Hands Up Who Wants to Die set to perform in Cork

Noise-rock veterans Hands Up Who Wants to Die have been defining and reshaping the contours of aggressive Irish music for ten years and across a slew of albums and singles. Ahead of a gig at the Roundy tomorrow night, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with drummer John Breslin.
Hands Up Who Wants to Die set to perform in Cork
The band with its current singer Rory O'Brien.

For a decade now, the outfit known as Hands Up Who Wants to Die have been at the forefront of DIY music in the country, exponents of a sound that’s landed with a thud between spoken-word, noise, post-punk and even post-rock in its rare, more contemplative places.

In so doing, they’ve spanned across a generation of forward-thinking labels, promoters and bands, throwing themselves directly into the fray in artistic, and in the live arena, literal senses. Drummer and co-founder John Breslin is reflective, as we get caught up quickly, in between weekend engagements.

“We got together as friends who wanted to have some fun making nasty songs. We’ve adapted as members have had to move on to other things and found excellent new artists to play with. Gigs and rehearsals are less frequent but more focussed these days. Time is harder to find with us living in three different cities, but we make the most of it. There’s a lot of love in the band.

“We know that the type of music we play isn’t going to make enough money for us to quit jobs, etc., but there are ways to make it pay for itself. Having labels and venues/bookers that are willing to believe and invest in your music makes all the difference. Endeavouring to break even really, I’d imagine that’s largely how most Irish DIY bands operate.”

The band is currently working on finishing its third long-player, following a pair of punishing full-lengths on The Richter Collective and Art for Blind respectively. 2014’s full-length ‘Vega in the Lyre’ stands as a remarkably subtle piece of work, utilising songwriting dynamics and restraint to add gravity and impact to some truly heavy musical moments. With the aforementioned change in line-up, you might be forgiven for thinking the creative process has altered, but with a familiar team on board, the band has made a virtue of precision, in many aspects.

“Not much has changed, actually, bar Rory (O’Brien; Ten Past Seven, Kawtiks, etc.) coming in for Barry (Lennon, ex-vocalist) on vocals. We’re working with Spud and Ian in Guerrilla Studios again. We have all refined our processes in the intervening time, so it’s going to sound even more brutal than ‘Vega in the Lyre’. We’ve embraced simpler ideas, and are very happy with the collection of songs.”

A question that your writer couldn’t resist passing up, in a specifically very Corkonian vein, is that of the band’s first release, a 2010 split extended-player with Leeside grindcore exponents I’ll Eat Your Face, renowned and remembered for wedding the velocity and murk of the sub-genre with a profoundly silly, yet sometimes writerly sense of humour. The collaborative affair saw a release on 10” vinyl and digital formats at the time, with the Face supplying a collection of hitherto-unreleased broadsides. Breslin recalls the experience, and how it helped launch their own project.

“Erm, I remember Paul (Clynes, guitarist) putting them on in the Thomas House (punk venue in Dublin) and us being blown away. We had some drinks and a right laugh. We were recording our first few songs and a split seemed the right way to go with it. Barry managed the process as his label (The Richter Collective) put it out. The artwork from Johnny Burger Pimp is class, though I recall both bands choosing dodgy fonts. It’s particularly enjoyable to play at 33rpm, especially when Barry sings the words ‘box machine’ on the second track ‘Fish and Rashers’.”

In a related vein to Hands Up Who Wants to Die, members of the band are involved with the running of the Cushty Gamut night in London, specialising in showcasing new and experimental Irish music for the city’s local scene and keeping emigrés of such a sonic inclination in the loop on musical developments closer to home. It’s become a highlight for Irish artists, booked in an environment to create and showcase material without the mindset of ‘export-friendliness’ of some other events of the ilk.

For Breslin, it was about joining the dots on his own experience.

“Just basic DIY showrunning really. I was working a bit in a solid music community hub in North London, and wanted to provide a platform for my friends. Getting over to London can be tough for Irish bands but New River Studios is affordable and is known as a great venue for experimental music. Which means that enough people will pay in, in order to get the bands paid. It’s been great having Percolator, Fixity, Katie Kim, The Altered Hours, Crevice, Shithatt, Crowhammer, Shifting, Magic Pockets, Worst over because they all write really excellent and forward looking music. Also an excuse to get the Irish bands that I’m in (Chirps, Wild Rocket, Hands Up) across the water. There’s a variety of healthy scenes with good promoters/bands in London, which I suppose is down to multiculturalism and populous. We recently got a nice Baba Yaga’s Hut (London venue) slot on the same bill as The Austerity Program and Remote Viewing (ex-Palehorse). They run a lot of good shows.”

While on the topic of the Irish experience in Britain at present, Breslin’s own multimedia work with JOE.co.uk on a wide variety of video content represents another bridging of a pre-Brexit gap, between the Irish-run publication and a wider audience drawn in by a blend of longform journalism and sports-centric news.

“I’ve been working with JOE.co.uk now for a year. Our political content is strong. It’s refreshing that we can be overtly progressive and partisan in our coverage of the more odious elements of British politics and culture. We’re still a young company over here, so sometimes struggle to strike the quality/quantity balance in our production. It’s full-on, but rewarding to work with a great team.”

The band is playing The Roundy tomorrow night, with black-metal fusionists God Alone and harmonium-led Elaine Malone solo project Mantua in tow. Breslin collects his thoughts on the gig coming up, and for the future surrounding the as-yet untitled long-player’s release.

“I’m buzzed to be playing with God Alone. Paul and Matt (Hedigan, bass) have played with them before with their other band, Shifting, and have raved about them. I’ve only heard great things about The Roundy, and Mantua so can’t wait really. Playing in Cork is always a quality time. People know what’s good… (After this…) get a label to press up 350 million copies (of the album), and send us out on the road for a year in Vote Leave’s big red NHS lie coach.”

  • Hands Up Who Wants to Die play The Roundy tomorrow night, with God Alone and Mantua in support. Doors are 8.30pm, €10 on the night. Hands Up Who Wants to Die’s music is available now across all streaming services.

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