At the beginning of February this year a project was released unlike anything Ireland had seen before. ‘Pass the Aux Cord‘ was the debut outing by a group of artists representing a generation of musicians who are untethered by convention. As they put it, “a new globalised Ireland where the sounds of Ireland’s now diversified landscape have given way to a fusion of grime, dancehall, hip hop beats being accompanied by Irish rhymes of immigration, inequality and sexual identity”.
It all began five years ago when Tadhg Byrne, Johnny Carroll, Tim Nairn, Damien Allen, Frankie Grimes, Ben Bix, Josh Burdon and Reeta Cherie took over The Twisted Pepper’s top floor smoking area for an intimate gathering soundtracked by Caribbean, Latin and African music, with a particular focus on dancehall, reggae and grime. They brought their high-energy party to festivals and venues around the country, integrating elements like yoga and dancehall dance classes into proceedings.
Inevitably the crew became close with MCs and DJs and eventually Sim Simma Records was formed. We caught up with one of the original founders, Tadhg Byrne, to discuss ‘Pass the Aux Cord’, which featured God Knows of Rusangano Family, Denise Chaila, Breezy Ideygoke and more, plus Tadhg explains why you shouldn’t use the term ‘world music’.
Maybe it happened before my time, but I can’t recall another party with the same music and ethos as Sim Simma. Back when it started, when you nearly called it Rice and Peas, what spurred you to begin running the parties?
I’m so glad we called it Sim Simma… We chose the name because that song in particular [‘Who Am I’ by Beenie Man] was so popular at every single party we played back in the Junior Spesh days in Twisted Pepper. After a while we felt the need for a different type of party, something that brings back the basics of one room where people can dance, sit, drink, smoke and relax at the same time with all the same people.
No cost on the door, no guestlist/cheaplist, no annoying promo on social media, just old fashioned weekly parties with everyone connected together. And that really was refreshing, to be honest.
What drew you to this music and this culture?
As a group, we’re just so passionate about these genres of music – the energy we feel in a room when we’re together is insane. When we’re in the studio making our own tracks things can get extremely giddy very quickly. For me personally, this music has been part of my life for a long time – I’ve always felt a close connection having been born in London. A lot of my family live there still.
When I was young I used to hear reggae playing from nearly every corner shop and when I was old enough I would go to Notting Hill Carnival, and the atmosphere there man… I swear to god, it’s the best place on earth! I still go every year.
How important was your work with Junior Spesh in giving you the confidence to try out ‘different’ music policies in Dublin?
Junior Spesh gave me a lot of confidence – not in the beginning though! The first year was almost a complete disaster. We lost so much money on high profile acts who we felt obliged to book without understanding what actually matters for a clubnight to become successful. After a while we figured out the balance of running a consistent night with resident DJs, building an identity, adding to that identity and quickly we developed a loyal crowd who came back every week.
That experience gave us so much understanding. After three years we felt comfortable enough to try anything, knowing that the crowd would be with us the whole way.
I read a few quotes from the early days four or five years ago where you described Sim Simma as a “way of life”. What did you mean? Do you still feel that way?
Back in our first year we used to run at 6pm every Sunday without fail. It was a ritual every week. The same people would turn up early and last the whole night. It became so familiar, honestly it felt like going to church every Sunday. It became more than just a party, it really felt like family. Nowadays, circumstances are different, we’re older and naturally we’re moving forward with our individual lives, but we still share that same sense of family within the collective. That will never change!
Why do you feel the parties have garnered such a cult following?
It’s hard to say really, the music policy is diverse which helps, but also the sense of being treated equally I think is really special. We want everyone to feel the same when they’re dancing together. That’s why we love to DJ on the ground, close to people, rather than on a big stage.
What’s your best memory of Sim Simma as a party series?
There are a lot of great memories, but I remember one in particular… We had just finished playing, the party was over, but nobody would leave. Nobody shouted at us to keep playing or anything, everyone was content. They just stayed there hanging out, nobody wanted to go home. We didn’t have security for the early days as there wasn’t a need, so we just let people stay while we took down the decorations. Occasionally the room just burst out in random applause, and then everyone would help us take stuff down, they even helped carry the soundsystem! It was beautiful.
Sim Simma DJs went to Brazil to play at Carnaval in Salvador and Recife a while ago, what was that experience like? What did you bring back to implement into the parties?
That was an amazing experience. Carnaval is such a massive celebration in Brazil, it really hit us just how big the culture is over there.
It was like a pilgrimage. We met so many people who taught us about the tradition and history of each city and how they celebrate in their own style. It was such a valuable trip for us. We didn’t bring anything particular back to implement into our parties, but instead we developed a real understanding of the music, the culture and the identity. I also learned that caipirinhas are the best cocktail in the world, hands down. Don’t even @ me.
I’ve read that you have some contempt for the term ‘world music’. Louis Scully of Woweembeem expressed the same sentiments a while back, why do you feel it’s so wide of the mark?
It’s a term that over-simplifies music and also groups together cultural traditions that have no connection to each other, apart from the fact they’re not from the Western World. It can be described as a necessary evil, perhaps, when trying to introduce new music to an audience, but I think people would quickly adapt if we got rid of it. There’s a very good article written by David Byrne about it. Burna Boy also touches on the subject when criticising the ‘afrobeats’ tag – it comes down to not understanding indigenous types of music from other countries, so instead we become lazy and group them all together. It’s most definitely our problem, but it affects the musicians most.
My personal issue with it is when someone like Diplo uses a rhythm sample or gets in a musician to play a melody that he then uses for some huge electro-swing banger that no one notices where it came from originally. That curiosity is just not there. And it’s a shame, really.
When did you decide that you wanted to start the label? Was there a moment that prompted it?
A few years ago I would say, we have some very good producers on our team so it became inevitable really. I think when we realised it wasn’t possible to do weekly Sundays anymore we felt the need to try new ideas, and naturally the label idea came about.
When you were putting the artists together did you have a hitlist or was it artists you had been working with over the years?
It was mainly people we’d already established a close connection with, that sense of family is really important. We’re only just getting started so we didn’t want to try something that didn’t feel natural. There are definitely some artists we’d love to work with though – there’s a lot of talent in Ireland and the UK right now!
‘Pass The Aux Cord’ got a great reaction online, but the live element of Sim Simma Soundsystem is still a key element. Is bringing the label to a live audience still important?
Absolutely, to us it feels like the marriage of two core elements – the musical identity and the social aspect. We’re bringing our music and connecting it to people. My favourite nights always involve someone toasting on the mic or teaching a whole room how to dance on the floor!
Was it important to have artists on the project from outside of Dublin, from different corners of the country?
Yes, we wanted to be sure that we’re not just living in our own Dublin bubble while the rest of the country is pushing things musically. It’s inspiring to see all the new artists coming out of Cork, Waterford, Galway, and Limerick especially. Ireland is small, bruh, we gotta stick together [laughs]!
What’s next for the label?
Perhaps a ‘Man Like Me’ video, along with some more visuals of the EP. A vinyl release is on the way too! Hopefully after that we’ll keep progressing, we’ve some exciting new projects with the likes of Toby Kaar, Fehdah and, eventually, maybe a collaborative album. But we’re taking things in baby steps, for the moment!
Sim Simma Soundsystem play Bulmers Forbidden Fruit on June 1.