Thursday 27 October 2016

There's more to these 'Fellas' than you think

The Rubberbandits should really be awarded the Turner Prize

Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30


When you think of who the most original artists and thinkers are right now in Ireland, who the true heirs to Flann O'Brien are, your mind might not light immediately on Limerick pranksters and funnymen the Rubberbandits.

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Even if you've seen their latest video Fellas, featuring a puppet of Gabriel Byrne encouraging lads to go out and f**k another fella, you might still dismiss them. On one level, the song has got great laugh-out-loud scatological lines like: "You've googled all the shemales while your missus was asleep/  And now it's time to muster up the spunk and take a leap/  starting with a sissy boy who's got a girly bum/  before you know it, you'll be f**king truckers by the ton".

But there is much more to them than that. There is a deep, dark undercurrent to the Rubberbandits. And there is a sense of situationism to it all. Why, for example, is the song sung in the video by a puppet of Gabriel Byrne? Is it a reference to Byrne's role as a psychoanalyst in In Treatment? We don't actually know. Which makes it all the better. Even if you're not a repressed homosexual married man, or even if you think you're not, there is something deeply unsettling bubbling under the hilarity of Fellas.

If you go and watch Fellas online, you will find the Rubberbandits' last video Dad's Best Friend, a ditty, set to a dark Aphex Twin-style backing track, about an unhappy psychopath who is bringing your Dad to Holland to make a man of him because "he never had a stag". There are echoes here too of repressed homosexuality, or lives of dysfunctional desperation. In three or four minutes the Rubberbandits conjure up in Dad's Best Friend one of the best Irish characters we've seen since Pat McCabe's Francie Brady in The Butcher Boy. If McCabe invented a kind of rural Irish gothic, the Rubberbandits have invented something else, Limerick Gothic perhaps.

The clues that the Rubberbandits were more art terrorism than comedy were always there, even since their breakthrough moment Horse Outside. You may recall that on that occasion one of the duo, Blindboy, came on Liveline, in character, much to Joe's exasperation, to defend against accusations that the song was dangerous, should be banned and was demeaning to Limerick people. While staying in character, Blindboy patiently explained to the irate callers what art is. He touched on notions of subtext, unreliable narrators. And he unashamedly referred to himself throughout as an artist.

Who else could have a song and video called I like to Shift Girls that references Nietzsche? In fact, all of the work, however wacky it may seem on the surface, carries philosophical and psychological conundrums and references, and has more to say about society now and the human condition than Hirst and all the YBAs put together. And all of it worn lightly.

Like the song that details a guy's lifestyle and then questions as to whether he is a hipster or a hobo. Or the sketch where Blindboy's granddad gets his alarm clock stuck in his pubic hair which leads to an existential crisis where Granddad believes that time went backwards and he impregnated his own mother, thus he was his own father. He believes however that he was a bad father to himself and so he tries to fix the relationship. He eventually breaks his back when he tries to sit on his own knee in reconciliation.

You'd nearly go so far as to say that the Rubberbandits, when on form, are two of the most important artists working in Ireland today and are more deserving of the Turner prize than a lot of those who have won it over the last decade.

Sunday Independent

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