenPlec does more after-the-fact reviews, but it’s a pretty good place to go for physical coverage or photography and after-the fact coverage of what’s going on. For those who maybe don’t know quite where they want to go yet they can see themselves what the venues are, who’s playing where, who’s more likely to play where, and get that picture for themselves over the course of a couple of days of looking at what’s going up on GoldenPlec.
Otherwise Evening Echo on Thursdays, and- oh yeah! Echolive.ie now does a general entertainment guide daily in its What’s On section.
It is very disparate. I do wish there was one big place in town that had the seal of approval. We had the Nialler9 Cork Gig Guide briefly go up on all the ad screens around Cork. I don’t know what happened to it. We definitely do need a seal of approval.
With that being said, Nialler9 Cork Gig Guide, Friday afternoons, nialler9.com, sound.
Fair dues on you for not plugging Red on Red. I’ve found that to be good stuff.
For context, Red on Red is Mike’s podcast that uploads every…
Every Wednesday night, seven o’clock.
redextra.ie and wherever else you listen. And yeah, that’s more long-form interviews where we talk about one particular gig that’s coming up in the coming weeks, and why somebody listening with zero knowledge would or should care.
Alright! And, away from the people, the places: Are there any particular venues or regular events that you could find on social media to look through their events, any place that’s kind of a centre of good music and talent?
If you’re asking for genre nights… With metal my recommendation at the moment is is The Paranoid Pit in Fred Zeppelins on the last Saturday of every month, which is a night put on by The Paranoid Beast promoters and is video and audio-recorded for later broadcast. We’ll be running out some live gigs through the Red on Red podcast in the coming weeks and they’ll also be uploading all the video to YouTube as well as a means of creating a Tiny Desk-type situation.
For hip-hop, the Cutting Heads collective do a regular enough aul session in the Vicarstown bar, and have started running gigs in The Roundy as well. That’s worth checking out for fans of Cork beats.
Harder dance… Dali is always a good place to go for techno and house of the Corkonian variety because Jamie Behan Is behind so much of it.
Photo Credit: Dali Cork
There’s not really a regular indie or alternative night anymore, the way that there would have been ten years ago with Freakscene every Wednesday night. I would say that’s throwing down the gauntlet to some enterprising soul in first year of UCC with time to kill: Go talk to a venue and see if you can move a PA in there every Wednesday night and see can you take on the challenge of programming a night every week for yourselves.
Please do, because I would come.
And that’s the thing, because you’ll get more support than you’d think you would. Because everybody wants to see everybody else succeeding. People turn out for each other… You’ll see the hip-hoppers turning out for the techno nights or you’ll see the metallers going to the psychedelic rock shows and what have you and we all know that it’s the same struggle that DIY music people are having, that we’re all balancing other jobs or if we’re lucky enough to have full-time jobs in creativity then we’re slicing up our creativity between the day job and the ‘music’. People empathise and that’s the creation and the foundation of this community in this town.
Yeah, it’s what makes Cork a great place to work and a great place to study. So, finally, in a couple of sentences, why should a student listen to and see live Cork music?
Because the Cork music scene is like nothing else in the world, where you have such a concentration of so many different people doing so many different things in the aforementioned environment where there’s maybe a bit more room to experiment and play. It’s all in your backyard, all you have to do is go down the main drag from UCC into the town centre and you’ve got The Roundy, Cyprus Avenue, Fred Zeppelins, Dali. There’s a lot of distinct things happening all at the one time and the atmosphere at the events is generally accepting. You can mingle around, you can talk to people and you can see for yourself how things that as a first year coming out of secondary school you may only have seen on telly or on YouTube operate as a live thing.
So why should people go to Cork and check out Cork music? Because there’s something in the water!
Follow Mike’s music coverage at the Red on Red podcast, The Evening Echo’s Downtown section on Thursdays, and nialler9.com.