Cork Unplugged in the Irish Times

We all love writing about subjects close to our hearts, and clearly one thing I care a huge amount about is the music scene in Cork. I may not live there anymore, but I’m in the city regularly and love hearing about the new nights and events that are on. I feel lucky to be friends with many of the people who keep the local scene vibrant, so when I had the opportunity to write an article for the Irish Times about Cork’s music scene I was in my element.

It’s not possible to cram everything that is going on in Cork into 1700 words, so I chose to focus on a few elements of the scene – all very different to each other yet linked by a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to try different things.

I was on a high the day it was published as having an article of my own in The Ticket was literally a major dream of mine for many years.

What are your favourite bands and venues in Cork? I’d love to know!

This article is copyright of The Irish Times.

They’re making a hell of a racket by the banks of the Lee, where a plethora of venues are playing host to a cabal of musical adventurers. From offerings for ‘weirdos’ to electronica for the eclectica, AOIFE BARRY casts an insider’s eye over an outsider’s scene

THEY don’t call it the Rebel County for nothing: when it comes to music, Corkonians have always done things their own way.

Traditionally a haven for rock and indie music, having spawned iconic bands such as The Frank and Walters and Five Go Down to the Sea, in the Cork of 2010 musicians are taking a fresh approach.

Independent shop Plugd Records – located in the cavernous enclave of the Triskel Arts Centre’s Loading Bay space, and run by Jim Horgan and Albert Twomey – provides a hub.

Looking at the bustling shop now, it’s hard to believe that last December, after eight years in business, Plugd closed the doors to its former home on Washington Street. Customers described themselves as shocked and heartbroken on the People’s Republic of Cork music forum.

“I had mixed feelings about it,” says Horgan. “On the one hand I really wanted it to somehow work out. We had great times in our old premises and met brilliant people along the way. On the other, it was kind of a relief we didn’t have to keep struggling on in a difficult situation.”

Plugd reopened two months ago and its importance can’t be understated, adds Twomey. “I like to think it plays a vital role in the local scene as a space where folks can share ideas and check in to see what’s happening.”

With the new, larger space comes the potential for in-store gigs. Sun Araw will play there on November 27th, for instance, co- promoted by the Black Mariah gallery.

“The Cork music scene is as strong as I have seen in my three years here,” says Twomey. “There are lots of new clubs and promoters to satisfy most tastes. Venues such as Cyprus Avenue are putting on some incredible shows, like Swans and Mudhoney.”

Horgan agrees: “For its population, Cork has all the bases covered, from folk to jazz, techno to noise and everything in between. Despite this, it’s also an ego-free, tight-knit community. Cork has developed a fresh DIY ethos over recent years. People are taking risks and evidently it’s paying off.”

Promoter Shane Scollard co-ran the Ping Pong club night, which brought a wealth of underground bands to the city. He argues that the Cork scene, though finding things tough at times, “has bettered anywhere else over the last few years”, largely thanks to free shows by local promoters in venues such as The Quad and Crane Lane. “All this was inspired by the recession.”

With people organising everything from all-day events to shape-note singing classes in unusual venues such as the Unitarian Church, and with Cork Campus Radio, UCC’s student radio station, broadcasting 24 hours a day, the Cork scene is keeping its rebellious spirit alive. Funds may be tight, audience numbers may fluctuate, but inspiration is high and there’s a spirit of collaboration.


THE ELECTRONIC music scene is buzzing in Cork. Legendary house DJs Greg and Shane have spawned a whole new generation of young guns, such as techno stalwart Jamie Behan of Bastardo Electrico; Kevin Blake, Warren Knowles and Hans of Electric Underground and Submerge in the Liquid Lounge; and a host of other innovators.

DJ Hans praises Cork for its choice of venues and promoters, but believes there’s no “big money” here: “It’s a healthy scene, but there’s huge competition for resources and customers.” Alongside the competition is collaboration, something that was discussed on Cork Culture Night at a talk run by Electric Underground in new arts space Camden Palace Hotel.

One essential venue for electronic music is An Réalt Dearg, formerly the Gateway pub on Barrack Street, which was reopened by Macroom man Mark Cronin in January 2009. The venture was a risk. “I renovated it myself,” says Cronin. “There was never any music there before. To start out we wanted to have something once or twice a week, and then it just grew.”

Cronin says that, in Cork, “people are willing to do different things”. He points to Moons, a night at An Réalt run by Jack Buckley, which has hosted some of Europe’s most exciting new producers; and Workshop, run by Kim Keating, an all-day event featuring DJs from house, disco and even metal backgrounds.

Another of An Réalt’s biggest draws is Sunday Times, a monthly all-day event run by DJs Barry Walsh and John Hennessy. “We wanted to do something free. You have to make it a bit unusual to get people to go,” says Walsh. This means a mix of music, a mellow vibe and even free sushi.

DJs Shane Linehan and Sean Galvin run the House Is a Home night. “I think the house and techno sides of things are on the up,” says Linehan, who credits social networking sites with easier promotion. “There are probably more small nights happening now than there were two years ago.” He notes that the past two years have meant lower door prices and “more recession- friendly clubbing”. Almost all of An Réalt Dearg gigs are free.


VICKY LANGAN is a proud Galwegian who nonetheless embodies the rebellious Cork spirit. She performs as Wölflinge and with La Sociétes des Amis du Crime, among others, and she also curates the Black Sun events along with Paul Hegarty and film-maker Max Le Cain.

In June, Black Sun celebrated its first anniversary of bringing “unusual” artists to Cork. The night “aims to present exciting performers to an Irish audience and give local ‘weirdos’ an opportunity to play in a really cool setting,” she says. It also includes an experimental film programme curated by Le Cain.

Black Sun was first held in the Granary Theatre, and it examplifies how Cork promoters are not afraid to put on left-field events.

“Most people are coming into this blind,” says Langan. The positive reaction has blown her away. “It shows that experimental music doesn’t have to be this dry thing. It’s just as much about punk and humour, the absurd and irreverent, spontaneity and joy.”

In December she will curate the grand finale of ArtTrail festival (, whose theme is “Multiple Endings”. Slated to perform are free-improv jazz group Borbetomagus, Usurper, Ali Robertson and Malcy Duff; Edinburgh cartoonist Duff will also host a comic workshop.

Langan is delighted. “It looks as though my long-held dream of Black Sun turning into a small music festival is finally happening.”


STEVIE GRAINGER is a well-respected DJ who works for Red FM and co-owns The Pavilion venue. “I personally think it’s better than it ever was,” he says of the Cork scene. “People will moan on the internet, but the options and the talent are there.”

The Pavilion, located on Carey’s Lane, dates from 1921, and re-opened as a music venue in 2008.

“Part of our aim was to give people stuff that wasn’t there,” says Grainger. “We do certain things ourselves, but you’re better off going to the promoters. Like Black Sun . It’s brilliant doing stuff like that because it gives them a platform and they can do it better than us.”

The Pavilion has hosted countless club nights from all genres, giving local DJs a chance to perform for a large crowd, while the likes of Ben Frost and Deerhoof have played there.

According to Grainger, Cork musicians and promoters are fuelled by Ireland’s political and social landscape. “You can see it in the music and the creativity of the nights. There’s a real anger out there.”

One thing that doesn’t help Cork venues, he argues, are the draconian licensing laws. “They are terrible from a tourism point of view, a jobs point of view, a street safety point of view – and from a creative point of view.”


THINK OF a “gig space” and a dingy pub inevitably comes to mind. In Shandon, however, you can visit a guesthouse.

The Guesthouse was set up by the Cork Arts Collective in 2007. It is run by Irene Murphy, Claire Guerin, Mick O’Shea, Colette Lewis and Billy Foley, and it comprises artist studios and a live venue.

“It’s a bit of a melting pot for artists to come and meet in a friendly domestic setting where collaborations can naturally occur,” says O’Shea. He is a member of sound art duo The Quiet Club, part of a network of experimental groups branching into noise, drone, and improvisation.

“In other places everyone is protective of their own work,” O’Shea observes. “I think there is more of a collaborative feel here in Cork.”

O’Shea also helps curate Sonic Vigil, an annual sound-art event in the sacred space of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This year it included a turntable orchestra, co-ordinated by promoter Shane Scollard and music archivist John Byrne.

Many of Cork’s experimental events have a link to UCC’s School of Music.Both O’Shea and SAFE’s Paul Hegarty, who wrote the book Noise Music: A History, work at the university.

Other hubs of experimentalism include Stet Lab, a space for live improvised music at the Roundy pub; and MutantSpace, a group who aim to share ideas and resources.

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