“We have a few surprises alright, but I can’t tell you what they are!” teases Colin Hoye, the trumpet player of King Kong Company, speaking of their upcoming show in the Olympia Theatre this Saturday night.
It’s the band’s first time to play the historic venue and having sold out only hours before sitting down with GoldenPlec, the excitement is tangible.
“We booked the gig in spring. It came down to the wire but it’s great to sell it out. We kind of jumped at the Olympia when it was suggested that we book it, but one thing we probably didn’t take in to account is that there’s like, 800 seats. We’re so grateful to our fans that there’s probably 800 people who’ll want to dance and will just have to dance in their seats.”
While it’s hard to imagine going from muddy festival fields with monkey masks sprinkled among a hyperactive crowd, to sitting quietly in the circle of the Olympia Theatre - if there’s one thing we know about King Kong Company’s live shows, there’s a lot more going on than just the music.
Transfixing visuals, exhilarating lights, Co2 guns, lasers, tape-faces and box-heads are just some of the things we already know to expect from this dynamic crew.
“One thing we will be able to give those customers is the visual side,” affirms Hoye. Who knows, maybe the lucky 800 sitting down will see something that those on the ground might miss?
So just how many people does it take to make a King Kong Company?
“There’s 14 behind a live show,” proving that too many cooks doesn’t always spoil the broth. The five founding members are joined by Susan O’Neill on vocals plus dancers, technicians, designers and marketing managers.
“Everybody is needed. We have a very good structure of splitting things in to different departments.” he clarifies, when asked how such a huge team operates without artistic differences causing a stir.
“I don’t have anything to do with videos while the other guys might dabble a bit. I focus on the music. We all have our own thing and we stick to that. I wouldn’t tell Boxhead how to dance.”
It’s evidently a well oiled machine, but how did it grow from just five students making dance music to what it is now?
“When we started our own project back then, it was a track with a video every month so there was always more than just the music and always more people getting involved. Boxhead, from I Said Posse! was our most famous character and that stuck with people. It took off from there. It was almost like product placement, for want of a better word.
"The other side of it is that because we essentially create dance music, we needed something more on stage for people to look at rather than just a band playing instrumental music. That’s how we ended up going down the route of visuals, lighting and dancers.”
“We got so unbelievably lucky with all the people that we worked with. Waterford is a small enough place where people know people who are good at what they do. There’s no screening process. It’s ‘Can you do this for a gig?' and they do and then it’s ‘Sure we’ll keep you!’" he remembers fondly, demonstrating the casual nature in which this snowball seemed to gather size and pace. “It’s one big happy family - most of the time!”
The last time GP spoke to KKC was back in 2016, after the release of Scarcity Dan and just ahead of their debut (and only) album release.
“I think that back then we were very much focused on the album and put a lot of time and effort in to making it,” he recalls. “We felt we needed to release an album because that’s what bands do. It did take up a lot of our time to get it right. We switched producers half way through, it was hard work. Whereas now, we’re more responsive to the way people listen to music - streams, Spotify etc.
"People don’t really listen to albums anymore. Which is good, because we’re so focused on the live shows we’re not as focused on recording. It’s a slightly relaxed way of doing it and there’s probably less music coming out but we’re not going to release something we’re not happy with.”
KKC are still working with producer Neil McLellan (The Prodigy) despite their ongoing long-distance relationship.
“When we did the album Neil lived in New York but now he actually lives in Indonesia. It’s crazy having to email him stuff over and back when he’s in bloody Bali but he’s a great producer. He knows what we want and gets it done very fast.”
Their track releases from earlier this year prove that that relationship is still going as strong as it was back in 2016. “We’re happy with our releases this year and they got a good reaction. My Name is Now is probably not a very King Kong track typically, but we said we’d go with it. We released it at the start of the summer and we weren’t really worried about the reaction - if people didn’t like it, they didn’t like it.”
People don’t really listen to albums anymore. Which is good, because we’re so focused on the live shows we’re not as focused on recording.
Having arrived at a place where they’re comfortable without the looming pressure to create an album, it seems the lads have freed themselves up to make music at their own pace. “The album at the time took a lot out of us. Even though it was two years ago, it doesn’t feel it. Things move very fast for us.”
“It’s difficult to know,” said Hoye when asked if there were any plans for a sequel. “With the tracks we’ve released so far, there’s the bones of an album. But do people really listen to albums anymore? Plus it’s very expensive to release a full album.”
Killswitch, a hard-edged dizzying track, explores the topic of social media and its use of us rather than our use of it. After playing and perfecting it in live sets all summer, the chilling video debuted the week before Electric Picnic and paved the way for another climatic performance in the Electric Arena on Friday night of which they’ve become somewhat of a mainstay.
“It’s [Electric Picnic] the holy grail of festivals in Ireland. We grew up with it and like us, it’s getting bigger every year but it’s great and very interesting to see that there are other festivals coming up and surviving out there. It’s great for the scene and it’s great that things change. It can become a little bit déja vu, but EP has that reputation and it is fantastic.”
Their debut performance at Electric Picnic in 2012 on the Body & Soul stage might seem insignificant in comparison to the 13,000 people that packed in to the Electric Arena this year and last, but how do those shows really compare?
“Well  was actually great! We had just played one gig in Waterford and sent tracks off to Jenny, the booker for Body and Soul. She had never seen us but I guess she liked what she heard and booked us anyway.
"It was crazy, we didn’t know what to expect. We had a good following on Facebook and Youtube but we were nobody’s really. The stage is down almost in a hovel at EP. I remember running around trying to sort out all my leads. The changeover was so fast and then all of a sudden I looked up and the whole place was full of people. And you know, seeing that and seeing the Electric Arena full - the feeling is the same. It’s the same worth.”
Thus began their love affair with the festival circuit, and they are by no means strangers to the scene having ticked off Body & Soul, Indiependance, Rock for People and the notorious Glastonbury.
“We get the gigs booked well in advance and we work around them,” he says, when asked if they struggle to balance work schedules and gigs. “We all still have to work. We’re lucky that we have day jobs that are 9-5 so we can squeeze in practice in the evening times in Waterford.”
Having all met in WIT, Waterford is their official base and it’s actually been over two decades since the first official iteration of King Kong Company was founded in 1996, taking their name from the film 'Taxi Driver'. But life and the industry has changed since then, Hoyne is now the only one based in Dublin while the others are still in Waterford.
“We just email tracks over and back and we work from wherever we are. I do know the N9 like the back of my hand at this stage though!
“The music scene in Ireland has changed and what people listen to has changed massively. Rap is huge now in Ireland and the Longitude line up proves that. Two great guys, Versatile, were on after us at EP. We’re not on that scale musically and I don’t think we ever will be but it’s not a worry - we just do what we do. We’re not worried about not keeping up. I think we jumped on it pretty quickly with Youtube and that translates onto all the new social media so even that grew naturally on us and it’s going very well for us.”
It’s true Versatile are making waves in the Irish music scene with their undeniably bold, shocking and crass content but KKC aren’t exactly a million miles away from that themselves at times, albeit in a slightly more subtle manner. Surely there's an underlying subject matter where they might share a common ground?
“I mean, we’re not setting off flares in the middle of Electric Arena but I guess, yeah there are some similar topics there,” he laughs, trying to distance himself from the Dublin rappers.
“Marky can come up with some great lyrics. He has a very good out take on things and the stories he tells are kind of fly on the wall and just observational things. Versatile do the same. Conversations could be had about suicide, drug use and things like that but they’re not. These things are often brushed under the carpet and that’s not good enough. It’s especially important for the young audiences who are going to live with these things longer in their lives. It’s an observation on life and yet we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. At the end of the day, we want whoever comes to see us to enjoy themselves as much as we do.”
And people do enjoy themselves. Just take a look at their recently uploaded fan footage video from EP.
“There was a lot of editing involved which is why it took weeks in the end. Poor Luke and Alan had 143 videos to run through. The thing is, when people are so kind as to record it and email it to us when we ask them to, what you want to do is use it. We’re so grateful. There’s a lot of support for Irish music and we’re very lucky to be a part of that.”
KKC have been the beneficiaries of significant support from Irish media, not only Irish fans.
“I think what it does is it provides people with a platform to gain access to music that you don’t hear on the radio every day. There’s very few stations that don’t play just pop. That being said there are people who do radio and there are people who choose what they listen to online, but I think radio stations by not being diverse are going to lose listenership. Irish listenership is going down every year and that is where these other platforms are crucial.”
“In the same vein, we love to support Irish music and give our own platform to emerging artists. It’s very important to us,” he says when the support artists from their upcoming Olympia gig, Mango x Mathman and prYmary colours, are mentioned.
“We have a good long think about who’d we’d like to support us and who we’d like to support, because we have that option. Le Boom supported us in the Academy and they don’t need that leg up anymore. When we saw them two years ago we knew they were going to be big. It’s great that we can give that opportunity to other musicians. Yeah it’s a support slot, but we’d still love to support some massive international act if we could. There’s always an audience there to tap in to.”
We have a meeting every year - well a few - but one real meeting a year and last year we said: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to sell out the Olympia?’ and you know, here we are!
It would appear that KKC are very happy to roll with the punches and take things in their stride. There’s no rush, panic or grand master plan. Their college “project” has gone from strength to strength and has arrived at a sold out Olympia and they’re more than happy with that, for now.
“We have a meeting every year - well a few - but one real meeting a year and last year we said: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to sell out the Olympia?’ and you know, here we are! Another year we said we’d like to play Glastonbury and it didn’t happen that year, but it happened the following year. So what we do is we we set ourselves achievable goals and that keeps us happy!”
Time flies when you’re wearing a cardboard box! What’s been the highlight for the men behind the masks?
“It sounds strange in a way but playing Electric Arena not this year, but last.” he muses. “It’s such a big tent that to play it was one thing, but to play it on a Sunday afternoon at 3pm was another. We were so worried that weekend hangovers would keep people in the campsites. But the place was rammed and it was amazing! It was just as good this year again on Friday night, the energy was crazy, but I think the shock was better last year. The response was incredible and it was brilliant to go back.”
So, will it be a hat-trick next year or are you slowing down for now?
“No, we’re going to plough ahead and keep at it. We still have to have that meeting!”