It’s a cold, rainy evening in Cologne in January 2019. A group of people is standing outside an inconspicuous building, waiting for the doors to open. There is an anxiety in the air, the anticipation of witnessing something great, something unique this evening. Inside, there is a room not much bigger than a large garage with space for about 100 people.
The year just started and although having only released a couple of singles at this point, the band that is playing on that night is already getting so much attention, that everything that should follow in the next twelve month is not surprising at all. Exactly 284 days later, the five musicians of Fontaines D.C. return to Cologne on the second show of their European tour. The location is the sold-out Kantine, a well-established venue a little outside with nearly ten times the capacity compared to that garage ten month ago. The show even got upgraded from the legendary Gebäude 9. The hype was “too real”, the demand to high: Even the upgraded location was sold-out two month beforehand.
“I really haven’t thought about it” was Conner Deegan’s reaction asked about how it feels coming back to this town, where not too long ago only a hand full of people compared to the crowd expected today came to see their concert. Sitting in the backstage-room of the venue, he seems calm and relaxed. After letting the thought sink in and carefully considering his words, he says: “Honestly, it makes me think about what kind of band we want to be.”
That kind of band
What kind of band Fontaines D.C. are has not only been up to themselves in the last couple of month, but in the categorisation of magazines and fans. “When you start a band and you play very small venues it feels really like everyone is there for the music. And then, when you start to grow as a band it becomes something more outside of you self. And it becomes the people who dictate the expectations of you.” From the beginning on Fontaines D.C. were facing comparisons, connotations and expectations what kind of band they are, can or should be. Shame and IDLES were names often used in one sentence when people started talking about this exciting new band from Dublin. Without necessarily referring to any kind of similarity in sound or aesthetics, Conner can relate to that: “It makes sense because we toured with them. IDLES are on the same label, we are friends with them.” But talking about post-punk bands from the UK, names like The Clash or The Fall lie on hand. “We didn’t even listen to them [The Fall] when we wrote “Hurricane Laughter”. We never thought about a post-punk sound. When your band is trying to be authentic and people compare you to someone else it’s a bit annoying.”
In April the band released their well-acclaimed debut record Dogrel which just ended up at #9 in our Top 50 list of 2019’s best albums. Five of the eleven songs on Dogrel had already been previously released and caused a whole lot of noise within the indie/post-punk community. The ambitions the band set themselves for their debut were quite high: “We had the ambition of being like The Strokes. The Strokes recorded their first album live and we wanted to be able to do that as well.” Even if there are already more than enough comparisons to other bands out there, you can find parallels between these two as well, besides the fact, that both recorded their debut record live: The Strokes and their ground-breaking debut Is This It from 2001 got celebrated as the saviour of indie- and garage rock, being the protagonists of a hype, that would shape the musical landscape of a whole decade. Now, 18 years later the debut of the Irish lads surrounds a similar vibe. Dogrel is one of the few left pure guitars records in many of this year’s best-of-lists. In a genre that has been stagnating for years and nearly desperately longing for some fresh input the band managed to meet the demand and give honest, hand-made music – without unnecessary gimmicks “like crazy guitar solos”, as Conner puts it. “I hear what people say; they say they connect to the lyrics a lot. They like that it’s not full of bullshitty things.”
The city of Dublin plays an important role in the music of Fontaines D.C and in the lyrics of Grian Chatten. “Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a catholic mind.” are the opening lines of the record. And it ends with the acoustic folk song Dublin City Sky, a lovely homage to the life in the city itself. Dublin is the place they all met, the birthplace of Connor and drummer Tom Coll. But also the city of recession and a youth in modest circumstances. Asked about breaking down the essence of growing up in Dublin in one or two sentences Connor simply replies: “Postpartum depression.”
After the economically blooming years in Ireland from the 90s to the end of the last decade, known as the Celtic Tiger, the country got hit by a bad recession, which had a heavy impact of growing up in Ireland. “When the economy was booming in the 90s and early 2000s we were all kids and it was really great. And then basically our entire lives since we were children has been really, really bad recession. So it’s like postpartum depression: It’s all great when you’re pregnant, and then you wake up and you don’t love your child any more”. Bringing up a comparison to a psychological disorder (which can effect parents after the birth of their child) when talking about his hometown as a young male might not be the best metaphor and doesn’t speak for Connor’s sensibility to those people actually suffering from this. But still it displays the ambivalent relationship the band has to its home. A deeply rooted romantic love and at the same time an aversion to this country resulting out of the lack of perspective, both influencing the artistic work of the band. Hearable in the honest poetry of singer Grian Chatten, hearable in the roughness of their sound aesthetics. “That would be a sociological impact and not necessarily a conscious decision. It is like life effecting us.” Conner says.
Gonna Be Big
But the band managed to get out of this unfortunate relationship with their home. As if Chatten had a wise foreseeing, he already claimed it on the first song on the record. “My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big” Chatten repetitively chants as if he likes to first convince himself, then the band and then everyone else out there. And latest with the record out, people know that he wasn’t dreaming. A nomination for the Mercury Price and a year of nearly constantly touring with about hundred live shows, including an almost completely sold out headline tour in the US after supporting IDLES on their US-tour earlier this year. What fascinates on the recent hype around this band is that it attracts people from different generations. Young people as well as mid-50s and 60s, who probably experienced “the real thing” back in the day and in some way or the other the music of Fontaines D.C. brings up images and emotions of back then.
Even though being able to take this appreciation as a compliment, Conner and the rest of the band are quite self confident of their musical output themselves. “We knew we made a record that we were really happy with and that we thought was really good.”, he confidently says. “It’s just a question a band has to ask themselves: What kind of art you want to make? How big you want to get?” Obviously, Fontaines D.C. already answered this question for themselves: “Well, we recorded our second album just last month. We actually got it done before starting this tour so…”, leaving the rest for interpretation. With an outlook like this, we can’t wait for 2020 to start.
The stunning Dogreal is out now via Partisan, expect a follow-up in 2020 and don’t forget to catch these guys live whenever you get the chance.