Sunday, 18 January 2015

Interview & Gig Review - ¡NO! with Diarmuid MacDiarmada

Fergus Cullen & LRC of ¡NO! with Diarmuid MacDiarmada
Photo: Remy Connolly

Info: In comfortable surroundings and with a very welcoming atmosphere, ¡NO! and improv guitarist Diarmuid MacDiarmada put on a great 40 minute show for revellers at T-Block in Smithfield last night. The set was at times hypnotic and very easy to get fully lost in, with a vast array of instruments and electronics at play, which the musicians seemed to be able to use to make order out of what could be chaos for the audience in attendance. The idea that the house band are playing for the very first time with their guest performer makes it all the more impressive, and I really enjoyed the experience. Another aspect that makes the monthly Concrete Soup sessions attractive is the fact that the band will be taking the stage with a different guess each time, meaning ¡NO! two shows (sorry) are ever going to be the same or even similar. Earlier in the week I did an interview with bass player LRC, and he brought game to the answers, and for that I must salute him, plenty of humour in there. 

Jamie Davis of ¡NO!
Photo: Remy Connolly

Remy: Tell us a bit about Concrete Soup and more specifically, how the whole idea was born?

LRC: Fergus has run Concrete Soup as an intermittent promoter for several years, organizing gigs at the Joinery (RIP) and elsewhere, so Concrete Soup per sé has existed for a while. But Concrete Soup Improv Music Afternoons will be one year old in February 2015. It’s a monthly afternoon performance residency for improvisational and/or broadly “experimental” musicians of all types. Our band ¡NO! are the curators. We invite acts from Dublin, from Ireland generally or from abroad to perform each month. ¡NO! opens the event with a short icebreaker set, followed by a guest set, and it closes with a collaborative set between the guests and ¡NO! 

Basically we were musing about how great it would be if there were a regular performance hub for local, national and visiting improv or experimental musicians in Dublin. There wasn’t anything 100% regular. Then it occurred to us that we could just create one ourselves. We’re all sort of DIY artists anyway, so it made sense to do it that way. Graham and Fergus had already run the legendary club Lazy Bird back in the day, so they had the experience and connections to get us off to a quick start.

Remy: You've been running the monthly sessions for almost a year now, what were the highlights and have you any new acts you can share with us who will be performing at Concrete Soup over the next few months (or is it top secret for now?!)

LRC: It’s really hard to single out any particular highlight, and also extremely subjective. We’ve had remarkable artists from the outset, some obscure, some less so. Over ten months we’ve hosted Rainfear, Hustledorff, Paul Roe (Concorde Ensemble), Prang Ruin, Black Egg, Djackulate, Wilmacakebread, Katsura Yamauchi, E+S=B, and Diarmuid MacDiarmada. These personalities include internationally recognized contemporary musicians, monkish Japanese minimalists, eclectic Scottish interdisciplinarians, American audio-visual artists and a Dublin Bus driver who specializes in Zen drone music, amongst others. If I were to cite a personal favourite, speaking entirely for myself, it would be the collaboration we did with alt-hop turntablist Djackulate, because it was relatively uncustomary and had astonishing results – genre breaking and funny too. It was quite a unique atmosphere. 

We also recently did a special tribute session to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the recording of Albert Ayler’s landmark free jazz album “Spiritual Unity,” featuring E+S=B, Rainfear, Diarmuid MacDiarmada and ourselves. The audience energy in the room for that event was remarkable, and the performances and spirit of the occasion were electrical.

Next February’s event will feature Woven Skull, the first full band we have ever invited. (Usually we have soloists or duos). For the rest of the year we’ll continue collaborating with local and national artists. We also have a few international aces up our sleeve and some eyebrow-raising projects we can’t talk about yet. Let’s just say we’ll be pushing the boundaries a bit beyond what is typical and there’ll be a small number of very special, totally improbable guests. These projects are all in the pipeline and it would be too early to disclose details. But prepare to be surprised!

Graham Montgomery of ¡NO!
Photo: Remy Connolly

Remy:  As well as being the organisers of C.S. you're, perhaps more importantly, members of experimental rock / postpunk / neo-psychedelic troupe ¡NO! and perform at each monthly session, care to share how you guys got together and maybe some influences with us?

LRC: The origins are suitably random actually. Jamie and I had previously toured together with New York outfit The Jack Grace Band and had been talking at that time about starting a noise band or even a surf band. In tandem I had been playing with Fergus in a separate thing, a truly vicious, jugular-threatening garage band that of course nobody understood! Jamie came along one day to see us play and immediately decided all three of us should do something enduring together. We met up for a trial jam and quickly realized we had an improvisational understanding already as a trio. One week later we were jamming in a studio when Graham, whom both Jamie and Fergus knew independently of each other, totally unexpectedly walked in to the room, plugged in a guitar, and blew the session through the roof. We still don’t know how he just turned up. I personally think he’s a sorcerer. Anyway, if the three of us were bricks, Graham was incontestably the mortar. That was it. We were ¡NO! from that moment. 

We never talked about influences before we started proper. It wasn’t necessary. There was an instant feeling and resultant sound that didn’t need commentary. Immediately it was its own thing. All of us had a breadth and depth of experience as both listeners and players of music that gave us a huge set of references to draw on – that was clear from our sound. Personally, I’m a firm believer in the idea of sedimentation; that your experiences settle over time into layers in your mind, remaining in storage. In the spontaneous moment, in spontaneous composition, things surge out of those layers and colour the musical expression. Of course it’s musical sediment, but it’s also other experience. What often gets overlooked is that an artist is influenced by everything. I’m pretty influenced by a rib kicking I got in a rugby club in 1989 in Kilkenny for example. It taught me a lot about patterns of goon behaviour, and I draw on that often. But seriously folks even if music is the obvious angle for us, other things present themselves too, other facets of experience. Between us we’re librarians, photographers, teachers, writers and chemists, as well as composers and musicians. Individually we’ve travelled extensively or lived abroad for long periods of time. All these things count. 

But we must give readers what they want, which is of course a list. Soooo...we are collectively musically influenced by everything from classical music, jazz/free jazz, punk, noise, postpunk, electronica, soul, blues, metal, hip-hop … if you stuck Stravinksy, Albert Ayler, Suicide, Steve Reich, Captain Beefheart, Gong and Sly Stone in a room and let them at it you’d start to approach noises we sometimes make. I should mention too that things that influence what you don’t do are extremely important. For example we might say we’re heavily influenced by Mumford & Sons in so far as if we ever meet them we’ll gladly insert their mawkish instruments into the most inconvenient orifice they possess. 

However, I digress. We’re not trying to achieve any particular sound according to these or other influences. We just play and let it go where it goes. That’s the spontaneity part. It’s not really experimentation after all, because that implies a starting premise which is finally proven or disproved through demonstration. It’s more an expressiveness. Spontaneous composition, or what I like to call direct delivery – immediate music, direct from the source in real time.

Remy: I've noticed on your Bandcamp page a few new tracks cropping up such as, 'Gimme all your synchronicity' and the 1970's horror soundtrack sounding 'Let smoking dogs lie', are you in the early stages of compiling an album or are you just letting things take their course naturally over the next while?

LRC: We already recorded a studio album last April, but we haven’t released it yet. None of the Bandcamp tracks have anything to do with that. The album is all unheard material. It’s quite bizarre actually because it’s a live album of spontaneous one-take composition with no overdubs or additions – but we recorded it in a studio. We wanted to only do on the record what we would do at a gig, but with better sound. So we just went in, pressed record and played for HOURS! Which makes the mixing and sequencing process a bit longer than for a written album. It’s at the mastering stage right now but we’re ironing out a few things before we release it in the coming months. You have been warned.

We’re also doing a limited release of live recordings on our new Archive series. Audience members at Concrete Soup Improv Music Afternoons will get a new copy each month as part of the event’s admission price.

Remy: You recently had to relocate from The Twisted Pepper on Middle Abbey Street to T-Block in Smithfield, where the first C.S. of 2015 is taking place this Saturday, did this come as a surprise or was it planned?

LRC: The Twisted Pepper people were brave enough to give us the opportunity to get a quick start last year and we’re very grateful for that. Our mutual needs grew to differ towards the end of 2014 and we decided to call a halt to the collaboration there. Just boring logistics for the main part. We grew a stalwart audience for Concrete Soup there over time, but they were a migrant audience. We were finding it hard to break barriers with the indigenous Twisted Pepper crowd, as mocha-drinking twenty-somethings seemed to be terrified of going down into a dark basement to listen to EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC!!!! Back when we were attempting to run Concrete Soup for free (an untenable situation), I used to approach the bearded brethren and sistren (well, the sisters didn’t have beards) with flyers and a smile inviting them down for some free avant-garde afternoon fun. They appeared as scared as if I’d stuck a pistol in their belly and asked them to drop their pants. So, let’s say we ended up feeling slightly like we were colonizing the place once a month. 

BLOCK T is a different proposition in so many respects. It’s not a bar and doesn’t have those prerogatives or distractions, it doesn’t have concurrent events going on while Concrete Soup is happening and, along with its venerable reputation as an arts centre, there’s a more favourable indigenous demographic there for what we do. When we knew we needed a change BLOCK T corresponded exactly to what we were looking for and they were equally enthusiastic about having us, so it was perfect.

LRC & Diarmuid MacDiarmada
Photo: Remy Connolly

Remy: Can you guys share any tips for readers of the blog on up and coming acts or highly recommended ones that you've seen or worked with since C.S. began?

LRC: All of the artists we’ve had over the last year are genuinely outstanding in their own way. But none of them are describable as “up and coming” in the media sense, because most media couldn’t give a monkey’s about “fringe” artists. Paul Roe has enduring international success on the contemporary classical scene. Katsura Yamauchi has international critical acclaim, if scant financial reward. Those guys have been around for decades. But “up and coming” is a totally different coefficient of value or worth. For the artists beyond commercial reaches, these are serious and precious talents who have been plying their idiosyncratic trade for years. It’s an emphatic testimony to the integrity of their vision and tenacity in my opinion. Despite negligible attention, compared to the Hoziers of our time, these crazy zealots have been insistently making space music because they believe that it’s important. They might never be “up and coming.” None of us make money doing the stuff we do. We would all LOVE to have money. But we’ll never get it in even modest quantities for what is vaguely called “experimental” music. So “up and coming” is off the cards really. It’s a media invention. Another way of saying “soon to be hip” – which has to do with whatever is up powerful promoters’ sleeves. I truly hope they are all soon to be hip, which would indicate a quantum leap forward in musical perceptions in my view. That currently seems an improbable revolution, although it does increasingly appear that some listeners are looking for much more than just accessory music. So, in a nutshell, ¡NO! highly recommends the following for their courage, vision, talent and craziness!:

Rainfear, Hustledorff (Gavin Kearns), Paul Roe, Prang Ruin, Black Egg, Djackulate, Wilmacakebread, Katsura Yamauchi, E+S=B, and Diarmuid MacDiarmada.

Remy: If time and money were no object, where would you like to take C.S. & ¡NO! into the future?

LRC: If time, money and logistics were insignificant ¡NO! would become a self-sufficient guerilla music outfit that would randomly turn up at your local supermarket, country fair, cattle mart, dentist, court appearance or marriage proposal, and perform quick fire musical attacks designed to destabilize your sense of the time/space continuum and misled perception of the singularity of the ego. We would fund other like-minded musicians in similar ventures and Concrete Soup would be the promotion vehicle. We would very probably live in a secret mobile unit for maximum effect and rehearse in forests and on mountaintops. We would also have champagne for breakfast and never run out of smokes. 

Failing that, well settle for keeping on keeping on.

Remy: Finally, LRC, given you share a name that rhymes with a certain inventor of a certain religion which will remain untyped for my own personal safety and that of my family, I have to ask you, what's your favourite Tom Cruise film?

LRC: The artsy answer might be Vanilla Sky, but that’s bullshit. The real answer is Mission Impossible, the title of which thematically underscores everything we ever undertake. Although Graham has a penchant for Risky Business.

To find out more about Conrete Soup's upcoming shows and ¡NO! give them a Like on Bookface here Incidentally I've just been listening to Woven Skull who play C.S.'s February session and they're very slick, have a listen

Photo: Remy Connolly

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