We’re all a bit obsessed with music here at This Is Galway. We strive to highlight the absolutely craic’ing talent that our little isle has to offer, especially the homegrown talent in our beloved Bohemian bandstand, Gaillimh. And so we introduce to you our latest series: All Hands on Decks.
In this series we'll be chatting with DJs, producers and event organisers that are making their mark on the Irish electronic music scene. To kick things off we’ve got Cian Ó Ciobháin. With almost 30 years of experience, Cian began DJing at youth clubs and school dicos in the early '90s. Since then he has organised parties such as 110th Street, Boogaloo and The Hive in Galway, has become a radio presenter with An Taobh Tuathail on RTÉ RnaG and carved out a niche as one of the country's go-to DJ's for alternative/specialist weddings.
Let's get All Hands on Decks....
What’s your most-played genre?
I'm very curious about almost all genres, with a passing interest in almost all music, so I'm capable of playing anything on the radio. When I DJ in public, I usually gravitate towards house and disco plus some techno, with the odd curveball thrown in to make things interesting. I tend to get bored playing the same genre all night long.
Do you produce any of your own music?
Bar a series of edits I did with Cyril Briscoe, who used to run 110th Street with me, under our SiSi guise over a decade ago, not much that was released. Although Boys Noize did feature one of our edits on his 'Bugged Out' mix CD. I've never really had the bug to make music. I'm definitely a consumer of music, I will happily listen to tunes all day long and find myself unconsciously making links and connections between tracks. So file me under curator, rather than creator.
What’s your Home Studio Setup?
Below is my home studio setup. I have a Pioneer XDJ-RX2, two old CDJ’s, one Technics 1210 and a pair of Funktion 1 F101s in my home studio. Plus a microphone, as I'm now broadcasting my shows from home.
What advice would you give to aspiring DJs? Any tips or tricks that, if you had known starting out, would have been a god-send?
I don't think there's any point in DJing unless you absolutely love music. If you're in it because you might think it's glamorous, or you want to be popular, or appear to be the centre of attention, you might get a few years out of it at the very most. I think it also helps to love going out dancing and listening to other DJs. I've learned something anytime I've been out, whether at a country 'meat-market' disco, or listening to a master veteran playing at an underground rave. Listen without prejudice. And dance. I believe that if you really love music and if you have a passion for sharing it and making people dance, most DJs will develop their own skills and technique over time.
If you could eternally be stuck in one decade’s music scene, which would it be and why?
Hmmmmm.... maybe the 80s? Post-punk, the birth of indie, early house, synth-pop, the tail-end of disco, Italo, New Beat, EBM, Goth, the rise of acid house. It's the decade that I fell in love with music and echoes from this era inform a lot of the music I like playing out and dancing to.
Name a guilty pleasure that no one would expect you to like
Oh, having been Djing at weddings over the past few years I have shed-loads. Take That's “Rule The World”, anything by Carly Rae-Jepsen, “Good Lookin' Woman” by Joe Dolan. I used to think that to be a wedding DJ it was necessary to really dislike music (having been subjected to countless weddings with DJs playing the same tracks on rotation for years). But since I started getting involved in the wedding world, I find that it's actually the opposite: you must really love ALL music. Even if I've heard at tune a million times, and I feel like I'm becoming jaded, I'll try and imagine myself listening to it for the first time. Recreate the magic. Bin the cynicism. Lock eyes with someone enjoying it on the dancefloor and smile.
Do you feel there has been a shift in popularity with regards to underground music from the Mainstream? Both nationally and internationally?
There's definitely a blurring between both. Once upon a time, you pretty much had to be “in the know” to discover where you might hear underground sounds. This might actually physically entail travelling to subterranean venues / basements to hear interesting, offbeat music. Now, you'll find it within seconds online, if you know where to look. It's not that difficult. Just look up sets by your favourite DJs online and within a few clicks you can hear what they're playing. The borders between what's known and unknown have dissolved in the online world.
What is one subgenre you think doesn't get the attention it deserves?
I can't say that I have noticed genres being ignored, but I have noticed hundreds of acts over the years not getting the attention they deserve. Without listing any names, it must be heartbreaking for them. I know - and they know - that the music they're making is essential listening. Over the years, I've encouraged, cajoled and love-bombed my favourite music-makers, many who sometimes never get that 'break', however it may come about, that warrants exposure to a larger audience. I like to think that 'An Taobh Tuathail' represents many of this planet's criminally ignored talents.
What is it that you love most about what you do?
Everything, absolutely everything! Listening to music is my main pleasure in life. From first thing in the morning, till I sign off the radio at night, music is pouring through every cell in my body all day long. To make a living out of something that excites me so intensely is something that I never take for granted. I never get tired of playing gigs, whether banging out gnarly techno to sweaty youngsters half my age or seeing silver-haired disco dancers busting out a move to Motown classics at a wedding. DJ-ing to a smiling, receptive audience fills me with joy.
What is one track that never gets old for you despite having heard it hundreds of times?
Top of my head, “Dexter” by Ricardo Villalobos. It's over nine minutes long and each time I hear it, it hits me in the gut and I need to devour every note, there's absolutely no way I'm skipping through it or jumping to the next track. If you want a more popular choice, “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper also makes my knees buckle.
What is something that irks you about the DJ scene in Ireland?
That there are so few venues for DJs to play. These venues are surviving hand-to-mouth, crippled by expensive, archaic licensing laws, which means that more and more venues continue to close. We need a fair and cheaper licensing system and we need to allow our venues to remain open later – looser curfews are the norm in the civilized world - so that we can all dance later. An annual blanket license for night venues would be helpful – rather than the current clusterf*ck that is expensive and involves taking time up in the courts. Then you would have more parties starting up and more opportunities for DJs to play. The government is missing a trick by continuing to frustrate a vibrant night-time economy that's raring to thrive. Check out Give Us The Night's campaign, they're articulating the finer points to politicians and opening their eyes to the cultural and economic benefits. We have some of the most passionate clubbers in the world, as visiting Djs often remark, yet we are frustrated by our early curfews. Imagine if venues could open later? The atmosphere would be off the hook!
Is there any scene that Ireland could learn from?
I've started going clubbing in Manchester, rather than in Ireland, these past few years. The people I've met there are as passionate as we are, their clubs stay open later, everyone's really friendly and also, you'll find older people still go out disco dancing. I'm of an age now where younger folk think I'm DS if I go dancing on home turf! Manchester is teeming with disco dads, so I can naturally blend in there!
What is your opinion regarding the difference between old school vinyl DJing and modern digital DJing?
When I used to play vinyl, I'd bring a bag of records (maybe 60 records) and would play from that bag for the night. I'd choose my records depending on my expectations of each gig. You would create your 'set' out of these. Now, everyone expects you to have everything. If I bring a few USBs with me, I might have 5000 tracks. Then you're faced with the tyranny of choice. I know DJs who play in commercial venues or at weddings who are expected to download a track mid-set, if someone has persisted to ask for it. Back in the vinyl days, if you didn't have the record, there was no way it would be played. Just keep on dancing and let the DJ surprise you.
Do you think this has hurt a DJ's ability to have a "unique" style? Is having your own style separate from all the other DJs out there even important nowadays?
I think people still have their own style. We still have DJs who specialise in Northern Soul or disco or techno. My favourite DJs are the chameleons: those that you can't pigeonhole. Like the late, great Andrew Weatherall, who was capable of playing all sorts of sets, be it thundering techno, Rockabilly or a tableau of low-slung, pitched-down electronic masterpieces.
Favourite venue in Ireland and why. Go!
The Blue Note in Galway and McCarthy's in Dingle. Also the Shift Shack at Another Love Story. All intimate venues where you're guaranteed a good time. Sweat, positive vibes, everyone locked into the tunes. Close your eyes and the outside world no longer exists.
Is this your sole occupation? If so, what does it mean to you to be able to make ends meet doing something you’re passionate about?
Yes, thankfully. It means everything. Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to immerse myself in music throughout my life. To make a living out of sharing the records I love with listeners is my own personal fairytale.
How has the Coronavirus affected you? How have you adapted? What advice can you give to others about dealing with this and coming out stronger on the other side?
I'm glad to report that – fingers crossed – I haven't been ill nor have I lost anyone to the illness. I've been really lucky in that I can host my radio show from home, so I still have an income to pay the bills. Also, as I'm home alone with no other distractions (gigs, weddings, festivals, travel), I can completely hone in on doing my shows and I'm feeling a huge connection with my listeners at the moment. I think that when this passes – and all pandemics do eventually pass – you would hope we might apply simple changes to our work and lifestyles. Yuval Noah Harari has described Covid-19 as a global experiment in how to work remotely. Why travel to work, if you can work from home? Imagine taking cars off the road – the immediate benefit to traffic congestion, the environment, not to mention saving money on fossil fuels.
From a Djing perspective, I can only imagine how intense the first couple of months of clubbing will be when we can all safely dance together again. It's going to be absolutely transcendental.
Tell us about An Taobh Tuathail...
While I always imagined a life in which music would be my daily companion, I never in my wildest dreams envisaged that a programme that commenced with a record on Mo’ Wax by The Prunes called "The Night Side" would still be running over two decades later. Two decades. Is that an epoch? An Taobh Tuathail has been everything to me. It’s been my passport to making new and life-long friends. It’s been my ticket to the front row of the best seats in the house, seats from which I’ve often had the privilege to have been amongst the first to hear some of the most awe-inspiring sounds ever created by our species. This radio show has presented me with an opportunity to document and share the first sounds of this young millennium. We are who we listen to. Without the music makers and your eager ears, ATT would be the sound of that lone tree falling in a forest and no one around to hear it. Instead, we’re part of a forest of sound… and it’s teeming with life.
Here we have a full live set that Cian played at the Blue Note on the 29th of February this year, just preceding all the lockdown fun. All the mixing, transitions, blending, building etc. is 100% live. How do we know? We were dancing on the other side of the booth! You’ll get a flavour of what Cian is about, lovely progression from light hearted Disco, House right through to heavy thumpers, and a few curveballs along the way.
Cian will be hosting a very special episode for An Taobh Tuathail’s 21st birthday on the 1st of May 2020, be sure to tune in.