Róisín Murphy: "Clubbing is about being convivial and free — we're not being fed anything"
Irish superstar and dance pop icon Róisín Murphy talks heading back on the road, rollercoaster nights out in Glasgow and finding herself at Trade
Beloved by both the pop and dance music worlds — it’s not difficult to see why Róisín Murphy is one of the most exciting live acts the continent has to offer right now. Coming off the back of her fifth solo album 'Róisín Machine', a sell-out UK tour and a slew of other career milestones — the avant-garde megastar is preparing to treat fans to her adventurous disco-jazz hybrid sound with a jam-packed summer full of tour and festival appearances Cala Mijas, Wilderness, Glastonbury and Glasgow's Riverside Festival.
Having had a keen interest in music since growing up in her native Ireland, it wasn't until moving to Manchester as a teenager that she really began to throw herself headfirst into the world of experimental sound." I really was young when I started to collect records, about 14, that's probably when I realised," she tells me, "I just really knew — I knew who I wanted to hang around with, what I wanted to discover." Having formed Moloko on a chance meeting with bassist Mark Brydon in Sheffield in 1994, the dance-pop duo became famous for peak time club classics such as 'The Time Is Now', 'Familiar Feeling' and 'Sing It Back' —with Murphy quickly becoming an emblem of the late 90s dance music boom.
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Since the release of her first solo record 'Ruby Blue' in 2005, Murphy has meandered between the boundaries of pop, experimental and club — weaving her vocals around pulsating glam rock, hypnotic disco and bouncing basslines. Following a series of singles and EPs ahead of the pandemic, news of her fifth full-length record and a live performance at Berlin's Panorama Bar it appeared that the meteoric rise of one of pop's most unique artists... and Róisín wasn't going to let lockdown slow her down. Maintaining her reputation as a true performer, she began livestreaming increasingly elaborate performances from her home, including a performance of the single 'Simulation' that included backup dancers and a rendition of 'Ancora Tu' delivered from her bed.
As the world has opened back up again, it seems Murphy is eager to get back on the road — delivering a knock out UK tour and scheduling a jam-packed EU leg to boot. Having just announced her acting debut in the upcoming teen fantasy Netflix series Half Bad, a near-religious dedication to updating her 'Mum's Old School' and 'Róisín Caviar' plus, rumours of another album in the works, there's plenty of reasons to be watching the Róisín space.
We caught up with Róisín as she gears up for the EU leg of her Róisín Machine tour to talk preparations, getting lost in Berghain and creating her own community.
So you're gearing up for the Róisín Machine EU tour right now? are you excited to get back on the road post-lockdown?
Yeah super excited, it's the opposite of usual life where I'm quite quiet and I'm not really moving around — so the craziness of it I am looking forward to it. It's a continuation because we did the UK part of the tour in September squeezed in between lockdowns. I'm glad we're at this point now where we're actually going to get it done. I can't wait to see my band too, they are like family to me really, I miss them. I don't tend to see them much between shows, apart from my guitar player who sometimes we'll get together and jam and make some acoustic versions of my tracks — but the whole crew, no. There's fourteen of us on the bus, it's going to be like the gang getting back together... me and loads of men [laughs].
How has the tour adapted now it's kicking back off again? Will this be similar to the UK tour? or is this pretty much going to be starting from scratch?
It really changes every single iteration. We've changed things up a little this time, we've got a new drummer — we've also got a new band coming with us called MADMADMAD, but some of their members are already in my band so there's going to be some swap over.
You're pretty known for your iconic stage looks, have you got anything special in the bag for this tour?
You know, nothing too exciting just a couple of little things [laughs]. Honestly, it kind of comes together at the last minute for every tour — it's a bit chaotic. I just sort of make connections over a small period of time and collate things. Right now I'm having things sent from all over, it's more of a logistical story at the moment, to get everything here and ready to go —but it'll probably end up coming in at the last minute. I'll end up having a big, massive, ridiculous trying-on session — but hopefully, it'll all fall together.
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Busy busy busy, you're also making your acting debut soon in Half Bad right? a teen-drama Netflix series where you'll be playing a witch?
Yeah, I mean... that's pretty much all I can tell you really. Basically just "I'm in it." But I can tell you I enjoyed it and enjoyed doing it, the director of the first few episodes (Colm McCarthy) — the main guy, he asked me to do it because he was a fan of my music, or had seen me live. It really came out of the blue. It's all a big fun rollercoaster of discovery and adventure, really.
You're also going to be heading back on the festival circuit, headlining Riverside Festival. Are you excited about that one? Glasgow is a lovely city.
I love Glasgow it's my favourite. I feel really at home there, you know you can go out in Glasgow for one night and you get to know everyone, they are just so nice and friendly. Two weeks can happen in one night in Glasgow like the police can be called, people can fall in love, people can be going away — all sorts of things can happen in one night in Glasgow.
So many possibilities.
So many [laughs]. I always feel like I've been on a two week holiday when I go to Glasgow just overnight. You absorb that much information in just one night, they are just ace — I love it, I absolutely love it.
You've described your social media presence before as being like a "scrapbook," have you embraced it as an extension of your art now do you think?
It's a good place to have a little play with things like voiceovers, editing and different ways of creating. My fans are absolutely lovely too, I really have good fortune with the fans that I've got — they are there for me and it feels like it's for the right reasons and they appreciate what I do. It's not like, the "fame" thing. It's nice, it feels like a bit of a community. A friend of Róisín Murphy is in a certain group [laughs].
You're pretty dedicated to keeping your 'Róisín Caviar' and 'Mum's Old School' playlists updated on Spotify. Are they something you get a lot of joy from? I mean, we're enjoying discovering bangers on there.
Yeah, it gives me an impetus to listen to music — I have to update them every Monday and Tuesday (Mums Old School is updated on Mondays and Róisín Caviar is updated on Tuesdays). I get messages now from people going "why did you change the playlist! where's that song gone!" My advice is, to take a screenshot or save it because it will change every week. But it's a nice little hobby for me, it keeps my ear to the ground. With the Caviar one, I am trying to keep up with as much new music as I can — but it can range from new releases to ten years old. Whereas the Old School one is like, you know proper "come have a dance with your mum, don't be ashamed, don't be shy" [laughs]. I love it. Anything that goes on either of those will stay with me for life.
Can you tell us about some of your favourites ever club nights?
Berghain recently was a really great one for me, about two-and-a-half years ago. I played a set in Panorama Bar which was incredible, but afterwards, I headed down into Berghain and it opened my mind to, minimal/dubby techno. I've never really been there at 5:AM dancing to that kind of music before, but also to be there in front of that soundsystem, it's the best soundsystem ever and I think you need that for that type of music. I got lost, the security people who were supposed to be minding me ended up arguing with my boyfriend going: "Where is she?!" and he was going "No she's fine, she's just gone off." I was gone for four hours — but I was fine I was surrounded by a lot of strong and stable lesbians. I was drawing the music with my body, it was a mind-blowing experience. I live in Ibiza, so I'm often exposed to really bad music — so it was a nice change.
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How was it playing the R3 Soundsystem Ukraine benefit?
It was the sweatiest night ever and I have been in some sweaty rooms. I did stay and listen to some of the DJs and had a really good time, and saw lots of people that I know. I have to say it was a great space — and Hannah Holland was incredible, I've never really heard her in her own environment playing like that before, and it was a lot faster than we're used to in our age group let me put it that way. But it was perfect, with total energy and connection with her crowd. It was great. I'm excited to head to Adonis now.
Do you think it's good to take part in club nights that are fighting for a good cause?
Yeah I mean, it's not just that — I think we're really fighting on the front lines, we're doing exactly what oppressors don't want us to. We're being convivial and free, we're not looking at our screens and we're not being fed anything. It's just goodness.
Did you miss going to clubs and venues during lockdown? or was it nice to have a bit of a break?
Yeah, it was a bit like that, you know. It took everyone a bit by surprise to see the other side of life, everyone is affected differently by it — but it is nice to be in nature and that. When you have two kids that are growing and changing all the time, it's quite nice to have those two years of relative consistency. But I missed the guys! I can't wait to get back to them! I'm training every day, I'm gonna spring out on that stage like Iggy Pop.
You've perfected this middle ground between pop/avant-garde and the club, what do you think it is that allows you to do that? is it personal taste? and do you think to fluctuate between the two quite a lot?
I think a lot of it is because I started in Ireland where it was just everybody singing songs, really famous songs. It was like a big musical, like MGM, [does an impression of an opera singer] everyone was just singing. Then I went to Manchester, I got into alternative rock really first like Sonic Youth and Pixies and things like that. I started to go to clubs and I was very open musically about what I wanted to discover, I was brought up around a lot of music. I went to Sheffield, and I realised I wanted to be an artist. I always knew I was going to be an artist but I never knew which kind, could have been any really — could have ended up being an interior designer. I'd have been one of those interior designers that has a really scruffy house — everything fucked.
Can you tell us about some of your early club experiences?
The first club I went to in Manchester was this place called Precinct 13, which was really a Black club — street soul, R&B, Northern soul, those kinds of genres were being played there. That was when I first really learned how to dance in a club, well not really learn [laughs], never really learned. But you know, I more mean how you dance with your body in the club — going for it to big tunes, a proper mad one, drinking water all night. I wasn't mad about The Haçienda because it didn't have great sound, and it seemed like everyone was looking for something — it was so transient. It was good though [laughs]. I think my real passion for clubbing came when I was in Sheffield there would be three nights a week that I would go out, and there were just a couple of DJs but you knew them so well and they could really teach you things — Winston Hazel, DJ Pipes and Parrot. They were able to play everything: drum 'n' bass, house, rare groove, bleep techno. You could hear new, strange stuff from the same DJ week after week. When I went to New York too, Body & SOUL, reintroduced me to house in a different way from a different angle. In a way that didn't come from when I was in Manchester and going to The Haçienda — people like Danny Krivit and Francios K.
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Another amazing experience was going to London, to visit Trade — I went down on the National Express bus, we stayed at my friend's dad's house down there in Liverpool Street and we had to queue three times around the block — we kept getting turned away because we looked too green. Eventually, they let us in and I remember looking over the balcony and seeing a sea of men, what looked like with no clothes on because they were in their Calvin Klein boxer shorts. They were all up close with each other, there was dry ice and lasers and big tunes — I just thought, I've come home really. This is where I belong. There was this uncanny sort of sexual déjà vu.
You can catch Róisín at Riverside Festival on Saturday, June 4, for more information and tickets head to https://www.riversidefestivalglasgow.com/.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter