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Wrote about underrated Bay Area rapper Young Lay for Passion of the Weiss.

The history of Bay Area hip-hop remains a catacomb that requires some amount of digging by genre historians to excavate the wealth of great music that has been cut in the region. Traditionally they make their own stars in the bay. Take away some notable exceptions – like the evergreen Too Short and E-40, and the adoption of New York-turned-Oakland resident Tupac Shakur – and by-and-large the local talent there goes unheralded outside of their own neighbourhoods in a way unlike any other major hip-hop hub.

Full article here…

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Not quite all the best MTV Base songs just yet, but the first 100 to kick things off. Pretty pleased I’ve managed to keep it to one track per artist so far (excluding guest spots), but I will get ALL the best ones from 1997-2004 - basically a scrapbook of my MTV watching years.

(Source: Spotify)

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This article appears in the latest issue of One More Robot, which is available to buy online or Dubliners can snag their copy at All City (Crow Street, Temple Bar), The Record Art and Game Emporium (Fade Street), The Winding Stair Book Shop (Lower Ormond Quay) or White Lady Art Gallery, Wellington Quay.

Though his unauthorised MF DOOM collaboration has attracted him a whole new fanbase, rapper/producer Grip Grand has been a underground hip-hip hero for years.

Like his oft-referenced influencer Dr Doom, whose transformation from scientist Victor Von Doom was fully completed when he donned a metal mask, razor-voiced rapper MF DOOM is never seen without his own facial plate, which morphs the mild-mannered Daniel Dumille into a behemoth super villain. But, while DOOM may lean towards the darker side of the Marvel universe, San Francisco-based producer/rapper Grip Grand – who last year released an unauthorised DOOM collaboration under the name GG DOOM – sees himself more the heroic type. When asked which comic book superhero guise he feels most appropriate to him, he actually chooses one of Dr Doom’s most bitter adversaries: “Reed Richards,” asserts Grip, referencing the Fantastic Four’s stretchable leader. “Family man. Highly intelligent. Shapeshifter. Always in the lab.”

Jacking some of DOOM’s verses and placing them on top of his own beats, the seven-track collection GG DOOM? But How? was widely embraced by the former KMD rapper’s fan base, who straightaway identified the beats and overall presentation of the record as reminiscent of their hero’s best loved solo work. A sonic collage of soulful samples, intricately woven with cartoon dialogue and other assorted audio snatched from a hefty vinyl collection, the record was dubbed a “beautifully executed remix project” by Ego Trip, “so convincingly Doom-patible it’s kind of uncanny”.

However, Grip never attained permission to use the verses and he soon found himself in hot water when DOOM’s people moved in on the unlawful project. Without notice, the album was removed from the internet, where it had been available for the public to freely download.
“I got an email from Bandcamp, which is where I had the album up, saying that a copyright claim had been made by a representative of [DOOM’s label] Metal Face Records and that the GG DOOM album had already been removed,” explains Grip. “But, before it came down, it was the number two hip-hop album – the new Ghostface was number one. The response to the record was extremely positive.”

While some of DOOM’s people might have been unimpressed by the copyright infringement, the man himself seemed to give the project a ringing endorsement. After the record had been pulled, a copy of the original was posted on rappcats.com – a pretty official source for DOOM material – and the London born, New York bred rapper’s official Facebook page. “That was really gratifying, not to mention an honour,” beams Grip. “When I put it up originally, I truly thought only a handful of people would ever hear it.”

He’s being modest. In fact, Grip has long been a well-established rapper and beatmaker, with two full-length albums in Welcome to Broakland (2002) and Brokelore (2008) that enjoy a cult following, not to mention a collaboration list that boasts AG, Percee P and Phat Kat. Born in San Francisco and nurtured by music-loving parents, Grip wrote his first song aged 5, later absconding to hip-hop when he began penning rhymes. “I started writing before I was even a teenager. Just little kid rhymes about nothing,” he remembers. “But I think the first group I ever really tried to emulate, style-wise, was De La Soul. I don’t know how evident it is, but on my earliest songs I do hear that influence. And of course their production, especially in the Prince Paul era, was a touchstone, too.”

By age 7, Grip had developed a taste for performing, singing in choirs and acting in plays. His first attempts at rapping in public, however, he prefers not to remember: “I had to quit halfway through my first song due to insurmountable feedback. I blame technical difficulties and my own inexperience. The next time I performed was in Frisco for a Puma x Yo! MTV Raps launch party. I think it went over pretty well. Who knows? All the lights were on and we were standing in the middle of a shoe store. But people seemed happy and drunk. I think that’s good.”

As well as rapping, Grip took a keen interest in beatmaking and, having laid his hands on some lo-fi equipment, the now Oakland resident began recording self-produced songs in his living room. These tracks would later be collected and released as his debut album Welcome to Broakland. But the set was never projected by Grip to be a fully-functioning album. “I made the songs on Welcome to Broakland just for my own entertainment, never really intending to release them,” he says. “They sound hella homemade, and that has a certain charm.”

The album is indeed charming, a charismatic, kitschy effort that showcased a young Grip’s ear for a sample and the skill to channel it via a series of pleasurable donuts. For example, ‘B-Day Document ‘99’’ is a simple ode to Grip’s girlfriend on her birthday, while ‘MPE 2000 (Emotional Mix)’ is dedicated to a close friend. In fact, the first version of Welcome to Broakland was just a CD-R its author gave to friends, which compiled every rap song he’d ever recorded up to that point, padded with added skits and interludes. But such was the quality of the music that it impressed the heads of local label Bomb Hip-Hop Records after they received a copy in the post.

“I had transferred them all off the original four-track cassette tapes onto minidisc, then I used the minidisc to experiment with the track order and fade-outs until the sequence ebbed and flowed like a proper album,” says Grip. “And that’s the version I sent to Bomb Hip Hop Records before they signed me. Eventually they removed my two earliest recordings and some of the skits, kept the track order and everything else, and put it out. I know a few of my friends held on to that OG ‘friends and family’ edition of the album, though.”

The record instantly tied Grip to the Oakland hip-hop scene (“Broakland” is basically a portmanteau of “broke” – which he was at the time – and “Oakland”). However, growing up in the nineties, his family frequently moved to different cities and he spent a significant portion of his adolescences in Los Angeles, among other places. In an interview with fifthelementonline.com in 2010, he claimed not to truly feel like a member of the Bay Area hip-hop scene, but acknowledges its influence on his sound. “One of my friends was in a San Francisco group called 3 Shades of Rhythm, which later morphed into Bored Stiff,” he tells me. “Their early demos were really influential to me, and I always kept tabs on them and that type of underground, Bay Area hip-hop throughout the nineties. I liked albums like Fuck the Dumb by The Grouch. And I listened to all the Solesides artists, and to Hiero, and the Coup, and on and on.”

The years following the release of Welcome to Broakland were relatively sparse for Grip in terms of musical output. But having made the move from Bomb to Look Records, he levelled up the production values on his long-awaited second record Brokelore. Despite the more expensive toys, he claims little changed when it came to this fractured process of recording.

“Not as much as it probably should have,” says Grip when asked if the process of actually creating an album affected his approach. “I just kept making random, unrelated songs, and eventually I compiled the best of them into an album. Some of the tracks on Brokelore were recorded three years apart, so maybe it’s not as sonically cohesive as it could have been. But that’s just me being a perfectionist. I still think it’s a solid album. It paints the picture I intended it to.”

The experience, however, taught Grip a lot about working in a more fully-functioning studio, and he credits Executive Producer DJ Design as being a key mentor. “His music always has a cool sound, and one reason is that he has a lot of knowledge about the process, and he takes the time to apply it. I was so used to doing lo-fi home demos, I was rushing a lot of stuff. But he would say, ‘You know, that synth bassline would sound better if we ran it through this filter on the ASR-10’, or whatever. Taking time to get every detail of the track sounding right. Always trying harder to make the song better. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.”

While the production values were boosted, so was Grip’s rapping. Gone were the attractive-but-dinky pocket verses of Welcome to Broakland, replaced with a more confident, forceful MC. While usually considered a producer first, rapper second, tracks like ‘Win the War’ and ‘96 Tears (Shalem’s Talk About It Mix)’ boast dynamite flows as Grip effortlessly moves from hard to soft with lyrics that pull from the wryly self-deprecating side of his sense of humour – “I guess Grip is platinum if less is more/‘Cuz I ain’t sold jack in the record store,” he spits on ‘96 Tears’

Grip remained active following the release of Brokelore, dropping a series of mixtapes and assorted tracks. But without a solid project to dedicate himself to, he decided to make some music purely for his own enjoyment, turning to one of his most significant influencers.

“DOOM has been one of my favourites since the pre-DOOM, KMD days, and I’ve been collecting his music since back then,” says Grip. “My MF DOOM vinyl selection alone is at least a foot wide, so I already had a lot of the acapellas to work with. It’s just something that I really feel an affinity for and definitely one of my major sonic influences.”

Unsurprisingly, considering his fandom, the old-school DOOM sound on GG DOOM? But How? was entirely deliberate. “I like all DOOM, but that classic sound is what really inspired me. I purposely chose to use acapellas from songs that he didn’t produce himself, songs that didn’t necessarily have that signature sound. And then, when I went to remix them, I just tried to imagine, ‘What would DOOM do?’ It ended up being a lot of stuff that I do in my own music, too, so it felt like a natural fit. Like I said in the press release, if it doesn’t sound exactly like DOOM’s own production – and it doesn’t – at the least it sounds like a Doombot did it. And if you don’t know what a Doombot is, minus five comic-nerd points for you.”

The fit was natural. As early as the track ‘Superrapper’ on Welcome to Broakland, Grip has been using superhero cartoon samples in his music, something that helps make DOOM’s output instantly recognisable. “I’m a lifelong comic fan, and I used to work at a comic shop, too. My comic book collection isn’t as big as my record collection, but it’s pretty solid. I love sampling comic book records, because it combines so many of my interests – comics, records, and rap music – and it reminds me of listening to those albums as a kid. I always buy them when I see them, plus I still have a few of my original ones from childhood, which I definitely used on GG DOOM.”

In addition to the skits and pop culture samples – which draw from everything from Fantasy Island to the oh-so-DOOM Fantastic Four cartoons – the record is another example of Grip’s ability to cut and chop a sample. He’s an out-and-out crate digger, constantly hunting for records in dollar bins for the next audio snippet he can lace. “I look for everything,” affirms Grip. “I still love loops, but I look for unique sounds and textures, too. I have certain years and labels I gravitate toward more, and I keep an eye out for specific producers and session musicians, but I buy a little of everything. A lot of it is just how the record looks…the art, the liner notes, what the band is wearing, whatever. You definitely develop a sixth sense for finding good records after a while.”

While hearing DOOM rap over a popcorn maker would still sound positively delicious, the presentation is key to the enjoyment of GG DOOM? But How?. The rapper remains a looming presence throughout, but his rhymes actually appear on surprisingly little of the sprightly 18-minute running time. Most of it is a series of audio collages, with a raw, grubby feel that sounds as though the whole thing had been assembled with scotch tape. The producer takes no shortcuts either. For example, on “Gonads” he takes DOOM’s verses from “Change the Beat” and mirrors the original song’s format, meaning three instrumental changes over the course of a single track.

With so much intercutting and audio play, the record is more a single unit than seven individual tracks. Yet the highlight is undoubtedly the less than two minutes long “Jive Turkeys”. With a warm sax sample and sledgehammer boom bap percussion, it’s a laid back masterwork that inspired one of the most enjoyable music videos of 2013, created by Grip himself. “I recut a bunch of classic Marvel cartoons so that the subject matter – and lip syncing – matched my song. It took forever. I started to make a second video for the title song, but I ran out of time and energy.”

That’s hardly surprising when you consider that Grip, like his hero Reed Richards, is a full-time family man. In fact, GG DOOM came out the day before his second child was born. “I’ve had my hands pretty full since then,” he says. It’s likely an understatement.

Still, now living back in San Francisco, Grip plans to continue making music, and an official GG DOOM follow up would prove a dream project.
“I’d need outside financing to hire the Mask,” he concedes. “Interested gazillionaires, get at me.”

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I tried to keep this playlist of synth pop tracks from the past five years or so under 80 minutes since CD-Rs are still the playlist currency I can’t let go of, but *shudder* I went 9 minutes over. But STILLLLL, the music is great..

(Source: Spotify)

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Another album review, this time for The Thin Air. Does the world really need another Rick Ross coke rap record? Of course it does!
Rick Ross – Mastermind
Rick Ross’s sixth album Mastermind arrives to little ceremony. Throughout its promotion the usual rattle and hum of the internet hype machine has remained eerily silent for an artist considered to be among rap’s elite. Ross has always sold buckets of records and his fourth album Teflon Don – released in 2010 – granted him large scale critical acceptance that legitimised his ascendancy to hip-hop’s head table. But the past couple of years have stifled a career rise that once seemed so unstoppable. The Miami native’s recent misdeeds include some unfortunate lyrics that attracted accusations of condoning date rape, the termination of his lucrative contract with Reebok, and his stale and tired most recent album God Forgives, I Don’t; a piece he envisioned to be his magnum opus but which instead sank under the weight of its grandiose ambitions.
Full review is on this link.

Another album review, this time for The Thin Air. Does the world really need another Rick Ross coke rap record? Of course it does!

Rick Ross – Mastermind

Rick Ross’s sixth album Mastermind arrives to little ceremony. Throughout its promotion the usual rattle and hum of the internet hype machine has remained eerily silent for an artist considered to be among rap’s elite. Ross has always sold buckets of records and his fourth album Teflon Don – released in 2010 – granted him large scale critical acceptance that legitimised his ascendancy to hip-hop’s head table. But the past couple of years have stifled a career rise that once seemed so unstoppable. The Miami native’s recent misdeeds include some unfortunate lyrics that attracted accusations of condoning date rape, the termination of his lucrative contract with Reebok, and his stale and tired most recent album God Forgives, I Don’t; a piece he envisioned to be his magnum opus but which instead sank under the weight of its grandiose ambitions.

Full review is on this link.

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata
8/10
Having quietly dropped handful of collaborative tracks over the past couple of years, the unlikely partnership of bohemian LA beatmaker Madlib and snarling MC Freddie Gibbs reaches its apex with ‘Piñata’, a rugged yet wholly cinematic depiction of the low-level hustle. Described by its authors as “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax”, Gibbs – hard as nails and with Tupac blood coursing through his veins – fills the dual roles of writer and chief protagonist, and the Indiana native’s ability to construct an absorbing narrative paints a gritty tale, drained of much of the usual glamour that hip-hop often associates with the drug trade. For example, ‘Deeper’ charts a relationship that crumbles under the strain of the criminal life, as Gibbs’s lover falls pregnant to a real straight shooter while he serves a prison stint.
My full review available via Clash.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata

8/10

Having quietly dropped handful of collaborative tracks over the past couple of years, the unlikely partnership of bohemian LA beatmaker Madlib and snarling MC Freddie Gibbs reaches its apex with ‘Piñata’, a rugged yet wholly cinematic depiction of the low-level hustle. Described by its authors as “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax”, Gibbs – hard as nails and with Tupac blood coursing through his veins – fills the dual roles of writer and chief protagonist, and the Indiana native’s ability to construct an absorbing narrative paints a gritty tale, drained of much of the usual glamour that hip-hop often associates with the drug trade. For example, ‘Deeper’ charts a relationship that crumbles under the strain of the criminal life, as Gibbs’s lover falls pregnant to a real straight shooter while he serves a prison stint.

My full review available via Clash.

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Hey you! Remember print? Step away from the monitor for a bit and pick up something beautiful.The first new issue of One More Robot in over a year is out now. Available to buy in Dublin or worldwide via: http://onemorerobot.storenvy.com/collections/58668-all-products/products/4067213-one-more-robot-issue-12-the-crime-issue
I do so want you to have one, If you’re curious at all take a chance and order a copy.
Here’s my “Letter from the Editor”…
“It’s been a long time. We shouldn’t have left you…”
Only joking. But it has been a minute since the release of our last issue as we slide into a looser publishing scheduled than the quarterly release dates. Now One More Robot only drops when the time is right, meaning more time to nail our chosen subject matter and, hopefully, produce a better product all round. It’s always my intention that each issue is a work that stays relevant with age (maybe even improves) and that it will sit on reader’s shelves long after landing on their coffee table for the first time. So do please forgive us for the delay while we worked on getting this one right. I think it was worth it.
Despite the extended absence, this issue’s theme really feels like a natural progression from our previous 11 editions. As a magazine focused on popular culture, crime is an unavoidable matter. The thorny topics of murder, theft and other indiscretions have proved irresistible for writers, musicians, artists and filmmakers from the birth of every relevant medium. From the earliest films, like Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 silent The Great Train Robbery, through to narrative-strong hip-hop masterpieces like The Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and, more recently, RTE’s biggest ever self-produced hit Love/Hate; the fear, glamour and general “otherness” of criminal activity have gripped he public. This issue attempts to pull the wide scope of crime in pop culture into focus.
Taking our lead from previous essays penned by genre aficionado Michael A. Gonzales on Jim Thompson (issue 8) and Ken Bruen (issue 11), crime literature is a focal point. Nadene Ryan speaks to writer Declan Burke, whose work in pulp fiction is not limited to his own series of novels but also his blog, which documents the Irish crime writing scene, while Sam Weiss examines how Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy reinvigorated the genre in the eighties. Cinematically, we examine the work of directors Abel Ferrera, Park Chan-wook and Michael Mann in very different ways, as well as profile Neal Baer, whose long contribution to the field includes writing novels and producing/writing hit television.
Of course, crime in popular culture is not limited to fiction. Jonathan Keane’s look into the chilling crimes committed perpetrated by those best known for their work creating black metal music portrays how these lines can blur. Elsewhere, Niamh Hynes’ breakdown of reported crimes against humanity stemming from the rag trade underlines that there is still work to be done to bring the entire fashion world up to an acceptable ethical standard.
But no three-dimensional look at crime and popular culture would be complete without the one crime that terrifies each respective industry: piracy. Before illegal downloads hit and music sales plummeted, home cassette recording was scorned by the music business. Here, Joe Tangari remembers the joy of assembling cassettes of songs taped off the radio. Shooting forward a couple decades, Bay Area producer/rapper Grip Grand found himself in bother when his unauthorised MF DOOM collaboration record GG DOOM? But How? attracted the attention of the masked one’s representatives. I spoke to Grip about the record and his career to date.
Yep, there’s all that and so much more, including a bonus feature that departs from our main theme as David Ma talks to rap duo Blackalicious about their debut release Melodica. With so many classic hip-hop records celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, we couldn’t help but give this one its respect.
Enjoy the read. —Dean Van Nguyen
‘The Crime Issue’ is available to buy in Dublin from All City (Crow Street, Temple Bar), The Record Art and Game Emporium (Fade Street), The Winding Stair Book Shop (Lower Ormond Quay), White Lady Art (Wellington Quay) and worldwide via mail order: http://onemorerobot.storenvy.com/collections/58668-all-products/products/4067213-one-more-robot-issue-12-the-crime-issue
For more information on One More Robot or to keep up to date with the latest news visit www.onemorerobotmagazine.com or follow the magazine on Facebook and Twitter.

Hey you! Remember print? Step away from the monitor for a bit and pick up something beautiful.The first new issue of One More Robot in over a year is out now. Available to buy in Dublin or worldwide via: http://onemorerobot.storenvy.com/collections/58668-all-products/products/4067213-one-more-robot-issue-12-the-crime-issue

I do so want you to have one, If you’re curious at all take a chance and order a copy.

Here’s my “Letter from the Editor”…

“It’s been a long time. We shouldn’t have left you…”

Only joking. But it has been a minute since the release of our last issue as we slide into a looser publishing scheduled than the quarterly release dates. Now One More Robot only drops when the time is right, meaning more time to nail our chosen subject matter and, hopefully, produce a better product all round. It’s always my intention that each issue is a work that stays relevant with age (maybe even improves) and that it will sit on reader’s shelves long after landing on their coffee table for the first time. So do please forgive us for the delay while we worked on getting this one right. I think it was worth it.

Despite the extended absence, this issue’s theme really feels like a natural progression from our previous 11 editions. As a magazine focused on popular culture, crime is an unavoidable matter. The thorny topics of murder, theft and other indiscretions have proved irresistible for writers, musicians, artists and filmmakers from the birth of every relevant medium. From the earliest films, like Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 silent The Great Train Robbery, through to narrative-strong hip-hop masterpieces like The Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and, more recently, RTE’s biggest ever self-produced hit Love/Hate; the fear, glamour and general “otherness” of criminal activity have gripped he public. This issue attempts to pull the wide scope of crime in pop culture into focus.

Taking our lead from previous essays penned by genre aficionado Michael A. Gonzales on Jim Thompson (issue 8) and Ken Bruen (issue 11), crime literature is a focal point. Nadene Ryan speaks to writer Declan Burke, whose work in pulp fiction is not limited to his own series of novels but also his blog, which documents the Irish crime writing scene, while Sam Weiss examines how Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy reinvigorated the genre in the eighties. Cinematically, we examine the work of directors Abel Ferrera, Park Chan-wook and Michael Mann in very different ways, as well as profile Neal Baer, whose long contribution to the field includes writing novels and producing/writing hit television.

Of course, crime in popular culture is not limited to fiction. Jonathan Keane’s look into the chilling crimes committed perpetrated by those best known for their work creating black metal music portrays how these lines can blur. Elsewhere, Niamh Hynes’ breakdown of reported crimes against humanity stemming from the rag trade underlines that there is still work to be done to bring the entire fashion world up to an acceptable ethical standard.

But no three-dimensional look at crime and popular culture would be complete without the one crime that terrifies each respective industry: piracy. Before illegal downloads hit and music sales plummeted, home cassette recording was scorned by the music business. Here, Joe Tangari remembers the joy of assembling cassettes of songs taped off the radio. Shooting forward a couple decades, Bay Area producer/rapper Grip Grand found himself in bother when his unauthorised MF DOOM collaboration record GG DOOM? But How? attracted the attention of the masked one’s representatives. I spoke to Grip about the record and his career to date.

Yep, there’s all that and so much more, including a bonus feature that departs from our main theme as David Ma talks to rap duo Blackalicious about their debut release Melodica. With so many classic hip-hop records celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, we couldn’t help but give this one its respect.

Enjoy the read. —Dean Van Nguyen

‘The Crime Issue’ is available to buy in Dublin from All City (Crow Street, Temple Bar), The Record Art and Game Emporium (Fade Street), The Winding Stair Book Shop (Lower Ormond Quay), White Lady Art (Wellington Quay) and worldwide via mail order: http://onemorerobot.storenvy.com/collections/58668-all-products/products/4067213-one-more-robot-issue-12-the-crime-issue

For more information on One More Robot or to keep up to date with the latest news visit www.onemorerobotmagazine.com or follow the magazine on Facebook and Twitter.

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A slightly sub-edited version of this article appears on The Deli

Christine Hoberg impressed mightily on her 2011 release Moonlight Never Shined So Bright; its bluesy, minimalist instrumentation showcasing her considerably songwriting chops and fragile-but-effective vocals. Having spent the intervening period collaborating with artists such as Flight Facilities and Kiings (she describes the last year as “a huge learning curve”), this February sees the release of Hoberg’s follow-up and fourth album overall, World Within, which promises to stretch the Brooklyn resident’s sound into testing new areas.

Tell me about the writing and recording of World Within. Did its creation differ at all from your previous records?

The songs on this album are mainly written from the last year and a half when I began using a loop pedal. I have kind of always written music in layers, so it felt very instinctual for me to use. I love the physicality of looping, like I have to be super alive while I’m doing it. It’s kind of this hyper-alive state that I am really happy with right now musically.

Around the time I was writing much of this music, I also fell in love with and couldn’t shake Philip Glass, especially Einstein on the Beach. And I was listening non-stop to Scandinavian pop music which I love because it seems to me to capture and portray some monster-y-ness, pulling some hidden you out of yourself or out of the land or your culture. It seems to be based often in a childlike-ness in a sense where you can relive and come to terms with the monsters you imagined were under your bed.

As far as recording goes, everything I’ve ever done has been strung through little slots of time friends can get me into studios late at night [laughs]. Or recording with my neighbor in my house. But actually, I find it funny. I like home-recordings a lot more than studio most of the time. I get really tired and disoriented in studios a lot of the time and I have found I have to get used to how it sounds to sing in such a dead-sounding space. Studios have many benefits, but also I love capturing moments. Like, a few of the tracks on this album, the final recordings were the ones I recorded as I wrote them in my bedroom. Those are some of my favorites because it’s kind of just like when the song is being born capturing the tiny bits and they’re still there, very vivid and alive still in the recordings.

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The album’s cover is quite striking. Does the fetal position symbolism represent something to you, and if so, is it reflected in the music?

This album is about my fascination with all the worlds that march around inside one another. That despite all the wars we’re fighting and things we’re trying to triumph over and the stress of work or in the midst of birth and death, we’re still just on a tiny piece of earth floating through outer space. It’s so amazing to me. I’m in awe of all these worlds that exist within one another – dream worlds, microscopic worlds, the fact that every human life grew inside the capsule of a woman, different dimensions.

The album art photo was taken by my good friend Luis Valentin and the art design was made by my friend and artist Ben Ren. I wanted to capture the vulnerability of it all, life. I wanted to feel naked, kind of fetus-like, and vulnerable yet solid in the midst of everything, the stars. The background is an actual picture of a star cluster taken by NASA.

In general your music tends to be accompanied by striking imagery, whether videos or artwork. How important is the imagery to you and how much effort do you put into it?

Hmm, I guess that’s kind of hard for me as I’ve never thought of myself that way, but thank you. I guess I really like mixing all kinds of art forms, dance, visual art, music. I don’t think that any of them can stand alone. Maybe because it’s very personal for me, but I feel like music is very important to us as humans. Specific moments in time I’ll never forget because of a song, so that memory is always paired with an image. I think it’s very normal for art to inspire music and music to inspire dance and music to accompany film. I really like to kind of paint the whole world that I’m imagining so people can fall into it with me, hopefully I can do that just with the music. But especially with this later stuff, I am loving the magic and creating process that I can bring visuals.

Describe your creative process. Where do you write the majority of your music?

I write all over the place [laughs]. Any of my jobs are like me tucking into a corner to record something or write some lyrics down. And I am always walking around the city recording bits or waiting for the train singing something [laughs]. Songs come to me first with the melody and the words just kind of done, those are the finals and then I’ll hold onto that bit and something else will come later and I can piece it together like a collage. There are other times that a melody comes and the words are only just warbly sounds and I’ll re-listen to the warbles later to figure out what I was maybe subconsciously talking about or write more words based on what I think the idea was, afterwards. Other times, certain chords together inspire something.

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imageStill from the Brown Bag-produced short film Anya.

Evolving technology and changes in consumer habits are presenting huge opportunities for Irish companies operating in the animation and gaming industries. But will a skills shortage hinder the development of both sectors? Dean Van Nguyen reports.

Originally appears in InBusiness magazine.

With global powerhouse organisations like Disney, Pixar, Rock Star and Electronic Arts creating work that generates gross profits in the billions, it’s hard to envision room at the table for homegrown Irish companies operating in the animation and gaming industries. But Ireland boasts a highly decorated history in the former, stemming from the mid eighties when industry legend Don Bluth and businessman Morris Sullivan moved Sullivan-Bluth Studios to Dublin to take advantage of government tax incentives. Producing the much loved feature-length films The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven, as well as helping to establish education systems that trained many young Irish animators, the studio left a legacy that is still felt today as Irish companies continue to work on projects for large scale media corporations like BBC, Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

In addition to our reputation in animation, the relatively young gaming industry in Ireland is also experiencing significant growth. According to a 2012 report primarily written and researched by Jamie McCormick, Marketing Systems Manager with GALA Networks Europe, employment in the Irish-based video games industry has increased 91 per cent since 2009 to a current estimated total of 3,344 workers. McCormick also found that the sector has generated a revenue of €2 billion since 2001.

While Sony and Microsoft may currently be embroiled in a hardware space race with the release of their powerful games consoles, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, more and more gamers are scaling back and turning to their mobile phones and tablets. With simple ingenuity becoming increasingly favoured over raw power, there’s an opportunity for creative Irish companies to compete. But despite these prospects, some firms operating in both the animation and gaming industry believe the country is currently experiencing a skills shortage. Demand for talent is now outweighing the supply and many firms have turned to hiring animators outside of Ireland to fill the cracks.

Bridging the gap

Aiming to address and reverse this skill shortage, The Bridge programme was established earlier this year to assist graduates of Ballyfermot College in their transition from education to what hopefully will prove to be long and fruitful careers in the animation and gaming sectors. A collaboration between the Dublin Business Innovation Centre, the Guinness Enterprise Centre, Ballyfermot College and highly regarded media companies Havok, Jam Media, Brown Bag Films and Riot Games, an initial 13 students have participated in the scheme.

Conceived by Dublin BIC board member Dave O’Meara, The Bridge is a six month programme designed to throw participants into a real working environment. Kicking off last June, the first round of Bridge students have experienced working on professional projects such as creating conceptual artwork for the Jam Media-produced Ivor’s Island, including developing characters and sets, with a view to creating a two-minute trailer, and working with Havoc on a new game for mobile and tablet platforms.

“Through collaboration with two games companies and two animation studios, we set up what would be a real life situation that we put the graduates into,” explains The Bridge Project Manager Richard Glynn, who believes throwing students into real life work situations both fosters their development and bolsters their chances of securing full-time employment. “They’re working with their dream companies – companies that they really look up to and would really love to work with in the future and it’s a real opportunity for them to get their foot in the door and make an impression with them. It’s easier to get a job with a company if you’ve have had that face-to-face meeting with them and they know who you are, rather than being just another CV on a slush pile on the HR manager’s desk.”

The launch of The Bridge

The Cutting Edge

How exactly a skills shortage has developed over recent years, Glynn isn’t quite sure. But he suspects a lack of communication between industry and education may have played a part, believing education started to address areas which weren’t necessarily up to date with the way that the industry had gone. “It could have to do with speed to which education reacts to deal with industry changes and the way the skills of the industry has to adapt quickly to those changes,” he ponders. “Particularly in games. Gaming is a very fast movie industry; it changes very quickly. The skills say for creating a console game are very different than skills for creating a mobile game, and that whole movement into agile game development is something that’s quite new. It’s not taught in the schools at all.”

While ever-evolving technology may have played a role in the skills shortage he’s working to address, away from The Bridge, Glynn is very much embracing new advances as an opportunity. Having worked for companies such as Jam Media, Boulder Media and Kavaleer Productions as either a Production Manager and Line Producer on various TV shows, last year Glynn, along with business partners Stephen Kelly and Eoghan Dalton, established Studio Powwow, a company embracing changes in technology and how we consume media.

With more and more viewers spending less time in front of the traditional television and absorbing their media via mobile phones, tablets, games consoles and other devices, the trio behind Studio Powwow decided to take advantage of the shift. “We saw how the animation industry was going – that a lot of things are going digital, that the app store is becoming really big – and you could see that animation companies are already talking about making games but no one was fully doing it,” says Kelly, the company’s Animation Director and Lead Game Designer whose list of achievements prior to establishing his new business included work on Sesame Street. “So we thought it was a good opportunity now to jump in and fully turn ourselves into a game company rather than just an animation company trying to make games.”

Studio Powwow are currently developing their first major project The World of ShipAntics, a puzzle-based adventure that Kelly envisions will become not just a game, but a TV show, online videos and comics as they attempt to take advantage of the full spectrum of mediums now widely consumed online. “We saw this as an opportunity of how we could go direct to our consumer,” says Kelly on using the internet to publish their work. “To get our product out there quickly and we could tell if people like it or not and we can change [because] of that. And you can do it with a lot lower budget than you could, say, with a TV show. TV shows are great but the problem with it is you have to go to a broadcaster, you have to raise all this funding, and all this time you’re not dealing directly with your consumer. You’re dealing with a broadcaster or some sort of middleman and they make the decisions. They have to kind of guess if the kids won’t like it or ‘this won’t work’ or ‘this is trendy right now’. But we can make our own assumptions now and get it straight out there and test it. We’ve already been doing that by getting content online though YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.”

New tricks

While Powwow is a relatively new company, launched in a bid to take advantage of changing media trends, older companies are also adjusting to the brave new world. With 150 staff in Dublin, Brown Bag Studios are one of the city’s more prominent operators in the animation industry, boasting a portfolio that includes work with Disney, Nickelodeon and BBC, as well as two Oscar nominations.

As part of The Bridge, students have been working on a Brown Bag short titled Anya. Produced in collaboration with Irish charity To Russia With Love, the four-minute film will depict the life of an abandoned child growing up in a Russian orphanage in order to raise awareness of the group’s work with abandoned and orphaned children in the country.

Anya is written and directed by Damien O’Connor and will represent a foray into some new territories for Brown Bag. The two-time IFTA nominee believes that the project may prove to be a pathfinder in terms of how the long-established animation company releases in future. As soon as the film is completed, it will be uploaded online and viewers will be invited to donate to the charity, testing the idea that delivering content directly to the audience can prove profitable. “So in a way, without sounding too crass, it’s almost like we’re busking with the Russian project,” says O’Connor. “It’s a good way to test the waters and just see how successful it will be.”

Established in 1994, Brown Bag have experience technological upheaval more than once in their history, and O’Connor admits time and effort goes into keeping them ahead of the curve. “It’s always a challenge keeping top of [new technology] but at the same time, once you do learn the technology that comes in invariably it will help the process – it will help get the work done and to the high standard that we deliver. It is always a challenge but we do have a research development team in house here who certainly look at what’s coming down the tracks and make sure that everyone is trained up and that there won’t be any unpleasant surprises technology wise in the future.”

One of Ireland’s larger operations, Brown Bag may have the resources to ensure they can remain at the forefront of technological advancements. Smaller start-ups, however, may not be so lucky, and Studio Powwow’s Kelly believes that Government funding is important to ensure these companies can grow – particularly those working in the gaming industry, which he feels lacks financial support. “I think the animation industry is really well supported by the Film Board and the Irish Government,” he asserts. “There really isn’t anything like that for games yet. And I think until there is proper support out there, there isn’t going to be enough skilled people here because there isn’t enough jobs. There aren’t enough opportunities for companies to grow as fast as they could.”

But while companies evolve to their audiences ever-changing demands and hardware advancements outside of their control, Irish success will likely be pioneered by creativity and defined by our continuing ability to produce great work. “It’s a cliché that everyone says the Irish are good at telling stories but I actually think that’s true,” says Kelly.

“So we’re good story tellers and we’re good at crafting stories, and even with design and animation. I think a lot of that has to do with our background.”

6

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I probably listened to more new music in 2013 than any year since finishing college and, off the bat, it was an incredible run for hip-hop. A huge number of the genre’s marquee names made large-scale-yet-cohesive projects that definitively rubbished the idea that the long-play format is receding. In fact, some of the records here might test the boundaries of what’s considered an “album”, with some falling into the categories of mixtapes, mini-albums and other groupings outside of the tradition. The debate on when an album is or isn’t has been well worn and won’t be revisited here. Just try to enjoy yourself.

Such strong a year for rap music has made it doubly hard for more other musical forms to muscle their way into the 25, but there were some real gems, all of which have been included on merit and not feelings that diversity was a necessity. To my ears, these ARE the 25 best albums of the year, and certainly worthy of your time if they’ve slipped through the filter.

25. Quiccstrikes by Maxo Kreem

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Featuring schlock horror movie beats, chopped and screwed vocals, Clams Casino-style chillwave and creepy minimalism, Maxo Kreem’s Quiccstrikes straddle’s a whole lot of popular sounds in the hip-hop zeitgeist that on paper could read as a tad contrived. But this is no run for instant internet gratification, nor does it house a “Yonkers”-esque track capable of a wide-spread internet reach. Instead, it’s a slithering listen of dark tones and textures. Kreem - depicted on the cover as a demented head melting into the goo from Ghostbusters 2 as he drips into two stacked Styrofoam cups - is an engaging host; the Houston native’s voice resembling Big Boi at his most laid back. And just when you think you’ve the tape twigged, he drops “Lebron South Beach”, a dizzying, dark discotheque of all glitter and gold. Download Quiccstrikes by Maxo Kreem

24. AM by Arctic Monkeys

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Following their impressive performance at Glastonbury during the summer, this was the first Arctic Monkeys album I felt a twinge of hype about since their all consuming debut some seven years ago broke all sorts of sales records, seeped onto every pub playlist and moved the British music press enough to feel the post-Libertines guitar band explosion still had legs. On stage they seemed more comfortable in the rollicking, hard rock style they’ve been awkwardly tongue kissing for a while now, and AM finally sees the band successfully emulate their one-time producer Josh Homme. Dusty but muscular guitar riffs on openers “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?” are later balanced with the strong narratives of “No. 1 Party Anthem”, showcasing Alex Turner’s never doubted talents as a storyteller. A great record, and a real return to form - something to lauded with less and less bands surviving to album number five, let alone sounding their most relevant.

23. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions by Franz Ferdinand

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Four years after the recording of third album Tonight - sessions the band described as a largely unenjoyable - Franz Ferdinand returned with a more traditional sounding Franz Ferdinand record; a more natural follow-up to their sophomore effort You Could Have It So Much Better. Dance-punk as a genre may have aged horribly but the band’s crunching guitar riffs, wild grooves and vocal harmonies are still pure aural candy, with tracks like “Right Thoughts” and “Bullet” ticking pleasure centers previously given work outs by their best jams. Read my interview with Franz Ferdinand.

22. On It (kapow) by Maya Vik

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The most dead-on Prince impression of the year - from the funky guitar stabs and off-beat synth flutters on “Oh Sheila” (!) to the “Little Red Corvette” drum rolls underpinning “Get Low”. But, of course, assembling the appropriate building blocks does not a retro revivalist make, and Norwegian bass oracle Maya Vik has so much funk in her bones that On It (kapow) proves one of the year’s wildest times. And there’s plenty more to her than just retreads of The Kid. With it’s snappy pyrotechnics, “Bummer Gun” is just first-class electro pop, while “Pictures” scrapes a dark corner of early noughties commerical R&B that was on so expertly cornered off by Aaliyah. Download On It (kapow) by Maya Vik

21. Ill Street Blues by Wara From The NBHD

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Opening with the bickering of a young couple, the cries of their newborn and the sound of BB King’s “The Thrill is Gone”, Ill Street Blues is a vivid, visceral day in the life of its young protagonist and his daily hustle. Cinematic like 10/10 classics Ready to Die and American Gangster were,new kid on the block Wara has crafted a somewhat less explosive piece, concentrating less on dramatic arc and more on capturing the mundane nature of the ground-level grind. With heavy focus on soothing sax play, it’s atmospherically dead-on as the ATL via Brooklyn rapper muses on drug slinging, stick ups, and the trappings of tumbling into the life. There’s even time for the occasional dice game and interactions with young bootleggers and other passers by that help bring the record to life, while Wara’s clean, youthful flow gives him a sincere, wide-eyed feel to the large scale problems presented. Listen/Buy The Ill Street Blues by Wara From The NBHD