Kojaque brings sound of Ireland’s soft youth to Sauchiehall street
What’s on ... music ... the page that makes your weekend rock
He’s sold out gigs across the UK and Ireland and even supported Lana Del Rey, but is yet to be signed. Who is Kojaque, the mysterious man making musical waves, writes CARLA JENKINS
KOJAQUE has sold out Dublin... four times.
Although his first album, concept project ‘Deli Daydreams’ which told a week in the life of a Dublin deli worker who “contemplates love, life and loneliness in the lead up to the annual work Christmas party” was centred on life in the Irish capital, it seems that Dublin has had its fair share of selling out on Kojaque too.
“It’s not easy to live here full stop,” says Kojaque, known to me as Kevin Smith, a 24-year-old fine art graduate hailing from Dublin suburb, Cabra.
“Especially if you’re trying to make music. I don’t know how the phenomenon works – there seems to be a lot of amazing stuff coming out of Ireland, and I’ve been saying this for the past three years, and in that time it’s got harder to live here.
“It’s upsetting, coming from Dublin, to see how the place is being shut down and made into one big hotel. People feel powerless. When it’s so confusing and so expensive to live in, when you spend all your time working just to pay rent, I don’t know where people get the time to make what they make.
“Ireland is progressive in some ways, but it feels like sleight of hand to those that live here. It’s going to take a revolution to get powers of the people, the same way it was with the Repeal the 8th movement, Yes for Equality. It’s not the government, it’s the people that make stuff change.”
In the last year, Kevin has made big waves, even being named on NME’s list of essential artists for 2019.
Graduating from the Dublin Institute of Technology with a BA in Fine Art, where his graduate exhibition Love in Technicolour won the RHA School Graduate Studio Award, he used his studio space to move onto his next project – Deli Daydreams, created with his own record label, Soft Boy Records, and his musical partners in crime Kean Kavanagh and Luka Palm.
Since then, they have supported Lana Del Rey at Malahide Castle, and Slowthai on his European tour only last month, as well as selling out his own UK and Irish tour in May. And now he’s back, playing Glasgow’s Garage, as well as dates in Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Brighton.
“We’re starting the tour in Glasgow. I can’t wait, I love Glasgow, it’s good fun. The shows have been good everywhere, I find.
“There have been tonnes of highlights, this year,” says Kevin, although he sounds less enamoured than one would expect. “Things pick up and you travel more and stuff starts to blur a little bit,” he explains.
“You don’t have time to reflect. I’m trying to move forward and not live in the past, but you do have to sit down and pat yourself on the back sometimes. So, yeah – it’s been a mad year, but it’s been in a good way”.
Listening to Kojaque’s music is like listening to an unheard pocket of a city with plenty to say. His anger and confusion around loss of his city, compounded with the brotherhood emerging from his label, is something that is channelled into Kojaque’s output – his film, the debut album and the following mixtape ‘Green Diesel’ made with Luka Palm.
“I’m a project-based artist, and that’s how I like the work,” Kevin says.
“I get easily distracted and I get bored of things quite quickly. Once I have a project done I start looking at the next one, rather than sitting back and rehashing the same record every year.”
‘‘ Everything we’ve achieved is off our own backs, we’ve done it ourselves
Kojaque is yet to be signed, but the matter is almost inevitably imminent. I put this to him: he seems unfazed.
“Everything we’ve achieved is off our own backs, and we’ve done that ourselves.”
Soft Boy Records was born in 2015. Since then, it has bought them cult-like status in Ireland where it is not out of place to see someone emblazoned with the logo on Dublin’s Grafton street.
“I thought that I’d love to start a label, so I just messaged Kevin on Facebook and was like, ‘I have this idea we could start a label, and it would be like a faux-label,” says Kean, who will join Kevin on stage this Sunday.
“A veneer from which we could do business… just to put music out that way.”
“The way we sing with the Dublin accent, you get the naysayers and industry heads thinking that it won’t travel and I just don’t think that’s the case,” adds Kevin.
“People are clued into good music.
“There are tonnes of amazing things about Irish people and I don’t see why it should be any different to any other musician.”
For now, it is working. People are listening to what Kojaque and these Irish voices have to say about the place they come from, if it lets them down or buoys them up.
It resonates, here in Glasgow, where many of the young people feel the same.
Kevin, Kean and Amelia McConville model Soft Boy Records’ offerings in Trinity College, far left. Left: Kojaque