'There was a stigma attached to rapping in your Irish accent - but now Ireland is ready' - MathMan on the explosion in Irish urban music
In the two decades since Dublin artist Adam Fogarty, aka MathMan, first arrived on the burgeoning urban music scene in Ireland, a hell of a lot has changed. At the time he and his fellow renegade Irish hip hop artists were ridiculed for rapping in their own accents. In recent years, however, Irish urban music in all its guises is thriving with names like Rejjie Snow, Kojaque, Jafaris, Soulé, Erica Cody and Kneecap among others gaining recognition for their skills. Both Snow and Kojaque made the shortlist of nine Irish artists in the running for 2018 Choice MusicPrize Album of the Year.
Most of the major Irish summer festivals have boasted urban acts, if not dedicated stages, since their inception, but more and more Irish artists are infiltrating those stages and holding their own on the bill alongside major international acts. The upcoming Body & Soul festival at Ballinlough Castle will host Midnight Circus on Friday night, featuring a line-up of both international and Irish acts, curated by Fogarty, who will also perform alongside fellow Dubliner Karl Mangan as the phenomenal Mango X MathMan.
Top of Fogarty's wish list for the line-up was having "strong female representation" with South London rapper Ms Banks (it's her first big Irish show and a bit of a coup) and Manchester's IAMDDB, as well as a balance - a neat 50:50 - of homegrown and international acts. So, the ladies and French/British artist Octavian feature on the same line-up as Mango X MathMan, rising Dublin hip hop star Jafaris, and west Belfast trio Kneecap, who will rap as Gaeilge.
"They're such an interesting act and people are paying an awful lot of attention to them right now," says Fogarty of the latter. "There's an important place for what they're doing artistically as an act and that needs to be represented."
Having emerged on the scene at a time when the notion of Irish hip hop was a laughable concept, Fogarty is keen to now support up and coming artists, not that they're shy about making the music they want to make and promoting themselves - there's a refreshing confidence among the younger generation, he says.
"The position Ireland is in now attitude wise, socially, culturally - we've come through two really important referendums and the young people of Ireland have really spoken out and stood up for what they believe in," he says.
"I think there's reinforced confidence in young Ireland right now, like shaking off the shackles of old Catholic Ireland and saying, 'you know what? No longer will we feel controlled or oppressed, we'll do exactly what we feel we've been put on this earth to do' and that confidence is alive now in our music scene, certainly in the hip hop world and street music."
Emerging in tandem with that new-found confidence, is the fact that Ireland is finally ready to listen to what they have to say. "Now more than ever Ireland is not only ready for urban and street music to come out of Ireland with an Irish accent but they're totally behind it," says Fogarty.
"For somebody like me who was making hip hop in Ireland with Mango and The Animators and loads of other artists, there was a stigma attached to rapping in your Dublin accent or your Irish accent. For a long time it was laughed at and it was pushed out to the fringes.
"We did it because we loved it and we felt we were good at it, but Ireland didn't seem ready for it. Now they are and I think all of those things have fed it to the point where Ireland is like, 'wow, we are actually really good at this and let's support our own and get behind people' and that is really powerful because once Irish people are behind you you can take on the world.
"It's even more satisfying for me having come from a time when it wasn't a coool thing to do and it wasn't something that poeple supported, to now have the support of people is really an amazing thing."
While his "bread and butter" is producing records and writing with artists, he's also keen to give rising Irish artists festival slots, advise them on how best to promote their work, and even offer contacts as it all feeds in to the scene as a whole. "I want to see this whole thing reach its full potential".
Fogarty describes Irish urban music as "one of the last great stories internationally that hasn't been heard around the world" and predicts that the next three to five years will be pivotal for Irish music and urban Irish music in terms of shining in the international spotlight.
As well as curating Midnight Circus at Body & Soul, he will be dragging a hefty load of vinyl to Ballinlough Castle for his set at the Hennessy Sound Lounge where a collection of artists - including Jape's Richie Egan, Saint Sister and more will explore their favourite music and sound tracks in a variety of ways. For MathMan it's a DJ set which will focus on UK garage and an eclectic collection of records he has unearthed from his old house in Clondalkin specially for the occasion. However, if you think you know what to expect, you're probably wrong. They won't , he says, be the "obvious" records.
"There might be a few classics in there but the plan is to play a lot of the underground, jazzy soulful influenced UK garage records that came out at the time," he explains. "They might not be familiar to everybody but it's about creating a vibe, it's about creating an energy. We're going to hear classics from people like Wookie, MJ Cole, big UK garage producers and artists. I can't wait to do that because some of these records haven't been played in 8, 9, 10 years at this stage!"
A vinyl DJ set is a particular treat, but also a more challenging prospect for a DJ, and one which MathMan relishes.
"Any DJ in the world can rock up to any f***ing festival and any stage in the world with a USB full of every single record you could possibly need to play a set. So if one record isn't working you're like, 'Okay the crowd aren't feeling this. Let me switch it up'," he says.
"The real challenge is when you have a limited amount of records at your disposal and you're there to perform for people and you want to get a vibe going. You have to work harder as a DJ. Because it's not just about sifting something on a USB and finding what you think might work. There's pre-planning in it. It's considering your DJ set and being able to work on the fly when you're down there. There's an edge to it and an old excitement to it that I probably haven't experienced since the last time I played vinyl."
Creating a vibe and a show brimming with raw, unbridled energy, is something for which Mango X MathMan are renowned. They don't plan their set, but rather perform based on the vibe that day and the audience's response. It's an organic approach which comes from having spent years soaking up the best of clubbing themselves.
"It comes from a place where we spent a lifetime clubbing," he says. "We spent a lifetime going to see other acts and DJs and people perform and so you know what it's like to stand in a crowd and be entertained and you want to see that energy so when we come out on stage it's just purely organic."
While they're professional in their delivery, he admits they're "making it up as we go" and this lends itself to a great show. The music, of course, helps, given it's "raw as s***" as well, he laughs.
One of the gigs he draws upon when heading out to entertain the masses in a live show is a legendary The Prodigy's show at The Olympia Theatre in Dublin a decade ago.
"I remember being in the pit downstairs and it just felt like I was being assaulted by the music - it was that loud and aggressive. It felt like I'd done ten rounds with Tyson when I walked out! I was dripping in sweat. I don't think I had a shirt on. I had bumps and bruises from people moshing. That always really stuck with me over the years," he says.
"It was like 'wow', the visual of it, seeing Maxim and Keith Flint on stage, seeing Liam Howlett cooking behind his production set-up and then just being assaulted by the music. It was amazing. I think I carry a bit of that with me when we perform with Mango X MathMan."
MangoXMathman's new album will release in September following the release of a "couple of singles" across the summer. In the meantime you can catch them at Body & Soul, Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, Friday June 21-Sunday June 23. Weekend Tickets for Body & Soul are on sale via Ticketbooth on www.bodyandsoul.ie