Bricknasty: “I don’t feel like Ireland has put its stamp on rap properly yet”

Inspired by the unlikely combination of soulful American R&B star D’Angelo and their home turf of Ballymun, North Dublin, Bricknasty – who jokingly brand themselves the ‘Sugar Club house band’ after a popular residency – are a local act on the rise.

Fronted by an anonymous guitarist and vocalist who goes only by Fatboy (at least in public), the act have quickly gathered some strong connections, opening and gaining tips from one of Ireland’s most successful exports in their niche, Maverick Sabre. When we caught up with Fatboy, he had ambitions that involved going far, far further.

The music Bricknasty produce is, already, impressively discordant: not so much a themed output, as a spattering of feelings expressed in different ways and to different soundtracks, though we’re reassured that a more cohesive project is around the corner.

“I’m really ADHD bro,” Fatboy laughs. “I need different ways to challenge myself, so my music’s all different. It took a good few years to build up the song. I’m in a bit of a dry spell at the moment, but we want to try different genres, different styles.”

“I’m trying, pushing hard for a Ballymun thing, but a lot of the rappers, all over really, they either have UK syndrome or US syndrome. I don’t feel like Ireland has put its stamp on things properly just yet. I used to get called any slur you can think of walking down the road with a guitar, but I stuck with it. I’d love for Ballymun to be the next place where all them kind of sounds come from in Dublin. There’s loads of great jazz players in Cork. I’d love for that to happen to Ballymun next, not just for rap. You need all sounds mixed together.” 

The ambitions stretch large, projects intended to push his area and his sound onto a wider scale, and while it can sound fanciful, it also sounds convincing, like a sweeping, all encompassing goal that Fatboy genuinely feels he can push towards.

“I wanna be D’Angelo when I grow up,” he says. “He has the cleanest sound ever, but it doesn’t sacrifice. It’s not polished, it’s clean, which is a different thing. It cuts through everything, it’s impossible not to feel it in your head.” 

“I’d like for Ballymun to have their own D’Angelo. I’m not nearly talented enough to do it on my own, but we have all the best people in any part of the country in my opinion, linked arm to arm, all the way up from the south to the north of the country, and we’re all trying to give each other a leg up, and make it happen.”

“Music is a good way of coming together,” he continues, “though at the level where you make money, it’s all bought and sold. Our long term plan is to try and push people to see their best selves, to figure out how to sort this kind of kip of a place out.”

That Maverick Sabre connection comes about because of deep Ballymun roots, but also because Fatboy took a chance, texting the main-stage star to ask if he could play the support slot at his shows.

“I think he was letting me open because he had done loads of work in Ballymun while I was growing up, while the flats were still standing,” Fatboy says. “It was a real natural thing, we got talking about Ballymun and music. We’re into the same sounds. Once he saw the band, we were good to go. He took an interest, and he’s decided… what Plan B did with Maverick Sabre, he’s doing for us. He’s shown us around London, booked shows, all that.”

All being well, stardom – and an Irish hip-hop scene that Fatboy can feel truly represents our homeland – could be just around the corner.

Meg LaGrande: “It’s all happened because of Grafton Street”

Lahinch-based Canadian Meg LaGrande grew up in the Cape Breton trad scene, but is now firmly embedded in Ireland, where she’s made her name through word of mouth and a series of remarkable modern re-interpretations performed on the street. 

Debut single ‘With The Dawn’ follows years of learning, exploring the Irish domestic trad scene, and appearing on other people’s projects.

“I released my debut single during the pandemic,” she says, “and I’d been sitting on a music video I filmed just before the pandemic for a long time. I actually had visa issues getting back from Canada. So once that was sorted I released the single, and that’s been great. Since then, my life has been a happy medley of creating my own music and writing, but also being a session player and delving into the world of booking for my friends, too.”

“Trad music, Cape Breton style, is what I grew up listening to and playing in Canada. It’s completely influenced by style and songwriting; my composition style is so shaped by what I absorbed as a child. I picked up the Irish style later in life, but it’s so familiar to me. I was able to translate melodies I heard inside my head into a soundscape using loop pedal technology. I live loop those sounds through the string arrangements, and the lyrics come after that.”

The whole experience has been one of exposure and learning.

“When I came to Ireland, I would sit in these sessions, and it was kind of like learning a new language, so different at first. The more I immersed myself in the new language, slowly but surely I picked up the repertoire by ear, and learned from friends, recording in sessions, and listening to CDs.”

“A lot of the opportunities that I have today come from years of busking on Grafton Street,” she explains. “I would write string arrangements around popular covers. From the street I would get offers to play at places like Miss Universe Ireland, weddings, things like that. I ended up playing a street show at Edinburgh Fringe, and from that I got headhunted for a cruise ship show. Jay, the bassist in Kodaline, brought me on the Late Late Show after inviting me to a session where he had seen me on the street, too.”

“Everything for me in Ireland has all happened because of Grafton Street. I only busk at the Edinburgh Fringe now as I have so much work, but it all goes back to Grafton Street.” 

Earlier, LeGrande’s progress came from a combination of skill and a happy chance taken. “My first introduction to the Irish music and dance world was a thing called Rhythm of the Dance. I did a study abroad at NUIG and got connected with Emma O’Sullivan, who’s a hugely famous dancer,” she recalls. “I asked if the Rhythm of the Dance needed a live band. I went back to Canada, and straight out of uni I got a tour of Japan with them, which was an amazing experience.”

“Things are cooking with a new single. It’ll be a little bit of a different direction, and I think I’ve found the right producer to mess with different sounds. That means I’ll be gigging in a more conventional way.”

“I like to be untethered, to run around the audience and stuff like that, I let loose with the wireless pack, hopping on tables and so on. Once the whole arrangement is set up, then I can let loose.”

“I write and do what is best for my sound, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Tracy Bruen: “‘Waiting’ is cathartic, melancholy and uplifting”

Inventive Galway folk-pop artist Tracy Bruen’s latest ‘Waiting’ is very much embedded in the soulful west coast of our country, an ode to the personal that carries with it the city’s melancholy winter feel. Signed to Strange Brew, a label owned and operated by Gugai, who also runs the city’s iconic venue Roisin Dubh, Bruen is at the heart of the scene.

‘Waiting’ is the follow up to debut record ‘Mirror’, and is heavily tinged with grief, but also a beautiful, flowing record full of clever twists and turns – a considered return that’s anchored close to Bruen’s soul. It’s taken time to create, and is better for it.

“I had much more of an idea of how this album was going to flow,” Bruen tells us. “Because of the pandemic, and a lot of forced time to sit with the record, it changed. If I had released it in 2020, the original plan, it would have been a very different album. Instead, there were songs written for the album through the pandemic that give it a flow. Other songs didn’t make it, because stylistically they didn’t work. As a band, we made decisions to remove bands that would break that flow. I hadn’t considered that as much with the first album.”

“I also did a lot of work in production with my recording engineer and producer, developing little soundscapes to link songs and things like that. I feel like ‘Waiting’ has a much smoother flow, if that makes sense. It’s a very personal album, dealing with a lot of stuff that I’ve gone through, and I think that’s reflected in it. ‘Waiting’ is also an expression of how much I’ve relied on the people and the love I have in my life. I work through aspects of grief, but it’s also about my husband, and the strong women in my life. There’s so much love that works its way through alongside the sadness.”

“The result, for me, is a melancholy, a deep melancholy, and a grief. I don’t know what other people are going to take from the record, but I hope they feel the hope that is in it, as well. It was so cathartic for me to write it, and I feel the uplifting aspect of the songs.”

There’s a natural ebb and flow to the record, then, that colours in shades of darkness and light.

“I’ve always gravitated towards a juxtaposition of melody and theme,” Bruen explains, “and in some of the songs there’s a very upbeat feeling, but when you scratch beneath the surface, the subject matter is darker or sadder. I’m fascinated by that, I listen to a lot of artists who do that.”

Scalping (NOW Scaler): “I don’t know if this band would have existed somewhere else”

Some bands are distinctly embedded in the place they call home. Scalping, from underrated UK cultural hub Bristol, are one such band. Drawing heavily on the city’s local scene, Scalping fall somewhere between a swirling rock band and an instrumental techno act, drawing influences from scenes like metal-evolved ArcTanGent Festival to the vibrant local dance scene, and dabbling heavily in an artistic side that lights up their live performances. This month, they play their first ever Irish show.

“The songs that we play in our set, 70-80% are different to the recorded versions, especially for album tracks,” Alex Hill, who performs the band’s more electronic angles, explains. “We work out what’s working and not working, usually before we record the album, but as this one was recorded during Covid we did that process in reverse.”

“The show used to be very improvised. Now that we’ve got more recorded songs that people might be familiar with, we do stick closer to the parts and structures. We do push and pull sections that we recorded and move stuff around, but there’s not so much improvising melodies. Before we released the ‘Flood’ EP, we felt like we had the freedom to almost make it up.”

The live set up is, to say the least, propulsive. “Once we start up live, we don’t stop,” Hill explains, “so if something goes wrong or you ruin the flow, you have to save it on the fly. So we have scaled it down, but it’s still there.”

“Bristol is such a small city that you know everyone making music with anything in common with yours,” Hill says. “You end up all being friends. It has benefits and downsides. I don’t know if this band would have existed everywhere else, the majority of the music that influences Scalping, we only discovered by living in Bristol.”

“I mainly listen to pop music and hip-hop, so we’re not pure underground heads, but there’s so much amazing underground stuff, so many labels, that there’s a Bristol sound system that plays so heavily into what we do. Liberty Sounds was a big one for us, even the acts that aren’t from Bristol kind of connect to our sound. We use the city as a lens to feed our music through.”

Aston Villa (v Liverpool, Villa Park)

Competition: English Premier League

Date: 13 May 2024

Result: Aston Villa 3 – 3 Liverpool

Tickets:  £42 adults, £14 kids (North Stand Lower restricted view – front row!)

Attendance: 42,600

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆☆

The Game: My first time bringing the little lad to Villa, and he absolutely loved it. With Villa playing for a Champions League place, but clearly dead on their feet over the last few weeks, a Martinez error in goal in the very first minute gifting Liverpool the lead looked at ominous sign. Villa grew into the game, though, especially after Watkins beat his man and squared for Tielemans to equalise. The game had an air of chaos about it, with Moussa Diaby extremely effective on the break but unable to finish from at least three really good chances throughout the game.

Instead, Liverpool pulled away, and I must admit that at 3-1 just after half time, I turned to the little lad and said “that’s it” – it just didn’t feel realistic to come back given the state of the team recently. It turns out it wasn’t it at all. Villa were the better side for much of the game, and when Jhon Duran scored a long range beauty the place erupted, before an equaliser that may or may not have been intended made things 3-3, with both Villa’s late goals coming after the 85th minute.

Diaby could have won the game, drawing a top late save from Allisson, but the draw was enough to have Tottenham needing a win against league leaders Manchester City to catch Villa for that Champions League place. There was a sense of ‘nearly done’ in the vocal crowd reaction after the equaliser, and it proved right – the following day, Villa stepped out of Spurs’ reach to get into elite European competition for the first time in my lifetime. Incredible game.

The ground:  I loved showing the young lad around Villa Park, which was suitably adorned with a flag in every single seat to welcome the impressive team. We were in the very front row of the North Stand, the far side from the away fans, and my first time in the North Lower. It feels quite cramped and old school compared to much of the rest of the ground, but nobody sat down at any point from start to finish, so it had a terrific atmosphere.

We dropped in the shop for one last time – images of it being knocked down to buy a new one as Villa try to boost commercial revenue to aid the push towards the top-end of the Premier League appeared online only two days later. I’ve been going there since the mid 90s, so a strange feeling!

Extras: The ‘Up The Villa’ flags were a great momento, and I ended up bringing heaps of programmes home, mostly for Liverpool fans, but that’s Ireland! As the last home game, the speaches and crowd send off for the players was superb, too.

Assorted asides: The following day we rented a car and hit up Alton Towers Waterpark. Decent but a lot of effort for the reward all in.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 5. Home wins: 1 Draws: 3 Away wins: 1

Goals: 19. Home goals: 10. Away goals: 9. Goals per game: 3.8

VIEW ALL GROUNDHOPPING POSTS HERE.

Groundhopping: Leinster (v Northampton Saints, Croke Park)

Competition: Champion’s Cup Semi Final

Date: 4 May 2024

Result: Leinster 20 – 17 Northampton Saints

Tickets:  €26 (Hill 16 adult)

Attendance: 82,300

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

The Game: If you’re a regular reader of ‘Groundhopping’ (as if), you might know that it’s almost all about football, which makes this a bit of an aside, but I couldn’t resist the chance to see a high level rugby match from the iconic HIll 16 for less than €30. The game itself was actually not great – Leinster were utterly dominant for roughly the first hour, making for little in the way of contest, with James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park controlling the game. They lead by double digits for the bulk of the game.

Northampton woke up a bit in the second half, creating a tense atmosphere that felt a little bit unnecessary given the dominance Leinster had held throughout. Northampton got back within a kick and even held the ball – although in their own half – in the dying two minutes where a kick would have levelled up the game, but ended up giving it away. A good, close contest that didn’t seem like it would be a good, close contest for the majority of its lifespan.

The ground:  As a former Dublin football (GAA) season ticket holder, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Croke Park, and it’s one hell of a place, just for the sheer scale of it. Hill 16, where I was stood, is an odd part of the ground on the face of it, an undeveloped terrace surrounded by massive stands that has some very substantial history connected to the formation of the State.

The atmosphere was decent throughout, and I was quite taken with the efforts of the Leinster mascot to pump it all up – unusually effective. At times, the aisles of the stand were crammed and the stewards had little interest, which felt uncomfortable and in some ways bordering on dangerous. It seemed to clear itself up in the second half. A phenomenal spot that’s rarely used for rugby or football, so you have to take the chance when it arises.

Extras: €8 for a medicore programme felt a bit much, but I guess it was a Champion’s Cup semi final. That aside, I didn’t really explore – the nature of Hill 16 is you have to hold on to your space or you end up shunted somewhere inconvenient (and honestly, watching rugby end on is not ideal in the first place).

Assorted asides: There is something genuinely quite funny about the cliche of Leinster fans and the north side of Dublin. I thought it was tongue in cheek, but quite a few looked genuinely quite uncomfortable, and I overheard one making quite a lot of noise about how he’d never be back unless Leinster play in Croke Park again. It’s just a stadium and a less affluent part of the city, lads.

Akrobat: “Ireland is an island, and I never wanted to be limited to it”

An inventive and original band playing off influences ranging from jazz to post-rock, as well as the mixed backgrounds of their members, Akrobat are making their way in a genre-realm they know isn’t going to hit the mainstream, but it is distinctive and original and a perfect incapsulation of the act.

Currently in their second incarnation with the addition of Turkish vocalist Selen Korkutan, and ruminating on the human experience, the band took a break from pushing forward twin EPs and gaining international attention to fill me in how it’s all going…

First of all, tell me a little bit about the backdrop to Akrobat – how did the band come to be, and how have things developed?

Akrobat is actually Akrobat 2.0! I first started the project 5 or 6 years ago, and we cut a four track EP with Rian Trench in The Meadow. Back then I was calling the act ‘Crow Airport’, and we released a self-titled EP. We had a song on it called St Denis, which I still consider one of my best and it’s about my time living in Montreal.

It got some nice plays. But I didn’t really understand how to play the game back then (still learning!). We were all set to go back into the studio with Rian to cut our first full record, and then Covid hit! It was a shame as we were playing a fair few gigs, on the jazz circuit of all places. But we got back in, and over a couple of recording sessions split between the summer and winter of 2021, we made Jammed Space Movement.

The record was finally released in late 2022, and we had a few singles. ‘Basquiat’s Widow’ is a real highlight on that album, and probably our most popular song at our shows. It’s got streamed a lot, and a live version of the track is our most viewed video on YouTube. But the studio video is awesome, and as you can guess, it’s about New York and the life of the great artist, and his muse. ‘Sappho’ was another
one, and The Thin Air (a great supporter of the band) had it in their top 50 releases of 2022.

But after that release, I felt the band in that format had reached the end. I needed new energy, a new perspective, youth and vitality. So I brought in a new singer, Selen Korkutan, bass player, Joan Paelez, and drummer, Peter Cahill (a student in BIMM). It was quite the change in tract, and soon after getting the guys on board we cut two EPs back to back, again with Rian, in March 2023. I was keen to get new songs down and move quickly.

We released ‘Zesty Terrestry’ last summer, and again, it was a featured by The Thin Air in their end of year list. And of course, we have just followed that up with ‘Shank’, which shows a very different side to the band. The more virtuosic side I would say.

I think these EPs are a stepping stone for another full record. All of ours are regularly featured by Hot Press, Golden Plec, The Goo and others. But we have another few gears to go.

‘Mosquito’, I understand, is a metaphor for human greed. Is there a story behind the song?

I was working on ‘Mosquito’ for a while, mainly on the musical composition side of things, and was getting inspired by a lot of Prince’s records. Records he was producing towards the end of his life actually, which I think are under-rated. But growing up I remember quite well Prince’s distaste of being ‘owned’ and ‘used’, and I used that as an inspiration for how lots of people are owned and used at all levels, everywhere.

Being taken advantage of basically, with money and power being the bottom line. Which I do find so pointless, considering the short time we have to live our lives. So as strange as it sounds, that was how that song to be!

How did the video come about and what inspired it?

I usually put a lot of effort into video making, and I think we have some really good material online now. For Mosquito I went with a live performance of the band in the rehearsal studio, to accompany the studio release of the song. Our mates in Beardfire Studios tracked the song and our long time collaborator, Ray Beggan, filmed the set and made the video. Peter actually mastered the live version. Not bad for a 19 year old!

Ray also made the ‘Verlaine’ video for us, which captured us in The Meadow studio over a day whilst we were producing the track. On that one I was going for a documentary style of video, trying to capture the band in the moment. Ray added his own creative take to it, and it ended up coming out as quite the
psychedelic style of video, like the song I guess! We actually shot the Air Station 2.0 video, for the ‘Zesty Terrestry’ record, the same day after we put all the gear away. It was an off the cuff effort, late in the evening, but it’s one of our most played songs!

Selen has a background in acting, and you can tell from that video. She owns it. Look them up!

Bedless Bones: “I belong to the future; I hail from the past”

I came across Bedless Bones playing a lively bar as part of Tallinn Music Week. Frontwoman Kadri Sammel was the star of the show, a boisterous guitar-stumming meastro who owned the stage as she blasted a mix of metal and dance influences into the ether. “Like a techno Evanescence,” I thought at the time, though in hindsight her music is less vocally led, more dancefloor suitable, and more of a memorable affront than that description might suggest.

Sammel kindly agreed to tell me about it, in my first ever interview with an Estonian act, after the show. My general sense is her music, peformed in English, has huge potential when it comes to make a broad impact across Europe, and that it might just edge into a kind of genre world all of its own. Oddly, one of her key influences is Enya…

First of all, your style is quite unique and not something you’d find in Ireland. How did you arrive at it? Are there any key inspirations?

Counterculture in general is an inspiration, more specifically early darkwave and industrial music. Also post-punk. Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, Frank Tovey, Einstürzende Neubauten have all influenced me. I’d say Enya is one of my earliest favorites. I had never felt transcended by music before hearing The Celts, I used to religiously listen to it on my newly bought CD player lying in bed and dreaming. Fever Ray’s debut album was also a huge igniting force, it sparked the idea to make music too, as before that I had only sung in choirs and briefly played some instruments, like the Estonian zither and classic guitar. I don’t know if any of this is traceable in my music. Enya and a chainsaw.

How would you describe that style?

It’s electronic, atmospheric, raw, free. It’s usually categorized as darkwave, but post-darkwave is more fitting. I belong to the future; I hail from the past.

What are the dominant themes in your music?

Nature, longing, (imagined) myths, alienation, introspection. There’s also a dash of hedonism, and battling self-destructive urges.

What made you decide to perform in English in your music?

That’s a good question, because I don’t remember ever making that decision. It happened naturally, because the music I listened to and was inspired by was in English, and that was where I felt my own creations belonged. There is a lot of beautiful music in Estonian, and it would probably be easier to write in my native language. I have thought about writing songs in Estonian, I might start a side project at one point if the idea doesn’t die away. But I don’t think Bedless Bones in its current form would work if the lyrics were fully in Estonian. I have one song in Estonian though, it’s called ‘Armastus on seadus’ (Love is the law).

What is the background to the band and your formation?

After I began experimenting with composing electronic music and producing, my partner Anders invited me to play synth and do backing vocals in his band Forgotten Sunrise, which is currently active, too. Simultaneously, I was making music that I always knew was a separate, solo work, and so I named it Bedless Bones and released the first singles. I played the first two shows alone and then Anders joined on drums. I write, record and produce alone.