A look into one of our favorite new labels from Dublin, Ireland.
In the last few years, a new wave of left-field artists has emerged from the lush Emerald Isle. From the dreamy electronic folk of Maria Somerville to the experimental kraut of Morgan Buckley and the Wah Wah Wino crew, the island has seen a new generation of artists break through with innovative contemporary Irish music. While the echoes of Ireland’s post-punk and indie scene are very much still present here, these artists are forging a new path, often combining modern electronics and club sensibilities with field recordings, live instruments, and traditional sounds.
Perhaps at the forefront of the scene is Dublin-based label wherethetimegoes. Launched in 2018 by Dean McGrath, a former employee of local community hub All City Records, the label has quietly nurtured a somewhat hazy and still evolving experimental “Dublin sound.” Championing new music and local acts, the label has put out the debut release for every artist on its steadily growing roster.
Many of the label’s releases have gotten heavy play here at In Sheep’s Clothing HQ: the IDM-infused dub techno of Odd Ned, the ambient fiddle music of the mysterious Dublin, the drippy, amphibious dub of Frog of Earth aka designer Mel Keane. In 2020, we featured Nashpaints’ Blindman the Gambler album in our Favorites of the Year, describing it as “a wide array of experimentations in freak folk, dizzy pop, guitar infused bass music and heavy layers of field recordings.”
Listen to the label’s latest release from Belacqua:
In Sheep’s Clothing’s Phil Cho spoke to Dean McGrath over email to learn more about how the label came together, the scene in Dublin, local favorites, and the stories behind a few of the label’s releases.
Hey Dean! To start things off, where does the name wherethetimegoes come from?
It’s hard to say to be honest where it came from. One of those things you wake up with in your head. In one way it’s meaningless, and in another way, everything at that time when we were starting out is baked into it. And I suppose that’s what I liked about it and why it stuck.
A lot of my friends who run labels remember things picking up when they found their community, whether that’s friends, locally within the city, or even online. How did the crew behind wherethetimegoes come together?
There was a tight crew of us in Dublin around 2015. A combination of childhood friends from the inner city and others, we bonded with through frequenting All City, which was (and still is I think) the only record shop in Dublin where you could go in a few times a week to hear the new releases that were coming out. We were all beginning to find our way listening and making music, hanging out, DJing a bit, sessioning together.
It was a great time, really, looking back on it, extremely formative. None of us had much experience but we were all motivating and pushing each other to make music, nurturing each other — “have you seen this?” “have you heard this?” “have you tried this?” We were all getting to a stage where we were excited by our own and each other’s music and what we were doing and beginning to allow ourselves to fantasise about releasing it someday. In terms of there being a “sound” or a unified scene, there was really not much to identify or connect with on a broader level in Dublin at that time.
The established labels who operated out of the city such as All City, D1, Lunar Disko, Major Problems were themselves associated with other scenes and sounds that we didn’t really sound like I don’t think, but even still they seriously shaped our perceptions of what was possible and set a standard of quality in our minds. Producers like Slowburn, Automatic Tasty, Terriers, Lumigraph, Morgan Buckley as well were very inspiring in that regard. So although we may have felt a bit alienated musically in Dublin, they all paved the way for us to feel we could do something. After a certain stage I began thinking maybe we should try something ourselves. The music we were all making was quite diverse, but something connected it between us so it made sense to me at least, it just needed to be strung together somehow. That’s when I floated the idea of the Soundcloud “digital mixtapes” to the others. I bought a busted manual 35mm and a cheap Sony camcorder and we started to piece together what became the first series of wttg releases.
I heard from Rory Bowens that you actually to used to work at All City and ran their Jheri Tracks sub-label. How was that experience?
Big shout out to Rory and The Slip! Yes I was lucky enough to get involved with the label side of All City for a little while. That happened through Lee Kelly and Sonel Ali who were part of that early crew of wttg, they both worked in the shop in All City. Olan, who runs the show there, was looking to get some ideas bouncing around for the label roughly around the same time wttg was getting going and I think they suggested getting me involved — which was a big deal for me at the time, to be considered like that. It was meself, Lee, Sonel, and Daire Carolan who runs First Second Label, along with Olan discussing potential releases, gigs and whatnot to do through All City. I think Olan was into a lot of the ideas we were having and bringing forward but felt that they weren’t the right fit for All City at the time. That’s when the idea of a sub label came about and from that Jheri Tracks was born.
From there meself and Daire focused more on the Jheri side of things while Lee and Sonel worked All City with Olan overlooking everything. But yeah, it was a great experience. It really gave me a purpose at the time. Having a reason to reach out to people who I admired and having the ability to connect with them and to work with them was a great buzz. Also, having an outlet as big as All City to put records out by some of the local heads who were doing great things and who I was getting to know as well was a great feeling. And then to see a bit of a buzz being created by it and what we were doing was another thing… !
It really opened up so much for me in many different ways. Something like Rory inviting us over to do a guest show on NTS was very exciting. Travelling over with Daire and Olan and just being able to float around and hang out with heads around London was a bit surreal for me, cause I just wouldn’t have been able to do that type of thing without them. Learning the mechanics of how a legit record label operates from them as well and making connections through that was a massive motivator to start doing physical releases with wttg and again probably something I wouldn’t have been able to do without them.
What’s the scene like currently in Dublin? There seems to be a general movement of amazing left-field music coming out of Ireland right now. Can you speak on that?
Yes there’s definitely a wealth of talent and a lot of people doing great and interesting things in the city. Dublin can be quite adverse to anything that doesn’t slot in to the tourist obsessed corporate mandated culture industry which is dominating the city. So in terms of there being spaces for a “scene” to come together which are conducive to different kinds of experimentation and development — simple independent places like clubs, cafes, small venues, and studios are few and far between.
That, in addition to a politically manufactured housing “crisis,” means a lot of young people have to leave the city in order to be properly able to commit to what they’re doing. And that’s only if you’re lucky, what’s more likely is that young people have to abandon any sort of creative expression in order to keep their head above water financially and keep their basic needs met. So it can be a struggle trying to navigate all the obstacles and exploiters in Dublin, which are rampant.
Now more than ever people here need a scene or a culture that is genuine and developed by people on the ground who are in the midst of that struggle and can express that and contribute to something without fear of being exploited or taken advantage of, and which is actually in opposition to all that. But the evidence is there of really great contemporary experimental music and art being produced in Dublin, it just needs to be fostered in a way that it can resist and survive without being absorbed into those corporate structures, which may pay well in the short term but will ultimately neutralise and destroy it.
I'm always curious about early events/parties when a label first forms. Do any specific happenings come to mind, either ones that you threw or ones you went to that were crucial to the start of the label?
One that springs to mind was right when the first couple digital mixtapes came out. There was a small new festival of experimental Irish music happening called Open Ear that summer, we got a mail from them out of the blue asking if lastminuteman, Sage (Lee Kelly) and Minos would be interested in playing live. The festival was being held on an island off the south west of Ireland, about a 5 hour drive away from Dublin along with a short boat trip. So we weren’t really sure what to make of it to be honest, like if it was going to be worth our while. But the festival seemed really up for having us do something and offered to do a showcase of the label so we said we’d give it a go.
We made the journey and got to the island and we couldn’t believe it, just a beautiful place off the west of Cork with some really great music happening. We played on Saturday early afternoon after having a swim in the sea. There wasn’t many people there to watch us play or anything but it turned out to just be a really great and affirming thing to see and feel a few people buzzing off the music and what we were doing. Then being able to celebrate that for the rest of the weekend with friends who made the trip, connecting with new people and others who played and solidifying relationships with other people we were getting to know at the time. It was probably the first time we felt part of something a bit broader than our own crew. Some of the relationships formed there were with people who became tightly involved with the label and our lives as things grew and changed over the years.
Is there an overall sound or concept behind wttg? Genre doesn’t seem to be what defines the label, but maybe there’s an underlying ethos?
In terms of there being a particular sound, I would say no. Not yet anyway. But that is something I would like to try and facilitate somehow with the label. To kind of become an outlet for a “Dublin sound” in a way. But that’s not something which I think you can dictate or define in advance of it happening, it can’t be contrived. It has to arise naturally on its own, almost unconsciously between the artists, and probably something you only realise in hindsight.
As I was saying earlier on, when we were getting started with music it was hard to find your way a bit because there wasn’t that guidance, there weren’t techniques and methods being passed down, or ideas and approaches being shared and developed collectively that you need for there to be a “sound.” We had to glean what we could from things online, from other scenes and how they done things. So it would be amazing for some kind of sound to develop here and then have something to pass down, to have that thing that younger people getting started with music in Dublin can connect and relate to, something that comes from where they come from and that they themselves can contribute to.
You look at someone like Mike Huckaby (RIP) in Detroit who dedicated himself to teaching kids the Detroit way of doing things, to keeping that sound alive while also contributing to it himself in a big way. It’s an inspiring thing to think about, that kind of dedication to something that’s broader than yourself. But that’s what it takes and I actually get a bit overwhelmed sometimes thinking about the possibility and potential that’s here in Dublin if a few things were in place and trying to be able to contribute in some way to the overall thing with the label somehow.
I first became aware of the label from the Nashpaints release, which we featured in our 2020 favorite albums. There’s little info online about the artist… Anything you can say about this release and how it came together?
Yes! Finn is an extremely talented musician and producer from Dublin. I got to know him a bit while he helped out in All City here and there. He’s a bit younger than meself but there was always something about his mellow demeanour that meant we clicked a bit. He volunteered then one of the years at Open Ear and we were able to have a bit of a buzz together. He was telling me he was making tunes and it just naturally went from there exchanging music and whatnot.
After hearing stuff he was making I knew straight away that he was onto something, so I just wanted to encourage him to continue what he was doing. After a while he mentioned he was working on a project and I was thinking it would make sense for him to do something on wttg and I think he felt the same which was great. And that was Blindman The Gambler. A very natural process and a special release for the label definitely. Heartwarming to see how it has been received and people buzzing off it.
Frog of Earth is another big favorite of ours. That record came with an almost folktale-like backstory, while other releases on the label have built a mystery around them with zero info at all. Can you speak on mythology and how that plays into the label’s identity?
Similar to how the artwork is approached, you just let the music and the artist guide you with things like that. When FOE sent me the finished music, the story was all there within it really. It felt undeniable. Not all the music on the label has such a strong sense of narrative to it when listening though so you can’t just wedge something in there that isn’t genuine.
Often the music is more than enough to convey what the artist is trying to do or say, and with the artwork and presentation as a whole you just want to give the listener the best chance to connect with it in their own way. So I’m glad that there may be some mythology around the artists and the label because it means people are connecting with it and it’s eliciting something in their imagination. Which is the goal really, to create that relationship between the label, the music, the artists, and the listeners.
The latest Sean Being release represents a slight shift into more pop territory. What’s the label’s connection/approach to pop music?
Well, the funny thing about Pop music is that any genre or style can end up being absorbed into it if it connects with enough people or if the record companies and streaming platforms realize the potential to exploit a particular style. Trap and, more recently, Drill being examples of that. But I dunno if I would consider Sean’s album as a shift in any direction. In terms of genre, the label isn’t fixed at all. If something sounds and feels right I’ll generally go with that regardless of genre. So in that regard, maybe wttg is a pop label… ?? Exploiting whatever genre or style “feels right” (aka $$$)… ?? Maybe it’s an Unpop(ular) label… ???? Who knows.
I love how a lot of the artwork features these kind of “ethereal” street scenes which is not a word I would typically use for city streets, but I really do think it looks like that… Who is the artist behind the releases and can you speak a bit on the art direction?
Thank you! Yeah I see what you mean with that, and I’m glad that that’s the case! The artwork is usually a collaboration between myself and the musician behind the release in question. That process can range from just having a conversation about the music and the ideas behind it and me going from there, or with the musician having an explicit visual that they want to incorporate into the release or work on themselves. I’m not a graphic designer or anything so I naturally gravitated towards photo-based artwork and simplifying it as much as possible for meself due to lack of skill.
It’s always a figuring out process, and it’s great to have professionals like Mel Keane and Cáit Fahey to bounce things off as well. In terms of an overall direction, I think it’s important to geolocate the releases through the visuals, to give the listener some environmental context for the music. When I go around Dublin taking photos I sometimes feel as though I’m documenting the city in a way for meself and how it’s changing, me own little archive or something. I find that as the landscape of the city changes, my corresponding memory of it erodes a bit so it’s like I need those photos to remind me where I’m from. It’s weird.
So I kinda look at the releases like that as well – as audio visual documents of a time and place in Dublin. I mean, sometimes it isn’t literally the case at all. For example, Sean’s release was entirely recorded in Lisbon, but him having to leave Dublin in order to pursue music and write and record his album is as much a part of the story as it being recorded in Almada is. But yeah, letting the music guide the artwork and how it’s put together and just trying to reflect the feeling it gives me is probably the main principle. Letting it come naturally and not trying to force something into something.
We’ve been amazed by all the incredible music coming out of Ireland recently: Maria Sommerville, Wah Wah Wino, Paddy McKeown, Dreamcycles, Allchival etc. Any other local artists, DJ’s, crews that’d you like to shout out?
Yes definitely. There’s a Druid from Co. Kerry producing Ceol Cosmach na nÉireann (Irish Cosmic Music) named Fulacht Fiadh who self released a couple of cassettes during lockdown which I’ve returned to constantly since they came out:
Irish label Department of Energy has recently released an album by Michael Lightborne entitled Slí na Fírinne. Droned out literal Irish field recordings:
Moot Tapes, another Irish label based in Kilkenny, have been releasing a series of split 7”s of Irish artists entitled Signs of Life which have been great. Here’s the first one:
There’s a great Irish hip hop scene establishing itself with its own very raw styles and flows. There’s a channel on YouTube called Dearfach TV which is uploading alot of it. Here’s a few of me favourites:
If you’re looking to move your feet a bit, there’s a mix series called Soulseekers Allowance that’s run by the DJ duo 2 Fa 2 Furious which comprises siblings Cait & Fionn Fahey. Both amazing DJs in their own right, with Fionn also producing under the Fio Fa moniker with his new Sunset Drifters label also just about to launch. The mix series features a host of Irish DJs who are on the forefront of 4×4 orientated club music. This one by Vani-T being one of my favourites:
There’s another great Irish DJ who has been based in Melbourne for the last few years named Tousist. A true technician on the decks, but never sterile, always from the heart weaving together styles and sounds with ease. Here’s a recent mix he done for the For Home Use Only series:
Bambi is a musician and DJ who has been affiliated with the label, and played an incredible live set at our showcase in Lisbon recently. Here’s a mix she done for a party under motorway overpass last summer:
There is also a young painter in Dublin named Carl Hickey who is beautifully portraying very familiar scenes to me of life in certain areas of Dublin:
These next two questions I’ve received from numerous friends / fans of the label… Who is the Bastard? We’ve noticed that name pop up on a bunch of releases. Is there a connection with Wah Wah Wino? On a similar note, who is behind the Dublin release?
The Bastard was recommended to me by one of the Winos yes, but I’ve never met him and have had very little correspondence with him as well to be honest. I just know the music you send him will come back sounding better somehow. Give him a bell for your mastering needs: [email protected]
Dublin are a duo from Dublin. One is a violinist and the other a laptop player. I’m not sure they want to be named individually so I’ll respect that. New Dublin coming soon though.
Are there any labels you look up to / serve as inspiration for wherethetimegoes?
Labels like FXHE, Trilogy Tapes, Stones Throw, and All City really captured my imagination when I first started out buying records. Along with high quality music they were visually stunning and really made you feel connected to something when you were listening. They were a whole thing and gave you a portal to something you could dive into and immerse yourself. The Detroit scene broadly was something I connected with immediately after I realised it was its own thing.
Labels like Frictional, Sistrum, and WIld Oats all pushed their own strains of that sound with music that really excited me. The jazz label FMP was also very inspiring when I first dived into that catalogue. The simple photography and handmade nature of the artwork was very striking and beautiful. The music as well was absolutely mind bending. I have a lot of admiration for contemporary labels like West Mineral, YOUTH, World Music, Open Hand Real Flames, and Jolly Discs who are each pushing and developing their own sounds along with very alluring artwork and visuals.
Many of the label’s recent releases are on digipak CD. The format discussion is quite boring, but I would love to know if there’s any personal connection you have to the CD format and why do you like it as a method of releasing music today?
I suppose I done most of my music listening as a teenager through CDs, but I can’t say I have any strong personal connection to them over other formats. I have a fondness for most formats to be honest, including digital, with each of them having their benefits and characteristics that I enjoy. CDs have become a preference for the label recently as the cost and lead time of vinyl has gone mental. They offer a bit more flexibility than tapes as well and also offer a very quick turnover and are more cost effective which allows money to go to mastering and creating a better package overall. I think as well that CDs are a bit more suited to the music we are releasing lately which is very sonically pristine in my opinion.
You recently did a label showcase in Lisbon, Portugal. How did that come together and how did the show go? These days, the internet is obviously so key in connecting scenes... Are there any other places you feel an affinity with whether through online or direct connections?
The showcase in Lisbon went very well. It was a great experience connecting with the local heads over there who are into what we are doing. The performances were all incredible and all the more special in a place like Cosmos. Sincere respect to Joao and all the crew for what they are doing there. We were able to do something there as a few of the artists on the label have settled in Lisbon due to some of the reasons regarding Dublin which I spoke about earlier. So it was due to them and the connections they’ve made there that it was possible. A special time with lovely people in a lovely place, very grateful to be able to do things like that.
What’s coming up next for the label? Any dream gigs that you’d like to manifest through this interview?
Plenty of music in the pipeline, and hopefully a couple of things to announce soon all going to plan. In terms of manifesting something, I’ve been fantasising a lot the last while of having a HQ of sorts for the label. Somewhere that could act as a place to put on live shows and as a place for people to come together and hang out in, to experiment and develop their music with each other. A kind of cafe venue or something, with a recording studio in the basement. That would be ideal. So if yourselves or anyone else reading this would like to start fantasising about that with me it would be greatly appreciated.
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