What does it mean to make music?
For many, it’s a diversion from some of life’s most difficult times. For others, it’s a way to release accumulated energy and frustration, and yelling into a microphone or typing notes into a keyboard helps relieve the ever-increasing stress of the world around us. For an electronic artist born in Ireland and based in Lisbon Olan Monk, however, it is important that music, especially pop, carries weight with it. Telling a story, informing and adding sound to the moment we find ourselves in our lives.
Monk’s latest project âAuto-Lifeâ explores these themes through the prism of performance. Originally designed and created with performance in mind, it was trapped in a state of limbo, waiting for the right moment to truly find its way into crowded venues and venues across the globe. Drenched in beautifully arranged, self-tuned vocals, accompanied so richly by guitar riffs, the project opens and ends with the roar of a crowd in an attempt to capture the inner beauty of live music within the confines of a tender isolation.
Throughout the creation of the project, Monk began to consider not only what performance means to music, but also what it means to play music. âA lot of what music has lost over the last year and a half has been this community experience,â says Monk, âsharing space and listening to music, and that’s what is so exciting about ‘come back’.
‘Auto-Life,’ Monk admits, is as much an attempt for them to discover their own connections and influences as it is to provide a backdrop for the more personal reflections of others. “I was trying to figure out what makes up the music that I make, thinking about this line of young superstars, rock music and rap music and these burnout figures and thinking about that from a way that deals with some of the heaviness and in terms of social and cultural weight, âthey remind us of the stars we lost too early in their own creative journey, whether by misfortune or by choice.â It’s tragic, but at the same time there maybe a way to re-imagine it all “they add,” and this project tries to imagine what it would be like if you were going through this and what it would be like to come out the other side. “
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Monk was born and raised in the most westerly region of Ireland, Connemara Co. Galway. Growing up in an Irish speaking region, they were bilingual from a young age and often found themselves spending time walking and wandering the beaches and fields surrounding their home. Surrounded by traditional Irish music, Monk found himself going against the grain and delving deep into the history of punk and grunge, with bands such as Nirvana as the backdrop for many long nights.
That sense of isolation, Monk admits, can still be heard in their work today, with ‘Auto-Life’ proving Monk’s first real attempt to blend the more insular elements of synth and electronics with guitar. and the more throaty drums of their youth. âThere is something very isolating in a positive sense about growing up in the middle of nowhere in Ireland,â they add, âand that more than what was happening around me musically, can be heard in what I do today â.
âConnemara is so important to meâ, explains Monk, âmy sense of belonging comes from the fact that I grew up there and now I live on the coast of Portugal and it is still the Atlantic that I have. attracts one way or another. This is where I started making music, not traditional Irish music but Nirvana scams â. Despite this initial rejection of their hometown’s musical history, they have recently found themselves in love with some of Ireland’s most traditional sounds and styles. âSean Nos is one of the most inspiring things there is,â they note, âthere are these links between Sean Nos and traditional African singing and it is clear that we still have a lot to learn about it. which is truly inspiring â.
From Galway, Monk spent his early adult years performing in bands across Dublin before moving to London, where they began to delve into the tones and textures of electronic music. In 2018, they released their first project “Inis / Anam”, which Monk himself describes as their attempt to replicate their unpbring, “with no one around, just doing what came naturally to me”. They followed up in February 2020 with the visceral gothic pop ‘Love / Dead’, a 10-track debut album that saw Monk reflect on the transience of life and the inevitability of death. By comparison, ‘Auto-Life’ is full of the joys of spring.
âI really focused on this release and getting everything ready and together for it,â Monk describes of preparing for the projects release. “Now that the music’s out, with all this change over the last 18 months, I’m just thinking about how to bring it to people after so long.”
And that day is getting closer and closer, with Olan’s long-awaited return to the stage taking place in London’s own CafÃ© Oto. âThe Oto cafÃ© was really part of my experience in London when I lived there,â they explain of their decision to make it part of their live comeback. âI booked this show because it seemed possible, we were in discussion with the venue about safety and all, and it seemed like the right place to start, the right size and not jump straight into something bigger “.
Like their work, Olan Monk is seen as beyond measure, always open to exploring where music can take them.
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‘Auto Life’ is now available. Olan Monk will perform at CafÃ© Oto in London on October 21 – buy a ticket here.
Words: CaÃ¯lÃ©an coffee
Photo credit: Ines Baptista
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