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With his latest single hurtling into the consciousness of not only electronic music fans, but also the general public, we speak with Daithí Ó Drónaí about his revitalising approach to sampling
A journey through the last five or six years of Daithí Ó Drónaí’s musical career would bring you to a sold out stage in Wembley Arena as well as quieter weekday nights upstairs in the Roisin Dubh.
However, with the imminent release of his EP ‘Tribes’, Daithí has truly begun to set himself apart from electronic music’s white noise. In a café on Dawson Street, after a morning interview on 2FM, he talks about his trad roots and what the next logical step for Irish electronic music should be.
What was it like musically where you grew up?
I grew up in Clare from the age of four or five right up until mid-secondary school and in terms of music my family have an Irish-traditional background. So essentially it was expected of me to pick up an instrument. My auntie taught me fiddle originally, then when I got into secondary school I started to get more diverse by playing bass guitar.
There are obviously a lot of Irish cultural influences in your sound, do you think that’s an important part of your music?
It’s interesting, the trad aspect of our lives was always really important in our family, and while the Irish language wasn’t a big part of family life I still picked it up. I went to Gaeltachts every year and eventually became a cinnire and stayed there for six weeks every summer.
I then went on to do TV and radio journalism as Gaeilge in college. So Irish was always there.
When you’re younger all of this culture just goes straight over your head. I’m from the middle of the Burren and it’s absolutely gorgeous, but when you’re there you don’t appreciate it. This newfound appreciation has given a new lease of life to the music I’m making too.
Speaking of new music, I read somewhere that the song ‘Mary Keanes Introduction’ off your new EP features a vocal sample that is close to your heart?
Yeah it’s my grandmother’s voice on the track. So basically there was a woman going around the country about two years ago trying to get an interview with someone from every county. Last year I came across it and listened to it properly and it was fucking nuts. It’s her speaking really honestly about love, which you would never get a chance to hear otherwise.
I was working on some chords at the time and over-layed the vocal and it just clicked.
My biggest problem with dance music is you can release a track and it could be gone out of your head in two weeks. I don’t necessarily hold a great deal of value to those songs, but for this EP I wanted to write songs that when I looked back on I would remember the story behind it.
So the rest of the songs will have that same weight in them too?
Yeah definitely. The next single will feature a sample from when I went out onto a beach and just recorded the sounds. All of the percussion is built around stuff I recorded myself.
As a dance producer you tend to work off all of these banks of snare sounds, where you listen to 100 and pick out your favourite one. Whereas if you go out and record something that sounds like a snare and then put it into the track, again, it adds much more weight to a song.
People still come up to me after a sweaty club show and say, "Oh my God, I voted for you on that TV show!"
I saw you play at Culture Vultures in Odessa a while back and more recently at Body&Soul, but which do you prefer, the more intimate appearances or the bigger stage shows?
If you have a smaller tent that’s packed, that’s amazing. Late at night, everyone packed in on top of you, it’s the best.
About a year and a half ago, around the time of that Culture Vultures thing actually, I was playing tracks and trying to get them to sound exactly how they did on the record. This gave me time to think about other things going on, which was a fucking disaster!
Now though, with this new live show I’m doing, it’s all improv-based, it’s not really a DJ set any more. Every single time I play these tracks live it’s different to the last time.
Last week I played in the Roisin Dubh, from 12am to 2am, and you can’t beat that. You see people’s reactions when you pick up the fiddle.
When you were a little younger you did some TV talent shows, what’s your opinion on them now?
I think my opinion is the same as it was then. As an 18 year old, it was fucking awesome! When I was doing the Sky1 show I flew from Shannon to Glasgow and there was dude with a sign with my name on it waiting for me in a Merc, then onto Wembley Arena.
All of that is amazing at that age. But I think everyone realises that those shows are no way to build a career. Afterwards you really have to start from scratch.
When it was all over I was getting these really strange requests to play at galas and balls, which just didn’t suit my music at all. Then I started playing in the Roisin Dubh where I played improv shows on a Wednesday night for two months straight. That’s where I really built what I am today as a live musician.
People would say “Ah he’s just a talent show guy” then you’d play and a lot of people realised I was serious. So it was proving people wrong that gave me a rush.
It’s also funny because people still come up to me after a sweaty club show and say, “Oh my God, I voted for you on that TV show!”
The thing about taking influence from Irish music is you're always two degrees away from absolute cheese. You could be making fucking 'Cotton Eyed Joe' if you're not careful.
So the EP is coming out in February. Besides the weight behind the recordings you mentioned earlier, what else can we expect from it?
It’s a lot less poppy. It’s a lot more house music based, and one track in the middle that’s basically a hip-hop tune!
Also, a singer from Dublin called Sinead White features on two of the songs.
See the thing about taking influence from Irish music is you’re always two degrees away from absolute cheese. You could be making fucking ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ if you’re not careful.
So Sinead is great for subtly incorporating the Irish element. She has an incredible Irish lilt to her voice which suits the music so well.
You see artists like Nicholas Jaar adding these subtle elements to his music and that is absolutely what we should be doing as a country. We have this huge bank of unexplored samples which we haven’t even gone near.
Do you feel there’s anyone else in Ireland that’s incorporating Irish culture into their music?
One of my favourite artists is New Jackson. He has lived in Dublin all of his life and ‘Having A Coke With You‘ feels like the way that city is.
Being on the same label I was hearing some of his stuff before it came out and I remember thinking it just made so much sense.
There’s not a huge amount of people looking specifically at the Irish culture end of things though. It’s hard to find and also difficult to mix into songs. There has been countless bits of material I found that just doesn’t work.
Although, outside of music there are a lot of people taking the Irish element on board. Events like Turkfest and Drop Everything are on the same wave-length. They’re looking at the culture we have and valuing it way more. That’s the way it should be.