“Our history books are being written day by day by the artists around us, and that’s a very powerful thing.”
Get Adam ‘Mathman’ Fogarty talking about Irish hip-hop and he goes off on one, in a good way. The producer half of Dublin grime firestarters Mango x Mathman, Fogarty gets animated when he’s talking about the ever-expanding scene here, whether that’s shutting down festivals with Mango or throwing battle sessions for rising beatmakers.
The latest venture to get him buzzing is Hennessy presents the Midnight Circus at Body & Soul – where he’s curating a stage of fresh hip-hop, urban and street sounds on the Friday night, with a 50/50 split between Irish and international acts.
“It’s genuinely very exciting,” he says, over a lunch in a D2 pub, before giving me the first taste of the line-up, headed by the sleek urban jazz and trap sounds of IAMDDB, “who’ll bring the waviest of vibes and attitude on the Friday night. I expect the place to be rammed for her, get down early”.
He adds: “I’m really excited to see Octavian… he’s definitely on a wave right now with his latest track and collaboration with Skepta, and Ms Banks is one of the most exciting artists coming out of the UK right now. Riddim, bass, attitude and style – and her Irish debut too.”
Fogarty’s holding one big artist close to his chest for now, but he assures us it’ll be announced soon, and he can reveal the “talk of the town”, West Belfast as Gaeilge hip-hop crew Kneecap are bringing the Hood life to Body & Soul.
And even though it’s an exclusive, we’re not exactly shocked at who’s rounding off the announcement, as Fogarty ‘reveals’: “Mango x Mathman… it wouldn’t be a Mathman-endorsed stage without the team on that! Festival shows feel like home to us. We love coming down and absolutely smashing our live set. People should be ready for some new music and tops off.
“That to me is a really strong and diverse lineup, male and female, equal parts international and Irish, and it’s really reflective of how the Irish urban and street music scene is right now. Things like this, it isn’t necessarily about doing people favours, this is about genuinely underlining the talent and giving them the platform when it’s justified.”
The 50/50 Irish billing is a big one for Fogarty. He was Creative Director of The Story of Hip-Hop with the RTE Concert Orchestra that was the talk of festivals over the last two years, and it’s no hot take to assume Irish acts are being written into that wider story along with acts from the US and later the UK and beyond. The hip-hop spectrum is wide enough for a MxM No Surrender basement grime rave or a hopping B&S stage in Westmeath to fit somewhere alongside a Bronx block party.
“The beautiful thing about the urban and hip-hop music scene in Ireland, we don’t just do one thing anymore,” Fogarty says. “Traditionally we would’ve made the boom-bap records and boom-bap style rapping, now we’ve got everything – grime, trap, neo-soul, rap, that shoegaze type of stuff, we’ve got garage we’ve got bashment, we’ve got Afro-swing, the breadth in terms of the genre alone is massive.”
Adam was once a member of hip-hop crew The Animators along with Mango, and when they launched their debut album in Dublin’s Bernard Shaw, they had a ‘parental advisory’ sign sprayed outside: “Warning: Dublin accents.” It seems almost quaint now thinking that was once a barrier to Irish hip-hop fans.
“Our own insecurity about being Irish artists played a part in us resisting the accents,” Fogarty says. “For many years Irish people were never comfortable hearing that. And now even when I say Irish accents I don’t just mean a ‘traditional’ accent like how I talk as a Dubliner. An Irish accent can be anything these days as it’s fluid and moving in different ways, because of all these different cultural and international influences.
“Over the last 10 years and even the last three or four years the standard of everything has been lifted so far that it can stand shoulder to shoulder with international counterparts, and that’s why I think this Midnight Circus stage is so strong. When the quality of your music can do all the talking, you don’t have to worry about where you’re from. If it’s good it’s good, and nothing else really matters.”
Even though he’s focused on new music, Fogarty is quick to pay dues to the artists who paved the way in less welcoming times – hoping he and other contemporary artists can somehow lift the scene while remembering their legacy.
“I’ve lived for this since I was 13 or 14, and if anything I do can help anyone it’s a great privilege, I’ll do it forever,” he says. “It’s a great privilege to be able to help people.
“I love to see people do well and get better. We have a chance to be a bigger part in the evolution of something. Our history with urban and hip-hop music stated in the late 80s, early 90s with acts like Scary Eire, Marxman… I don’t want to start a big list because I’ll miss loads.
“It’s progressed to where we are now and this feels like a bigger chapter. I used to have a catalogue and I was able to keep up with all of the Irish hip-hop music up until about three years years ago and I just can’t anymore. I’m missing records and missing artists, and that’s amazing, man.
“When we were in the Animators, we had a benchmark, and that was whoever came before us, you aim higher. Then other artists are gonna come up and maybe achieve a hell of a lot more. The benchmark is always being reset and that helps with the evolution of the scene. If we’re all on one level nothing grows.
“It still feels like it’s in its infancy, but every time we create something or we get a slot at a festival or we get on TV or get mentioned in an article, we’re literally writing our own history book – right now.”
- Hennessy and Body & Soul presents the Midnight Circus stage on Friday, June 21. Body & Soul runs from June 21-23 at Ballinlough Castle in Co Westmeath. See bodyandsoul.ie.