It Takes A Village to raise a voice 

Ahead of his set at It Takes A Village, Kevin Blake talks to Don O'Mahony about taking the rough with the smooth.
It Takes A Village to raise a voice 

The It Takes A Village Festival. Picture: Shane J Horan

“I’ll always owe Cork a lot,” Kevin Blake replies, when asked what it means for him to be playing a gig back here in 2021?

“It was the formative musical era in my life. I had just finished school, moved to Cork, spent seven or eight years there, started the club night, got to know so many great people there. That was where it began for me really. So, to be able to go back there to play a gig at a festival, especially now, it’s just a very fortunate position to be in.”

The Limerick native may feel he owes Cork but it would equally be true to say Cork would be very much in his debt. Not long after his arrival he founded Electric Underground, an underground club night dedicated to more adventurous electronic sounds. As a weekly clubnight, it was phenomenal, delivering live electronic sets from such luminaries as Warp Records, Clark and Altern-8 Mark Archer. Providing an alternative to the house groove, which dominated the city, Electric Underground created the conditions for such D.I.Y. local live electronic nights as Ctrl-Alt-Delete and Modulation and paved the way for the arrival of the Rise-Up! dubstep night, creating something of a golden age from 2007 to the early 00’s.

Kevin Blake managed to release one solo EP, 2009’s You Are What You Hear. After this he channelled his musical energies into the underappreciated post-punk outfit, Private Underground Residents. Things may have gotten quite after they called it a day almost a decade ago. But at the beginning of this decade that band has spawned two of the most exciting artists in this country, TheDiscoParticipationMatrix and Kevin Blake, himself.

Kevin Blake is happy to back performing in Cork.
Kevin Blake is happy to back performing in Cork.

Blake’s recently released long-player Rough With the Smooth is the sort of glorious, euphoric celebration few saw coming. Speaking on the title, Blake says: “it signifies that you’re going to have these barren periods or tough periods really that things aren’t going to be happening for you but if you really have that belief under it all that you can push through those periods, then it’s worth doing and it will generally end up positively for you. I’ve just been tipping away quietly the whole time, well most of the time really, there was a few times I kind of stopped and went back to it, but I always knew under it all that I probably had an album in me somewhere.

“The pandemic gave me the time and space to get it done.”

The album was originally going to be titled ‘Love is the Cure’ after the opening track, but then Kevin found out that it shared a title with Elton John’s memoir.

“I went off that title as well,” he elaborates. “It felt a small bit cheesy, for want of a better word. That came about in the last couple of months, quick instinctive decisions, just change it, and remind me more than anyone, that there is going to be peaks and troughs.

“I don’t use this word, but someone describes it as slick. But there is also some kind of rough production on it as well, some kind of more slightly distorted saturated tracks on it. It is a mixture of production styles as well.”

Whatever about the notion of cheesiness, there is an open-heartedness and unabashed embrace of positivity on the album, that in other hands could be syrupy, but in Blake’s is affirming.

Enthused by this appraisal, Blake reveals that his debut album could easily have been a techno release, were it not for recent circumstances.

“It was quite dark for the most part,” he shares. “Then the pandemic struck and it seemed like life was bleak enough without another techno album being thrown into the mix. Life was sci-fi-ish enough at that time. I finished the track ‘Love is the Cure’ at the very start of the first lockdown and I really felt that we were at a bit of a low point in humanity, and it just felt like I had an uplifting piece of work in me. That ‘Love is the Cure’ track was a springboard to go in a similar direction. It just felt like we needed a bit of positivity. I was feeling a lot more positive myself than what I had in years gone by, so I was channelling that through the album as well.”

Looking back on his debut EP, Blake feels proud of a couple of the tracks.

“But I guess my craft wasn’t fully developed at that stage,” he adds. “It was a great achievement to put it out at a young age, but I’ve moved away from it and put it behind me. And I haven’t wanted to put it up on the internet or anything either. So there’s probably 50 copies going around on CD somewhere. I don’t know if I’ll ever put it up on the internet. Maybe at some stage, but I’ve moved away.”

Very much of its time, the EP is a mere sketchwork. Being such a definitive statement, the existence of Rough with the Smooth obliterates any need to put the EP online. However, its DNA can be heard in the chimey, harp-like sounds on tracks like ‘Sailing the Skies’ and ‘Heartsines’.

“I suppose I’ve carried a bit of that,” he acknowledges. “With Rough With The Smooth, I wasn’t sure if it would work because there are a number of different styles and influences on that, but I just kept tweaking it and switching out songs until it actually felt right and the songs could relate to each other even though a lot of them are quite different.”

 

Get to the Village 

As restrictions wind down, It Takes A Village is perfectly poised to welcome ravenous festival-goers to its well-ordered enclosure at Trabolgan Holiday Village in East Cork. Having in its previous two editions taken place in spring, It Takes A Village is nothing if not serendipitous in its timing. Running over the weekend, the festival is assured to deliver a cornucopia of musical and comedic stylings, covering a variety of genres.

Among the headlining acts are local house heroes, Fish Go Deep; Sligo’s Those Nervous Animals, who will be best known to an older generation for their cult 1980’s single ‘The Business Enterprise (My Friend John)’, and are familiar to a new audience through the track ‘Hyperspace’, which was on the 2017 crate-diggers handbook Quare Groove Vol. 1; the much lauded new folk artist, John Francis Flynn; and Aoife Nessa Francis, who never got to properly capitalise on her acclaimed 2020 Land of No Junction album.

All roads lead East. A good time is guaranteed, and, yes, you can use the pool!

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