The Niallist - Interviews - Soundblab

The Niallist

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Manchester-based music maker Niall O'Conghaile, who goes by the tag of The Niallist, has made what may very well be the party album of the year with AKA, a collection of old-school hip hop and acid house workouts featuring the likes of Beth Ditto, Scream Club and Yo Majesty. Fiercely out 'n' proud, Niall's lived the kind of hip life that would make you green with envy if his music wasn't so irresistibly damn good. From hanging out with Franz Ferdinand in Glasgow to supporting MEN in Manchester, Niall's got some stories to tell but what comes across most is his love of music, his encyclopedic knowledge of its history and his unfailing belief in its power to shift hearts, minds and booties. Soundblab collared him for a chinwag about parties, politics and zombie pride.

Your album, AKA, is awesome and features lots of cool people like Beth Ditto and Scream Club. Tell us about how it was put together.

Thank you, I'm glad you like it!

I guess the album just grew organically, but it did change a fair bit from how I conceived it. I originally wanted it to be more musically diverse, with some rock and house/disco songs on it, to showcase more of the different styles I do, but once I started working with guests I decided to take more of a back seat and focus on the writing and production. I'm also lucky that it managed to sound so coherent.

You've said you're sick of 'gay' being synonymous with 'shit' and that AKA was a reaction to that. Can you elaborate on that? Is that something you pick up on the mainstream media, from everyday life etc?

Well yeah, it's a fact of life that the word 'gay' means 'shit', you hear it on the TV and on the street. I don't believe that the two are completely unrelated, that excuse always comes from people who use the word and it's pretty lazy. Using 'gay' as a pejorative is just boring really isn't it? It may have had some kind of 'anti-PC' frisson back in the late 90s but now it's just dated and douchey.

As the guests on the album started to come together I noticed most of them are gay (or gay-adjacent) so I decided to stick with that as a theme. A lot of music I was listening to, and the people I wanted to work with, lean that way. Particularly the MCs. It seems like every type of minority is well represented in hip hop except gay people. For some reason gay people have become 'the enemy', so it seemed to pretty funny to me throw back in the face of this supposedly 'radical' musical form the things it hates the most. Cos let's face it, hip hop has always been pretty backward when it comes to sex. The fact that the most hyped rap act right now (Tyler) is getting column inches not for his skills but for acting like a rapist and calling everyone faggot is just so fucking boring. That shit's not radical, what's radical is how easy it is to freak those kinds of faux-radical people out with a lil' cock-to-cock action.

Does the music on AKA have a political subtext to it? It's definitely a party album but then you've got tracks with pretty in-yer-face titles like 'I've Come' and 'I Like Em Fat'.

It's not overtly political, no. I guess 'politics' for most people means grey haired people in suits talking shit and scamming money, but 'politics' can be a much more personal affair. Being openly gay can itself be a political act when you live in a society that does not accept it, or even persecutes homosexuality. So that kind of thing is just me expressing myself and my interests, and if it becomes a political act then so be it. Most of that kind of chat on my album is influenced by explicit in-yer-face 'sex raps' of acts like Digital Underground and Ice Cube. I love those guys but to me what they are saying is not that shocking or subversive, it's clichéd. It's super easy to be more radical than them, or Tyler, just by being openly gay and talking about it.

Of course, dance music has a long history of being the backdrop to political unrest (more than rock, I think), stretching right back to the civil rights movement and then gay pride. Is that heritage something you consciously tap into?

Yes, you're bang on with that. Like I said, if you are part of a minority then 'politics' is not some abstract concept of men in suits, it's something that effects your day to day life. Rock has always been 'about' politics, but dance music just IS political. They live it, they ARE it. I don't know if that is something I myself am deliberately trying to tap into, but it's definitely something I am aware of. Having said all that though, Sex Pistols are one of the best political bands ever as they just have so much righteous angry energy. They did, anyway - I saw them at a festival a couple of years ago and they were fucking rubbish.

Tell us about your club nights Menergy and Tranarchy. What's your role and what should the uninitiated expect?

I am resident DJ and occasional performer at both nights. Menergy is based in Glasgow, and Tranarchy in Manchester, and both nights offer drag and live performance with a quality soundtrack of disco, house and dirty funk. This month is really busy for me actually, as both nights have their annual massive parties - Menergy's 'Fierce Ruling Divas Ball' drag competition, and Tranarchy's 'Zombie Pride!' Halloween throw-down. Both nights are like collective affairs with some very talented performers involved like Vanity Von Glow, Lady Munter and Kid Zipper in Glasgow, and Kurt Dirt, Joe Spencer and Zsa Zsa Noir involved in Tranarchy. I'd like to think people can expect a relaxed anything-goes vibe, friendly (if a bit weird) punters and great music!

Hypothetical: you're DJing but you only get to play one tune before you have to get off the decks. You need to get everyone in the place on the dance-floor. What do you play?

Well, Richard, I would like to think that by the end of one of my sets everyone is already on the floor! But my current hype track is 'Werk' by Cherie Lily, who is a New York faux queen and vogue performer. I was a bit surprised at the positive reaction as it's quite a hard old-school house beat with Cherie giving vogue instructions over the top. I thought it might be too hard for some folk but it never fails to fill the floor. Apart from that, 'Mighty Real' by Sylvester always works, or if it's a more adventurous crowd then 'Gonna Fly Now' (the theme from Rocky) generally gets people pumped, as does the Patrick Cowley remix of Tantra's 'Hills of Katmandu'.

Can you recommend some gay/queer artists for Soundblab readers to check out? Who are your gay music heroes?

I have a lot of musical heroes, but at the end of the day I don't care who or what they fuck really. Music is omnisexual, and lust is universal - one of the beautiful things about a band like, say, Pet Shop Boys is the amount of straight people they connect with. But if I had to pick one 'gay' music icon then Sylvester was fucking amazing. Seriously, go on YouTube and search for some live clips of his. It's such a massive shame he can't be with us now to spread the love and good vibes. If he was alive today he'd be up there with Prince or MJ, or at least would have the status of Marvin Gaye or someone. Also, his producer Patrick Cowley was massively influential on dance music, and a bit overlooked, but is having a bit of a revival just now (Menergy is named after one of his songs).

As for new queer acts I'd say check out all the folks involved in my album (natch!), they are all talented performers and producers in their own right. Also JD Samson's MEN are one of my favourite bands, and I also love Bent, the new album by Ssion, who is also a really great performer.

You're based in Manchester, well known for its music and gay scenes. Is it a supportive environment for gay artist like yourself? How much of an overlap is there between those scenes?

Yeah, there is definitely a good support network here for that kind of thing, though it is still small. We're all just plugging away, putting on our own shows, trying to get to our friends' shows. Apart from a couple of flagship nights though (like Bollox and Homoelectric) the mainstream music scene in Manchester is a bit tame at the moment. It seems either too retro or too mainstream. But outside the mainstream there are pockets of interesting things like at the Islington Mill in Salford or at Krakk Gallery in the Northern Quarter.

There's definitely an old-school acid house influence in your music. Were you a big raver 'back in the day'?

Well, I was too young to get to any of the original raves, but that whole culture did have a big impact on me. I remember being eight or nine and asking my older siblings to get me a 'house music' compilation for my birthday. So they got me some fucking two-tape set that had, like, 'House Nation' and 'Six Gun' and lots of rad, underground stuff on it. It was pretty heavy stuff for a little kid to be listening to, but I loved it. That's where that comes from, and my House Machine work is just a straight up homage to Chicago house. Also I saw the Prodigy at a festival just before Jilted Generation came out and it really blew my mind, that band are as important to my generation as Sex Pistols would be to an older one. I was still young then, but when I got old enough I was out clubbing all the time, and from there I got into the DJing.

Is it true you used to DJ at Franz Ferdinand's Château club? How did that come about and what was it like?

Franz Ferdinand only worked there for a short while, so it wasn't really theirs. The Château was a DIY art space in a disused storage/office space just outside Glasgow city centre, comparable to something like the Islington Mill, but with none of the budget or the official government support. It was completely self-run and underground. We hosted parties there a lot, to raise funds to do the building up, and they were amazing - themed stuff like a Miami Beach party, a Sex party, a few Hogmanay parties and lots of odd fashion shows for Che Camille. Completely unregulated but never much hassle, we got to do exactly what we wanted so on those terms and it was incredible. I'd be surprised if I can ever again throw parties that good. I live in hope though!

What was your first music love?

I remember finding the video for Kim WIlde's 'Kids in America' frightening but incredibly thrilling when I was about three years old. The intro still gives me chills. I remember watching it with my sister, who is a bit older than me. She was obsessed with Prince for years too, which is how he came to be my musical idol.

You've remixed and worked with a lot of artists. Who's left on your wish list?

Oh yeah, tonnes! I am currently trying to organise some remixes for a couple of great dance acts, though to be honest I am stepping away from remixing at the moment as it's just so time consuming. Having said that it's a great way to hone production skills and try out new techniques. I'm more interested right now in collaborative work with artists I really like. I'd love to work with Grace Jones some day, she's incredible.

And what's next for The Niallist?

Live shows, DJ gigs and more music! My next album is already written so I'll be starting work on that soon as I can.

AKA is out now on Little Rock Records

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