Music in Ireland is just catching its momentum once again following the pandemic. As new acts form and venues open there is no better time to think about equality in music in Cork and beyond. Deputy Features and Opinions Editor Sarah O’Mahony speaks to renowned Red FM DJ Stephen ‘Stevie G’ Grainger. Stevie has been a leading figure in the hip hop and R & B community in Cork for many years. They discuss promoting underrepresented acts, DJ sets for people with disabilities, youth work and more.
Recently Stevie has been running a 10 part series to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of his segment Black on Red. He speaks to singers and rappers who have yet to be offered mainstream opportunities. The segment has paid respect to black music since it began. Stevie points out this is particularly important for himself as a white DJ of a hip hop background. A big theme in this current series is questions on identity. In one episode Stevie speaks on the topic with Minnie Marley, a rising star in Ireland, discussing her South African roots. Minnie’s sound is a blend of afro, dancehall, hip hop, R&B and pop. Having first released music in 2018, she now has a wide repertoire of original music and frequently performs at festivals and more, having recently performed alongside Stevie and artist Kestine in City Hall for Culture Night. Stevie is quick to explain that he does not agree with pressing artists on the topic of identity and race at length. He shares that in a badly structured interview this can take up the oxygen of the conversation, taking airtime away from the artist’s music and creative endeavours. Unless the performer themselves is happy to broach the subject, scraping the barrel for clichéd images of the experience of a person of colour in Ireland is of little benefit. In a 2017 interview, Stevie praises LabTV Ireland for their showcase of talent in the scene as a ‘labour of love’ rather than an egotistical activity. In more recent times the platform has promoted artists Salamay, Kestine and Jena Keating. It is clear interest in the performer’s music must come first and foremost.
Next, we jump to Stevie’s involvement with the disability community in Cork. It is something he fell into ‘by accident while filling in’ for a colleague giving a workshop to adults with intellectual disabilities. He shares that this particular group was not as ‘drawn into the workshop and I decided let’s just do a party!’. A format was then developed with the Coaction Group, a service provider in West Cork. DJ sets were organised to play for people with intellectual disabilities, autism and anyone with additional needs. The project was named ‘Everybody Dance’ after the Chic song of the same name and it took off from there. Stevie has played in West Cork and the city, having recently held a disco in the Montenotte branch of Cope, another service provider in Cork. As part of the project he has also collaborated with Jerry Mulchay, better known across Cork as DJ Jerry, and his dad Alan. Jerry is a well-versed DJ and is helped by his dad to hold discos for other young adults with disabilities in Cork. They have played across the county for years, mainly holding events in Macroom. Stevie was first introduced to the pair by a mutual friend and they have built a great relationship performing in the Kino and Marina Market together. However, he shares that ‘when the pandemic happened everything that was being built, the good vibes we were building together, more or less ended’. We all experienced a move to online in some manner during the pandemic. This of course was not easy for vulnerable groups. ‘It was hard to move the online version into an effortless situation’. The young people were living in residential groups or at home where their carers or family were facilitating viewing. This can limit the free feeling of a DJ set.The pandemic cut services, respite, activities from the disabled community and Stevie shares that he felt strongly about the situation. ‘The people who were suffering the most didn’t really have a voice. Carers didn’t have time to be on Twitter [to share the situation they faced]’. Looking to the future he is still involved in this area and aims to hold more events again soon.
Stevie is also well known for giving workshops in Cork primary schools, often to kids from marginalised backgrounds. He teaches about hip hop and how to DJ using mix tables, drum pads and drumsticks. Also students learn how to write lyrics and are encouraged to find their own voice. He promotes authenticity as the key to success in this work. ‘The culture of hip hop trades on keeping it real … and people can see through you if you are being something else’. He references the rise in the last 10 years of openly LGBTQ+ rappers as well as emo rappers, whose lyricism shares honestly on mental health, as a great step. Stevie shares that at one point while working with kids from a Roma background he began sampling traditional music one of the kids suggested. ‘I said this is cool, and he couldn’t even believe that. It was great for me to see he was getting a little bit of pride from it’. Celebrating differences is at the centre of this work. In a past article for the Echo Stevie praised the now disbanded Corcadorca, a theatre company for which he was Inclusion Officer in 2021. ‘I always liked the way they take theatre to the people. They have brought theatre into nightclubs, warehouses and out onto the streets’. This can-do attitude with more action than lofty phrases is the way to go. The DJ praises the DIY aspect of hip hop as something that can also be brought to the people. This format is all inclusive.
Speaking on representation he notes that there has been women in the Irish DJ scene for 30 or 40 years now, especially at festivals yet even to this day certain people will be shocked at a female dominated lineup. Along with this I am told ‘the best sound engineers in Cork are women’ with Stevie listing Sandra O’Mahony and Chloe Nagle as examples. Yet this information certainly does not take front and centre in the media. ‘There’s not enough women nor people from marginalised backgrounds on air or on TV’. Can youth work help to fill these gaps in the long term?
The New School is another platform the DJ has launched to share the work he does with the younger generation and to promote their talents. He mentions TEST SITE as a collaborator in the project. This is a vacant site at Kryl’s Quay in the city centre that has been transformed into a community space for workshops and performances. The New School has facilitated shows featuring young people from minority groups in Cork. It has given ‘ten artists I know their first show and they are now back in the studio writing, in school still, but they have that burning passion now through a derelict site’. Dereliction has many negative impacts and it is ‘particularly shameful when we’ve got a housing crisis’. In this instance we see how vacant spaces are a lost opportunity for community work.
At the moment, Stevie is working on a radio documentary as part of the New School and wishes to continue his many projects into the future. Just this month he hosted an event in Cyprus Avenue premiering new acts. As he tells me in the beginning of the interview ‘the dancefloor is a naturally diverse place’ and this is what we must not lose sight of.