THE RUBBERBANDITS, the satirical hip hop duo of Blindboy Boat Club and Mr Chrome, who had dominated Irish comedy through their shows, hit songs like ‘Horse Outside’, radio appearances, and videos going viral, seemed to go very quiet, very suddenly, over the last year and a half.
There was no risk, however, of the Limerick duo having binned their plastic bag headgear, rather, they continued to record new songs and videos, but were concentrating the majority of their efforts on bringing The Rubberbandits’ message to Britain. “Ya, it all got a bit mad here after the ‘Horse Outside’ nonsense, so we f****d off over to the UK to start afresh,” says Blind Boy.
It proved a shrewd move. The Limerickmen delivered a new show, Continental Fistfight, and found their idiosyncratic, highly original, comedy, meeting with rapturous acclaim from the British public and critics. The Guardian praised their “dissenting and provocative humour,” calling it “wild and winning”; while Metro said their “funny, catchy songs” made for “an exhilarating night out”.
A mark of how well received The Rubberbandits were, came last May, when, by special request of Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Continental Fistfight became the first comedy show to play the Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. How did the request come about?
“We’re managed by a springer spaniel called Nicholas Butts,” Blindboy tells me during our interview. “Dominic is a huge fan of this dog breed. One day Nicholas Butts was rummaging through a bin on London’s Southbank, Dominic stopped to pet him. Nicholas Butts, through the language of bark, landed us the gig there and then.”
The duo enjoyed performing at the iconic venue, although the extensive use of candles was a cause for concern. “There were a load of candles dripping down on us from above the stage,” says Blindboy. “We were shitting it that our bags would go on fire. Serious smell of beeswax out of the place though. If I could make every venue smell like beeswax I would.”
With Britain well and truly impressed, The Rubberbandits are now bringing Continental Fistfight to their native soil. Their first three shows at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre sold out in 24 hours, and an extra date was added, and the shows in Galway, Limerick, Cork, and Kilkenny, are likely to do the same.
The Hipster - the modern delayed adult
Continental Fistfight will have “loads of jumping up and down and shouting”, according to Blindboy, as well as a celebrity puppet, who, we understand will be “Paul Newman, the dead actor who made all those charity sauces”. But what is the inspiration behind the name of the show?
“There’s a phrase called continental philosophy which is an attempt to give a genre to the writings of non-English speaking philosophers from mainland Europe who emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries, from your man Kierkigaard up to Baudrillard,” says Blindboy. “The name of our show however has nothing to do with this. We literally shouted potential show names at each other until one of them made us laugh. At this point of satiation we moved our attention to the pleasures of the flesh and gave some birds a lickout in a phonebox. Two birds, one lickout, never been done before.”
One of the most notable new songs the band will perform at the Continental Fistfight is ‘Hipster or Hobo’. Both the song and its accompanying video wittily satirise the whole skinny jeans/big beard/artisan coffee/do everything ironically/‘I listen to bands that don’t exist yet’ ethos: “He won’t wear socks or pants that fit/he liked a load of people before they were shit/he spent a month in Brooklyn now he talks like a Yank...his moustache is styled...”
“We’re not really unimpressed by hipsterism in general, just a particular type of gowlbag who happens to be a hipster,” says Blindboy. “I think the hipster as a whole is the 21st century teenager. The teenager didn’t actually exist until the 1950s. Before that, you went from child to adult, with no in-between. The teenager essentially was a delaying of adulthood by about eight years due to the post-WWII economic boom and a massive emerging middle class, whereas the contemporary hipster is a delaying of adulthood brought about by global recession.
“The hipster usually goes to college, and finds by the time they graduate that they are overqualified for the available jobs. So they delay settling down into adulthood - ie, mortgage, marriage, career - by either pursuing further education, or work in a coffee shop and live off their parents’ money until the right job comes along. A product of the age of entitlement.
“If a person in their twenties or thirties is engaging in physical attention seeking, on the level we would expect from a 14-year-old, and this is becoming normal, then we need to look at that from a psychosocial perspective, in particular, through the work of Erickson and his theories on stages of human development. The person in that case is still struggling for self-esteem and identity. What’s happening in society that so many adults are still struggling with self-esteem and identity issues that were typically previously resolved at about 19? Is there an economic reason? - I’m aware I’m an adult who wears a plastic bag on his head.”
Another of the duo’s more recent songs, which has gained attention is ‘Spastic Hawk’. What were the inspirations behind the song and, given its provocative title, have the Rubberbandits encountered many people who misinterpret it?
“With a song like ‘Spastic Hawk’, all meaning is in the hands of the observer,” says Blindboy. “The song itself was written almost automatically in stream of consciousness state of flow. So in those situations, even for myself, the subtextual meaning reveals itself to me after. I was up to my balls in reading the existentialist psychology of Victor Frankl at the time and also listening to loads of Lil’ Wayne and My Bloody Valentine.”
‘The only truth is subjectivity’
For a duo that has at times found itself in the middle of controversy, they have always been more than able to take on their critics, through their intelligence, wit, and articulateness (the now legendary Liveline interview in 2010 ). Yet, despite their command of argument, ideas about ‘the power of the spoken word; is not something they would over emphasise.
“It all depends on context,” says Blindboy. “The spoken word has power mainly when it’s isolated, and that’s rare. We receive information today in a big sensory gangbang of conflicting sources. Just open Facebook and you’ve a video of someone getting beheaded in Syria alongside footage of cat talking in America. We’re much more interested in using as many different media and sources to get a point across. From lyrics, to a particular drum sound, to the visual. A sensory gangbang approach is an honest reflection of the world we’re living in.”
Also interesting, given the occasional controversy, were the press releases for Continental Fistfight headlined ‘Respectable at last!’ so do The Rubberbandits feel ‘respectable’ and part of the establishment these days?
“Becoming establishment just means that you get a thumbs up from an organisation who are considered establishment. Who decides that?” Asks Blindboy. “Our work has been executed away from this establishment. The only truth is subjectivity I think. In one person’s head we are good, in another persons head we are shit. In those two different people’s subjective experience of reality, there's two different Rubberbandits. Almost like a parallel universe. What’s important is that our experience of us is good. It’s when your own personal experience of your work as an artist is bad, but others think is good, that you land yourself in trouble.”
Interestingly, Blindboy points out that The Rubberbandits are “not comedians by the way”. “We’re artists,” he declares, “and our movement is called Gas Cuntism. We wrote the manifesto on the door of a jax, ripped it off the hinges and rode it all the way from the Shannon river into the Atlantic where it will never be found.”
The Rubberbandits perform Continental Fistfight at the Town Hall Theatre on Sunday May 3. Doors are at 7.45pm. The show is presented by Róisín Dubh Comedy, in association with David Johnson, John Mackay, and Soho Theatre. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie