Underground On The Overground: New Weird Éire Takes London

Exploring Irish music's alternative voices...

Held in The Institute of Contemporary Art, Between The Lines Festival sees alternative artists and musicians come together to show what is emerging from their respective underground scenes. Ranging from music to performance art, the festival runs across two weekends and includes an album launch, DJ sets and experimental performances from artists from the UK, Ireland and further afield. 

The second weekend sees Acid Granny, Elaine Howley and Maïa Nunes perform as part of New Weird Éire, an evening which highlights the growing underground scene in Ireland. Combining exploratory performance with music, these artists represent the left-field that has come from each corner of the island. There has been an exceptional output of incredibly talented artists from Ireland in the last few years with the likes of Denise Chaila, Biig Piig and Kojaque amongst the next wave of musicians producing top quality tunes. Not only have more mainstream genres seen fantastic growth but so have the more subversive types of music. New Weird Éire gives just a taste of the exciting alternative art being produced. Acid Granny bring their wild trolley of tricks to London. Thriving on a no script approach, the group use synths, pedals and an ipad to construct feral music. Elaine Howley is based in the alternative capital of Cork and has been part of groups such as the Altered Hours. Her music blends emotional lulling synths with field recordings and soft vocals. Maīa Nunes is a performance artist who explores the legacy of colonial violence through sound healing and interdisciplinary art. The transformative power of art is at the root of their work. Before heading to the ICA, I caught up with Acid Granny and Elaine to chat about their performances. 

This won’t be Acid Granny’s first time over in the UK. They have graced British festival scenes before by appearing at Glastonbury in an officially unofficial capacity. Talking to them before their performance at ‘Between the Lines’, we sat down on Capel street in the shadow of their musical circus cart. Rolling around in their trusty trolley, they have wheeled their away around the London streets before and even crafted their song ‘I love The Brits & I Love the Queen’. “We had to borrow a trolley that had an undercarriage with it. Before we put it together, I was being wheeled around in it, singing about the queen and that’s when it was born,” says Lauren. “We had a bit of a struggle around London. We thought the best thing was to flatter them [the Brits]. There were a lot more overt sexual tones to that originally but we cleaned it up,” adds Robbie. 

Acid Granny’s origin story begins with vaguely terrorising the people of Dublin. “First trolley was a delay pedal and a harmoniser pedal, speaker and that was it. We were running around Dublin making scary drone siren noises. It was really good freaking out the town,” says Robbie. Crawling around Henry Street in gimp masks did scare the public slightly so they have been hung up and now the work of Acid Granny is more collaborative with those going about their day: it tethered to a bit of a public feedback drive. It was a feedback loop.”

The most modern iteration of the Trolley is something from a surrealist art exhibition. Laden with musical gear and local knick-knacks, it is all held together with black electrical tape; a roll of it bouncing around the bottom of the trolley ready for use. The original wheels of the Lidl trolley have been removed and more heavy duty wheels welded on by an engineer friend. Jingle bells, stuffed toys, charity shop finds and a styrofoam potato for good measure, there’s no way you can miss the Trolley once you see it, or more likely, hear it coming. Taking a closer look, there is a strange edge to the trolley which is personified with a toy of Barney the Dinosaur tied to the front, a ball gag in his smiling mouth. Being somewhat easy to transport means that you’ll spot Acid Granny on bridges, down alleyways and on the main streets of the city centre. The synths, ipads and pedals are balanced on an ironing board and are at the perfect height for Robbie and Alan to work their experimental magic. Cranking up the amp, those coming home from work get a free Acid Granny gig and the group get a variety of reactions from weird looks to being photographed. 

“We might do some research over the next few weeks and ask Ireland what they think of London on the street, Voxpops. We hope to bring people into the future where Irish traditional music (aka Trad) has taken over everything but it’s electrified, sexualised and commodified. Trad futurism, we’re investing a lot into. We’ve coined that,” says Robbie. First stop on global denomination is the ICA so watch out for the futuristic traditional Irish music because it will be debuting at New Weird Éire.

Elaine Howley’s performance at Between the Lines will be her first solo endeavour in the UK capital. She has graced the stages of London before with her band The Altered Hours, even supporting post-punk band Fontaines D.C.. However, her solo journey sees her be part of the underground label, something that has more meaning to it than just being ‘unknown’: “To me, underground is grassroots, community venues, independent labels, people doing things like DIY,” she says as we chat over Zoom. 

Heading over for the festival has its apprehensions attached but with music being so accessible to so many different audiences, the likelihood of a room of blank faces staring back at you is quite low. “Because it’s so immediate now, it feels like your music has a better chance to travel or to connect. For me, stations like NTS, a lot of the DJs there have played my music which has been amazing because music lovers in general tune into them. It definitely makes me feel really connected. You can arrive in any city and be surprised to see who’s into your song.”

Her excitement to be part of this line-up is palpable and she looks to throw in some brand new music into her set too. “Recently, I’ve been trying to play one thing I’ve made up that week at each show. It’s nice to think that you might crash and burn. I think it’s good to go to a show and have something as fresh to you as it is to the audience. It’s fun to try out. Maybe this one will be called ‘Ode To Acid Granny’. It’s fun to have a bit of risk involved and that you’re challenging yourself.” 

Tracks from her debut album ‘The Distance between Heart and Mouth’ will be also featured in Howley’s performance as well as her single ‘Live As I Saw It’. Made as part of the short film This Year’s Lull, Howley worked with Charlie Joe Doherty to create a track that went hand in hand with the film: “the way he described the film and his vision for the film sparked me to write the music. Based on a boy racer in Donegal who loses a friend, you see a lot of rural footage of him dealing with that in a remote landscape. He had a clear sound for the music and he was telling me about his own experiences of driving around.”

The hype is real for the festival and both artists are ready to experiment live in front of an ICA audience which will see people introduced to the exciting developments happening on the Irish scene. 

Words: Sophia McDonald

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