“Those boys have a serious sound,” says James O’Connor, turning to his friend.
The two were watching the band Mutefish busk near College Green on Sunday evening at dusk.
“Energetic punk rock with a folk twist?” O’Connor suggests. “Raw trad meets hard rock?”
He pauses and thinks some more: “Maybe heavy metal with a traditional influence?”
I caught up with Mutefish when they took a break half way through their set. They weren’t able to offer much more guidance on what genre of music they play.
Pedro Martinho, who is from Portugal, appears at the front of the band, playing the flute and an electronic fiddle. “We’ve been called a lot of things, like punk folk, punk metal, Celtic rock.”
Bo Stelmach from Poland, plays the mandolin as well as the guitar. “We wanted to find our own kind of genre, so we called it progressive techno folk,” he says.
“It’s a kind of joke,” Martinho says, “because there’s not much techno in it.”
Stelmach says: “Everyone had a different background, from folk to metal – so this is what happens when six people meet from different backgrounds.”
The fact that they are purely instrumental – there are no lyrics or singers – provides the inspiration for the name. “We are mute, in a way,” Stelmach says.
Sunset of Busking
Mutefish are an independent band, which means they don’t have a record contract and they make a living through gigging, busking, or selling records.
They perform regularly in venues across the country, including Whelan’s, and are well known on the festival scene – they played Electric Picnic for the first time this year.
Many bands stop busking when they start getting regular gigs, but Stelmach explains that busking is a powerful tool for promotion, so Mutefish has stuck with it over the years.
“For me it’s impressive how many opportunities we have got from busking,” he says. “We are not even aiming to be in the media – we are promoting ourselves on the street.”
He adds that their very first gig was secured after an organiser heard them busking, and it’s how most of their fans discover them as well.
Mutefish rocked the square in Temple Bar with their energetic, instrumental sound for almost a decade, but with bye-laws introduced this summer to ban amplification in the area, it’s the end of an era for electronic rock bands in the city.
Guitarist Bo Stelmach says the bye-laws have impacted on bigger bands because of the amount of space they need. “For bands like us its more difficult because there are fewer other places we can go,” he says.
He adds that in some ways the new laws have also been good for the band, encouraging them to move around, visit other cities and tour more.
After a short break, the band kick off again by College Green, and a new crowd quickly gathers.
At times it appears that more people stop than keep walking. Cameras come out and many people are recording the show – they all seem to stop for a long time.
Two women in their thirties pause to listen.
“I love them,” says Margaret Kavanagh. “I’ve gone to see them play in Whelan’s before as well.”
“Your man is gorgeous too,” says her friend, Suzanne Doherty, pointing to bass player Tomas Puplaigis.
Stelmach and Marka Lovkil, the guitarist, who is from Lithuania, are original founding members of Mutefish, which formed in 2007. In 2008 they were joined by Pupalaigis the “gorgeous” bass player, who is also from Lithuania.
Peter Karabasoff, on percussion, hails from Ukraine, and joined the band in 2009. Staunton joined in 2011. Martinho replaced Daithi O’Cearuill, who left the band last year.
Pupalaigis explains why he came to Ireland in the first place. “Basically me and Marka [Lovkil] used to play in a band together ages ago, and the reason why we came to Ireland was save up money for instruments.”
“And I always thought it was going to be a hobby that I was paying for, so to end up in the position that you are not only doing it for your own pleasure, but other people enjoy it as well … what else could you ask for,” he says.
Martinho has lived in Dublin for the last three years and says he came to Ireland because of a love of Irish music.
“I was already passionate about Irish traditional music. Now, we’re not exactly playing Irish traditional music, but it’s in there,” he says.
The band toured in Europe twice this year, visiting Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. “We played in festivals, small venues and busked as well,” Martinho says.
They explain that busking can be hard when you are on the road – often they would set up all their gear and start a gig, just to be stopped because they didn’t have the right permit.
Their music is definitely not quiet, and passing through so many cities it is impossible to apply for all the appropriate permits.
“Sometimes you can get away with playing for a few hours, other times after a few minutes you get shut down by the police,” Stelmach says.
They played Electric Picnic this year, which they enjoyed, but their favourite Irish festival is Knockanstockan. They get asked to play weddings a lot, but they decline.
“I don’t think our music is suitable for weddings,” Stelmach says. We played a few times, but I think everybody regretted it … it’s a different buzz, it’s a family occasion.”
You can catch the band at upcoming Dublin gigs this month, but after that they might disappear for a little while. They like to take a break each winter.
“We’ll go away to Europe – somewhere warmer,” Stelmach says. “We’ve planned a few last gigs in Dublin and then we’ll have a break until next year.”
They are in Whelan’s on 19 October, Hangar on the 29 October and the Generator Hostel on the 30 October.