Part of the increasingly ‘noticed’ Irish rap scene, Spekulativ Fiktion has been doing the rounds for years, but come into his own recently with a rapid-fire series of releases showcasing his lyrical flow and sense of place.
The place, specifically, is Cork, but it’s also the world of social justice and inner exploration, lyrics that evoke and memorable collaborations that put a memorable shine on his self-admittedly ‘oddball’ style of rap.
With an album on the horizon – though who knows when – I caught up with ‘Spek’, in what turned out to be one of the most wonderfully comprehensive Q+As I’ve done in recent years. Dig into the man’s inner thoughts, below…
The last couple of years seem to have taken you firmly into the recorded arena, with a series of releases. What pushed you to take that step up after so long on the scene?
I have released EPs and collaborations since Spekulativ Fiktion’s inception and was always happy with how they were received but on the run-up to Effigies I reckon I was going through a bit of a life crisis… Turning thirty seems trivial with where the world is at now!
Nonetheless, I figured if I didn’t up my efforts with getting my music out there I had somehow wasted my twenties. Ironically I think I nearly had a breakdown writing the thing! Anything really worth doing shouldn’t be easy they say. Big ups Mankyy for keeping it all together. I’m in a better headspace now but I’ve kept onto that mentality I developed back then with how I approach releasing and promoting my music. If you value what you do then you should try and do it justice when you put it out in the world. I’m still learning of course.
Lyrics are obviously key in a genre like yours. How do you write a typical track, lyrically speaking?
It varies from track to track. I always carry a notebook so I can jot things as they come. My phone is full of ideas too. Quite often I will write pages of the same rhyme scheme and build lyrics from the most interesting words and phrases I can come up with. Other times I could be reading and will gather expressions to look back on later.
Sometimes I might have a clear theme or concept I want to deal with or else I’ll see where the beat leads me. There might be drafts and redrafts, other times the song pours out on the spot. I even notice different outcomes between hand writing or typing something. I have no specific procedure. Different approaches keep it fresh for me.
Could you give me a little background on the Don Conroy track and the video?
I had planned on working with Cork producer, Pacino Brady, for a while. He had sent me a few beats. At the same time, Andy from Unscene contacted me about contributing to the HOW BAZAAR compilation. The Unscene Bazaars are free events running from Limerick’s Wickham Tap, that consist of performances by some of the country’s finest offbeat producers, DJs, rappers, and general sonic weirdos.
The compilation was a fundraiser for future events. I recorded vocals on a Brady beat and sent it on, titled Don Conroy (after a particular lyric in the song). I had not had a video release in some time and figured this would be a nice way to lead into a bunch of shows I had coming up (which obviously isn’t the case now!). I put the video together under another alias, scrbl crypt. I was going for kind of a warped nostalgic vibe with the imagery. Call it fate that Mr Conroy himself has since returned and revived Draw with Don on his YouTube channel while we were sitting on the video release.
Can you tell me a little bit about the little details you seem to like to hide in tracks – and tell me about a couple of your favourites?
I like lyrics that are visual. I don’t like filler. Every line should have depth on some level. The way I write means that sometimes there ends up being layers to a lyric. I find even in songs that are supposed to be tongue in cheek my subconscious still manages to nudge out deep reflections of myself or my perception of the world around me. I always try to have an element of humour somewhere even in the bleakest tracks. Full-on depression can get tiring but I’m never trying to be a piss-take either. Hmmm. My favourites change quite often. Right now I like:
“Doing this til my brain is gone, And there’s no word back from Major Tom. These no flow kids get waterlogged. As I burn through the page like Draw with Don”
I was playing on the trope of rappers claiming they are superior to the competition while acknowledging the mental ramifications of spending so much time with constant words flying round your head. I also sing in a Bowie tribute so there’s a nod to that in there. And I just thought it would be cool to be the first rapper to shout out Don Conroy.
“I’m on a David Lynch vision quest, Moving closer to the edge with only inches left. I toss my pittance in the wishing well, Cos life’s a bitch looking for the shift but she’ll catch you with the kiss of death”
That’s from Penny Drops, a feature I did with Danny Diatribe and Kynzilla on their Very Clear EP. It was written in a gloomy headspace. I was enormously stressed and felt a great sense of loss at the time to the point I thought I was losing my mind. There was a stage where I was questioning whether my house was haunted by an aggressive presence. So that’s all in there. What would a David Lynch vision quest look like? Fecking mental I imagine.
Unscene Music seem to be doing great things in the hip-hop arena. How have you found working with them?
I love the crew and I love the aesthetic. It’s DIY, punk, arty, dark, innovative. And there’s not much airs and graces about the whole thing. If I have something I want to put out there are no questions asked. Unscene means a lot to me. So much so that I got it tattooed on my arm.
How have the ‘How Bazaar’ and ‘No Civilians’ releases helped in terms of getting your name out there?
In a sense, those projects were unexpected. No Civilians came together in a couple of days in 2018. Myself and Mankyy had just played Body & Soul and took a spin straight to Unscene HQ in Limerick to bang out some on the spot tunes with Deviant and Clerk 5.
Hazey Haze, the king of Limerick, turned up at the last minute and banged out a load of verses. You can hear the vibe in the project. It’s rough and absurd. I had put it at the back of my mind for a long time until it dropped a few weeks ago. I think it’s been a nice precursor to what’s on the way and has got people turning their heads again.
My contribution to HOW BAZAAR was a last-minute thing. So that was another surprise in a way. There are a variety of artists on there all with their own reach and fanbase. Super diverse. I definitely got a lot of hype concerning Don Conroy which might have prompted me to make the video and get it out there in a bigger way.
How has the broader hip-hop scene changed in Ireland since you started out? From the outside, it seems to have gone from very small to absolutely flourishing…
When I started out in this carry on Irish rappers were the butt of many jokes. Now it seems like you can talk to anyone and they know a rapper or have a friend of a friend who raps or something like that. The whole way people release music is drastically different than it was ten years ago too, and there’s good and bad to that.
Some heads bang out material like there’s no tomorrow. Some of them are of the calibre to maintain quality. Other people are still developing their craft and should learn to take their time. More than that though, there are people making noise online without much to show. You have people with very little output but large social media followings. Citrus Fresh said it well: “20,000 followers on Instagram and the boys have like three singles out. Yes, if you’re looking at everything on paper this fella’s doing well, this fella is on a wave. Put that fella on a show down in Cork… There’ll be ten people there.”
I think the genuine artists need to be conscious of where they are putting most of their time and effort. Social media is undoubtedly very useful for growing a fanbase and connecting with hip-hop and music communities and generally expressing oneself as an extension of what they are doing musically. But it’s also just full of memes and lots of people posing as influencers or Insta models. I want to see and hear art! Maybe I’m just getting old. And don’t get me wrong. There are Irish rappers making moves!
It is good to see the amount of Irish hip-hop acts at festivals and on line ups in reputable venues around the country. That was practically not a thing ten years ago. Almost. One bone I do have to pick is with this watered-down narrative that pops up about of how Irish Hip Hop is basically this new thing and that this is the only time any artists have accomplished anything of note and how this is our moment. Firstly, that’s incorrect and secondly who cares?
Getting quoted in academic books like ‘Flip the Script: European Hip Hop & the politics of postcoloniality’ is quite a compliment. How much do you consider the political aspects of your music before they go out?
Definitely a fair chunk of my music has always had sociopolitical elements going on. It was probably more blatant in my early projects, though I feel I presented it in my own way. I tried not to come across like a preachy activist or woke rapper.
It’s not what you say but how you say it as the saying goes. Having the name Spekulativ Fiktion has a political quality to it in this dystopic world unfurling before us. I think what I talk about and how I go about that has always been in line with the name I have chosen. But I’m very conscious of not repeating too much and have made more room for personal, emotional or just plain wacky subject matter in the last few years. Still, it is always in there in most songs I make.
Will there be an album down the line? Do you see much value in albums today?
There will. I have always been a fan of cohesive albums and that is what I hope to make. I think every EP I have put out has had that quality. Every project made a strong statement of its own. I’m working on music regularly and in the process of gathering tracks and seeing which ones could make sense together on a bigger record.
There is more to do yet and I won’t be rushing it. I have been making beats regularly for the first time in a good while and I’m always trying to work with other producers who get me. I have a vault of stuff that I am working through as we speak.
Artistically, I think albums might be more valuable than ever today when acts seem to be lean more towards singles and that kind of thing. Financially they make no sense but I wouldn’t be making weird rap songs if I was in this for money!
What’s your live set up like?
The live set up has changed a fair bit over the years. Most of my early gigs consisted of a drummer, DJ, Synth player, noise artist and myself rapping, using my own sampler and guitar at times. I have since stripped it way back. It is mostly myself and a DJ, usually Jus Me (of Cuttin Heads Collective) or sometimes Mankyy. At times we will have live beats going on in moments of the set. It has always been my plan to bring back the live band elements. When the album comes around I want to have a lot more happening on stage.
Outside of Spek, I’ve been a working musician for a fair few years so reincorporating that side of things is often on my mind. In the last year, I’ve been involved with The Love Movement which began as a live tribute to A Tribe Called Quest and we’re also working on our own material. That experience has only furthered my eagerness to get a live Spek band running again. But I’m waiting patiently until the time is right. No point doing something for the sake of it. It will take time to put it all together in a way that makes sense.
What are your hopes for the future?
The album is my main priority but I’m working on some collaborations with other rappers and producers too.
And shows outside beyond Ireland! I’ve done the length and breadth of the country and a fair chunk of the festivals at one point or another. I had Portugal shows due at the Port to Port festival in Lisbon but when the pandemic hit that decided that. It will be hard to know what travel will be like after we see the back of this pandemic but I’m aiming to get beyond these shores in as big a way as I can.
Myself and Jus Me have been running quarterly Irish rap shows in Cork under Dead Write. It will be good to get back to those too.
Overall I’ll just keep scribbling in my notebook and see where it leads me.