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Sounds Of System Breakdown: “The events of the past few weeks have reinvigorated the case for protest music”

Sounds Of System Breakdown‘s self-titled debut album, released in 2010, is one of the sounds of my early years in Dublin. Encapsulating the gritty urban-ness of the less-touristy aspects of the city, it was a shining electro-pop record riddled with enthralling beats and whip-smart lyrics.

They’ve been relatively quiet in recent years, being spread as they are between a houseboat outside Dublin and a new home in London, but recently returned with new single ‘Connect With Me’.

How much do I personally rate this band? They were my wedding band, playing exclusively their own material. Here’s what they had to say around the launch of the new single.

Welcome back, lads! It’s been quite a while. How does it feel to be working together again?

I guess we never really stopped, we just had to slow down a bit as other life events took precedence. It’s great to have three pairs of eyes and ears on everything again. Honestly, there’s a great feeling of focus now – I think a bit of distance from the last few records has given us a better understanding of our sound.

It must be quite difficult given your disparate living situations. How do songs like the new single come together in practice?

It was kind of iterative. I’d usually demo something, then Ed would do a rough drum take, Richy would try some vocals on top. Then after a few listens we’d chat about what worked and what didn’t. We avoided preciousness wherever we could so you’ll hear a lot of the demo stuff in there, mixed with better quality recordings. It was about keeping whichever take had the best energy.

Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the single?

It came from the bass line – everything else came from that in a really instinctive way. The lyrics are supposed to be little snapshots of memories all jumbled up together. The words feel secondary to how the meter and sounds elaborate on the rhythm section.

RunOffBroke: “Berlin was crazy, we had some rough times out there but the effects it had on our music is something I’d never change”

RunOffBroke might be one of those artists to emerge from lockdown more complete, more ready to face whatever the music industry evolves into.

Filtered through young creativity and a period living in Berlin, Jordan Wilson dabbles in house and afrobeat sounds as well as his rapping, working regularly with producer NINETY7HERTZ to produce what’s turned out to be a heap of recent material.

Back in Ireland after those Berlin escapades, he talks us through what it’s all been about…

You seem to be firing out the singles at the moment. What’s brought on the creative period?

We just decided that it’s time to start working as hard as we can. If we really want this music to go where we want it to, then we need to keep the work rate high. NINETY7HERTZ and I are honestly lucky that we’re in this quarantine cause it gives us a lot of time to work on new material, new songs are being made every day and that’s not gonna stop for a long time!

For your latest single, about a conflicted relationship, is there a particular story behind the track?

I’ve definitely been in some situations with some crazy ladies, I’m not gonna say any names but they know who they are. It’s a strange thing because inherently for all of us in abusive situations we can find ourselves holding onto the rare good times you have in them and that’s basically what the songs about! But look we can go deeper about that over a few drinks.

What’s your typical process for putting a track together?

97 starts making a beat and then we need to get down a chorus, that’s what the whole song is based off. Whatever I end up writing the chorus about is what the song will be about! I feel like that’s the best way to do it cause if you start off writing verses then the main part that carries the song has to be based on too much information and things just get messy.

Mark Knight big on Dublin connection

Superstar DJ Mark Knight, a mainstay of the house music scene, is one of the abundance of cancelled shows that won’t be showing up in Dublin in the coming weeks. The beatsmith is used to the mass audiences of Ibiza and London, however, Knight has a special affinity to our capital.

It’s an affinity that plays out in the way he performs, too. Dublin’s club scene is mediocre by international standards even at its peak, with early closing hours and small-scale venues far behind pubs as a priority. Knight makes a point of dropping in regularly, however, playing smaller venues than he’d normally grace purely for the love of the place.

“It’s a special connection,” he tells me. “My wife’s from Dublin and I’ve been playing there for 15 years, I always have a great time. This year, I’m mainly focused on my business, Toolroom, and things related to that, but the Dublin date [which would have taken place in April] was an important one personally.” 

“Toolroom has fed into my music now. I come across so much different music because of my job. When it comes to playing live, I play about 50% my own stuff, and probably about 85% of it overall is Toolroom stuff. That’s how it should be, I think. The balance with the label has allowed me to play maybe two weekends a month, which is a really nice balance when you have a family and you only want to spend a certain amount of time playing at clubs at 3 or 4 in the morning.”

“I like playing small venues. You can’t just go in with a sledgehammer, you have to massage people a little, and it gives you a chance to do long developing sets that are a journey from beginning to end. It’s something a bit different.”

Knight’s previous lifestyle is one of the things that has been, at least temporarily, lost during the shutdown, along with his tour. It’s also something that indicates the strength that can – but doesn’t always – exist in creative arts. While he can’t play live, he’s putting together videos connecting with his new record, and keeping an eye on the future of Toolroom, including the label’s new development pipeline, Toolroom Academy.

Isaac Butler: “I found my sound in LA, working with the other musicians opened my eyes”

Isaac Butler shot to prominence when he released ‘Moon Song’, a track that he tells me he didn’t really expect to go too far. Now with almost a million streams for that debut, he’s worked with Adele’s session musicians, developed a new style, and featuring on The Bachelorette.

Determined to make the most of his unexpected break, I caught up with Isaac as he made the most of lockdown, streaming and writing his way through our new circumstances…

Hi Isaac, first of all, how are you, and how are you finding this enforced break? Are you making use of it musically?

Hello! I am very well thank you. Yeah to be honest I’m finding the break OK. At the start I was freaking out a bit at having to cancel shows and all the festivals being called off. I also had a few supports slots lined up that obviously aren’t happening, but I’ve kept very busy over the last few weeks writing with people over zoom and keeping active on social media.

At the beginning of the lockdown I did a YouTube series under called ‘Distance Doesn’t Divide’ where I basically got each member of my band to record themselves in their bedrooms playing their parts in each of my songs. I then put all the videos together into a split screen video and posted them on YouTube. It was great craic and people seemed to enjoy them. I also got my first brand collaboration with River Island! I did a live stream gig on their Instagram and they sent me out some lovely clothes. So I can’t complain!

‘Moon Song’ was clearly a huge success for you. Were you surprised by the traction you could get with a debut single?

The reaction to ‘moon song’ was amazing. I put the song out with no real expectations. I was toying around with the idea of releasing original music so I played a few songs for my music teacher who I stayed in contact with after I left school.

Pretty much immediately after he heard ‘Moon Song’ he said we have to get that recorded, so he called up a friend of his Billy Farrell a well known Irish producer to help out. We recorded the track in a few days and I made a really simple music video with a few friends, and the rest is history. It continues to be the song the people know me for which is funny because I just put it up for the sake of putting it up, there was no reasoning behind it, and today it has just under a million streams, pretty crazy.

Eden Isle: “We live to perform for an audience: to deliver emotions and see them mirrored on the crowd”

Cork rock band Eden Isle are a rising name in the city, but bring with them ample experience from various projects that preceded them.

Drawing in range of rock-tinged influences, the band pride themselves on their live show. I checked in with them as they launched new single ‘Four Leaf Clover’.

Congrats on the new single. Can you tell me a little about the story behind it?

Four Leaf Clover is reminiscing about old friends and scenarios, waking up after great nights together and how you’ve changed as people.

Your band name and some song titles have a distinctly ‘Irish trad’ feel to them. Is that a conscious thing or just a natural impact of your environment?

The band name is based on our happy place as in our band room and creative space.

How did you all meet and become a band?

Ame and Kev met originally (after Ame was looking for a singer) then Kev brought in a new bassist, Carl. After a while Ame brought in Ed and Carl brought in Shane, that is how we formed as a band. Blackpool rehearsal studios is where our band was born.

How do your tracks typically come together?

Being a pianist and guitar player, track ideas would usually start from me (Ame). Since we got Shane in, he has been in the same role as Ame: a music-ideas initiator.

Ed and Carl are precious in their structuring our ideas and not alien themselves in creating and sourcing them as well.

Usually, Kev comes last but definitely not least: he adds the lyrics, ideas and helps us structuring as well. This is rather a collective effort and we love the process of music creation!

Luke Clerkin: “The EP explores the themes of mental health, love, regret, closure, and the question of love itself”

Having been part of the ‘Take Back The City’ initiative in Dublin, and written a song about it, as well as playing over 250 shows in a single year, Luke Clerkin‘s exploration of the Dublin music scene has been thorough, political, and at times extremely full-on.

Having used his experiences as both lessons and fuel, Clerkin’s now back with his EP ‘What Little Time We Have’, in which he tries to condense his fast-flowing, emotional take on life into a lively, poppy style.

Ahead of the launch of his single ‘Nocturnal’, Clerkin talks me through the journey so far…

Can you tell me a bit about ‘Nocturnal’?

Nocturnal was written over two years ago, months after I stopped seeing someone that I’d been seeing for a while. The song explores the initial moments of nervousness and lust that were involved in the beginning, and then it moves on to the feelings of regret after it finished.

The regret comes from myself, wondering if I should have given more time and energy on ‘a love that was distant but almost near’. This song is my first step into releasing something with real pop elements, and it also shows me with a full band energy that I wouldn’t really be known for.

What will be the themes of ‘What Little Time We Have’ when it arrives?

WLTWH explores the themes of mental health, love, regret, closure, and the question of love itself. These themes are things that constantly come up in my life, so putting them together made sense to me, and putting this out will essentially be my closure on the situations that inspired the songs.

Deeply personal songs seem to be a theme with your music. Is there an element of self-therapy to it all?

Absolutely. Writing music is part of my self-care routine. When I’m feeling emotional about something, or if I’m feeling hurt or annoyed, I’ll pick up my guitar and I’ll write about it. Honestly, there is no better feeling for me than finishing a song that is about something that has affected me badly.

Saul Blake: “I learned to approach my writing in a different way”

Amid the rapid rise of Irish hip-hop in recent years, Galway has sometimes seemed a bit like a missing link next to the growing scenes in Dublin, Cork, and particularly in Limerick.

Why that is isn’t entirely clear, but the west-coast city does have its own burgeoning scene, with rappers like Saul Blake keen to play up the accented style that gives them a unique feel west of the Shannon. Blake had been quiet for several years, working away behind the scenes, but recently returned with ‘Empty Homes’, a punchy political track about Galway and Ireland’s troubles with homelessness.

I asked him all about it…

At the risk of getting you to explain the obvious, tell me how you feel about the homelessness crisis in Ireland…

The Homeless crisis in Ireland is honestly a disgrace. I see it as a completely resolvable problem, and I feel like the people in power should be ashamed for taking so long to take any real action and for renting out properties at mad rates for their gain.

What made you decide to write a track about it?

Early last winter, just before Christmas, I was walking around Galway city. I have lived in Galway for most of my life and spent a lot of time walking the city’s streets, I’d never seen so many people sleeping rough. Tents were scattered around the pathways where the luckier people slept, others barely had a sleeping bag.

I was freezing walking around in a jacket and I couldn’t even imagine how hard it must be to have to sleep out in that cold and rain, not to mention how unsafe they must have felt knowing how Galway’s nightlife can get pretty wild. It made me sad at first but then I just got angry that things were able to get so bad and began to work on ‘Empty Homes’.

Lorraine Nash: “I could happily spend hours on Pro Tools layering instruments just for fun”

Lorraine Nash‘s debut EP is not so much a culmination of her recent work, but a culmination of a lifetime of music, condensed into its first public form. ‘Wildflower’ utilises Nash’s skills on piano, guitar, harp, flute and violin as well as her distinctive vocal, and serves as an intro to her subtle, trad-influenced style.

Her key message is compassion with social evolution and acceptance both giving an airing as well as evocative messages about the inevitability of change that could have been – but weren’t, in fact – penned for our current shutdown scenario.

I asked Lorraine all about it…

Congrats on the EP. Can you tell me a little bit about the themes behind it?

Thanks so much! As this is my first EP, the timeline for the songs is spread out quite a bit and the themes vary, but one of the main ideas that runs through most of the songs is the search for independence and sense of self you experience as a young adult.

For example, ‘Changing Tides’ is about realizing what your own beliefs are and trying to keep hold of them in a world that is constantly changing around you. Some of the tracks also deal with relationships, the central theme to ‘Everything to me’ is trying to understand how much you can expect from another person.

I understand you had to push back the launch because of the current virus situation, but now you’re going ahead in June. Has the whole process been more stressful this way?

It was stressful in the beginning for sure, just because of the uncertainty of the situation. The main concern I had was that an online release wouldn’t be as impactful, but seeing how well other artists have used this as an opportunity to connect with people at home it seems best to just go ahead with it. Live streaming wasn’t quite as scary as I thought it would be!