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Deep Down South: (Almost) A Half-Year Review (Of Sorts)


Because it’s a slow news week, and your writer is a laptop-dwelling beardo still in thrall to his most base of blogger-nerd urges, this week’s Bank Holiday installment of Deep Down South is every music pedant’s favourite – the half-year review. I’m well aware we’re only just into month six of 2015 (and this column) as of today, but it’s been a hella-busy few months, and a wee bit of stocktake is more than called for.

We started the year with the promise of the Quarter Block Party, a DIY arts festival co-organised by the Makeshift Ensemble and promoters the Southern Hospitality Board. The first weekend of February, the festival was announced as an injection of positivity and a rallying point for a recovering Cork music scene, fulfilling every smidgen of promise and then exceeding it several times over. This was added to by metal weekender Noisefest over at Fredz providing an option for those in need of something heavier, and the two festivals played absolute blinders, bolstering the mood of the city’s cultural community. People travelled for the weekend, and left abuzz, from artists, to PR types, to gig-goers, about our home on the Lee. It was, suffice to say, a proud weekend, much-raved about on this blog and elsewhere, including a special in the Irish Times.

But the buzz has carried as well: whole weekends have been subsumed by quality lineups that would have split audiences multiple ways in previous years and scattered them around the city, and most venues of a weekend have reported stronger turnouts at gigs for this time of the year than the last few years. Touring acts from all over the genre spectrum, from Le Galaxie, Villagers and No Spill Blood to Negura Bunget, the cohort behind Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals and Alcest have stopped by; and with SOAK, Mastodon, Mogwai and more due for spot shows this summer, gigs are looking good heading into the autumn/winter city-centre festival season. Cork Midsummer Festival, Indiependence, Sounds from a Safe Harbour, IndieCork, Folk Festival and the Jazz will provide a weighty series of successive cultural touchstones that cement us as the leading festival city in the country, anchoring smaller affairs around them like August’s 100/1 one-nighter, the Sonic Vigil and monthly nights that continue to crop up.

The Moonstomp has provided Cork’s various strains of ska, reggae, dub and Northern Soul aficionados with a monthly dose of tunes from specialist selectors, Not How, When! and Under a Plastic Cloud have balanced danceability and good times with record-geekery and the input of guests both Irish and international, and Rumble on Barrack St. has provided an outlet for raucous rock ‘n’ roll. The Library on Hanover St. has made itself a home for multiple strains of electronica, an initiative also shared by Cyprus Avenue and its involvement with new lads Phlux Events and veterans Bastardo Electrico. The Cork Improvised Music Club have made appearances at Gulpd and serve as among the boldest steps taken from the noise/sound-art/drone scene of a few years back, while The Sea of Okhotsk continue to straddle the line between signal and noise. Mr. Bradley’s and the Print Shop have made themselves the home of a diverse range of noisy, loud stuff, while Fred Zeppelin’s remains the touchstone of Cork metal (to whit: Bisect, Kawtiks and [r]evolution of a sun all bow out there this weekend – get and pay your respects).

Releases in 2015 that have exemplified Cork’s variety of output include The Hard Ground‘s ‘Triptych’ full-length,  Terriers‘ debut (and sadly final) album ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boys’, singles from hip-hop upstarts ApocalypsE, Horse‘s absolutely crushing debut extended-player ‘Funderland’, O Emperor‘s gorgeous ‘Lizard’ EP, and ‘Birth’, the debut album of electronic-pop duo Young Wonder, much-fancied for big things by tastemakers like Pitchfork and Clash. The Frank and Walters and Slow Motion Heroes have rowed in with quality pop single cuts, while the rest of the year sees heavyweight hitters like Elastic Sleep, Hope is Noise, The Altered Hours, the reunited Elk and The Vincent(s) release albums, and outfits like Ealadha and Soothsayer releasing singles/EPs, in what will be a landmark year for the city musically.

The city’s musical spirit even continues into the realm of record-nerdery, with independent outlets flourishing while the two remaining big chains maintain mere token presences in the city, with neither stocking local music of any description. PLUGD keeps going from strength to strength, the signal that all is right with the world. The best Twitter account in Cork at the moment has to be @sh1talbertsays, a rolling collection of (and reverent tribute to) the witticisms, hassling and slaggery of PLUGD’s erstwhile man behind the counter Albert Twomey (pictured acting the eejit). Records and Relics is a fantastic place to dip into secondhand 7″s in particular, while secondhand LP hunters will be richly rewarded with a venture to Fenn’s Quay skateshop Ripall to go crate-diving. A new addition this quarter to the vinyl renaissance is newly-opened speciality book emporium The Time Traveller’s Bookshop, stocking secondhand records and brand-new jazz remasters on vinyl and SACD (!), as well as polys, paper inserts, needles and other paraphernalia.

This week, your writer took a rare dive into the pages of Hot Press when he heard there was a few pages on Cork (surely a mag that purports itself to be the “paper of record” for Ireland’s national musical community should be covering not-Dublin every issue, instead of doing the odd bit when it can be bothered and calling it a “special”?). For the most part, they asked the right people the right questions, and even if it was a little light on current Leeside talent & regularly gigging names (and as is custom with Hot Press’ treatment of Irish artists, completely bereft of either metal or hip-hop), it paints a pleasant, but incomplete, picture of Cork as a burgeoning scene full of esoteric talents and an expanding palate of music venues. But it is that complete picture that this column attempts to paint – hopefully finding the various subtleties and nuances, and bringing them out for those that wish to identify them. Any eejit can say he has the best scene in the world – but only an eejit from Cork knows he’s definitely not spoofing or anything, like.

If you’re from Cork and gigging/DJing/exhibiting/releasing records/selling records/promoting gigs/podcasting/doing radio/PRing/screenprinting shirts/playing a gamelan for college/shooting toy guns into pickups, this is your column and your space to be seen and heard. Mail me at mike (at) thethinair (dot) net to get a shout in for whatever it is you’re at.

Contributor, distributor & occasional Cork correspondent for The Thin Air, as well as, Cork's Evening Echo and others. Likes some things, dislikes other things. Tweets, Instagrams and Snapchats at @mike_mcgb.