Essential Listening

  • Ina Crueler

  • Breakfast on Pluto

Led by anonymous masked frontman Fatboy, soulful Ballymun hip-hop act Bricknasty have morphed, in the last couple of years, from a largely studio-based act to a residency at The Sugar Club that propelled them to a status as a notably hyped live act.

Their sound owes a lot to their roots in Ballymun, but also to a plethora of acts that typically blend more conventional hip-hop with other angles.

One, in particular, stands out: 20 minutes into our conversation with Fatboy, he pauses to ask “do you know D’Angelo?” We do, of course. He’s an icon. And to Bricknasty, he’s the icon, a symbol of the pathway on which they hope to tread, ideally dragging a Ballymun scene kicking and screaming in their wake.

Fatboy is walking his dog somewhere on the west coast of Ireland when we call him, but his heart, it quickly becomes clear, lives in the rugged buildings in the shadow of Ikea, just inside the ring road to the north of Dublin City.

Photography by Paula Trojner

“We started doing music and then the lockdown hit,” he says, looking back at Bricknasty’s roots. “I had to figure out how to run a band. The old way of doing things was to get a studio, do a lot of rehearsals, play shows… We had to figure out a different way.

“I learnt how to do marketing on social media, work Spotify… We got a good following on social media, so when the gigs started coming back we were one of the first bands ready. We’re also tight as a band. We love to play, and do a lot of session work.”

Those tracks have something of a wonderful incoherence to them, in the sense that they clearly borrow from different style and sounds, more scattered parts of the same mind than a coherent collection.

“I’m really ADHD bro,” Fatboy laughs. “I need different ways to challenge myself, so my music’s all different. It took a good few years to build up the songs. I’m in a bit of a dry spell at the moment, but we want to try different genres, different styles.”

Live, that converts into what gig goers have called a kind of chaotic genius.

“We figured out how the set was going to be structured in The Sugar Club,” Fatboy explains, “Mark Murphy there, he copped onto us early and let us open for Mik Pyro, then gave us a residency. We played for anyone in Dublin that we could play for after that.

“We’re palling around with Maverick Sabre now. When I was still on the drink – it’s been about 9 months – I sent him a voice message and asked if I could open for him, and he said yeah.”

Like much of Bricknasty’s life and music, the Maverick Sabre connection links straight back to that Ballymun upbringing.

“I think he was letting me open because he had done loads of work in Ballymun while I was growing up, while the flats were still standing,” Fatboy says.

“It was a real natural thing, we got talking about Ballymun and music. We’re into the same sounds. Once he saw the band, we were good to go. He took an interest, and he’s decided… what Plan B did with Maverick Sabre, he’s doing for us. He’s shown us around London, booked shows, all that.”

“I’m really ADHD bro...I need different ways to challenge myself, so my music’s all different"

“Where I live in Ballymun, all the people who live there more or less got moved there from the Blue Block, where I used to live. When they came down in 2015 or whatever, we were moved around the corner, and it’s all the same people I grew up. It’s a lot of the same energy, a bit quieter now.”

“I’m pushing hard for a Ballymun thing, but a lot of the rappers, all over really, they either have UK syndrome or US syndrome. I don’t feel like Ireland has put its stamp on things properly just yet. I used to get called any slur you can think of walking down the road with a guitar, but I stuck with it.

“I’d love for Ballymun to be the next place where all them kind of sounds come from in Dublin. There’s loads of great jazz players in Cork. I’d love for that to happen to Ballymun next, not just for rap. You need all sounds mixed together.”

“Music is a good way of coming together, though at the level where you make money, it’s all bought and sold. Our long term plan is to try and push people to see their best selves, to figure out how to sort this kip of a place out.”

There’s already been substantial movement on the way Bricknasty work to become their ‘best selves’. Some of that is in the way they play, backed with a full live band (Fatboy himself is on guitar).

“I started with just the backing track, and there’s something to be said for that, but we have world class players in this country,” he says. “They should be getting up and playing. The barrier to entry for art has been removed, it’s been democratised.

“There’s a lot of things in society that have been ripped away from us, but not art. We’re getting more good shit, as people can get their hands on the things that they need to go and do it.”

Part of the journey, and something Bricknasty are determined to keep hold of, is the idea that you should say what you mean – no pulling punches, or avoiding subjects.

“Word Up [the Dublin hip-hop label that Bricknasty are connected to] are good because they let us do us. FAMM, Maverick Sabre’s label with Jorja Smith and all them, unapologetically tell their acts to speak out how they want to. They never softball their stories, it’s not what they’re told to say. Our next song will be on that label.”

"Our long term plan is to try and push people to see their best selves, to figure out how to sort this kip of a place out”

“I might do more reworkings like [adapted single] ‘Love Sick’. It took us about 20 minutes, and it landed with the people it was meant to land with. It has more views than it should for how small a video it is. We didn’t plan it, we rocked up to Ballymun and people were all out on mopeds and horses. No money was spent on it.

“Ross McDonald, who I was lucky enough to have lunch with a few times, he’s a big inspiration to me. His book, Joyrider, is a big inspiration. He was kind enough to let us use his art for our art. Ne-Yo was really big back then, so it all has this vibe to it.”

“From a challenging ourselves perspective, ‘Ina Crueler’ was a tough track to make, especially the spoken bit at the end with me ma. If you knew half the things me and me ma went though growing up, it wasn’t an easy conversation to have.

“My whole buzz for the last while has been about that. Sonically, though, ‘Ina Crueler’ is too muddy and too busy, but it felt amazing to make at the time we made it. It was peak lockdown, feel like you’re going to hand yourself territory.”

“I’m a very erratic, abrasive person, and that’ll never leave me,” he continues, before showing his playful side by asking that we include a line in the interview that we don’t understand at all. (“Marty Schwartz is the best fighter of all time” – there you go, Fatboy!)

But when it comes to the music, there’s a seriousness to the plans and the sound.

“There’s a sheen that I think certain singles need to have to reach the full amount of people on a single idea. There needs to be a congruence, the whole sound is a little bit wild. It’s still shoestrings, crayons and coloured pencils.

“We’re getting a few more resources now, and we’re going to have to evaluate things. But only good things will come from it, it’ll be sleeker, more well oiled, and go over better.”

“I wanna be D’Angelo when I grow up,” Fatboy laughs. “He has the cleanest sound ever, but it doesn’t sacrifice. It’s not polished, it’s clean, which is a different thing. It cuts through everything, it’s impossible not to feel it in your head.”

“I’d like for Ballymun to have their own D’Angelo. I’m not nearly talented enough to do it on my own, but we have all the best people in any part of the country in my opinion, linked arm to arm, all the way up from the south to the north of the country, and we’re all trying to give each other a leg up, and make it happen.”

A seriously personal record, one that Fatboy outlines in detail to us, but doesn’t want public just yet, is on the way. Watch this space.

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