Fusion music for the masses

by James Hendicott
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A product of both a top-class education in jazz, and the inventive expansion of the Irish music scene in recent years, BARQ – a soulful, imaginative and lively Dublin act with a boisterous stage presence – are on a fast-rising path.

Having featured on the cover of Hot Press and made the Irish Times’ list of 50 People To Watch in 2017, frontwoman Jess Kavanagh – who’s also worked with Hozier and Lethal Dialect – sees the band’s music very much as a fusion of its members’ varied influences.
“The scene today comes from easy access to music all over the world,” she says. “When I grew up, you had a musical identity, like ‘I’m a rocker’, and you went to whatever section in Tower Records was selling the rock music. It was part of who you were.

“People don’t consume music like that any more, it comes from a multitude of places now. Now, Ireland also has all these music and cultures that didn’t exist here ten years ago,” Stephen McHale adds.
“As soon as people had MP3 players, I remember people started talking about different things – my friends listened to Malian bands, classical music, orchestral tracks, stuff like that. Odd tracks here and there.

“It wasn’t so ‘vertical’; not the whole catalogue from one band, but a really wide range of genres. That was a big shift, and it affected everything.
“We spent four years playing jazz, and that feeds into what we do, too. I don’t think we feature anything we don’t have some background in, so it feels authentic and natural to us, even if it does sound a little bit like ‘What is that?’ to outsiders.

“It’s a combination of what we all listen to: jazz, Kendrick Lamar, stuff like that.”
Of the early days, Kavanagh recalls: “Tommy [Gray], drummer, was living in what we called ‘the jazz house’, and we spent a lot of time messing around with music.

“We were listening to music around the kitchen table and drinking wine. There was a jazz quartet, a Motown group and then a hip-hop covers group before we got to BARQ.
“We settled into a sound in the hip-hop covers band, and so when we started writing our own songs, the overall sound was already there.

“I think we finished off the bat as a kind of ready, finished product with a sheen because of that background playing music for so long.
“There was a concept to begin with, and that’s really helped. The material is there to do an album; we’ll be sticking to one song at a time for now, though.
“Hopefully, when we put out something big, they’ll be a larger audience there ready to hear it.”

The process has been challenging, at times, and BARQ are careful about what they release.
Kavanagh says: “With this generation, more than any other, your creative process is in the public eye in a way it hasn’t been before.

“Every single, every part of our creative process is out there on Spotify. We need to take our time to make sure our style is right, and the songs are class.
“Essentially, we want every track on the album, when it does come, to be as good as the singles.
“We had three songs recorded and ready to be released before we played our first gig. It was ready, and so was the full set, for festivals and stuff.

“What we do is unashamedly, unavoidably political. There’s so much going on now, and I’m a very political person,” Kavanagh adds.
“Like the style of our music, it feels completely natural to me. This is just who we are.”
BARQ play the main stage on June 23 at Body and Soul, which takes place June 22-24 in Ballinlough Castle, Westmeath.

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