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Ahead of his slot at Higher Vision Festival this Saturday June 30, we catch up with our favourite young producer at the moment for candid conversation.
There’s no denying that we’re currently in the midst of a purple patch of Irish electronic music talent. It’s also fair to say that with all the talent in the country it feels as though we’re chasing our own tails to a degree. It’s no mean feat for any young producer to get international recognition and it’s happening now more regularly than ever before.
With that being said, translating the slivers of opportunity thrust upon individuals on the Emerald Isle into success comparable to that of their international counterparts has proved rather challenging. One of those capable of bursting that bubble is one of a handful of young techno talents on the island, Tommy Holohan.
The fresh-faced producer burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere when he capitalised on a Techno & Cans residency to become one of the most prominent and well-known DJs in the city. Through his electric sets for the Hangar-based collective (a particular closing set after SHXCXCHCXSH stands out), the Rush-native had a spotlight shone on him that many would envy, but one that few would translate into the opportunity that currently sits in front of him.
His productions have never been as straightforward as his trailblazing rise to prominence, dipping in and out of industrial techno, rave, jungle and even lo-fi house. The eclectic EP ‘Tapes from Rogerstown’ was followed by a series of techno tracks and another house EP under his Late Nite Blonde Girls Strip Club alias that landed him in Mixmag.
His decision to establish his own record label, Rave Selekts, which housed his now infamous ‘Subaru Impreza’ track was one of the key moments that pushed him from internet sensation into a real position of authority, not only in Ireland, but in the eyes of some of the industry’s biggest and brightest.
Now, as we approach the festival period in 2018 he’s signed on for more slots than ever before, with a whole host of huge releases coming up that will surely leave him teetering on the edge of fully-fledged stardom. While the house and disco world have their legion of producers and supporters, Holohan has been a lone wolf in his pursuit for success and has progressed in a similar manner.
“Obviously I really like techno, but some people take it way too seriously. Some people live into that stereotype that surrounds techno too much. I don’t mind, do what you want but it’s not for me, I’d rather do my own thing.”
While Ireland’s techno scene is alive and well and has decided to bypass the Berlinish style of gloom and doom. The genre’s representatives within the country still paint muted tones against the more 90s-vibed artwork and style we’ve come to expect from the young producer.
“When no one knew who I was, I could play a gig in an old AC Milan jersey and with a mega blue and yellow Ralph Lauren hat. You hop down after to have a smoke, one or two people might recognise you. If you’re just wearing a black t-shirt and all, it’s hard to stand out.”
Laughing at his own laziness as he tells me he wears the hats in order to avoid haircuts, he’s quick to point out that while he may skip the barbers, his initial period as a producer was fuelled by impatience. The past few months have been quiet compared to his usually frantic tendencies, but he is acclimatising to the drawn-out nature that comes with releases on a bigger scale.
“When I first started I was pretty impatient,” he says. “Now, I’d rather wait another while and find myself, instead of rushing into it.
“Say I made a massive track when I was 18, now that’s rare for techno, but in house sometimes people make a massive tune when they’re really young and they get shot up onto a huge pedestal. Things like that can happen and you shoot to the top when you’re not ready for it. Obviously you think you are, but you’re not and then you fall off the edge. The only person that I know that has been able to hold onto that is Blawan, he shot up pretty fast but he has held onto it.”
Tommy’s name has been sharing the bill with the aforementioned Blawan as well as the likes of Clouds, Dax J and many more of techno’s elite for quite a while now. We’re quick to forget that the Techno & Cans resident is still only 20 despite his achievements, making the forthcoming string of releases even more promising. He knows he’s got time on his side.
“I had the offer for my first record and that’s done but I’m waiting on that to come out. I have another EP done, I’m just waiting for that to come out and then there’s a track that I have on a compilation that’s done, I’m just waiting for that to come out too, so it’s a case of waiting around for stuff to happen rather than what I used to do, where I used to rush everything out straight away. I don’t mind not putting out EP after EP.”
We take a minute to think of the endless stream of self-released tracks young producers are pumping into the online sphere; clinging to the title of a producer despite only stringing together the bare minimum of a hi-hat a kick drum, and anything else they can get their hands on.
With Aphex Twin being a well-known inspiration, Tommy’s never been one to stick to a single sound, and his desires to make music don’t rest solely in a poorly lit nightclub. His aim to make more listenable music is one that’s growing as he matures as an artist, something that has been mirrored on the biggest stages through both Dax J and Daniel Avery’s latest albums.
“If you instantly throw out loads of mad, intricate tracks as your first tracks, even if it’s cool music, people mightn’t want to listen to it. If you were to make more accessible music and build your name up then you can make more leftfield stuff. Aphex Twin didn’t just make weird stuff first, he started off with more accessible music.
“I’ve always tried to make some more listenable tunes as well as club tracks and it’s only in the past few months that they’ve started to sound decent. I have an EP coming out that’s based around Rush.”
The North Dublin seaside town is about as secluded as you can get, but Tommy has always been vocal about its importance despite its dull nature to an outsider looking in. His upcoming EP seems to marry the notion of more abstract electronica with that sense of home.
“The people that asked me to do that EP were wondering if there could have some political or social meaning behind it. I’m not that political, so I went for a social setting. I tried to recreate four places I used to hang around at in Rush.
“The first track is called ‘Martello’ and it’s based around the Martello in Rush where we used to hang around and that’s a lot more ambient and chilled out. Then there’s ‘Seamo’s Gaff’ where we used to always listen to CJ Bolland and R&S, so that track’s pretty old school techno.
“Another is based around the beach where we used to session. We’d always go and nick people’s bins and start bonfires and all that stuff. Whenever we got our hands on the speaker people would want to put on Ed Sheeran, we’d play Altern8 and stuff like that so that track is also pretty old school. The last track is called ‘Remaining Rogerstown’ and is based around Rogerstown, which is the part of Rush that I’m from and it’s that bit more musical and dreamy.”
Tommy wears Rush on his sleeve throughout his description of the upcoming release, alongside his own name, albeit with a ‘Hilfiger’ instead of Holohan. With that portion of the conversation dipping into rarely serious territory, we push onto the fact that he’s never been one to hide his opinions, something that may or may not work to his detriment. After being pretty vocal about the rise of a bandwagon in electro, he expands on how people shouldn’t necessarily be let away with monetising genres that other artists thanklessly grew before them.
“I like electro, but it’s not my roots. I’d listen to it but I’d only know the more popular artists like Drexciya, so I wouldn’t feel right firing out an electro EP just because it’s big right now. When all these articles came out stating that it was ‘the year of electro’, that sort of annoyed me. You have people like Helena Hauff and DJ Stingray that have been doing that when it wasn’t popular and then someone comes along and throws out an electro EP just because it’s big. What if breaks come back in a year or two and everyone starts making jungle and all, why weren’t they a few years ago?
“I’m not saying that people can’t be influenced by things, it’s more so those that are clearly capitalising on trends. You don’t have to call them out, but it’d be better if they didn’t do that. What if they end up taking a gig on someone that’s been doing it when it wasn’t big or end up pushing someone out of the scene that was doing it when it wasn’t cool?
“Say there’s DJ A that’s been making electro or whatever for years and then this already huge DJ, DJ B, and they want to make electro now and they end up getting festival bookings and DJ A is just left to their own devices.”
Tommy’s stock has risen all over the country and beyond through his DJ sets that match his production in terms of their attention to detail and, of course, their relentless nature. One thing that is clear however, is that his productions and DJ sets don’t go as hand-in-hand as one would expect, with his own tracks often not getting a look in, despite being almost purpose-built for the sound he plays out at clubs and festivals.
“I never played out my own tunes. One, I always forget, I have to ask people to remind me to play them and I just feel that if I’m mixing my tune into someone else’s it’s so noticeably made on my laptop at home with my headphones in. I’m confident in my own tracks, but you’re your own hardest critic.
“I started to feel bad if people would come to gigs expecting me to play some tracks and I didn’t, even if it was just a few people, I’d feel bad that they were disappointed. Now I make sure to remind people to get me to play it.”
He asserts that this isn’t a plea for compliments either, pointing out to me that he had to borrow my USB to play his rave track ‘Costa Del Rush’ at a headline gig in Galway’s Electric nightclub as he didn’t think to put it on his own one. His productions have gone much further than the radars of a YouTube channel or two, reaching the lofty heights of Mall Grab and Dax J, both of whom have played his material on stages including BBC’s Essential Mix and Boiler Room.
“The gas thing about Mall Grab was that he bought the first Rave Selekts EP. I was sitting in my girlfriend’s house and I got an email from Bandcamp saying Jordon with an ‘au’ email had bought my EP. I wrote to him asking if he bought the EP and he said yeah, that he’d need the track at some point. That was cool. He could’ve just asked for it for free but obviously he wanted to support it.
“I saw the video of Mall Grab playing ‘Subaru Impreza’ at Dekmantel in Brazil and I was like, ‘Can I have a go?’.”
Tommy’s strange mix of modesty with self-assuredness makes for a weird approach when it comes to talking about himself and his musical exploits however, at this point his relationship with the spotlight seems a lot more symbiotic than it ever had before. Probably more due to time than anything else. He points out that he has planned ahead well this year, but that his foresight is selective; a few random ideas and releases are still liable to appear in the coming months.
Whether or not we see more edits of Nelly Furtado’s ‘Promiscuous’ and random dips into house would’ve been a big deal a year ago, now it’s a bonus compared to what’s in store for Rush’s unlikely ambassador to the wider world.
Tommy Holohan plays Higher Vision Festival this weekend in Navan Racecourse.