20 Questions: Fionn Regan

Photo: Rich Gilligan

The Mercury Music Prize-nominated folk artist Fionn Regan has lead a lot of living in a very short while, and while his new album has been getting raves, it's here that he reveals a strong affinity for Dylan Thomas, how his stabs at art are very much informed by his love of music, and why he might be "cruising for a bruising" in those oxblood Doc Martens ...

Fionn Regan

100 Acres of Sycamore

Label: Indie Europe/Zoom
US Release Date: 2011-08-16
UK Release Date: 2011-08-15

Fionn Regan has had a bit of a wild ride.

Although now barely past the age of 30, this Bray-born folkster has already lead a full and complete musical career. His 2006 debut album, The End of History, was an underground knockout, critically adored for its beautiful melodies and quiet confidence, all while snagging a Mercury Music Prize in the process. What's fascinating about that initial effort, however, was that it was almost entirely composed of demos, given very little touchup between recording and pressing. What's more, Regan wound up appealing to a large swath of observers who were keen on hearing an honest-to-goodness folk record -- not merely people putting out singer-songwriter discs with acoustic guitars -- and Regan's frequent references to great songwriters past has kept him firmly rooted in folk music's storied past while venturing confidently forward.

Now, the lad is coming off of two of the busiest years of his life. After touring and taking a break following the release of The End of History, Regan wound up putting out an album in both 2010 (The Shadow of an Empire) and at the tail end of 2011 (100 Acres of Sycamore), deepening his craft and showing a true, honed development in his sound. Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Regan sat down to answer PopMatters' 20 Questions, here revealing a strong affinity for Dylan Thomas, how his stabs at art are very much informed by his love of music, and why he might be "cruising for a bruising" in those oxblood Doc Martens.

* * *

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Shane Meadow's This is England '88; watching that made me cry, the performances, the whole thing is incredible and to top it off, a song I wrote called "Dogwood Blossom" was played out over the final scene. It was the first time a song I'd written was married with a moving image to such a beautiful effect. I felt blessed to be part of something so brilliant.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I like to make sure the line in the sand is drawn deep using reality's boot heel with its fictional laces fastened loosely.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Probably After the Gold Rush by Neil Young. It's a record that has followed me and guided me in some way, a north star, growing up we had no record player in the flat, but for some reason we had the "After the Gold Rush" record sleeve, so being surrounded by musicians I'd point to songs on the sleeve and say "Can you play 'Cripple Creek Ferry' or play 'After the Gold Rush'?" and they'd do it on the piano or an acoustic guitar, like a live jukebox.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I'm not really sure which is which to be honest. I don't like wars, treks are fine by me, but stars on the other hand I love, especially lying on a sand dune looking up them.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Go to the bus station in Dublin, a bit of money in your back pocket, but not too much, take a biro, a moleskin, and a cassette recorder. Look at the boards, take your pick, buy a ticket and you're off.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Pride comes before the fall.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

I'm not sure if I have that level of ego to see myself remembered in any way ... I'd hope that some of the songs I've written might go on to inspire or illuminate people down the road, but who knows. I'd also like to think I've tried my best to become a better person as I've moved through life. That's my religion: become a better person.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

I played in the poet Dylan Thomas's house. When I first read his work I was blown away. 'The Boathouse' now a museum, is set right on a cliff overlooking the estuary in the town Laugharne, in Wales. As I stood in his room and sang the lines from the song "Be Good or Be Gone": "I have become an aerial view of a coastal town you once knew". I felt like I had tipped the hat and received a feather in one swoop.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

I've never felt that way about anyone's work; I'd never want to rub out another artist's name and replace it with mine. I don't want to be or be better than anyone else, just the best I can be within myself.

10. Your hidden talents . . .?

Well, I'd like to think I'm an all right painter, I do the artwork for the record covers, concert posters and that, and I get great ideas for songs from painting. When I paint it comes out as pure feeling on the paper, which bleeds back into songwriting, it's a reminder of what you hope to achieve in the writing and recording of songs, as Jack Kerouac said "First thought best thought."

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

The best advice I ever got was "Don't give advice" and I said, "Is that advice?"

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I bought a box of licorice pipes in Sweden and gave one to everyone in my family on Christmas day. None of us could put our fingers on why it was funny but everyone laughed all the same.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

I love the expression of clothes, when I was growing up, I'd buy a plain white t-shirt, kneel down in the front room, paint teeth on it with cheap ink, cut my jeans above the ankle, put on my oxblood Doc Martens, Tipp-Ex them, then I'd dart out the front door knowing I may well be cruising for a bruising.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

A diamond as big as the Ritz ... I know it says 'guest' in the question but I have a bit more of a shindig in mind ... OK, let's see ... some alive, some not, I'm sure they accept reservations for ghosts at the Ritz ... Lord Buckley, Woody Guthrie, Dylan Thomas, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, Joe Strummer, Michel Gondry, Samuel Beckett, Autumn De Wilde, Shane McGowen, Shane Meadows, Anna Friel, Keith Richards, Carl Sandburg, John Lydon, Rhys Ifans, Joseph Beuys, Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart, Florence Welch, Sylvia Plath, Alison Mosshart, Flann O'Brien, Edie Sedgwick, Jack Kerouac, Flannery O'Connor, John Fante, Bjork, Charles Bukowski, Guy Clark, Luke Kelly ... I could go on ... but instead of the Ritz I'd rather say bring your own, light a fire on the beach, roll out a cart of deck chairs and viola!

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I like the time I'm in now, I don't want to go backwards or forwards, although on a time related riff, I have recently been thinking about first memory, which for me was seeing a donkey lying on a snow drift from the back of Renault 4 in the Wicklow mountains. I think that may explain more about me than an interview ever will.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Taking less in exchange for a greater hold on the creative reins, has created a lot of stress, but put on the scales up against making records via a committee, I'd say it's an effective form of stress management.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?  

Moscow mule.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

At the moment, I'm waltzing between both so as soon as I'm recording in our bunkhouse studio by day, I'm back in the city under streetlight by night.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I've just written a song that I'd sing instead.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I've started work on my next album, after that I might do something else completely.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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