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Kneecap are redefining rebellion through rave

18 June 2024, 09:00
Words by Alex Dewing
Original Photography by Sophie Barloc

Braggadocious Belfast rap trio Kneecap tell Alex Dewing about the creative craft of pissing people off.

Mo Chara (Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh), one half of Kneecap’s dynamic frontmen, takes a leisurely sip from his latest pint, reflecting on what makes their music so frequently provocative: "I feel like I’m not deeply thinking about that…'' he starts, pausing to follow his train of thought.

Sitting alongside him, Móglaí Bap (Naoise O'Cairealláin, and the other half to Chara), is quick to jump in. "You’re not deeply thinking about anything," he quips, prompting a returning slew of insults, a burst of laughter from the third part of this trio, DJ Próvaí (JJ O Dochartaigh), and quickly solidifying the personality of Kneecap.

In the relatively short span since this hip-hop band’s formation, Kneecap has rocketed from local notoriety to international acclaim. The raw energy and irreverent wit that quickly set them apart also led to debut single, "C.E.A.R.T.A," (Irish for ‘Rights’) being banned by the Irish language radio station RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta in 2017. In 2019, the South Belfast Democratic Unionist Party openly criticised them for chants of “Brits out” during one of their performances – which later went on to inspire their shamelessly satirical single “Get your Brits Out”. Even now, they’re suing the UK Government after their £15,000 Music Export Growth Scheme grant was revoked, with officials citing it would be inappropriate to fund "people that oppose the United Kingdom itself."


“Where we come from is obviously so cheery,” jokes Bap, “when we started off in music we had criticism coming from both sides of the community. So we definitely don’t discriminate when it comes to taking the piss.” Próvaí adds with a grin, “Though there are some things you can’t joke about.” He doesn’t elaborate on what those ‘somethings’ are; despite their outspoken personas, the group knows where they draw the line. Their debut longplayer Fine Art, released last week on Heavenly Records, exemplifies this ethos. It’s an unapologetic celebration of their heritage, scattered with pointed commentary on the socio-political landscape they tread. However, fans might be surprised if they were expecting something as openly incendiary as their earlier projects.

“We are absolutely thinking about what we’re saying,” shares Bap, reflecting on the band’s hope that Fine Art will still press some buttons, “but here we were thinking about the music a lot more…Not that we were focusing on pissing people off before. It was just the subject matter.”

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With Toddla T on board as producer for Fine Art , Kneecap aimed to “up the ante” musically. “Toddla’s like real professional. He’s worked with everyone and had everyone in that studio. It brings out the best in you, being around people like that,” Chara continues. “You really feed off it”.

Kneecap are a band still surprised by their rapid rise: “We started writing tunes about, you know, killing sniffer dogs,” says Chara with a laugh. “We didn’t expect to get signed by a record label…we were quite sceptical of English people kind of profiting off our long-standing history,” adds Bap. With everything falling into place, Fine Art showcases Kneecap’s growth, exploring boundaries and creative depths with newfound support, regardless of their occasional headline-making antics. And still, despite the polish and layers and new instrumentation, their music retains the same confidence, banter, and booziness that defines them.


“We love not being predictable,” shares Chara, backed by murmurs of agreement from his bandmates. “We love collaborations and we love the idea of doing collaborations.” Occasionally these things meet, with Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten delivering an unruffled chorus on the deliberately sedate “Better Way to Live” or Lankum’s Radie Peat lending her voice to the almost mystical opener “3cag.” It’s a benefit of hip-hop, Bap shares, discussing the ways the genre lends itself to experimentation between styles and sounds. After all, Kneecap boldly refuse to be boxed in, a sentiment echoed in their evolving musical expression. While rooted in local culture, this hip-hop trio's music resonates with universal themes of resistance, identity, and revelry, appealing well beyond the borders of the North of Ireland. This is a band that taps into a universal desire to say ‘fuck it’ and have a party.

As they reminisce on their journey, Próvaí shifts to their upcoming film, a self-titled semi-fictional biopic releasing later this year. "Flying over to Sundance unexpectedly?! I mean, we never expected a big premiere in the middle of America. Having people come up to you in the middle of Utah. Half Mormons, half Normans,” he finishes with a titter. “We started writing the script in 2019 with Rich [Peppiatt, co-writer and director],” recalls Bap. “It was great fun to sit and have a crate of 20 Guinness and write.” Próvaí adds with a laugh: “It was great until, like, page 40 when the drink kicks in.” This prompts more laughter from the trio, as they excitedly talk over each other, affectionately recounting their raucous writing sessions. “The script was beautifully written for ages, then just terrible after that,” finishes Bap, chuckling.

At their core, Kneecap are storytellers. While the band kept their screenwriting and musical storytelling separate, they do recognise a similar desire to create a world through Fine Art, itself a concept album set entirely inside the fictional raucous Irish pub “The Rutz”. “It kind of incorporates every walk of life,” Bap muses. “One minute someone’s going to be singing an Irish folk song – and if someone’s singing an Irish folk song you have to be very very quiet or else you’ll be shunned – and the next minute you’re going into a cubicle and there’s six fellas taking coke, so it’s the ups and downs of the pub”. Próvaí continues: “It matters that oral tradition in Ireland, going back centuries of storytelling, was passed down by mouth. Whenever you’re in a setting like a pub, you hear all the stories from the local community and it all ties in.”

It’s a reminder of how alive Irish is, as a language, a place, and a community. And no night is as alive as the one spent with Kneecap at The Rutz, even from the comfort of your headphones. Reflecting on their role in Ireland’s cultural and musical renaissance, the band humbly turns to their peers, praising the vibrant scene and its many talents. “It’s long overdue recognition for Irish culture and Irish arts,” says Chara. “We’ve been doing this for, like, a thousand years, it’s just not been in the mainstream. Some of the most talented musicians you can think of, they play for £40 in the corner of a pub. People are just getting the recognition they deserve.” “A hundred years of colonial shame was getting in the way and I think people are getting more confident and more creative,” Próvaí finishes, emptying his pint glass. Bap sums it up neatly: “It’s always an honour to be an Irish person.”

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In conversation, the trio exude a mixture of mischief and earnestness. It’s a chaotic energy that is palpable throughout their music, their upcoming movie, and themselves. They banter and bicker like brothers, with Chara himself describing the group as “braggadocious,” a trait evident in every exchange and every lighthearted apology for veering off track or breaking into laughter. This essence is the core of Kneecap’s appeal. They’re not just performers but activists, storytellers, and friends. They protest through party, using their platform not to provoke but to celebrate and amplify voices often unheard – remaining unapologetically themselves. For all the controversy they’re igniting along the way, whether thinking about it or not, it’s clear that this is a group simply making their way through the world and the music industry one drink at a time.

Fine Art is out now via Heavenly Records

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