- 12 Jun 23
After signing to UK label FAMM, Bricknasty have unleashed their groundbreaking and deeply personal debut EP, INA CRUELER. The Irish band’s frontman Fatboy talks Ballymun, division, sobriety, Francis Bacon, and finding a champion in Maverick Sabre.
As Bricknasty’s Fatboy says himself, it was a moment in Irish music that “no one could’ve seen coming”: a balaclava-clad Ballymun artist and his band of genre-splicing musicians landing a deal on the same label as an internationally renowned, multi-award-winning star like Jorja Smith.
“And I fucking love that no one could’ve seen it coming!” the frontman and guitarist adds.
Currently stripped of his trademark mask, Fatboy is reflecting on Bricknasty’s journey to signing with London-based label FAMM – through which they’ve just released their debut EP, the devastatingly raw and brilliantly boundary-pushing INA CRUELER.
Initially rising to prominence over lockdown, the band have established themselves as torchbearers of a defiant new movement in independent Irish music – powered by their fearlessly anarchic spirit, as well as their phenomenal, jazz-informed playing. It’s an approach that’s landed them slots at Primavera, Eurosonic and The Great Escape, as well as a sold-out London headline show.
But at the heart of INA CRUELER is an experimental yet tender portrait of Fatboy’s experiences growing up in Ballymun, and his childhood spent in the area’s famed flats, before their demolition.
“When I started making songs, and when I started making art, I always felt real estranged from Ballymun, and even from my family and friends,” he reflects now. “For years I couldn’t understand what they wanted me to be. It’s not that I didn’t feel loved. It was always just a thing like, ‘Ah, he’s a bit weird...’
“I was always writing little raps, and things like that,” he continues. “I still have all those first raps that I wrote years ago – they’re in my wardrobe! But that’s where it started. I always played drums, and I learned how to play guitar when I got a bit older.”
From a young age, he was glued to Eminem, 50 Cent and “real head-banger emo music” – while also soaking in the R&B his mam loved. With that foundation, most of his teenage years were spent in a band, playing his first gigs in The Reco in Ballymun.
He first connected with Bricknasty’s producer Cillian McCauley on Soundcloud, before meeting other members of the band when attending BIMM Dublin. With the introduction of lockdown, however, he decided that he “didn’t go to music college to fucking sit at a computer all day” – and subsequently dropped out.
But the newly formed band – featuring Dara Abdurahman on bass, drummer Korey Thomas, and Louis Younge on sax and keys – continued to work remotely.
“The whole EP is recorded in bedrooms, fire escapes, and backs of cars,” Fatboy reveals. “Cillian is just a fucking major talent. We think it’s more interesting when you use what you have, rather than looking to get more – like recording spoons and forks hitting off tables for little snare patterns. Even going back to 2018, it was mattresses getting used as kick drums – because there’s a sound to it.”
INA CRUELER also delves into the heavier aspects of Fatboy experiences growing up – tackling generational pain, violence and trauma in the locality at large. Music, he says, is “a good way to get closure.”
“When I was younger, I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to hit my kids,’” he recalls. “I thought that was just normal. But then lockdown happened, and loads of things started changing. I was like, ‘That’s actually stupid – and I don’t feel great about a lot of the violence that was going on.’ Not just in terms of getting a hiding for acting the bollix – just loads of mad things that went on, and went on in loads of gaffs in Ballymun. It caused more trouble than it fixed, in the long run.
“I had never really got the chance to talk to my ma, about that,” he continues. “I always was kind of scared to, because my ma gave me every opportunity that she could give me. She started mothering kids when she was a teenager, and it was her who had to raise me and my sister. She didn’t have any of the opportunities that I’ve been given by her, to think about how she was going to raise kids, or anything like that.
“So talking to her about it, I was trying to have reverence for it, but also I needed a bit of closure," he adds. "A bit of acknowledgment, so I could be like, ‘I know that was wrong, she knows that was wrong. Now we can celebrate the good stuff – because we’ve parked off all the weird shit now.’”
But with so much of himself and his family in the project – including voice recordings of personal conversations – Fatboy tells me that putting INA CRUELER out into the world was far from easy.
“I definitely was worried that they were all going to hate me, and I was going to get disowned,” he admits. “I always wanted to have a body of work that people thought was excellent, intellectually engaging, and emotionally impactful. But you’re never going to get something for nothing in life. If you want something brilliant, then you have to suffer brilliantly, and you have to risk brilliantly.
"My uncle passed away – and I went to the funeral and recorded at it, and those recordings made it onto the EP,” he continues. “I feel like a scumbag saying that. But it was my first time seeing my biological da in four years, and I wanted to have that on the project. On that song ‘prazsky’, I’m giving out about the last time I saw my da, and the punch-up outside of the gaff – and that all needed to come to a close on the EP, for it to be finished. So that was the only way I was going to be able to do that.”
He says that he still holds it against himself, making those recordings – but he also feels that it “had to happen.”
“When you hear my little sister, just before ‘ina crueler’ plays, she’s actually sobbing crying, outside the funeral, saying, ‘I never thought you’d do that. I never thought you’d talk to him again.' I recorded that, when it actually happened. Obviously I played it for her, and she’s alright with it, and she signed off on it, but that’s still scummy to do. I’m not telling anyone else to do that – but in order for me to do my biological da, my sister, my ma, and everyone justice, I had to operate in the morally grey area.”
As of just a few weeks ago, Fatboy is one year sober, having struggled with drink and drugs since he was a young teenager. The project was largely made when he was still using, and was “really unwell,” he says.
“My ma was a drug practitioner in the needle exchange clinic in town,” he recalls. “While she’d be working nights, I’d be literally around the corner from where she was working, in the city centre, muzzled off my chops. Guards would see me, and they wouldn’t even nick me. They’d just be like, ‘Just make sure he gets home.’ Because I’d be in that bad of a state.
“Obviously it’s a laugh and a joke when you’re a teenager, but really thinking about it, and talking to my ma about it, and making the songs about it – I was maiming myself,” he continues. “After doing that for a year, I was like, ‘I’ve seen now that I can’t live like that anymore, and I’m not the type of person who can live with drugs and alcohol.’”
Although he set out to capture his memories of a unique moment in Dublin’s history on INA CRUELER, he also finds that the world he chronicles on it is one that’s disappearing more and more everyday.
“I think Dublin’s getting ruined – and not in a whingebag, crying-about-gentrification sort of way,” he states. “But they’re out to destroy anything that’s special, and anything that’s characteristic of the city.
“Spend longer than 15 seconds in Dublin and you feel like you’re in a fucking Starbucks ad,” he adds. “There’s nothing there left of it. It’s been cannibalised and sold off to the highest bidder. And there’s young fellas who were born and raised in Dublin, being turned away from pubs – because you can tell they’re from Dublin. It’s fucked.”
There also appears to be more division in communities than ever. In regards to the recent protests in Ballymun, Fatboy states that anti-immigration political parties were responsible for stirring up much of the fear among local people.
“Covid’s only just happened, so people are scared,” he says. “I like making art about Ballymun, and talking about what’s going on in Ballymun – because I feel like I can help a little bit. But giving out about refugees isn’t going to do it.
“Like giving out about anti-vaxxers, and wokeness – it’s all in-house fighting, with other people who have pretty much the exact same problems as you do,” he adds. “It’s these hot topic issues that get played up on Facebook and on the telly. The plan is for us to just argue over these things forever, indefinitely. Dublin’s ruined now, and we didn’t notice – because we were too busy rowing over stupid things.”
As well as drawing inspiration from the city, Bricknasty's frontman credits photographer Ross McDonnell's Ballymun-set Joyrider project and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly as major influences. He's also drawn to the work of another Dublin-born artist.
“I love Francis Bacon,” he enthuses. “He always told people that he never used to draw – that he used to just sit down at canvas and tear into it, and whatever came out was what came out. It only came out after that they found a load of drawings by him. He was narrativising his own paintings for people – manipulating millions of people all over the world to perceive him in this particular fashion.
“Then when you look into the man, he was tortured,” he continues. “And the art reflected that. I love those sort of people – you can’t separate their work from who they are on the inside.”
The pair share some similarities too, Fatboy tells me.
“He’s asthmatic, and I’m severely asthmatic,” he reveals. “I don’t really suffer with it as much now, but when I used to be on the bag 24/7 – and obviously if I’m on the bag and on the drink I’m going to be smoking as well – my lungs were in bits all the time. And in my room, I used to just let the dirt pile up. Proper dirt, like half-eaten sausages left in the deli bag. I’d be writing in that filth.
“So when I went to see his studio, I just loved it,” he says of Bacon’s reconstructed studio in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. “Because you can tell he was just fucking possessed, to his last breath. And then when you find out he was this mad fucking flamboyant life-of-the-party character on top of that… I just love him.”
Another artist who’s been integral to Bricknasty’s career is their FAMM labelmate Maverick Sabre, who’s long had links with Ballymun acts like Urban Intelligence, and filmed his music video for ‘Drifting’ in the area.
“I always knew about him,” Fatboy says of the New Ross artist. “Loads of my mates are mad about his music, because he put so much effort into the area.”
Fatboy and Bricknasty’s drummer Korey plucked up the courage – admittedly, while they were “gargled out of it” – to send Maverick a voice message one night, asking if they could open for him at his Dublin show.
“He said yeah, because I was from Ballymun, and the songs weren’t half bad,” Fatboy recalls. “But he wasn’t expecting us to play the way that we play. Because we can, 100% – we can hang! So that’s what we did. From the minute we went to soundcheck, we started throwing out licks.
“The relationship developed from there,” he adds. “He saw something in us, and he took a gamble on it. We’re obviously very grateful for that. That sold-out London show that we just did – we wouldn’t have been able to do that without him. Obviously the record deal, the advance off the record deal – all of this stuff comes from him, and his team. He’s a fucking legend, and he’s so down to earth.”
Looking back at the emotional turmoil through which INA CRUELER was created – and the deeply personal territory it delves into – Fatboy tells me that, for the last year or so since making it, he’s been “totally spent”.
“This is going to sound dramatic, but I was like, ‘This is going to be the last thing I ever do,’” he states. “Because I was so all over the place in my head. I was like, ‘I’m going to do this, and then I’m going to go off and do something mad, and you’ll never see me again.’ But that’s obviously not the case – and I know that now.
“The EP was the biggest goal that we ever set: ‘How do we make something that actually has value, innately?’ Something that stands on its own, and people want to fucking engage with it. Now that that’s done, we’ve got little goals formulating, and it’s starting to heap back up again now. I can feel it.”
INA CRUELER is out now. Bricknasty play Beyond The Pale (June 16) Otherside Festival (July 7), and All Together Now (August 5). They're also embarking on a tour of Ireland and the UK in November – with tickets available here.