Bricknasty on the loss of community and identity in our city and anxieties over the Americanisation of our culture.
Bricknasty’s drummer Korey Thomas takes our Zoom call from bed, too tired to turn on his camera. Soon after his arrival, the Ballymun-based quintet’s singer and guitarist Fatboy joins the conversation, accompanied by his nan and a neighbour’s dog. Or at least, I think so. His balaclava (an integral component to his Bricknasty persona) must have been in the wash, and he may well have been having me on, impersonating voices and barking as some kind of elaborate joke.
Straightaway, chatting to the pair, you get the impression that there’s a great joke you’re not part of. Performance even offstage. Often considered to be a hip-hop band, Bricknasty aren’t entirely comfortable with this description. Since forming in 2020, and developing a reputation for their live shows, they have roots in jazz and an enormous grá for neo-soul, but confess to being a little too clunky to fit in there either. “We’re third generation Navan-wave,” Korey offers up wryly. Character is a very identifiable part of Bricknasty’s debut EP, Ina Crueler. When asked about how Dublin factors into the band’s music – and in particular, across these ten tracks (clocking in at a remarkably succinct twenty-one minutes) – Fatboy was extremely quick to clarify a few things.
“I don’t really give a shit about any other part of Dublin. Dublin’s getting destroyed. They’re stripping the whole lot down and dressing it up in a Starbucks uniform. Dublin’s not what it was. There was a point where it was lethal. Now, every time I go to Cork, I see so many ways that it’s a much better city than Dublin. I feel like a dickhead when I go down to Cork because I’m still in Dublin mode; I’m still eyeballing people. I’m not in the habit of just having a constant output of soundness.”
There’s a palpable sense of grief as Fatboy goes on to explain, “We had a community, a sense of identity and that’s been taken off us. Even when you look at the flats, as a symbol. Big huge buildings that stretched into the sky, and you can call the people who lived in them criminals all you want, but there’s a power in that. There was a power in that. They took that power away from people and they’re continuing to do that in places like The Liberties. I empathise. The people with power in the city want to ruin all these places, privatise them and sell them off.”
At times, Ina Crueler feels like a eulogy for a Dublin that’s disappearing, while a few strongholds of traditional Dublin struggle on. Fatboy’s own Ballymun is a perfect case study. Fatboy explains, “The Ballymun that raised me is outstanding. Of course, there’s an ugly side to it, but I had an amazing upbringing in that environment. I feel like people in Cork are the same, except it’s the whole city that had that experience. I’m worried that Ballymun is gonna turn into one of these areas like Glasnevin. When you’re talking to someone from my generation that grew-up there, it’s like they have no sense of identity. They’ve been Americanised, or Anglicised.”
It’s interesting to balance Fatboy’s anxieties over the Americanisation of Irish culture with his clear love for the greatest American artform; hip-hop. Neither of the Bricknasty lads are too sure about how well hip-hop fits into the Irish music scene. “The more American approach to it works better than the drill route in my opinion. I don’t really listen to a lot of Irish rap,” Korey starts, before quickly adding, “unless you’re talking about Pat Flynn.”
For Fatboy, hip-hop is clearly about much more than sonic choices. “How would we make rap? What the fuck would I have to rap about now? Genuinely, that would make people’s skin crawl. It’s an African-American genre. It’s not enough that they’re poor, or they get killed off the side of the road in front of their families to this day. You wanna talk about neo-colonialism? That’s it right there.”
He continues, “Unlike Ireland, where the English at least had the wherewithal to leave, even though they still have their hands on our throats in the form of the free market, the backdoor ways of keeping us down, in America it’s a white-black conflict. The white people who were still into racism went into the police force. Those conditions that environment created gave us the best genre of the last 100 years. We don’t have the sauce to the same extent. Some people do, but they’re kind of unicorns, because you have to have this life, and also you have to be a student, very committed to the thing. No matter how hard a man 50 Cent comes off, he’s a nerd. Kendrick Lamar is a superdork. You have to be a supercomputer in the mind. If you don’t have all of that, you’re gonna rap bad. Your music is gonna be bad.”
Coming off an extremely taxing period of writing and producing following Ina Crueler, Bricknasty don’t have any plans to record more new music yet. However, as our conversation comes to a close, once again they respond in their way designed to keep everyone outside of Bricknasty on their toes as Korey hints, “Unless we do.”
Words: Elle Kelleher
Photo: Ivor Alice