Interview: CLU

Dubliners Sean Cooley and Kevin Freeney have been working together as CLU since 2011. An audiovisual collaboration, they have been performing in venues and at festivals nationwide since then. Their music is heartfelt, intricate and expansive, and the visuals are appropriately impressive, and fascinatingly. unpredictable. Late last year their debut 12″ was released on Mr Mitch’s Gobstopper Records, and this week they perform a special gig in an unusual venue in Dublin. We caught up with them a while back to discuss their origins, motivations and views on their home city.

When did you know you wanted CLU to be an AV team? Sean: “Well it started as Me (Sean, music guy) seeing Kev (visual man) do some visual manipulation on footage he took of our pal painting. I had been working on music since I was around 11-12 and never really got proper wowed by visual art apart from video games; I never kind of saw the music until I was shown Kev’s work – it just felt like the visuals and music would create the same or similar emotion, which I think was right; so from the start really.”

How much do your roles overlap? Sean: “Our roles aren’t really black and white, apart from the senses we are using to create our art. We can produce stuff separate or together, but because we kind of get each other so much at this stage it just flows. We had come up with the concept for the EP last year, and we were just waiting to find the right home for it. [We] always looked at the project as just a canvas for us to really do anything we wanted, that’s why we haven’t stuck to a certain genre of musical or visual art, because we are constantly evolving, and having been aiming to create something that’s just ours and us, not hopping on anything, that’s why it’s a bit boring when some people are like ‘oh you sound like yunglean/kanyewest/trance/grime/videogamesounds/idontknowwhatthatis’, or like some of Kev’s visuals people are like ‘oh that’s like Arca’; It really isn’t, you have just looked it at but not actually taken it in. We are just trying to make something that is truly our own you know, which is kind of fresh because most are sitting pretty in a certain genre, which just bores me.”

There are so many things happening in “MOOD2098” I could conduct an interview about it alone. It’s overwhelming, yet so intricately weaved together that it just sweeps you along. Talk to me about the vocals – they feel like they could be sampled or original. [Interview here becomes like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book.] If original: who is it? Is it you? What drives your lyrics and performance? If sampled: where do you draw them from? The trance explosion at 4.09 is like a new world opening up, it turns me inside out. The video is hugely apt, then, a being trapped in a confusing world (to be utterly reductive). Can you talk about this process? Sean: “They are all original, just me singing and chopping for some parts, because I always felt that if you keep going above and beyond with the stuff you make to fine-tune every last detail you will get recognition, and I sang when I was younger, so I just thought it was natural to not only produce everything but now sing on the tracks as well. I wanted to connect with people more, I feel obviously that there are certain feelings that can be grabbed from someone’s chest only through music and visual art, but I felt it was missing something to kind of ground it as well, which was the voice I think.”

Kev: “The video for “MOOD2098” was a collaboration with Janna Kemperman, who worked with us on the video for “Mirrors” too. At its core the video is about the birth of this character, MOOD. It’s definitely a narrative that I’d like to revisit and develop more down the road. Four of us shot it over two days in an empty studio on one camera with a minimal budget, but I’m still super proud of it and what it says. We wanted to focus on light, movement and the human form and have the video be all about what’s between the lens and light. These days all of the videos are made so I can remix them live at the CLU shows, making all these music videos a process that works towards a more emotive and live experience.”

There is a Japanese influence on “Okami”, obviously in the title and sound, but also the video: can you talk about that? Kev: “I always wanted to visit Japan since I got into anime when I was 15. Japanese animation and the concepts it brings with it has been a huge influence in my work for years. I started to get into video editing by making AMVs [Anime Music Videos] on YouTube and then I started to document and edit school trips and holidays to music for friends. This video definitely stems from that side of video. I shot on DV because I could just keep the camera rolling day in day out and pass it around. A lot of the time I was filming stuff with Sean in mind – his love of refraction and computer UIs for example. I used to call “Okami” ‘Cooley’s Island’ because I always imagined it was the soundtrack to a game starring Sean and a few coconuts out in the middle of nowhere, but actually it was me, my girlfriend and some friends that were the ones out in the middle of Japan and I wanted to bring some of that magic home.”

You’re very much part of the Dublin scene, but this release comes via Gobstopper. Can you tell us about how this connection was formed? Sean: “The connection was made to Gobstopper through me getting in direct contact with Miles [Mr Mitch] and sending him some stuff over, just because I had followed the artists on the label very closely, so I had been sending the EP out for around three months – I won’t name these other labels – but two big so-called pioneers of original, fresh electronic music told us they loved the EP but we were just not big enough. So on the one hand they pride themselves on being part of the underground, but on the other hand you have to be big to get put out – I understand that but I felt it was bit two-faced you know? So there was back and forth through all of this, not once did we get disillusioned though because this is fun, like why else would we be doing it you know?”

“So I sent Miles over to the stuff and he was mad into it and responded, and it was just all good from there. I said it before, you come across few people in life who just know exactly what’s up, and Miles is one of those people. Another reason for going with Gobstopper is we have always seen ourselves as an international group, like we are good enough to get out around the globe you know? So [it] was just time to get out in that way, and it is seriously in a very small pool of labels actually pushing boundaries, and not claiming to.”

Not to reduce your sound to grime, but how do you think it has impacted Dublin? Sean: “With regards the scene in Dublin, we did a vid with Boiler Room about it, and if you know me I am never not a positive man, it’s just not in me, but there are a handful of promoters and actual REAL talented people actually creating things, but they are being overshadowed by this faux creative Dublin buzz. There have been two big corporate-sponsored videos in the last couple of weeks with some people who aren’t really in the scene in Dublin saying how everything is all gravy for a bit of cash, when in actual fact it isn’t – we were asked to do it but it but it just didn’t feel right. There is a serious lack of venues, that’s why we didn’t do a launch of the EP here. With the last EP we sold out The Button Factory and we spent like 2 Gs, and Kev constructed this massive hexagon structure made out of individual pieces of glass, just so we could immerse people in the show more. The plan is to do a show at a venue we have found in February, and I want it to be like how bands used to do it, have a venue you would call home, and because you know the specs like the back of your hand you can actually go so deep into creating an experience rather than just a night out. I’d love to do a gig once every two months, the money on the door we make all goes back into materials and stuff for the next show, so when you arrive the next time it’s a completely different landscape you know.”

“Dublin has some of the best people in the world artistically and they just don’t get the recognition they deserve, but the flip is a lot of people just convince themselves they like something or don’t like something and that’s it, not taking a step back to actually look or listen, just rushing to the aux chord to stick on something they think they like but I don’t know the reasons why? But hey, it’s good to be alive, so all of this is the bonus level for me, just might need slight adjusting.”

CLU – Mood EP is out now on Gobstopper. CLU will be performing alongside Mr. Mitch & Rachel Noble in The Pillar Room, an 18th century function room beneath the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on March 11. For information and tickets, see here.

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...