Word Up Collective
Changing times bring creativity and collaboration for this new Dublin collective
Ireland is in a constant flux of transition, and cultural shifts bring endless inspiration. When societies mold, mesh and change, it allows an explosion of coalitions, collaborations, and creativity. As new scenes and influences blend into society, they impact musical journeys.
Meet Word Up Collective - a new platform to promote the urban music scene in Ireland and to change how musicians interact, promote, develop and push themselves onto the Irish and international music scene. They take inspiration from overseas collectives and groups, fellow artists, as well as from immigrant influences on Irish music and society.
With a rock-solid roster of artists, led by music industry heavyweights Phil & Annette Udell, it’s clear that Word Up Collective is something uniquely special.
Describing themselves as “a Dublin-based collective of like-minded souls working in hip-hop, spoken word, R&B, rap, pop and related genres” - they believe no man is a musical island. Word Up Collective are heavily influenced by each other - it’s a symbiotic up down relationship. There are endless opportunities to learn, collaborate or jump on stage with each other (as can happen at their monumental Bello Bar gigs). What makes Word Up Collective a sustainable success is the marrying of the creative and business elements within the music industry. There are lessons here for the Irish music scene - not just the urban music genre.
Pictures by Dave Sexton from one of Word Up Collective's regular showcases in Bello Bar
Phil & Annette Udell, Founders of Word Up Collective.
What was the lightbulb moment for an urban music collective?
AU: We wanted to promote that whole scene because we knew it was coming up through the ranks. We knew that the likes of Hare Squead and Rusangano Family existed - there was all these talented acts out there that needed help or nurturing or just a hand in getting a gig. This is a new strain of urban music coming through and rather than the stereotypical gangster rap we have a new kind of Christian rap and Christian hip-hop coming through. All the lyrics are deeply seeded in gospel and it’s really interesting lyrically as well as live - it’s an incredible experience. In the future hopefully there will be a lot more of it and will be incorporated into the mainstream and not as sectioned off here as it is at the moment.
PU: There has always been that inner city Dublin scene, what you have now is second generation of artists who have African parents. It’s inspired by where I came from in England, or grime in East London - where there is a tradition of making music within communities. I think the future of it will start to develop its own sound - you get things that work through. You have Katie Laffan working with Damola or Tebi Rex - they will all add their own twist to it.
What’s in it for the artists to come on board with the collective?
AU: It’s a collective that it’s not just the musicians or us - there are also songwriters, poets, spoken word, videographers - so it does have that sense of collective. It does offer them the opportunity to work with other people and learn from other people within the collective.
PU: We work on the media side as well - we send stuff out to radio and we do management for a couple of the artists. It’s not just a case that guys knew each other but no one has really worked together. You have a gig like tonight where people will jump on stage with each other - and that’s where it starts to get really interesting.
What has the reaction from the industry been like - highs, and lows?
AU: I don’t think there have been many lows to be honest, it’s accelerated and gotten better and better - we have had a lot of interest not only from Ireland but from abroad. We have never applied for funding as yet, purely on the basis we wanted to make sure that it actually did work. We don’t need it as such now, but when we go on to develop our record label...to get some money to record - that’s what I would look for funding for.
PU: Aoife Woodlock from Other Voices was at the very first show has been incredibly supportive, and she booked Dyramid to play on the spot. We have put tracks out to radio - the Aik J single did really well. Every song that they put out we help them, were not a label we are not going to put it out for them - but once they do it we are going to give them a nudge in the right direction. Lows? Some people don’t get it and there are a few rivalries - but we are all working the same end really. The Bello gigs have been getting better and better, and we have been doing Electric Picnic and Cork Jazz Festival too. It’s turning it into a business now for everyone that’s the next thing, all musicians are struggling to earn a living, so we want to try and find a way to make one.
What’s the biggest challenge for artists in the music scene in Ireland?
AU: I think getting heard outside the Irish music industry, because it’s too small. We looked at other hip hop collectives, the likes of Doomtree in Minneapolis, and the underground hip hop scene in Germany and Paris which are huge. We try and make contacts there and actually swap over and exchange music and ideas, it’s the same ethos of the collective but take it outside Ireland and make sure it gets heard in other places.
PU: How to earn money from it - earning money from music shouldn't be a dirty word. We are putting Katie Laffan’s single out - will the public buy it or will they stream it on someone's website? We have to try and find a way of turning that into something else and that’s the next step. I think everyone in the industry is just trying to figure that out.
What advice would you give to someone who sees a gap in the market and wants to establish something?
AU: You have to be passionate, it’s not instant returns or rewards, this has been very fast to take off but you have to work very hard to push it. Social media does mean the world - one thing we did realise was that two older people managing a collective aren't going to have the same voice as a lot of the artists in the collective. That too is where the collective works - because they are the ones that can help us. Be very vigilant of everything that’s going on around you. Even from a management perspective be aware of your limitations - get everyone working to their strengths, if you want to start something make sure you have the right people doing the right jobs and try and promote yourself in the best way you can.
What’s your vision for the next 5 years?
AU: Ideally to have our own stage at a few festivals, create more of a media and social media presence, whether that’s a Facebook live channel or YouTube channel and from that grow into a natural record label, as a platform to put out music.
PU: We would like to be the start of something and that in five years time there are people who go “I was there and that night in the Bello Bar” or “that night at EP”. When you look back and think it all kinda kicked of and became something - because this is really important.
I moved here when I was 13 from Nigeria. I was listening to a lot of African and Nigerian music back in the day, and had a lot of huge Jamaican reggae and dancehall influence. I remember listening to artists like Majek Fashek, Daddy Showkey and stuff like that.
I used to write stories at first when I was like 8 or 9 years old. I was in boarding school in Nigeria for 3 years, when I turned 13 I came to Ireland. I seen some people doing music, rapping in Ireland, a lot of people from African descent doing the whole rap thing - I always wanted to get involved. To be honest with you it was more like peer pressure - not peer pressure in a bad way, it was just a thing that everyone was trying this.
I have a strong hip hop background - I have bring that Jamaican flavour every now and then in my music. I do a lot of speed rap, quick flows and that kind of thing.
The first challenge was looking for a place to record, that’s what drove me into producing because I was not able to afford a professional studio. I just put some money together and bought my own equipment and set up my own studio from there. Other challenges were trying to connect with industry people and also building a fanbase.
Really believe in what you are doing - don’t derail from ideas you have or from the dream you have, but also be very analytical about what you are doing. I think it’s about finding that balance between being confident and believing in yourself, but also being very critical of what you do and always trying to improve as well. I think it’s quite difficult to actually find that balance, coz a lot of the time you can become too confident and you don’t want to listen to advice that can actually help you, or being too critical and don’t believe in yourself.
I started playing the drums when I was 12 - weird drums like bossanovas and latins and stuff like that, that’s where I get the funky styles from. I found GarageBand on my Dad’s computer and I got obsessed with it. I then moved on to Logic Pro, and went to college since just to study music.
I started playing live about 3 years ago, and I got a band last year. Playing live solo was a bit boring, I wasn’t even enjoying it so I got the band, it’s gotten more gigs with the band so it’s obviously a bit better than what I was doing before.
When I was younger I was on the cover of Hot Press with this competition (The Big Break), yet I didn’t really know how to get gigs - it wasn’t in any book...that was a big obstacle to me. How do you get gigs?...what do you do when you record a song - who do you send it to? - that’s only something we have learned in the past year.
I played a State Faces gig for Phil, he told me to send him my EP. He just told me all about the collective and what they were doing and I just thought it was a brilliant idea. They are a booking agent in some ways, they help out with getting gigs, their advice is really important because they tell you when something is shit and they are honest about it.
(Portrait of Katie Laffan by Ruth Medjber)
Matt O' Baoill from Tebi Rex
I remember getting a phone call from Phil one night in my room and being really excited.
He was putting together this hip hop collective and we were mad to get involved. We thought it was a good idea, the idea of a label and a collective.
We are really heavy on identity - myself and Max are crazy different. I’m an Irish language enthusiast, involved in student politics, he’s a writer, debater, and a massive wordsmith. Even our look is different - I’m a pasty white ginger dude and he’s this black minority. We have this juxtaposition in our group where you wouldn't expect me to do heavy rap, yet you wouldn't expect him to do an indie vibe either. Identity is really a essential part of what Tebi Rex is.
Word Up Collective is a sense of community, it’s a sense of sharing an interest with people that are just as enthusiastic and as passionate as you are and you can see it. Everyone is so different and everyone gives something different to the collective, and then everyone uses it as a different outlet. They have pushed us along massively- they give us the freedom to do whatever we want and supported it even if the idea is stupid or not.
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