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Groove is in the heart


DJ Christopher Coe teams up with Westport artists to create techno tunes

Ciara Moynihan

A group of artists with diverse interests and talents have been taking part in Upstart – a project run by The Custom House Studios, in association with Mayo County Council Arts Office and Western Care association – for several years now. These artists, who live with intellectual disability, work under the guidance of two local artists, Gráinne O’Reilly and Caroline Masterson. They have produced a fine body of creative work along the way, from printmaking to shadow puppetry.
In 2018 they decided they would like to try their hands at making some techno dance music, and so in the autumn of that year, renowned Westport-born sound artist, DJ and producer Christopher Coe – AKA DJ Digital Primate – was invited to collaborate with the group (known collectively as The Upstarters for this project).
Coe runs record label Awesome Soundwave (ASW) with fellow acclaimed DJ, Carl Cox. Coe’s performances have been described as ‘dynamic, deep and genre bending’. His ‘trademark dance floor funk … straddles the experimental worlds of sound art and atmosphere’, and he has worked alongside some of the world’s greatest electronic producers and DJs, including, DJ Krush, Surgeon, DJ Hell and Mad Professor. The Upstarters could not have asked for a better collaborator.
The invitation was accepted, and so began a series of collaborative sessions over the course of six weeks, with Coe as guest artist and producer of the project.
Coe and The Upstarters first recorded the sounds of their environment, such as sticks on iron railings, and bells and whistles, before heading to a local studio to record drums, vocals and random percussion. They also experimented with some synths that Coe brought with him and used their voices to create strange and atmospheric expressions.
From these creative sessions emerged a number of quirky and powerful techno tunes, including two that are poised for worldwide release.
One of these tracks, ‘No No No’, features the voice of Sarah Kelly, who in this piece speaks one word, ‘No’, with expression and in a variety of tones. All the sounds in the track were created by the group and collated by Coe to create a powerful percussive techno piece. Listen out for the percussion in the second half of the piece – it’s actually the sound of the whole group ‘playing’ an old wooden boat wreck by slapping it with their hands. The other track, ‘Pick Up The Phone’, features Maire Maguire’s voice. She whispers almost eerily into the microphone something that is barely recognisable. Maire doesn’t speak often, but on this particular day she felt compelled to step up to the microphone, and with such powerful intent that the whole track was built around her vocal. The live drums were played by Gerry O’Malley, another member of the group.
The artwork for the release was created as a linocut by group member, Anna Rose Lowry. Her print was taken by designer Gustav Von Platen and rendered with an eye to ASW’s trademark visual style – but the original energetic lines and strokes are still there, created in response to the music.
Commenting on the experience, Coe was effusive. “It was such a privilege to work together with these people in such an open and creative way. They taught me a lot about just letting go and not worrying too much about the outcome. They were so open to experimentation and also really had no concern about whether something was cool, or considered or ‘appropriate’. They reminded me of the joy of simply creating. And we became great friends. I love them!
“Carl [Cox] has been playing the tracks since the start of the year, and he loves the fact that they stand up beside any serious techno track out there, but the fact that they came from such a project and group of people makes these tracks all the more interesting and rich. Techno really is for everyone!”
Christopher Coe and The Upstarters’ ‘Pick Up The Phone’ EP, containing the tracks ‘Pick Up The Phone’ and ‘No No No’,  is due for release on September 27, and will be available via Bandcamp and all digital download and streaming outlets.