Ian Maleney chats about Irish electronic music, gigging with bands and the problems of remix tobification with Toby Kaar ahead of his performance at Thursday night’s Harmless Noise / Future Bright gig in Crawdaddy.
After a stellar run of inspired remixes, Soundcloud teasers and incendiary gigs, Toby Kaar has found himself standing right at the cutting edge of the complex beast that is Irish electronic music. The Corkman’s colourful take on skewed hip-hop and Four Tet-style electronica has seen his reputation grow steadily over the past year or so, from his almost legendary show at Whelans’ Ones To Watch showcase last January through a nationwide tour in support of Gold Panda and onto more experimental endeavors like the recent Steve Reich festival in Cork before closing this year’s Castlepalooza festival with a great set in front of an ecstatic late night/early morning crowd.
He is back in Dublin on the 25th of August for the Harmless Noise Future Bright showcase in Crawdaddy, alongside The Last Days of 1984 and the Low Sea.
When did you get started making music and what was influencing you at the time?
I guess I started properly making music maybe 6 years ago. I used to mess around with Fruity Loops, but I only started to take music seriously when I accidentally made some music I really liked. After that it snowballed and became my only real interest. I was listening to a lot of different stuff at the time, discovering proper music. So yeah, there was a lot of very derivative music being made at the time. I’ve got one track where I’m trying to recreate the Boy/Girl Song and a couple that sound like second rate Kid Koala. That kinda thing. I guess I needed to (still need to) get that stuff out of my system.
That’s one thing that I’ve noticed has changed from when I began making music. At the start I trying to recreate other people’s music, but I wasn’t very good at it. Now, I’m only interested in trying to do things that are much more “me”, that couldn’t be traced back to specific influences. I’m still not totally successful in that respect, because I’m obviously being influenced by what I listen to, but my output now is definitely a lot more personal, and I guess I’m more attached to it because of that. Sorry, that was a very serious paragraph.
Did you enjoy the Steve Reich festival and making the ‘Drumming’ remix?
I did, for the parts I caught. Unfortunately I missed a load of it as I was away at Castlepalooza, but it was really cool to be involved in the thing at all. I got to play two totally different gigs – One day I was improvising with the Cork sound art duo The Quiet Club, then the next night I was supporting Boxcutter at the Reich Remix club. It was really something else to actually deconstruct Drumming as that was the first Reich piece I ever heard and is one of my favourites too. To have every marimba isolated and to hear every singer individually was really strange.
I think Dennis Clifford, who won the competition, really deserved to win it. His take complemented the original in a great way. My remix, I dunno. I think I just “Toby-fied” it by throwing a load of cymbals on it and I really wasn’t that happy with it. I guess that happens sometimes, but it’s made me re-evaluate the way I do remixes a bit more.
How do you find playing gigs with bands that might seem different to you, like ASIWYFA for instance?
That’s kind of a weird question. First of all, I don’t really see a huge gulf between what bands do and what producers like myself do. Unless you’re talking about club DJs, I think that what a producer can do live has the potential to be as, if not more interesting than a live band. Just like nobody just listens to indie music anymore, I don’t think there should be separations within live music either… I mean, at this Future Bright show on the 25th, Low Sea and Last Days of 1984 are on before me and that makes it a hell of a lot more interesting than having to stand through 3 hours of people with laptops, just like I’d find it boring to stand through 3 hours of guitars..
Secondly, I think myself and ASIWYFA have a lot in common. Aside from the format it’s presented in, I think my music aims to have that… I dunno, euphoric atmosphere that ASIWYFA have in bucket-loads. So when I’m offered a gig like that, I look for the similarities rather than the differences…
What are your plans for the future? Any plans for a release or touring?
Ah man, I barely have time to do nothing right now. There’s plans to release something when I have enough material that I’m happy with, although I want that material to be the best it can be before I put it out with my name on it. I’ve got loads of work-in-progresses, but I’d say for every 10 tracks I make, there’s maybe 1 I’d put out. So it takes forever but I keep telling myself it’ll be worth it…
In terms of touring, I’d definitely like to do it, but I’m back at university in October so my free time will get even more scarce. I’m sure it’ll happen one day. I started working with a manager this year so I don’t even have to think about that. Which is nice, I guess.
Do you enjoy doing remixes and do you approach them differently to your own work?
As I said earlier, I’m re-assessing the way I do remixes. The first few I did I was over the moon with the way they turned out, but then I started taking remixes on that I probably needed more time with. There was one point I think I was doing 3 remixes at the same time and they all had deadlines. Eeesh. So there are some that weren’t my best work because I tried to re-create old stuff, which was such a bad idea.
On the other hand, I did that remix for Funeral Suits recently and I really liked the end result. I had like 6 days to do it, so I sat down and didn’t second-guess myself, just went with a path that felt right. And the end result doesn’t sound like my other work, which I’m delighted with! So yeah, I do like doing remixes, but I’m not taking on any more for a good long time, so that when I do do another, I can do something really new and interesting… Watch this space like.
There seems to have been a surge of really talented electronic musicians in Ireland over the past couple of years. Do you think this is the case and do you think there’s a reason for it?
I think there have been really talented electronic musicians in Ireland for ages, but a lot of them weren’t so much in the broader music community’s eye. I remember going clubbing years ago and hearing people like Tinoras and Boxcutter making amazing music, but it was music that was being consumed by club goers rather than blogs and all that. That’s still happening in clubs today, but a lot of the electronica and hip hop being produced has gained a broader audience.
I mean, there’s the blog side and there’s the artist side where they see other people doing what they do and so they take themselves more seriously and put their stuff out there. It’s all interlinked and all has to do with the internet. It’s great, I think. It can be very bad, but in general it’s great.
After playing with the likes of Onra or Gold Panda, how do you feel Irish electronic music compares on an international level?
I’m going to try say what I mean without sounding like a dick. I think, with my small amount of knowledge, that Ireland’s “sound” in electronic music isn’t a distinct thing. What I mean is that there isn’t really a cohesive or collective genre into which you could put all the music coming out of Ireland. Like, this isn’t a bad thing at all at all, I just think the phrase “Irish electronic music” doesn’t mean anything concrete, whereas “English Hip Hop” or”LA beats” instantly brings stuff to mind, you know? There’s a lot of good Irish electronic stuff out there, so I wouldn’t be worried about not having a sound. Maybe it’s good to not have a sound. It keeps things a lot more exciting. Or something like that.