Above: Patrick O’Brien captures the masked hip-hop crusader in his natural enviroment.
From co-founding Galway’s Community Skratch games, being a member of the Vince McMahon scratch super-group to making some seriously innovative music as one half of one man duo Deviant and Naïve Ted, Andy Connolly has been a cornerstone of Irish hip-hop and electronica for over a decade. Martin Leen took the brave step and left Dublin for the wilds of Limerick to get the low-down on surreal hip-hop and the up and coming young guns .
How did you get into turn-tablism growing up down in Kerry?
Well I grew up down in Killarney and to be honest dance music was always kind of in the ether, there was always a kind of a hint of a ravey buzz in the air. You’d hear about these parties, Henry’s was just down the road, The Prodigy even played there before they dropped Charlie. Me and my mates all had a bit of cash because we could get part time jobs because of tourism. So we’d head down to Cork every weekend and blow all our cash on tunes.
When and how did you get into scratching?
Sort of straight away, if I didn’t have school I’d be doing it the whole time. I was quite serious about it quite quick. It was a kind of an affinity thing. It seemed like the only thing to be doing with yourself. Looking back I find quite a profound link between having a speech impediment and scratching because I guess at its core when you have a stammer you’re sort of a hyper-editor because you’re always moving your words about and always moving your sentences into places that you can navigate.
For me I couldn’t say my name in public. That was my big thing, most of the stammer stuff I could deal with, for instance if I had to read a passage I’d be nervous but once I got a start I’d be able to get the rhythm of it and start the breathing and get into it. I was probably never so embarrassed in those classrooms as those seconds when I couldn’t say my name. But of course some people would laugh because they couldn’t help it, because it’s fucking funny. You ask someone their name and they don’t know what it is, it’s absurd! It gives you a grasp of blackness and dark humour.
So I got really quiet, I was probably already quite quiet, so scratching just dominated. It was something I was cool and good at and a way into conversations. It was something I was good at that didn’t involve speaking. That was really liberating. I guess on some level all artists are trying to exert some kind of authority on a room and for me who was very afraid of crowds that was a liberating thing.
Also it was so unusual, no one was doing it. As I got better at scratching my stammer improved too, which was quite ironic, it helped because my confidence and my happiness were up.
When did you start producing?
The music in a way came from a kind of disillusionment with scratching and the scratch mentality of let’s just scratch real fast. At the time I was really into the idea of scratching as a musical instrument rather than this novelty thing that people were using it for. What I would call scratch music, no one really makes it, and there have probably been about 30 releases of music made entirely from scratching. There is very little of it. So I made it my mission to do it.
I made five records with no computers just turn-tables. The thing was though I just couldn’t perform it live so I was still stuck with normal djing as my outlet in the live setting. This is why we set up the Vince McMahon thing with Jimmy Penguin, Mikey Fingers, Danny Deepo and Rhombus Marylegs. It was supposed to be a one off but it was such good fun we just ran with it.
The thing about scratching though is where does the scratch DJ play? We’d always end doing ridiculous gigs with ridiculous people in ridiculous places; you’re kind of too weird for the hip-hop scene, too hip-hop for the other scenes.
You’ve moved away from purely scratching and use more electronics with the Ted stuff?
Well digital is great for scratching because it takes the needle slipping out of the equation which is great but what happens now when you see a DJ’s live performance it involves lots of pre-production and programming, and what has happened is everything is now so edited and so much effort is put into the production. It sounds amazing but it’s kind of against the point, you’re kind of like a unicyclist, it’s just a trick
With the new show the songs are standalone songs but they are made with the set in mind, they are made for manipulation. You can have one on each side and you can fuck shit up, that’s the spirit of it, it can’t be repeated, it’ll always be different, there is no way of doing the same thing twice. I might have a start and a finish I don’t have a middle bit and I’ll just feel it out.
I guess I’ve a big thing about transparency; I don’t want to hide shit from the audience as far as what’s happening. The more you are interacting with that computer the less they understand, and you’re losing a connection with the audience, it does something to the whole experience of the music.
YouR live show is really theatrical at the moment what are the influences behind that?
Everything man, everything. I’m really feeding off that late 90’s techno thing at the moment. There was a feeling of that kind of techno; it made you want to dance. With the solo stuff I always loved to make people dance but it was with other people’s music as a DJ. So I’ve made a conscious effort with the new stuff to get people dancing. The show is made by someone who is sick of going to gigs where people stand around not really engaging unless they’ve had a few pints, artists not really giving it their all, people playing it safe. I like when the show goes wrong. I like the lack of a safety net where it can all fall apart, and people like that too. The tension is what brings people into your show.
Tell us about your work with the Music Generation project down in Limerick?
I have a day job because music doesn’t really pay the bills. I teach music to young people, well teach is probably too strong a word for it. We have drop in music sessions where it’s mentoring and you learn the skills by doing it rather than me teaching you how to do it necessarily.
So if you want to know how to make beats we’ll just make a song and you’ll go through the beat making process as part of it. It’s about unlocking creativity through music, and you get the skills as you go, which is quite close to my heart as someone who didn’t come in as a practitioner.
We specialise I guess in older teenagers and in particular rap and meeting. We go into schools, myself and God Knows and Steveamanakick as a kind of a trio, teach them song writing skills, and make demos. If they want to make reggae we’ll make reggae, if it’s hip –hop we’ll make that, whatever they are into.
Teenagers can be quite unforgiving which is nice because there is something quite humbling about a group of people that just do not give a fuck about what you are you doing, and I mean this in the nicest possible way- why would they give a fuck about this strange hairy man that’s trying to get them to do something. But what you find is because we do contemporary music even the hardest classes come round usually because we are interested in what they are interested in.
The Limerick project has been really successful, we do a lot of work, get good support. We got a building and we’re starting to see the first crop of bands coming out of it, on the rap side you’ve got Same Difference and Jonen Dekay, and on the band side you have Pow Pig, Eraser TV and A Weekend Away. This is great because these people are carrying on doing it. The Limerick rap scene is possibly the best in the country at the moment.
What is it with Limerick and rap in the last few years?
It should have been like that 20 years ago to be honest, it seems like it’s a rap town. I’ve been coming here since I was 19 or 20. It always felt like a rap town. It’s got all the demographics for it as a far as social deprivation, a city that’s been ravaged, a big young population and everyone fucking loves Tupac. Tupac and Bob Marley are the most popular humans in Limerick without a doubt. Every young person here seems to be able to freestyle, writing rhymes not so much, but everyone seems to be able to bust some freestyle and talk some shit.
How did you end up doing the theme tune for the Japanese wrestling, cause you’re a big wrestling fan aren’t you?
I am indeed. There have been times in my life when I’m more into contemporary wrestling than contemporary music to be honest. I did a record called The Flying Buttresses with Sebby C a few years ago. A friend of mine grew up with a guy who became a wrestler in Japan called Prince Devitt and he gave him the CD. This guy was seriously popular over there. A few months later Prince Devitt started following me on Facebook. Anyway in the wrestling he was a really good virtuous guy and the Japanese loved him but he was turning bad and needed a new tune and he wanted me to do it.
I was in the middle of my thesis and I immediately said yes. I made seven tunes for him in two days and they were all rejected. But what happened was he started his own faction called Bullet Club which is now absolutely huge, probably the biggest in the world and they used my tune as their theme. This is the thing I’ve done that small Andy would have been most proud of.
Head over to the unscenemusic.bandcamp.com to keep track of the lad’s movements and cop some new releases.