The Dublin MC forcing us to face real life; both the gory and the glory.
All clothing LOUIS VUITTON
I first found Kojaque through the eternal harbinger of joy and harmony, Twitter. After one listen to the Dublin poet/MC’s LP Deli Daydreams, I sent some rare recommendation texts to all my group chats: “You have to listen to this guy.” It was selfish, really. I just wanted someone to unpick the record with and absorb its every feature, from his distinct Irish accent, effortlessly converting a mellifluous croon into a spit of anguish, to the record’s conceptual basis: dreams born from disillusion while working in a deli.
“It’s just a placeholder for anything that you’re doing that you don’t have a passion for,” Kojaque, real name Kevin Smith, explains while he chomps through a veggie breakfast before me in Stoke Newington (home — his mum’s in Dublin — is a pescatarian household, admirably “for environmental reasons”). He’s never actually donned a hairnet to work behind a glass chilled counter. “The task itself isn’t what you’re thinking about, you’re thinking about everything you’re missing out on. I think that’s a very universal feeling for a lot of people.”
Smith grew up playing in indie guitar bands but after he got ahold of his little brother’s copy of Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin, he sought out the Odd Future ringleader’s inspirations from interviews, discovering MF Doom, and later, Biggie and The Streets. “I fell in love with the storytelling,” he tells me. “Ready to Die, I think, is a perfect album.” After multiple listens, combing through the tracks, Smith began to gather the narrative gems that reappear. “In that way I think it’s like a novel — your impression of the first song — you read it or listen to it, you probably get about 60 per cent of the song the first time. Second time you read it, you get a little bit more, then you develop this different relationship with the work. I think that’s amazing… I think of it almost like curating.”
Deli Daydreams traces the disappointment of a working class guy whose girl has fallen out of love with him, while he falls further into a lifelong stint in Dublin at the deli. Smith creates microcosmic characters, like Susan, a colleague who crops up both as the instigator of the fictitious company’s Secret Santa and as Kojaque’s comforter when his beloved is blanking him. There’s accounts of nights out, the inevitable narcotics and consequent comedowns, and sagas detailing the struggle to make rent in the absence of any support, while suits are gifted tax breaks. “It’s inner feelings that are characters,” Smith explains. “Almost things I would want to say or how I would want to be… The frustration is at the state of affairs in Dublin at the moment. It’s unbelievable. It’s more expensive to rent there than it is [in London]. So a lot of that frustration came when I reached college age, and it’s that feeling of having to be a real person soon: knowing that I have to make money and move out of my ma’s house, coming to the realisation that that is not an easy thing to do in Dublin.”
(LEFT) Jumper URBAN OUTFITTERS and jeans LEVIS
(RIGHT) Top and trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS
We proceed to talk about the state of the city for the next 10 minutes; Smith as passionate as he is eloquent, armed with stats. He tells me there were 78 Dublin hotels in the planning stages last time he checked. A city centre club and culture hub, Hangar was demolished at the start of the summer to make way for another hotel. I ask him what the city could possibly need so many rooms at a rate per night for. “I don’t know,” he pauses, “so many hotels now are emergency accommodation because people can’t get houses. It’s almost like the government are systematically trying to kill them, like with the amount of funds they cut to mental health. It just feels, especially for anyone who’s in a creative industry, that you can’t pay £600-£700 a month for rent to get a shitty bedsit that you can’t make noise in.”
“People who are actually in government… I don’t know how they think people live. Art is such an important part of living and not just surviving,” he continues. “They’d much prefer us to love hotels. Honestly it feels like fucking Monopoly. It feels like we have some tyrant on the Monopoly board.”
It’s well documented that turbulent times fuel great art, whether that’s as an act of rebellion and reflection or as a comforting remedy. Deli Daydreams lies somewhere between the two, with opening track “White Noise” closing on a comedic faux-news announcement about “two men attempting several times to throw a large, plastic ice-cream cone through the shop front”. A small part of you will hope that’s Kojaque’s own vandalism, a way of saying a small “fuck you” to the austere establishments the character name-drops across the record: An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force and the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of Irish Parliament. But, despite the bleakness in the music’s truth-to-life, Smith reassures me his homeland’s artists aren’t “all doom and gloom”. “I love to laugh, I love to have fun, and I love hanging out with my friends,” he says. “I’d hate to have that denied because I make some sad songs.”
Created as self-professed method of “faking it ‘til you make it”, he also heads up Soft Boy Records with fellow musician, Kean Kavanagh. They set up the label (named in an effort to reappropriate the tag of being sensitive men) after they met working at Irish college, a three week camp where kids visit areas that still only speak in the country’s traditional tongue. “More or less we started it because I wanted to email gigs and ask to book me… If I email from Soft Boy Records it’ll sound better than like the college email that they’ve given me,” he says. “So it was always that idea of tricking people into thinking we were legitimate,” he laughs, “and so far, no one has caught onto the trick.”
Since the label’s 2015 set up, they’ve grown into a roster of nine who collaborate on each other’s work and help to build audio and visual catalogues for every artist, tapping into the skills Smith gained studying film at college. The screen stories that accompany Deli Daydreams are just as immersive and engrossing as the tracks, and the life of Kojaque is in chapters. An artificial world of hyperactive neons tracking the highs; cruising in a car in the video for “Politicksis”, and remembering love lost in “Eviction Notice”. Morose, anemic colour palettes slap you with reality, confronting the lows and anger of “White Noise” and “Bubby’s Cream”. Under Kojaque, Smith’s created a world in the image of what he sees around him. If everyone’s turning a blind eye to the broken state of real life, reflecting it back is the only way to demand attention.
After selling out dates on a UK tour this autumn, he’s heading back home to work on new music of his own, as well as each of his Soft Boys’. In between, what he plans to get up to is as you might expect: “Steal a giant ice cream cone, maybe hit up the deli, see if there’s any vacancies. I’m just trying not to take the foot off the pedal.”
Taken from the Winter 2018/19 issue; out now and available to buy here.
Rebecca Barnes at Creatives using Bobbi Brown and Maria Nila