In Conversation | King Kong Company: “We play every gig like it’s our last because it might be.”

King Kong Company occupy a vital space in the realm of the Irish music scene. In what can sometimes seem like a sea of acoustic, unflavoured bedwetters, their sinister, rhythmic beats and blistering live sets offer a breath of fresh air. The 90s dance revivalists have gone from reliable cult act to perennial festival favourites since they made the decision to re-emerge in the last few years.

Nearly two decades after they began, KKC’s self-titled debut album finally arrived this year to much acclaim. Mark Graham came into the band when they reformed in 2011. Ahead of their gig in The Academy on September 30 which promises to give “people as much bang for their buck as possible”, we caught up with Graham on a blustery Wednesday evening…

HeadStuff: You’re fresh from Electric Picnic. How was it?

MARK GRAHAM: It was epic. When we go and play a gig, you’re always worried. “Is anybody gonna turn up?”, and even if they do turn up you worry about playing well. But we were blown away. Not only was the tent packed   but I think there was as many people outside as there was inside, and they were dancing in the rain. So, you kind of feel a bit humbled when you see something like that. You feel a bit privileged when you’re given the headlining slot at a tent at Electric Picnic.

King Kong Company have been a real festival band for years now, haven’t they?

I think it’s a simple recipe, really. We like festivals. Our approach to playing at a festival is kind of like our approach to being at a festival. We are trying to enjoy ourselves as much as possible. It’s like that thing, you know if you’re enjoying yourself and you meet a randomer at a festival, and they come over and they start enjoying themselves too. I don’t quite know how, but we somehow manage to do that musically.

You mentioned in an interview that the original line-up started in part as a “reaction to the standard way of doing things in the music industry.” Was the decision to come back helped by the fact it’s now easier to circumvent those traditional structures?

When we started playing first we were young fellas and I think it was definitely difficult for us to even get gigs as we were only starting off. But there are tools in place now that can help and a lot of those tools like YouTube have been invaluable in getting us gigs and establishing a kind of foothold for us. The other part of it, I think, is that we have kind of served our time since then. At that stage, we were just coming out of school. We are better musicians now, more experienced and maybe a bit more canny. We play every gig like it’s our last because it might be.

You broke up in the early 2000s. Had this album come out then, would it have sounded much different?

I think so. The influences that are there we picked up along the way. It’s hard to categorise what we do, the best attempt would be “dubby-electro rock” and electro rock wasn’t something that really existed when we started out. We would have taken our cue from a lot of dance bands from the 90s like Leftfield and The Prodigy. But there’s also a lot of LCD Soundsystem in there as well, who weren’t around back then. We branched out a bit too. I was playing in a lot of ska and reggae bands. There’s the influence of The Bloody Beetroots in there as well. So, There is a lot of stuff that happened between when we were young fellas and when we released this album.

Famed Prodigy producer Neil McLellan worked on the record. How did that come about?

We had one song left, and we were talking about who would be a good person to do this and came across his name in relation to Universal Audio. They make audio equipment. We did the interview with him and he was ticking all the right boxes with what he was saying. So on spec, we sent him an e-mail, sent him a track. Asked him would he be into mixing it and he said “hell yeah!” He did such a good job on that one track that we had him do the whole album. A really nice fella, and a joy to work with. A buddy now, I think.

‘Donkey Jaw’ has a refreshingly candid and humorous attitude to the realities of drug use in this country. Do you think they’d allow you to play it on The Late Late Show?

If they let us, it’s going to be our next single. Surprisingly, it’s been played already on 2fm. When we wrote that, it came from true stories. Its one of the reasons it’s popular. Its tongue in cheek, you know. Let’s be honest; it’s what happens at festivals. I think it was The Sun who were asking us about the references. The answer was we were only writing about what we know about and that’s what happens. You can either ignore it, write a love song or you can do what we wanted to do, which is to write about what happens around us at festivals.

Do you think the song getting an airing on 2fm reflects a changing Ireland?

We’re not trying to change the world or anything .We are only writing about things that we know about and sticking our tongue in our cheek while we do it. That song is not going to change anything, at all. But maybe it will get played in some places that it doesn’t usually get played. I think that there is a disconnect in society where there are those things that do happen within a certain slice of the community, that the other slice just doesn’t know about. And they’d be shocked if they did.

I was reading your A Year of Festivals blog. How did you manage to go to three festivals every week for a year?

It nearly killed me! Look, I’m not married and I don’t have kids, so that’s what I did. I was meant to do it for a year and ended up doing it for three. It became very enjoyable. One of the things I highlighted is that every weekend of the year there is something happening in Ireland, not just music festivals – be it walking festivals, arts festivals or literary festivals. It really highlighted for me what a festival is meant to be about. The really good ones are a celebration of something and every weekend of the year, there’s somewhere in the country where people are genuinely having heartfelt celebrations of something. If they welcome you in to take part in that, you aren’t going to say no.

What are you listening to at the moment? Any guilty pleasures?

Lots of guilty pleasures. That guy Mik Aristik, that’s the most recent thing I’ve listened to, I really liked that. But guilty pleasures? There’s a story, when we were on our way to a gig. We were leaving from Limerick and we were hiding to Sligo. In the car on the way up, we were kind of dying of a hangover. We’d played in Dolans the night before. One of the lads had the IPod plugged into the radio and Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’ came on. Even though we were all dying from that hangover, as one, we were all shouting and singing at the top of our voices.

It’s a banger!

It is a banger, yeah. Well it was our guilty pleasure that day. Some people ask about things that influence bands, and is that an influence on us? I think it’s a bit of an influence. You don’t wanna be so po-faced that you get caught up in the music and your head goes up your own hole.

King Kong Company play The Academy on the 30th of September and the album King Kong Company is available now.

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