Interview: Darragh O’Laoghaire (VIRCOLAC, Invictus Productions) Posted: 08/06/2016 by John O'Brien

For those unaware of Darragh and his contribution to the Irish Metal scene and in particular the underground, he is the man behind Invictus Productions, home to MALTHUSIAN and ZOM and about to release COSCRADH demo this coming summer. Also the former vocalist for the band Sol Axis and current vocalist for Vircolac.
As I understand it – you started off by promoting a gig down in Fermoy, what was your motivation for doing this? Was this the catalyst for what would eventually become today’s Invictus Productions?

If I go back a little further, I organised a show in my school when I was about 15/16 for a charity event and I’d also organised a metal ‘disco’ in the town hall as well but in terms of a more elaborate gig, THUS DEFILED in Fermoy was the first real show, yes. Interestingly, for the time, we actually had nowhere to run shows in Cork city. Friends had organised an ANATHEMA show in Leap in 95 because of this and by 1996, the situation hadn’t changed at all so this is why it was held in Fermoy. Doing the show at the time came about out of a necessity to do something in Ireland for the metal underground that was here. That was really the motivation. Though I suppose you could correlate it to the emergence of Invictus three years later, at the time it didn’t serve as anything other than the need to put a show together for the buzz.

As I would have been a bit young at the time, and for those who may be reading that are unfamiliar with yourself. What was the atmosphere like at those gigs in the early days? I know you currently run a few gigs a year currently as Invictus – was it the same back then (in terms of frequency of promoting gigs) before you set up the record label?

Given that we were all quite young and naïve back then, the buzz always seemed good as we were all excited to have underground shows to go to. Back in the mid to late 90s metal bands didn’t really come to Ireland and certainly not with the same frequency they do now. In 1997, other than the local, underground shows in Slattery’s, I think there maybe have been 4-5 big metal shows in the entire year. ENTOMBED, TYPE O NEGATIVE and others I forget so those kinds of shows were really a big fuckin deal as it was an event, unlike today. Some of the smaller shows were cool to be a part of as it was something quite unique at the time but sometimes it left you wondering if this is all we had in terms of quality and ability as some of the bands were piss poor. I’d paint the 97/98 period in Ireland as quite bleak in terms of metal but from 99 on it began to improve with more opportunities and options.

Invictus Productions was established in 1999, providing Ireland and wider International scene with some top class releases, distribution, gigs etc… do you’ve any particular highlights that you’re fond of from your years in the scene running Invictus? And on the flipside, any particular lows?

There are many, many highlights over the years whether it was putting out certain releases, going on tour, travelling far and wide and staying with people you knew from writing to them, meeting new folks and trading ideas, plans etc. So much has gone on in the last 20 years or the last 17 since starting the label that to isolate certain things might be a little difficult but I’ll say putting out the first GOSPEL OF THE HORNS album, the subsequent tour we did in 2003 stand out as major, defining points for me. Working with many of the artists I have has been a great experience as the work that goes into putting a release together can be quite intensive and seeing it all come to life is a great feeling.

invictus_logo2One thing I am very proud of is having three local bands on the label, namely MALTHUSIAN, ZOM and now COSCRADH. Being a vehicle for Irish acts I like, support and am friends with is a big thing for me on a personal level. Accordingly there have been lows as well but it’s all a part of it and I don’t think they’re really worth wasting time on. I suppose one of the most obvious lows was the demise of the Into The Void venture some years back. The original shop was so fucking cool and we had so many people from abroad visit it and compliment it, referring to how lucky they thought Dublin was to have something like that for people. Ironically, Irish folks didn’t give much of a fuck either way and so we had to wrap it up.

On the topic of ITV – it was a something I loved popping into on my trips to Dublin for gigs, and something I would use a lot more if it was in my local area, do you think we’ll ever see it reopened in the physical again? I remember back in Feb ye had the pop up and to be able to walk in and pick up 4/5 things off the sleeves is something that I find really appealing, do you find it’s this digital age that affected the likes of ITV or the lack of use from locals? and if so – why?

Right now, I don’t foresee a time when there will be another physical shop I’ll be involved in. There simply isn’t the need for one in the city as there’s not enough of a record buying demographic out there to warrant attempting it again. While it would be great to have a shop attached to the label, it has been proven that it’s not necessary as people didn’t support it and it cannot survive without regular customers.

Musically, you’ve been involved with SOL AXIS up until 2009 (if online sources are correct) and currently VIRCOLAC since 2013(?), I imagine the label takes up most of your time. Was there any musical projects before taking on vocals briefly in SOL AXIS? Or anything in between VIRCOLAC?

Sol Axis ceased to be in 2005 so that info is incorrect. I’ve only ever really participated in cover bands for a laugh so essentially, despite being in SOL AXIS, my contribution to that was literally doing vocals live twice and re-recording 2 songs for which the lyrics were already written. It was a learning curve, I suppose, but in VIRCOLAC the lyrics and vocals patterns are entirely my own doing so my contribution there is more specific.

Recently, you published an article on MI about the decline of our scene, which has caused some debate on the comments underneath. As a promoter/label etc your connected with the scene in a way most people who go to gigs probably don’t notice. Who is going to gigs, age groups and all that, and recently it’s reported that the homegrown were very thin on the floor for Unconquered Darkness (unfortunately I was working that weekend). But it is something I’ve noticed, the lack of young people into black/death scenes, while I do notice young people into heavy music around Cork, they don’t seem to be progressing beyond what they currently listen too, as in the way I got in through nu metal back in the late 90s, to eventually discover the likes of Emperor etc. Do you think there is a reason young people ain’t progressing past their SABATONs, BRING ME THE HORIZONs, etc?

Some of the reaction to the article was amusing, even from younger people on social media yet no one was able to prove my points wrong. No doubt this will make a few stamp their feet with ire and scream about how much of a cunt I am but for me, metal is now very much a traditional and thus conservative form of music. The things some people say is metal simply isn’t. It’s a form of rock music, not metal music. In Ireland we do not and never had an infrastructure for young bands to make their way and make something of themselves. This applies to many forms of music but as I am involved in metal, it’s the platform I’m discussing. Compared to similar size nations, Ireland is exceptionally poor at developing talent unless it’s the same old marketable, Sean Bán the Leprechaun type nonsense. PRIMORDIAL is by far the biggest, most successful Irish metal band and they are still very underground for the most part. So if people are using examples of there being tons of kids playing in bands that I am not aware of then come back to me in a few years when they’ve all fallen flat on their arses cos there’s no infrastructure here for them to develop and grow.

Black and death metal are obviously not that interesting for a lot of kids and ya know what? I get it. It’s an old form of music now and if I was 18 now, would I be interested in Morbid Angel, Bathory, Slayer, Iron Maiden? I don’t know but when I was 12/13, Black Sabbath and those kinds of bands who were from the previous decade looked like they were from another century to me. So, if VENOM sounds archaic and BRING ME THE HORIZON sounds fresh then, well, I can see the point from a kid’s perspective.

I’m not out to try and change minds and somehow hem people into thinking that ‘this’ kind of music is for them. People can figure their own shit out themselves but I do think it’s lamentable that there are no young lads or lasses into this kind of stuff and putting bands together. Maybe it’ll change but in 20 years I’ve seen many come and go and I am sure this trajectory won’t.

I did read your article in a view from the black/death side of things – and I do agree with a lot of what you said. Most people I know would rather see a crippled AC/DC show for nostalgia than go to a local gig and discover our own homegrown talent that are current. But there is also lads down in Cork like the guys in PETHROPHIA/Pethrophile Promotions who are young and who are doing their bit, doing crossover shows with a young and upcoming punk band like AUDIBLE JOES. Do you think doing more crossover gigs with these young bands on a bill with some of the countries black/death bands get more young heads interested in the extreme side of things? And I guess the fact the DEGIAL show on the 4th of June is now free for those aged 18-21 is your response to getting more young people interested?

Crossover gigs are a nice idea in theory but have never, ever worked beyond their momentary appeal to kids who then shuffle off onto something else and forget about the bands they once saw. It sounds like trying to shove everything you like into one sandwich cos ya know they all taste good individually so together it’ll be amazing. No. It’ll taste like shit. It also smacks of trying to be a little condescending towards youth tastes. “Let’s shove all this together and see what sticks!” If kids don’t have the imagination to find their way into the underground then that’s how it is. Everything is so wide open with social media today that it’s impossible they cannot find contemporary bands to get them interested. Some of the bands I have on the label are young guys in their early to mid 20s so there are people out there doing this, making new music and creating their own style and scene. Just not here.

I’d love to see it change. I’d love to see a flyer for a gig of young, black/death/doom/heavy metal bands playing the city and go along to see what’s going on. It’d be great and all this other stuff that’s going on music wise, if some of those kids trickle down into the underground I am a part of, then great as new blood is needed. Right now the people in bands around the underground in Ireland are all older guys and gals. This is irrefutable.

invictus_darraghI’m going to leave the last words up to you, anything you’d like to say in hindsight to your article, in relation to Invictus and VIRCOLAC etc.

Cheers for the interview…I doubt I’ll be winning hearts and minds over any time soon but thanks to everyone who reads this who has supported Invictus over the years by ordering, coming out to the shows or buying from the stall. The past 17 years have been a rollercoaster and the trip ain’t over yet. As for VIRCOLAC…something new is brewing…all in good time.

Interviewed by Luke Hickey