Originally published in the 2018/2019 University Express, Issue 8, on Tuesday 19th February 2019 – Byline Interview by Byline Editor, Ciara Dinneen (that’s me).
Ireland, it seems, is currently moving through an experimental development in regards to its music scene, producing an increasing number of artists that are veering away from the more general singer-songwriter vibe (there is nothing at all wrong with this genre, of course, but it did become the typical for a while), breaking into an interesting blend of hip-hop, rap and techno music that is contributing to the creation of a new, uniquely modern Irish sound. While many deny rap music’s place in an authentically Irish music scene, it is no surprise that rap has become a genre through which Irish artists are increasingly expressing themselves; when we look back to our root traditions of sean-nós and story-telling ballads, one cannot deny the close connection to a rap style of musical expression.
One such artist is Uppbeat, undoubtedly a name to watch in 2019. Originally from Mayo but currently living in Dublin, Finn, the man behind Uppbeat, began writing at age 11, inspired by his parents who are both painters; “because I’m really bad at any other form of creativity, I tried writing. I used to listen to a lot of punk and rock music and eventually that developed into rap. When I started listening to rap, I said to myself ‘shit I should try that’, because I used to write just pop songs. Now I’ve moved even beyond rap – I don’t know what you’d call it.” In his latest works, most notable the hit-single ‘Tsunami’ and the EP Enter Aquarius, Uppbeat displays a unique blend of rap and an intensely atmospheric vibe.
Having heard and loved Uppbeat’s ‘Tsunami’, and been excited by hearing about Uppbeat’s release of his EP Enter Aquarius, which so successfully delivers on its promise to take you on an intimate journey through the thoughts and feelings of a young person in Ireland, I was anxious to talk to Finn about his music and what Uppbeat has in store for the future. Describing the EP as “a little glimpse inside who he is as an artist”, Uppbeat explains the meaning behind the name, Enter Aquarius; “I am an Aquarius, so the EP is basically me giving you a glimpse of who I am and where I am from. It’s an introduction to Uppbeat, what he is and what he sounds like.”
You address aspects of growing up in Ireland in your music. What is it exactly you address, and what is the message you are trying to get across?
“A lot of Irish artists are tackling a very specific side of things, like one certain path, whereas a lot of the music on the EP, [Enter Aquarius], is relatable to anyone in Ireland. Like, ‘Irish Blood’ is talking about a lot of people in situations they feel they can’t survive, like in college with issues like housing, and obviously mental health, all that – basically a very mainstream person’s experience of life in Ireland. It’s not too in depth or in detail, it’s just your average day to day stuff. The EP was more music driven, it wasn’t that conceptual – I had a lot of the songs already done before, then I just pieced them together as an EP. The main idea was to capture the majority of Ireland in one vibe as opposed to one very specific walk of life.”
Where did you record the EP?
“Most of it is recorded in a studio in Swords, in North Dublin, which is run by producers Chilli and Shortcut. I stumbled across them this year – they’re absolutely incredible. ‘Tsunami’ was recorded by a guy called Tunde (mixedbysimba) – he records a lot of the urban, hip-hop stuff in Ireland, he’s based in Tallaght. One or two of the tracks were recorded with a guy called Kreo Ghost, he’s from Waterford. So between those three places, but most of it was recorded in Swords.”
What do you think of the music scene in Ireland currently?
“I absolutely love the Irish scene. I’m a fan of so many of the people in the Irish scene. I think it’s such an extraordinary scene compared to any other scene at the moment – I actually think it will be on the same level as say the UK or America; it’s got its own sound. Very few other places in the world actually have as many artists that are as developed as ours, look at the likes of Jafaris, Kojaque, Chasing Abbey and Rejjie Snow, people that have already made it, they’re all not just semi-okay artists, they’re all very, very good artists; I’d call them all top-tier artists. They’re creativity is extraordinary. In Ireland there are very few average artists; everyone is at a very high level. Their exposure may not be, but their actual music and videos and everything is top-tier, I feel.”
It is so true that the music scene in Ireland is really kicking off and seems to be going somewhere new and great…
“I think it’s in a really healthy place and that it’s going somewhere incredible. There is so much to it; it’s not as basic as it looks from the outside. There are a lot of stories. We even have an Irish drill scene, which is like the rawest strain of street music coming out of the UK. There are so many niche scenes within the Irish scene and that’s what I think it making it a healthy one; it’s not just the one sound, everyone has a completely different sound, and that’s healthy. I feel like that’s how you know a scene is going to grow. Like, there’s only about two or three sounds coming out of the UK, whereas in American there are thousands of different sounds, and the same in Ireland; there are about four or five, six, maybe ten different sounds coming out of Ireland and it’s good to see that.”
Do you think streaming sites, such as Spotify, are making it difficult for artists to make a living?
“I think Spotify is a great thing. It’s actually so easy to get your music out there on Spotify. Yeah, it is rubbish that Spotify only pays like 0.006%, but also if Spotify wasn’t there, there probably wouldn’t be any way to monetise it, so at least it’s something. One of the amazing things about Spotify is that it is so easy to discover new artists and people are actually looking for new artists. In terms of making money, that’s more of a gigs thing; that’s across the board, not just in Ireland. So it’s definitely more of a performance-driven industry than it is sales and streams.”
It’s so great to hear how positive you feel about being an Irish artist in Ireland.
“I actually feel blessed. This is the perfect time. We are so lucky to be making this music at this time in the world, because it’s only just becoming a cool thing. Like, obviously we were here before, and it was cool then, but it’s becoming so much more so; people are actually looking for new artists and loving what is coming out of Ireland and I think the Irish scene really is going to become something that people look to. They already are, like blogs wise, there is a lot of exposure coming in for the Irish scene. We just need to keep delivering and keep actually stepping up to that mark. I think we’re in a really great place and that it’s just a matter of about two years before things are at a really high level.”
Have you ever received any negative feedback, claiming that rap isn’t an authentically Irish thing and asking you why you’re doing it?
“I think that’s absolutely mental, like. We’re writers. Irish history, and going back to Irish mythology, we’ve always been writers, so I think the fact that we make rap music couldn’t make more sense. The amount of poets and the amount of different creative writing artists, and there are other amazing artists in Ireland doing others things too, but we are champions for our writers. Obviously we didn’t grow up with a culture of it in the same way that America has, but we have our own culture. If you go to Limerick, for example, it’s just a bed of culture when it comes to hip-hop; if you go there on a night out you’ll bump into someone, just a lad, chilling there, rapping or spitting bars or whatever. There definitely is a huge culture here. In terms of feedback I get, nothing too bad. Obviously it’s not all positive. Everyone around me is involved in what I do, so there isn’t anyone in my life that would be negative about it. You do get shit, like, but that’s all part of it.”
Apart from Irish traditions, are there any other cultural influences that you experiment with in your music?
“Something I find really interesting and what I’ve been playing around with a bit recently, and you can probably hear it on the EP as a lot of people would say that my accent on the EP is very African sounding, are the tones of voice that are in say afro-beat music or scat style. It’s very similar to sean-nós singing; it’s all in the same space vocally. That’s another thing I find very interesting: if we actually use that whole tonality of sean-nós singing over hip-hop music – I think that’s something that could be played around with as well, if it’s done properly. Blues is another thing: blues is huge in Ireland, and hip-hop comes from blues. It’s all connected! Where I grew up in Mayo it’s all blues bands, rock bands, and it just makes sense that that progresses into hip-hop, we’re just a few years behind the rest of the world.”
Hip-hop is incredible, but some of it does get a very bad press…
“As much as it is great, a lot of hip-hop is still incredibly sexist and homophobic; it just isn’t really saying anything. You get this over-saturation of everyone talking about the same thing and it really pushes certain stigmas and makes them stronger, which isn’t great.”
Who are some of your favourite current artists?
“I really love J. Cole, Flatbush Zombies, I love a lot of the UK scene. I literally grew up on grime, since I was about ten I’ve been listening to grime. That was a really interesting scene to see grow. A guy called Yela Wolf, he’s from Alabama, he’s incredible. On an alternative buzz, I also like the Horslips, they’re an Irish band, they’re absolutely incredible. I like so many people. Like, Irish wise I like nearly everyone on the scene. I actually don’t think there is anyone I don’t like in the Irish scene. Mura Masa is amazing, probably one of my favourite artists. FKJ, too.”
“I don’t know why, I have a weird thing where I really want to collaborate with Lana Del Ray. I just think she’s really cool. Mura Masa would be very high up there; I’d actually love to make a whole project with Mura Masa. I’d prefer to go with people that aren’t just straight hip-hop artists, but on the hip-hop front A$AP Rocky would be really cool person to collaborate with. Yela Wolf would be amazing as well. Phil Lynott would be really cool, from Thin Lizzy, he’d be very interesting”
Who is your least favourite artist at the moment?
“To be honest, I don’t have a least favourite artist, because everything is way more than you think it is. Like, if you listen to say mumble-rap you might think ‘this is shit’ but it’s not, it’s genius – the way they can tap into tones and certain sounds, even though the artist is mumbling, it’s genius. I think it’s really ignorant when people in music are like, ‘oh all you’re doing in rap is this’ or ‘all you’re doing in country music is this’, but there is so much more to every type of music so you can’t ever right it off as shit. Obviously there is music I don’t like, like I don’t like music that promotes toxic shit. That’s something that’s really draining.”