Hot Press speaks with Sylk ahead of their Whelan's headliner about DIY production, their favourite songs off the album and their plans for their next Georgian house party EP launch.
I met one half of up-and-coming duo Sylk, Bebhinn McDonnell, at the James Vincent Mcmorrow concert last Friday. She and a few friends posed for a Hot Press photo, arranging their hair in a cut out of Bellx1 and JVM and posing goofily. “She’s actually in a band. They're playing Whelan’s,” her blonde friend tells me as she collects her pint from the ground. Bebhinn shakes her head slightly and rolls her eyes, and if they had left right then, I might have thought her friend was just making a joke. Instead, Bebhinn jotted down Sylk’s website down for me, and I went home to give it a listen.
McDonnell (sound) and Taylor Doyle’s (vocals) debut EP, Nwyr, was released at the end of April— less than a year after the band officially got together. The music is dark, with an emphasis on experimental bass beats and gritty vocals from Doyle.
Sylk was formed in November of 2016 and has taken the Dublin electronic music scene by storm. Doyle tells me, “We were friends for a good few years, and we were trying to be in a band for like seven years, but we never got around to it. I’m from Clare, and I moved up to Dublin, and we were like, “Okay, let’s actually start a band.”
2017 has held more success than the two Irish artists anticipated, with a gig supporting Karms at Whelan’s in May, a Body & Soul performance on the Pagoda stage and a mainstage Whelan’s performance tonight as part of the Summer Watch series. Body & Soul was a dream come true for Sylk. “Oh my god, it was amazing,” they tell me. “It was kind of our dream, and we were saying we aimed for next year  to play it, so we couldn’t believe that we were actually doing it. We go there every year, so to go as an artist was amazing. We were taking photos of everything, like our wristbands and the performer’s entrance.”
Both McDonnell and Doyle are big believers in creating an experience at their shows, paying close attention to visual aspects such as lighting and projections, with artistic contributions from their close friends. “We always knew we wanted it to be a kind of audio visual experience. When we formed as a band, we also formed a creative group with all our best friends, called the Sylk collective. One of the guys in that is practically the third member [of Sylk]. He should be honorary. He gets closer and closer to the stage at each gig,” they say, laughing about their dear friend and collaborator, Fiach. “He started off on the side where you couldn’t see him, then at the very back and now he’s practically on stage. He does our cinematography, the lights and the photography.”
Sylk are a self-run band, producing their EP entirely on their own. Sylk creates music in their own home studio which is a huge benefit for the group. “We’re kind of lucky because we can just keep making music anytime we want to. We don’t have to go to a recording studio. We couldn't afford to do that.” Sylk’s unique method of producing music — writing and recording each song as it comes along— also lends itself to DIY production. “We’re so lucky to do our own writing and recording,” Taylor tells me. “I feel like if someone else came in, it would be different. We’re so on the same level. It’s like a relationship.” McDonnell, who has her masters in music production, adds in, “A lot of inspiration in production comes from manipulating things like Taylor's voice. It’s not really about us; it’s about our sound.”
This humble appraisal of their work makes the edgy lyrics of Nwyr even more surprising. While you might assume that McDonnell and Doylan are referencing some steamy personal affair from lyrics such as “Put your hands on my body/fuck me up like you want me/and come and give it to me now” in ‘U,’ the two admit that the song doesn’t really relate to them. “We sat down, and were like, ‘Let’s try and write something a little bit controversial, and it worked! “It’s one of my favourite songs to do live because it's this whole other persona.” Bebhinn chimes in, “We thought it was funny because neither of us are really like that.”
When asked for a favourite song off Nwyr, both women chose ‘Liquid’ — a metaphor for relying on a person like alcohol. “It’s fresher to us, especially because we didn’t expect to have it on our EP. It was very quick — we wrote it in a day and edited it in a week, and it felt right. I felt like the lyrics were cool, like I could relate to this one.”
Plastered across their social media sites is Sylk’s motto, “Controversy. Distortion. Manipulation” — a good descriptor for their newest work. McDonnell says that they get lots of inspiration from experimental classical new music, but they don’t want to fall fully into that genre. “We’re trying to blend that into more mainstream. So we’re dark, but trying to blend it so it still sounds nice in your ear.”
Without wasting a moment, Sylk are already onto their next record, with three new songs already in progress. The new release will continue the main pillars of the Sylk collective, while also adding in some house music influences. “We’d love to have this set where everyone’s jumping up and down,” they say. “Like keep it dark and distorted and kind of grungy, but have a certain underlying flow that’s something everyone could move to, so that we’re not like, “jump” and everyone’s like “I don’t know how to jump to this!”
The new EP will also contain several remixes so that Sylk can feature DJ sets at shows. Hunt & Gather has already booked the young group for a two-hour set this Halloween, so the DJ sets will be placed between songs to keep everyone going.
Sylk has no plans for slowing down, either. “I think our goal is to play every festival.” Taylor says. The ambitious duo also has plans for a new kind of listening experience on their next EP launch— in a Georgian house on Henrietta st. with tons of lights, naturally. “Each room would be completely black with smoke and atmospheric light. There would be a different song from the album playing in each room through headphones,” they say, clearly having thought about the experience many times before. “So, you’ll hear the EP, but when you walk into the room it’ll be all this crazy, experimental sound.”
Catch them tonight at Whelan’s!