Interviews

Hot Press - "Art Attack"  November 19 2002

The Tycho Brahe are a trio of musicians/artists who are among the leading lights of Dublin’s new musical underground

“I couldn’t move out of home ’til I was 27. That’s insane! But I wasn’t in a position where I knew I could move out and meet the rent every month.”

So says Carol Keogh of The Tycho Brahe. Government Health Warning: musical pipe dreaming can restrict your personal growth. It’s not even as if Carol ever fell for the whole rock ’n’ roll holy grail routine. Even with The Plague Monkeys, a (slightly) more commercial proposition than the Tycho Brahe’s recent debut This Is, she and her writing partner Donal O’Mahony held hard to an uncompromising visual and musical aesthetic. Mind you, in the latter years of the Monkey, this had come to be tempered with a pragmatic approach involving getting a day-job to support the nocturnal habit.

The third member and wild card in The Tycho Brahe is one Diarmuid Mac Diarmada, multi-instrumentalist, subterranean activist and chief architect of the Dublin underground sound, known for his work with The Jimmy Cake, David Kitt and countless others.

“I met Diarmuid in my first year at college and he dropped out, but we kept in touch,” Carol explains. “I met Donal through him ’cos they were school friends going back to 12 or 13. Diarmuid at that time was beginning to learn to play guitar, but he always had a vast record collection, he was always one of those people who’s like a musical detective. He finds a thread, and then another one, and then another. He could write an alternative history of music if he put his mind to it.

“Donal, Diarmuid and myself started a band called Low Babies the year I finished college in ’94 and it sort of imploded very quickly, we just diversified in terms of influence and what we wanted to do. We have heaps of recordings that sound really interesting now, that we’re going to release probably under the Low Babies name. Then myself and Donal formed the Plague Monkeys and Diarmuid went off and learned loads of instruments and started playing. He’s almost been the lynchpin of this sort of movement.”

A movement defined almost by what it’s not: a fluid, arts-first, non-record company sponsored ideology, unconcerned with what Tom Waits called “the furniture of rock ’n’ roll”. The Tycho Brahe are on the fringes of this scene (if something as fluxed up and diffuse can be termed so), a nexus of Wonky shadow players championed by some as the greatest thing to happen to the domestic music industry in two decades, sniped at by others as unambitious and insular, the scene that celebrates itself.

And maybe it does, but its code of conduct is admirable: stay small and agile; mutate and survive. And feed on the bones of the dinosaurs.

As Carol puts it: “When you, with resignation, say, ‘Okay, we’re not gonna sell all those millions of records’, you then have to make qualitative decisions about how you’re gonna conduct yourself and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for what this music is about. I’m not prepared to give up my day job and live in a van and not wash for three days – especially if I were the only girl on the bus. I never really bought that rock ‘n’ roll mythology.”

Like someone once said a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away:

Fuck rock, let’s art.

Peter Murphy