Emerging Cork bands Red Sun Alert and Automatic Blue in a Cyprus Avenue smackdown!  

WWE legend Kurt Angle might have recently done a spoken-word show at Cyprus Avenue, but the Olympic Hero hasn’t been the only talent getting ready to rumble at the venue: four of Cork music’s upcoming young acts face off in tag-team action on Friday May 20th. Mike McGrath-Bryan rings the opening bell on the Red vs. Blue showcase. 
Emerging Cork bands Red Sun Alert and Automatic Blue in a Cyprus Avenue smackdown!  

The 2000s was a transitional time for the sport of kings - American professional wrestling. With industry leaders WWE stagnating after attaining an effective monopoly on the business of sports-entertainment spectacle, the company’s roster underwent a storyline split into two brands, each named for the WWE’s satellite-TV juggernauts: SmackDown! (their exclamation point) and Raw. The event paved the way for numerous inter-league storylines, events and videogames, the latter of which became legitimate best-sellers throughout the mid-2000s. 

It’s a real “you know you feel old when” moment for your writer, then, to see Red Sun Alert and Automatic Blue play into an emerging 2000s nostalgia among a younger generation with upcoming showcase gig Red vs. Blue, happening Friday May 20 at Cyprus Avenue. Along with tag-team partners Mossy and Letterbox Kid, the stage is set for the grand-daddy of all showcases - but in true wrestling-feud fashion, the hype has been building for a long time.

“The two of us were just planning this Red/Blue gig for so long, even before the pandemic,” says Red Sun Alert frontwoman Julia Pawlak, “since Drew (Linehan, aka Automatic Blue) and I have known each other, when we went to Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa together, then our bands started gigging more and more, our acts.

“So we were like, ‘yeah, we should definitely do that Red/Blue gig’, y'know, even the red and the blue, the colors, it's funny. We got onto Sean, from Cyprus, he's kind of the force to say, why don't we do it as a red versus blue thing? And we went with that.”

In the red corner... Emma Maguire of Mossy and Julia Pawlak of Red Sun Alert
In the red corner... Emma Maguire of Mossy and Julia Pawlak of Red Sun Alert

“Then Julia and Emma just kind of ran with it”, adds Linehan. “I just sent them the picture of the PS2 game, and John Cena entered the groupchat” says Isaac O’Sullivan, aka Letterbox Kid, before Pawlak chimes in: “It happened in moments. We just went ‘yeah, perfect’. That was genuinely it, then we organized a photoshoot, like, that week. I'm sure. We're like, 'yeah, let’s look dangerous, guys, let's do this'.” “Which didn’t work, by the way,” cracks Mossy frontwoman Emma Maguire.

“It's very nice to see how we just got straight back into it, y'know, it was definitely a worry, that it's just not going to be there, that the gigs won't be there, but the response has been amazing. Between just the people who were listening to our music and coming to our gigs, they're still there, and that's so amazing to see, and heading over to England was just another amazing experience. Seeing how hungry people are for the gigs, and like, every gig I've been to, even in Cork, has just been packed recently. People are really, really hungry for live music. And the response has been amazing. And it feels so good to be back.

“As of now, you are still able to just head over (to the UK) without any visas. This will become a problem, but obviously since we're all students, we're trying to plan everything on a budget. That's just the reality of it. So you're trying to book whatever the cheapest tickets are, seeing if you can sleep on someone's couch.

“That's all it is, and it's all down to having really, really good friends in England, and just amazing, supportive people, like Marty from (Nottingham promoters) Buttonpusher, he is such a great supportive guy, the person who helped us make that step towards the English crowds. So, y'know, having people like that is definitely the most important thing.”

In the blue corner... Drew Linehan of Automatic Blue and Isaac O'Sullivan, aka Letterbox Kid
In the blue corner... Drew Linehan of Automatic Blue and Isaac O'Sullivan, aka Letterbox Kid

Automatic Blue man Drew Linehan has had a busy time of it, even over the course of the crisis - debut album ‘LOOKSCOOLDEAD’, an unflinching look at mental health through an alternative electronic spectrum, landed well last year, while subsequent live dates around the country have drawn well, and been well-received.

“It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. I thought it'd be hard to get a crowd starting back, but like Julia said, people do want to see gigs, and are ready to get back to it. And in terms of sorting out all those shows, I think the response was really good, and it was very enjoyable to put them on.

“I kind-of just want to do more shows, going into the future, like setting up this Cyprus show. Me and Isaac did one a few weeks ago there at An Spailpín Fánach, that had a really good response. Besides that, just looking to kind of put out a few more singles and keep working on music, getting live shows done and reaching people that way.”

It’s been a great time for Cork dream-poppers Mossy in recent months, assuming regular gigging and getting off the ground in earnest, after coming together to start playing gigs and recording just before the pandemic hit, what seems like a lifetime ago now. For vocalist Emma Maguire, it’s been a time of validation and fun after the crisis and its ramifications.

“Our first gig was in September 2019, and it was supporting Red Sun Alert. So we really only took off after the pandemic. I think we all had a feeling of, 'it's gonna take a while for everything to come back'. We've been genuinely really lucky, things seem to fall into our lap, which is really fortunate (laughs). We have been lucky enough to be offered so many support slots, and we've just made so many friends and connections with this.

Mossy ready for action. Pic: Jack Walsh
Mossy ready for action. Pic: Jack Walsh

“It's really amazing how, just, surprisingly easy it was to get back to gigging and to have actual venues sell out, which didn't happen pre-pandemic. And it's ironic, y'know, we thought it was going to, lik,e take a while to start back up, and it actually just took off. Yeah, everything's been going quite well. We're planning headline gigs for the summer, which is going to be a nice little step up.”

For Isaac O’Sullivan, whose Letterbox Kid persona is a pandemic-era creation, the reintroduction of live gigs presents the opportunity to add a new dimension to said persona, as well as flesh out an innate knack for storytelling. After recording and releasing debut extended-player ‘Elegant For A Rogue & Skinny For A Bastard’ in the worst of times, O’Sullivan is rightly looking forward to better days.

“I'm really happy with it. It was tough releasing the music, I think, during the pandemic. I really wanted to get it out, I was working on it over early lockdown, and then mixed it with Drew. I just really wanted to get it out. I'd had it for ages, and then even though it was during the pandemic, I didn't know when it was gonna finish, so it was like, 'let's just get it out'.

“But without gigs, it was hard to get as much traction, I guess. But now since we're back open, we did the gig in the Spailpín, and it was great. Like, so many people came, I was very, very happy with it. Feel like we're making a nice little scene for ourselves, and good friends.”

The common thread here is bands and artists re-emerging in earnest after the circumstances of the last two years, and it’s genuinely heartening to see and hear these young artists discuss their excitement for the future on the other end of a Zoom call from a rehearsal space at the Cork School of Music.

Letterbox Kid on the bill.
Letterbox Kid on the bill.

But the final-year Music students are all aware that they’re emerging into a Cork scene where things are still very much in flux, with venues and promoters staying shut and/or coming into existence and attempting to re-establish a regular gig-going habit among scene regulars and casual punters alike.

“As we're all saying, people are hungry for the live shows, their responses are great,” says Pawlak. “Venues have closed down, and that definitely is a lack of that right now, and that's definitely something that we need to look at, maybe try to organize something and like, the most important thing about the scene is community. We do have such a strong sense of that here.

Red Sun Alert ready for showdown.
Red Sun Alert ready for showdown.

“There's still such a wider group of people who are so willing and eager to do that, and put on great shows, and, y'know, be there for the people, be there for the audience. So there is such a great spirit of that in Cork. Most of us are friends, and y'know, that's brilliant, as well.

Automatic Blue ready for showdown.
Automatic Blue ready for showdown.

“But we definitely do need to look at more spaces, utilize more, even art spaces, warehouses. I mean, you remember the gig in the Lido that God Alone did before, like, that was such a fantastic idea. If we did more of that, that'd be great.

“Promoters are coming and going, but there's so many people who are genuinely interested in continuing it on and setting up things, even just between the people that we know here in the college, there are so many talks and ideas of people just continuing on and establishing new things, setting up new things.

“So, I really do think that the future is bright. And I feel like you know, we have a lot of motivation, especially after the pandemic, there's a lot of spirit to get back up there and get something going, so I am positive that there will be a lot more things happening.”

Red vs. Blue sees four of Cork’s emerging young bands in tag-team action as Team Red (Red Sun Alert and Mossy) square up to Team Blue (Automatic Blue and Letterbox Kid) for championship contention on Friday May 20 at Cyprus Avenue. First bell at 7pm, advance tickets weighing in at €12.

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