by / March 7th, 2008 /

Archive: Circuit Breakers: A primer on the Irish Electronic scene

Friday, midnight: while waiting to order at the bar, State is suddenly aware that pint
glasses are vibrating across the counter top like wind-up toys moving hilariously to their doom. The bass frequencies are so loud that vision is blurry and the labels on the bottles stocked behind the bar are obfuscated and hallucinatory. There’s about a hundred people gathered in the small dark basement venue, feeling the repercussions of those low, low frequencies. Meanwhile, upstairs in the same building, a mainstream club-night playing radiofriendly dance and pop music is occupied by dolled-up ladies and standard issue Ben-Sherman shirt-clad gents. The two distinct tribes converge in the smoking area outside where the fella doused in aftershave is probably wondering what the -scruffy fuck’ with the dreads is doing on his turf.

Welcome to !Kaboogie, an alternative music night which currently takes place in the basement of Traffic on Abbey Street in Dublin city centre. With the tagline ‘bass that will make your granny cry’, !Kaboogie put on regular gigs featuring bass-heavy music like breakcore, dubstep, grime, reggae, drum -n’ bass and electronica, which have become the best off-the-radar nights Dublin has to offer, bringing over a range of headline international acts such as Aaron Spectre, Benga, Alec Empire, The Bug and Drop the Lime, to play alongside the best of Irish electronic talent like Herv, Prince Kong, T-Woc, Lakker, Ed Devane and Major Grave.

!Kaboogie’s aim is to encourage and nurture the talent in the local scene, while throwing damn good parties in the process. The atmosphere is always friendly and welcoming, and always about the tunes. They also encourage visual artists to enhance the night, such as the Pussy Krew – three Polish blokes living in Ireland, who regularly do live visuals armed with an old vision mixer acquired from the former West Germany, DVD mixers, two laptops, two open VCRs and a suitcase brimming with 400 battered VHS tapes. The crowd are definitely non-discriminatory, a !Kaboogie promoter tells State: ‘We organised the recent Scotch Egg gig with GZ, a punk promoter. We like the idea of mixing it up, Band/DJ/Band/DJ. It was a really good buzz, and cool to see !Kaboogie regulars getting into the punk stuff and vice versa.’

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No-doubt !Kaboogie and other Dublin collectives such as the Alphabet Set, Bodytonic and Reach are helping to foster upcoming electronic musicians, while other promoters such as Electric Underground in Cork, Backtobasskicks in Galway and Diston in Belfast are representing this thriving alternative scene throughout the country.

BASS

The scene is now so healthy that it features prominently at summer festivals. The Alphabet Set tent at Mantua Festival in Roscommon is due its third year and is one of the main draws of the festival, which had an attendance of 3,000 people last year, a huge jump from 2006’s 500 capacity crowd. Sai Festival, which takes place in early August in Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim, run by the Leechrum collective, ran its third year of festival shindiggery in 2007. DEAF (Dublin Electronic Arts Festival) takes place at the end of October with the aim of promoting ‘an ethic of genuine inclusiveness in their approach to showcasing electronic art to new audiences’. DEAF celebrated its sixth birthday last year with an all-Asian affair, while 2005’s event featured an all-Irish programme, a huge statement of confidence in the quality of the work offered by Irish-based artists.

An interesting facet of the electronic scene, which has its roots in the history of illegal raves, is a willingness for promoters to think outside the box when organising gigs: ‘We had a gig last year with the Leechrum folks in Taylor’s Hall in the city centre. There were about three or four times more people there than we expected, and there ended up being a real festival buzz, despite the reality of it being a cold winter night in Dublin. There were no bouncers, everyone brought their own drink, and no-one asking -have you no homes to go to?’ at only 2:30am!’ Both !Kaboogie and Alphabet Set cite Seomra Spraoi, an autonomous social centre based in Dublin (but currently homeless) as an important and encouraging collective for such events. Mick Alphabet Set explains, ‘We got sick of the whole bar, venue, soundsystem thing. Around that time, Seomra Spraoi were getting a new venue. Along with Raidio na Life, we did two floors of Seomra Spraoi with electronica upstairs and more DJ-orientated stuff downstairs. It went off like a bomb; absolutely rammed; so of course, the cops showed up. That was one of my favourite gigs to play in Dublin. There were no bouncers, we just worked together with the people from Seomra Spraoi.’

This sense of community has extended to promoters jointly-organising shows, playing each others’ events and helping to source gigs around the country. Alphabet Set and the net-label wing of Diston, Acroplane, have recently released a free online compilation of Irish artists, entitled Disambiguation, while members of !Kaboogie, Alphabet Set and Bassbin run a regular dubstep night called Wobble, also in Traffic.

One thing that a scene like this needs in order to make its mark on the Irish musical landscape is defining releases. D1 recordings (and organisers of DEAF) have been releasing Irish electronic music since 1994, including seminal releases from Eamonn Doyle and Donnacha Costello. !Kaboogie’s upcoming plans include a series of vinyl releases, pairing international names with Irish artists on the flip-side. Alphabet Set had a great year in 2007 with the release of Sarsparilla’s Karahee and the Choice Music Prize nominated self-titled debut LP from Super Extra Bonus Party, an inventive mix of electronic, indie and hip-hop which has the potential to capture audiences outside the realm of electronica.

Another artist who breaks out of the mould is Herv, who has also released one of Ireland’s better electronic albums in the shape of 2006’s Customer, informed by Gameboy sounds, classical elements and innovative phrases that loop and morph into something wholly unique. Though his music is largely laptop-based, live he’s a joy to watch, contorting his body to each break and beat in his music, and when the genre you play is breakcore, that’s a smorgasbord of breaks and beats to gesture to.

Dubstep is still a fledgling genre worldwide but it already has an Irish gem in its ranks with Barry Lynn aka Boxcutter. Barry released Oneiric (2006) and Glyphic (2007), exhilarating grime-y, bass-heavy albums flourished with sampled flutes and catchy dub sounds, on the pioneering London label Planet Mu and received attention of Radio One’s Annie Mac, who played his tunes regularly, garnering welcome attention throughout Europe.

Other notable Irish electronic albums include ChequerBoard‘s Gothica, Ambulance‘s Curse of Vale Do Lobo, Decal‘s Brightest Star and Somadrone’s Of Pattern and Purpose. There is no shortage of upcoming artists with the potential to expand Irish electronica’s boundaries, such as Nouveaunoise, Ikeaboy, Deep Burial, The Vinny Club, Colz, Fringe and Major Grave. Of course, there is always a chance some kid is making a defining album on a laptop in their bedroom with some cracked music software in some monotonous dreary town. !Kaboogie are optimistic about the future: ‘I think its a really good time for electronic music here. It seems like every week, we come across original, interesting stuff. There are heaps of productive heads out there. DJs, producers, bands and visual artists are really getting it together these days.’

Photo by James Goulden. This article originally appeared in Issue 01 of State back in March so some things may be out of date.