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I’ve known Eoghan for quite a while, first through his blog ‘The Point of Everything‘ (now on an indefinite hiatus), through which he gave me much-needed perspective on a lot of good things coming out of Cork and the rest of the country, and later through working together on the now defunct De/Code. His work eventually led to a full-time role at a newspaper, which he richly deserves, but there’s no doubt he’s kept his shoe in music wise down south, not least in releasing ‘We Play Here’, the physical manifestation of his love of the Cork music scene, through two issues in Autumn 2013 and Spring 2014 (you can, and should, still buy copies over on his website). Eoghan’s amongst the most hard-working music-loving journos I know, so it made total sense to ask him what’s getting him excited right now, especially in Cork, and how he feels the scene is holding up:

Let’s talk a little about Cork music. Obviously there are some limitations in terms of touring artists etc, but things seem to be going well down south. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the scene at the moment in your view?

I think the diversity of the Cork scene has been pretty evident for a few years. People in bands have their own tastes and are able to find likeminded people to go further with their sound. The likes of Hags, who have released one single to date, are still finding their feet after more than a year, and are delving further into Weezer-cum-Hookworms stuff. Altered Hours have been one of the best live bands in the country and have developed at their own pace. They were the first Cork band in years to play a slot at Live at the Marquee two years ago, supporting Bell X1, are playing to packed venues in Cork whenever they play these days, and are finishing their debut album. There’s years of gestation in there, but I don’t think there’s much pressure. Another Cork band finishing up their album is The Great Balloon Race, who have an excellent, enthralling live show. They kind of sound like a less loved up Grizzly Bear. I doubt they’ve had too much coverage outside of some blogs and local papers down here, but there should be a clamour for their next tour. They showcased the new album upstairs at the Oliver Plunkett last week and it was supposed to have been amazing, intense and everything I would have expected.

The weakness of ‘the scene’ I guess is that the audience seems to be a bit lacking. You see the same faces at every local band’s gig. I don’t know who that reflects badly on – the band, the promoter, the venue, etc – and it’s something I haven’t really been able to come up with an answer for. I mean, Cork is a big student city. And when I was in first year I couldn’t wait to go to gigs, discover new bands and everything. Around the release of We Play Here 1, some of the contributors went to a music theory class type in UCC to talk about the city and its relationship with music. They told me the audience was asked the last time they paid into a gig in the city. One person put up their hand – and it turned out he paid in because it was a charity night that his friend was throwing. I mean, if you can’t convince music students to go to gigs, what hope is there?
Quarter Block Party was on last weekend. A mix of theatre and music, they put acts on in non-traditional venues on two of Cork’s oldest streets, North and South Main Street. I only saw a little bit of it, but it was pretty cool. Mike at the Thin Air was pretty ebullient about it.

Are there any particular Cork acts coming through that we should keep an eye out for?

Great Balloon Race. Hags. Morning Veils. Partisan Crowds. MKAI. The Careers. Laurie Shaw (Prodigious is an understatement for this guy). Grave Lanterns.There are also so many DJs around that it’s hard to keep up.

Where would you recommend as ‘must see’ places on the Cork music scene?

I think the Triskel Arts Centre is an arts hub for new ideas. You have writers, film people, comic book creators, musicians, journos, coffee and food lovers, theatre creators, photographers all congregating under its various roofs, making new friends, creating new ideas. I think it’s the most important cultural place in the city – and it just so happens to house Plugd as well, the best little record store in which you can be insulted for liking ‘indie schmindie’ music. But Albert and Jim are stalwarts of the scene and do so much good for up and coming acts. Camden Arts Palace on the quay was doing some good stuff but that’s come to an end, I think, because the building, which had been in Nama, has been sold. So that’s a blow. Also, the Kino had reopened as an all-ages events centre but that was shortlived. So there are ebbs and flows in ‘arts centres’. Hopefully there’ll be more ebbs this year.

Coughlan’s has become the gig venue of choice in Cork, having only opened a couple years ago. It won venue of the year in 2014, and has a nice vibe to it. The people behind Coughlan’s are going to be doing the programming for upstairs at the Pavilion whenever it reopens, so I expect good things.

Down in Clonakillty, about an hour away from Cork city, lies De Barra’s Folk Club, my favourite music venue. it’s aching with history, with photos of so many stars from the 60s to the present day adorning its walls. There’s nothing fake or forced about the place, it’s all genuine. If a band you likes plays there, chances are it’ll be the best gig on their tour. Jape playing a solo gig at De Barra’s late in December 2006 is probably my favourite gig of all time.

A while back you launched We Play Here, and documented the Cork scene quite thoroughly. No doubt you were greeted with the same ‘print is dead’ reaction our project has garnered from certain quarters recently (side note: The Sunday Business Post – grateful as we were to be featured – focused heavily on their disbelief!). How did you find the experience? Did they sell well? Will there be an issue 3?

To be honest nobody really told us ‘print is dead, what are you doing?’ Everybody seemed really optimistic about it, from the bands to the contributors to the people who read it. Issue 1 did document the Cork scene as best it could. It would be impossible to cover anything – so after thinking about covering some of the electronica and pop stuff like Young Wonder and Toby Kaar, and some DJs, we focused on ‘alternative’ bands. So 17 bands were interviewed and featured, which I think is pretty cool. The reaction to issue 1 was good. We sold out of the 150 issues and did a second print run. I think we still have some of them left. It was a small team with, I think it’s safe to say, no experience of working on a magazine before. I work in newspapers and would probably have been the biggest music magazine fan of the five contributors, so for issue 2 I think I steered it towards a more general music magazine, and I think it’s probably the best thing, creatively, I’ve been involved with. I think it’s an absolutely brilliant 72 or so pages. Interviews with old bands (RIP Fred) and new ones (Meltybrains?, the Careers), features on the likes of Shane Serrano in Limerick, and a look at some of the talented filmmakers in Cork. I still think it’s great. But it didn’t do as well as issue 1. I dunno was it just because, of course everybody in bands that were interviewed for issue 1 were going to buy it, or was it that people weren’t interested. I’m still incredibly proud of it and all the work that went into it, but I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t as much traction with it.

There won’t be an issue 3 purely because everybody is busy with other things – and some of the core creators are no longer living in Cork. I think the two issues stand on merit though. We made the zine before The Thin Air and GoldenPlec went physical too, so yes I will say that We Play Here served as inspiration for them. Ahem.  I’d like to do another magazine, but the effort involved is huge, and if you’re one of the ‘creators’ you’re thinking – and stressing – about it non-stop. It’s a massive commitment.

I do think it’s interesting that those two web-based publications have gone physical in the past year – and for free too. That’s impressive. The thing is, I think reading music magazines is the exception rather than the norm nowadays. NME’s sales have tanked in the past three years, Mojo and Uncut are pretty stale (though there is still some great writing in all three of the magazines), Rolling Stone calling itself a ‘music bible’ is a joke. The Wire is great, though I wish it wasn’t so staid. Pitchfork has launched a magazine – well, it’s calling itself a quarterly because it’s Pitchfork – which is good; nice design and long features – something like 40 pages on Beck in issue 4. You can buy it from Rough Trade online for about €15.  So there’s plenty of good writing out there, but I just wonder if the man or woman on the street is actively aware of them or do you have to shove it in their faces.

Is the Irish music scene too Dublin-centric?

In terms of coverage? I mean, it is and it isn’t. When I was doing We Play Here 1, coming up with the idea, letting it gestate, that was one of my main drivers: Why aren’t Saint Yorda (now broken up, alas) getting more love? The Dave Nelligan Thing should be talked about by loads more people! Private Underground Residence released one of the best albums of 2013 but you wouldn’t know it, because it got covered by only about three blogs or something. That sort of thing probably comes back to the band maybe needing a little more knowledge of PR (crap that PR and being in a band go so hand in hand nowadays), and maybe more gigs in Dublin to get their name out there. So I’ve mellowed a little since then, realised that not every band coming from Cork is the best thing ever – though Altered Hours are the best live band in the country; I’m adamant about that. But Dublin has nearly half the population of the country living there, more media folk, bloggers, fans, and loads more venues. So of course, in that sense, the music scene is Dublin-centric. But as bands featured in the zines pointed out to me, Ireland is too small to have one city as a whole, all encompassing scene. Carl O’Brien in the Irish Times at the weekend was writing about being a Cork person living in Dublin (the IT had a whole series on Cork. I thought it’s patronising, like ‘look at the little city down there, isn’t it cute? Let’s write about it’) and said Cork suffers from an inferiority complex, and wants Dublin to tip its hat to it more. I think there is a bit of that, alright, but I’m sure Manchester, Brighton, Liverpool, Norwich etc all think that London isn’t the be all and end all either. So it’s natural for a second city to feel a little annoyed about a lack of coverage and acknowledgement.

Music’s financial crisis is well documented. Are gigs down your way well priced do you think? And in general? What about physical releases?

I’m writing this at the start of February – and I don’t think I’ve been to a gig this year. There just hasn’t been that much on (apart from the Quarter Block Party at the weekend). Promoters have told me that generally, gigs in January are just waiting to make a loss, because people don’t have the money after Christmas or whatever. Generally you won’t spend over €15 for an Irish band playing in the smaller venues of Cork. And the Cork bands usually play either free gigs or tickets cost less than €10, so as mentioned above, I don’t get where the audience is when a band is playing to ten people. Then you have the likes of the Marquee gigs which appeal more to fans of nostalgia than fans of music. Their prices usually make my eyebrows rise. It’s a world of its own under the marquee though; it doesn’t reflect music in 2015. But it usually sells really well, so what do I know. Indiependence is on in Mitchelstown in the summer and seems to be growing in both size and stature, so kudos to them.

How do you consume most of your music now?

Spotify and vinyl. Spotify is just easier during the day, when I’m writing or whatever. But there is just something better, more engaging about putting on a record. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. I know record sales only make up a minuscule amount of overall sales, but Spotify has taken a huge chunk out of downloads and CD sales. I can imagine in a few years Spotify will be for the masses and maybe 15% of music consumerism will be records. They need to come down a little in price though. €22 for a new release is probably too much – and would certainly be enough to put off newcomers to the format.

What tips would you give to a new band in terms of grabbing the attention of bloggers and writers?

Make good music should be tips 1 through 9. I think most bloggers listen to all the new music they get sent (if even for a few seconds) so that does count. If the music sucks, you won’t get very far. Even though it didn’t seem to matter for Kasabian and the Enemy … Personable emails are always good. Some bands pay ridiculous amounts for a PR company to get them ‘exposure’ but really if you’re just starting out, you probably don’t need to worry about that. Build your reputation first. Let them come to you. I’ve found so many new Irish bands just through people tweeting about a great show by this unknown band they’ve just seen. Have good press photographs ready to go too. An Instagram picture of you and your bandmates drunk won’t cut it.

Let’s flip the question, too. Music writing is obviously a passion for a lot of people, but very few are making worthwhile money out of it. You’ve done well in moving on to professional journalism. Do you think writers should write for free? Are most blogs worth reading?

I’ve worked in a newspaper since 2011, so apart from my blog I haven’t written for free. Newly trained journalists just out of college want whatever they can get so are willing to work for free, whether it be through internships or whatever. I know some people who’ve had great experiences on internships. But I know just as many who haven’t. So it is what you make it. I think Sarah Doran pretty much summed up my thoughts on it.

What are your plans  for The Point Of Everything over the coming year? You seem to  have been pretty quiet for a while now…

Keeping a new-music-focused blog is hard work. I’ve been doing the Point of Everything for over five years, all in my own free time. So I was going from the laptop at home to the computer at work. It’s tough going. I haven’t made money out of it but I enjoyed it. It took a while to find the right niche – just covering Irish music – but I think I did a good job of it for a couple years. If nothing else I think it showcases that period in Irish music. We saw the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and Girl Band go from nobodies to headlining festivals – and Girl Band’s rise isn’t done just yet.  I just found that the blog was eating up too much of my day and my writing was stagnating. That’s what I want to do – be a writer and a journalist – but so much of new-music blogging is regimented: “New artist releases new song. It sounds like blah blah blah. Their new album is out on this date. Now listen to the song.” There’s nothing exciting about that, neither to read nor to write. Also when you’re constantly on the lookout for the new sound you lose your quality control. When you write about bands who you think are crap, that’s probably when you need to take a break, at least. That’s what I’m calling it at the moment – an indefinite hiatus. But I doubt if I do go back that it’ll be loads of updates every day. Nialler9 does such a good job though. His blog was basically the reason I wanted to try my hand at music blogging and he’s just going from strength to strength. And there’s no music blog even close to his level of quality or output. Most music websites don’t even come close. I know there have been a couple music sites and blogs that have sprung up in the past 18 months or so, but I don’t think they’re doing too much outside the norm. I read the same couple of websites and blogs I’ve always read – and I miss Harmless Noise every day. Naomi is such a good writer. I hope she gets back into music writing soon. I wish I could write as well as her – not just about music, but everything.

State of the Nation is a blog project for 2015 focused on telling the story of the Irish music scene through interviews with some of its major players. Interviews are published weekly, and you can find a full index of all published to date here

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