Coronavirus shutdown: day 16

The shutdown has officially been extended in both its length and its limitations, and what a weird world it is. I had to go to the supermarket on Thursday, and the whole place – blessedly empty – basically involved people slowly pacing the aisles as they carefully avoided each other as far as possible. It took a lot longer than usual.

From now on, we can exercise a little in isolation outside the house, but travelling no more than 2kms from our front door. We can go to essential jobs only, and the supermarket if necessary, and medical emergencies. Its a far more hefty lockdown, but seems like it’ll save lives.

There’s a really odd feeling to the whole thing as an individual. I’m lucky, so far, in that I personally don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus. On the one hand, there’s a battle for life going on, one we hear about on the news on a day-to-day basis, a shocking, abrupt, overpowering thing that’s proving really draining even for those not involved, and I can only imagine the agony for those that are.

Then there’s the almost monotonous side of it. I’m still at work (from the kitchen table), and certainly don’t lack for things to do, but the restriction of freedom, while necessary, is hard. Humans weren’t designed to be mostly confined by four walls, or at least this one wasn’t. My running has stepped up, as an excuse to weave far from anyone else who is outside, but at least get in some exercise. Earlier today I ran over 8kms on an empty 150 metres long lane a few metres from our house, just up and down and up and down.

We’re trying our best to keep some normality for the little guy. He does reading, writing and maths every day, and has been running with me and cycling around the empty pavements near our house at times, too. We’re now signed up to Netflix, Now TV and Disney Plus for entertainment, with plenty of movie nights. We’re working on unlocking the final level of Super Mario Odyssey. I’m writing a lot, including an extended series of music Q+As which you’ll find elsewhere on this website, something to keep me going.

There are now over half a million cases worldwide, and over 30,000 deaths. Ireland’s cases are in the thousands. Things are going crazy in the US, and in Spain, France, and worst of all Italy, where the death rate is really quite high. This will end, of course, but it feels a long, long way off. Thankfully we still have no symptoms. Hopefully we’ll come out of the other end of this sooner rather than later.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 10

We’ve just had our second weekend of semi-shutdown in Ireland, and the world has already taken on this weird kind of ‘new normal’. Work from home is hard: the weekends are okay, but occupying a six-year-old indoors and working at the same time is less easy, and I’ve found myself struggling.

What’s more surreal, though, is what’s going on outside. There’s no bar on going outside, technically, in Ireland at the moment, just heavy warnings to be careful of any kind of crowd, to stay 2 metres from anyone else, and to keep your hands clean and away from your face. We’ve tended to stay in as much as possible, or to go out to exercise in relative isolation, before heading straight back to the house. In truth, that’s a real luxury: plenty of people don’t have those options.

I had to go to the supermarket the other day, and I understand people’s concerns about others not following the warnings. We’re up to just over 700 cases of the virus now in Ireland, with three deaths. At the moment, the rising cases are not going up quite as dramatically as we might have anticipated, but there’s also a strong sense that it’s going to get worse. Probably substantially so, before it gets better. The case numbers refer only to confirmed cases, and the tests take a few days for results, plus experiences elsewhere tell us it’s going to rocket. Worrying times. There are over 12,000 deaths worldwide, and over 300,000 confirmed cases.

Aside from the obvious limitations on our freedom – entirely justified, under the circumstances – I saw a newspaper I’ve written for every week for five years, The Dublin Gazette, shut its doors today. Formally it’s going for a break until some time in April, but we know the economy is collapsing heavily around us, and things like newspaper advertising might be a while in coming back. It’s a multi-region paper, so I’ve been in print in approximately 1,000 different versions of the paper since 2015, and if it doesn’t make it back, I’ll miss it hugely. Lots and lots of other businesses are shut down, who knows how many permanently, and I’ve heard reports of a 30% reduction in economic activity, which is absolutely unprecedented.

We’ve started on the DIY. The nook under our stairs is slowly being transformed with tools, filler and leftover paint from other projects, most likely into a form of desk to try and make the work from home scenario a little easier. We’ve started growing a small herb and vegetable garden on the back windowsill, and the compulsion to get some exercise – once a bit of a chore – has become one of the day’s highlights simply because you get some space.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 1

A quick note before we begin. This is my blog, and, obviously, not an official source. It’s very much from a personal perspective. I understand people are dying from COVID-19, and if I’m occasionally lighthearted, it’s not to intended on any level to downplay that. I moved to South Korea on my own 13 years ago, and writing about it was one of the ways I coped with the anxiety that came with the early strain of what turned out to be an incredible adventure, and helped me to process what I was doing. Obviously this won’t turn out to be an incredible adventure, but it is written in the same spirit, one of, essentially, dealing with how things are.

So what’s happening?

From 6pm Yesterday, Ireland shut down schools, cancelled all major gatherings (over 100 indoors and 500 outdoors), and told everyone who can to work from home. As a result, I’m now working from home for the foreseeable future, making today day 1 of who knows how many, as the country tries to tackle a severe outbreak.

Now, we’re not technically locked in. The instruction is more to stay away from crowds, to avoid unnecessary social scenarios. Yesterday the shops went a little bit crazy with people trying to stock up. There’s real anxiety around how life will continue as normal: the official ‘return to school’ date is March 29, but I think most people probably expect it to be longer.

Ireland had its first case of the coronavirus 12 days ago; there are now 70 cases (as of last night), and it’s expected to grow. I’m worried. Worried for the inevitable deaths. I’m worried I might have seen some people for the last time, and that it could take a very, very long time to get back to normal. Deaths elsewhere are already in the thousands. Our main focus is keeping our distance from others, and trying to make life as normal as possible for Adam, who’s six.

MAP: 22 tracks of ‘Ireland’

February, sadly, was the very last edition of long-standing global music project Music Alliance Pact, for which I’m really proud to have represented Ireland for the last three years or so. Scottish-based blogger The Pop Cop has decided to fold his blog after a decade, and as the project coordinator, taken MAP – which was undoubtedly a heavy monthly workload – with him.

It’s been an absolute pleasure listening to some of the stuff that’s come up over the last few years: few things liven up a weeknight like a carefully curated dose of Indonesian pop punk, Mexican trance or South Korean indie. There are well over two dozen entries from MAP to be found elsewhere on this blog, featuring all the international content (hundreds of tracks a year). Before I took it on, Ireland was also represented by Nialler9 and Harmless Noise.

These things can’t go on forever, but it’s been a huge pleasure putting together this stuff over the last few years, so in a little nod to that, here are most of the songs – the ones I’m free to post – that have represented Ireland under my watch. Thanks to every one of the acts for taking part…

Music Alliance Pact: December 2015

music alliance pact

Kingdom of Crows have just released their debut album ‘The Truth Is The Trip’, which is available as a free download here. They first came to my attention through a gorgeous cover of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’, and remind me a little of the operatic, dramatised styles of the likes of Placebo and the acts that soundtracked Donnie Darko: deep, brooding rock.

‘Elizabeth’ is taken from the album, and you can grab it below alongside sixteen other tracks from around the globe. Why wouldn’t you…

Click the play button icon to listen to individual songs, right-click on the song title to download an mp3, or grab a zip file of the full 17-track compilation through Dropbox here.

IRELAND: Hendicott Writing
Kingdom Of CrowsElizabeth
A dark, conceptual rock band working with soundscapes that fall somewhere between Placebo and Kate Bush, Kingdom Of Crows are a Dublin act on the rise. Debut album The Truth Is The Trip arrived on Halloween, and its heavy yet stripped back sound is making suitably slow-building waves. One for a moody day staring through rain-spattered windows.

ARGENTINA: Zonaindie
Rubin y Los SubtituladosAdiós, Torino
This year marked Zonaindie’s 10th birthday, so for this last MAP of 2015 we wanted to share a track from Rubin y Los Subtitulados’s first album, Esperando El Fin Del Mundo, which was released during our first year as a music blog. Adios, Torino is a beautiful ballad and one of our favorite songs by this great songwriter from Buenos Aires. We recommend all of his discography, which is avaliable on Bandcamp.

AUSTRALIA: Who The Bloody Hell Are They?
JaalaSalt Shaker
Salt Shaker is the second single from Melbourne art-punk Cosima Jaala’s debut album, Hard Hold. It tracks the troubles Jaala has coming to grips with her upbringing in a far-flung suburb on Brisbane’s coastal fringe. The lyricism of this track is emblematic of the raw earnestness you hear across the entire album, with Jaala seemingly pulling melody out of thin air. The unpredictable spikes and troughs keep you engaged throughout, as if you needed any more reason other than her finely executed vocal gymnastics. The track is a refreshingly honest account of a troubled time that avoids indie tropes and turns complex emotions into a beautiful song.

BRAZIL: Meio Desligado
Alice CaymmiComo Vês
Como Vês is the opening track of Alice Caymmi’s 2014 album Rainha Dos Raios. Born into a family of famous musicians, Alice is surrounded by some of the most prominent artists in Rio de Janeiro and contributes to Brazilian pop music (known as MPB) with contemporary electronics and experimentation.

CANADA: Ride The Tempo
TennysonLike What?
Tennyson are the adorably young brother and sister duo Luke and Tess. Creators of playful electronic music, they recently appeared on Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs series and come from the same management camp as Hemsworth and BADBADNOTGOOD. The young people will take over the world.

Music Alliance Pact: January 2015

music alliance pact

When I first came to Ireland, I was very focused on the Dublin scene. There just seemed such an abundance of good acts for a relatively small city, and so much to absorb every night. As I became familiar with the heavier acts, though, I found many of them referenced counterparts north of the border as some of their greatest influences: the likes of And So I Watch You From Afar, Therapy?, Fighting with WireNot Squares and an artist I’m very proud to introduce to MAP this month, Axis Of

The trio hail from Portstewart, on the northern coast of our island, and are signed to awesome Northern Irish record label Smalltown America. Brash single Port Na Spaniagh from debut album Finding St Kilda first drew me to them, but this track ‘Munro Bagger’ is every bit as ear-wormy. It’s taken from sophomore album ‘The Mid Brae Inn’, out next month, Download below, or snap up the whole lot in advance of its February 2015 release, here. Enjoy!

Click the play button icon to listen to individual songs, right-click on the song title to download an mp3, or grab a zip file of the full 18-track compilation through Dropbox here.

IRELAND: Hendicott Writing
Axis OfMunro Bagger
Having dropped their metal edge in favour of a rough-around-the-edges melodic punk-rock buzz, north-coast Northern Irish act Axis Of look set to explode in 2015. Famed for their vibrant live show, the three-piece were described by UK magazine Rock Sound as “the most exciting act to come out of Northern Ireland, possibly ever”. Second album The Mid Brae Inn, out this month, features this vicious, craggy melody and plenty more worth getting your teeth stuck into.

ARGENTINA: Zonaindie
Mariana PärawaySirena
Somewhere between Mendoza and the Andes, Mariana Päraway becomes a mountain siren who sings about entangled fates in her latest album, Hilario. Mariana’s music navigates through pop, folk and electronic landscapes resulting in a deep, refined sound exploration.

AUSTRALIA: Who The Bloody Hell Are They?
Sydneysider Travis Baird is a multi-instrumentalist who earns a living scoring video installations, playing as a session musician and performing on tour with the likes of Melodie Nelson and Sounds Like Sunset. AFXJIM is Baird’s solo project, which consists of home recordings pieced together from loops, drum machines and field recordings of everything from kindergarten classroom chatter to police radio transmissions. It’s a subtle fusion of experimental electronica and acoustic songwriting, falling somewhere between Tortoise-inspired post-rock and the folktronica of early Four Tet. Distant is the title track of AFXJIM’s second LP. Carried on a bed of slide guitar and rumbling percussion, the track’s centrepiece sample features singing “recorded to MiniDisc in a bus-top karaoke bar in the Costa Rican backwoods”.

BRAZIL: Meio Desligado
Aproveita is the first single from Duani’s debut solo album, which will be released this year. He became famous in Brazil in the 90s, playing forró (a very danceable rhythm strongly related to the Northeast culture of the country) with the band Forroçacana. In this single, he plays all instruments and sings. The lyrics are a manifest about comprehension in love and its different ways of desire, packaged with black music and soul.

Farewell Hideaway House

The end of an era in the Dublin DIY gig scene

“Yesterday I went in to tell my elderly next door neighbour that I’d be having another gig in the house. She asked me if I needed any chairs.”

Four years after he first opened up an unassuming Dublin semi to nights of DIY gig madness, The Hideaway House’s 20-year-old promoter Dylan Haskins is calling it quits and moving on. AU went along to the last ever gig – the line-up a tantalising secret – for a chat with Dylan, and to savour the place before it’s gone forever.

When AU rocks up outside a shabby suburban semi in Blackrock, South Dublin , there’s already a festival-like, summer sunshine vibe doing the rounds. Spiky-haired punks and flowery hippies drift about sharing nods and winks, whispering about possibilities for tonight’s secret line-up and sharing information on just how to track down a venue that’s something of a Dublin urban myth. It’s a Monday night, we’re 40 minutes from the Liffey and we have no idea who we’ve come out to see. This, according to founder Dylan Haskin, is life. “When you’re involved in a music scene for long enough, you experience these rare moments of raw passion and get this feeling, an affirmation that this is what it’s all about”. Welcome to The Hideaway House.

Bring the Punk, Bring the Noise

Publisher Museyon have kindly given me permission to reproduce a small part of my contribution to their new book ‘Music and Travel: Touring the World through Sites and Sounds’ on my own website. In the book, writers and artists with insight into particular musical scenes give a guidebook style tour through their city, describing the music, it’s origin and where to go and see it. My own part describes the trad. influenced punk scene in Dublin (and beyond), exploring bands like Blood Or Whiskey, Thin Lizzy, The Pogues, The Dubliners and Paranoid Visions. Here is a brief taste of what to expect:

The roots of Celtic Punk date back to 18th-century agricultural Ireland, where—as a break from lamenting British imperialism— folk music helped pass the drizzly winters. Much of this was first performed by solo singers, but by the time it drifted to Dublin, piercing penny whistles, staccato fiddles, and twanging banjos had been added to the heartfelt vocals. At its peak in the late 1950s, Irish folk music was an international success, and more orchestral acts like the Dubliners and the Chieftains created a spinoff genre, Celtic Fusion.

Famine, war, and economics have long led the Irish to travel—often within the bosom of their Imperial neighbor—and it was amongst expats that Celtic Punk took shape. In the 70s and 80s émigrés gathered in London’s Irish bars, celebrating their heritage with traditional music nights. Around the same time, of course, punk rock was being imported across the pond from New York City. Acts like the Pogues (a London-based group with Irish heritage) and the Skids (based in Fife, Scotland) were the first to combine the propulsive drumming and rich melodic clatter of Celtic folk with the full on electric assault of punk. The Pogues in particular made a big impact: it didn’t take long for their sound, essentially the template for Celtic Punk, to return to its spiritual home.

If that taster’s wet your appetite, then you’re going to have to hold your breath until the end of the month (disclaimer: I’ll not be held responsible if you take that literally), when the book will be released, for more. Other scenes are set to include Indipop, Berlin Trance and the haunting sounds of Istanbul.

You can order the title on pre-release here (UK – Amazon)

or here (US – Direct from the publisher)

Exert copyright Museyon Guidebooks New York, 2009.