How Rubberbandits sprang from cult to global hit

 

A week ago they were a little known comedy duo from Limerick, but the enormous success of ‘Horse Outside’ has seen The Rubberbandits clock up 1.5 million hits on YouTube – even if not everyone appreciates the joke

CHRISTMAS HAS always been calendar gold for novelty singles; an anything goes free-for-all run at the charts where queasy songs featuring mistletoe or children’s choirs bombard us with forced cheer. But few could have predicted that a new contender for Ireland’s Christmas number one, which has nothing to do with Jesus, snow or selection box gluttony, would come from a Limerick comedy duo who deliver their social satire via hip-hop.

Last week, the Rubberbandits’s latest effort, Horse Outside, aired on RTÉ’s Republic of Telly(they started a weekly slot on the show in October). Within hours it had become the most talked about YouTube clip in the country. The song, if you’re among the decreasing number yet to have heard it, is a vehicular guide to successfully picking up women, and reckons a horse has more pulling power than boy-racer favourites the Subaru, Mitsubishi or a Honda.

“I don’t need insurance, I don’t need no parking space, and if you try to clamp my horse, he’ll kick you in the face,” the song goes. Said horse is also likened to “Billie Piper after half an ounce of coke”.

As with their previous work, it’s not for the faint-hearted but is very funny in a way you can’t work out. Like some of most challenging comedy, there’s also the feeling you shouldn’t really be laughing at it and varying comparisons have been made, from Lenny Bruce to South Park. In just a week, the song has clocked up 1.5 million views on YouTube. X Factor’s Matt Cardle is currently keeping the single off the iTunes top spot but yesterday the band launched a campaign (outside the Dáil) to be number one for Christmas.

The phenomenon escalated when hundreds of people tweeted about or added Horse Outsideto their Facebook status updates. Everyone was watching the clip and passing it on, forwarding links and racing to YouTube to look up their back catalogue. Comedian Dara Ó Briain tweeted his support for the song and Fintan O’Toole – with tongue planted firmly in cheek – called it “elegant, moving and deeply spiritual. Captures the essence of the Irish soul”. Like O’Toole, Ó Briain honed in on its Irishness, asking via Twitter: “People of Ireland! Do you think the Brits are ready for Horse Outside?”

America’s CNBC, in a slight culture fail, also picked up the story, wondering if it was a “gag” or “are the Irish already getting accustomed to a more austere life? . . . about how owning a horse is superior to owning a fancy automobile”. This mainstream recognition is what’s really intriguing about the Limerick act.

On Monday they were guests on Orla Barry’s arts show on Newstalk and were interviewed the next day by RTÉ’s John Murray. Prior to October, their reputation was built up via YouTube clips and big-ups from bloggers.

The first time I heard Rubberbandits was intro-ing their “not gay” Gentleman’s Club in the video for a song called Bag of Glue, which detailed a romantic encounter with a larger lady club while worse for wear.

But they’re also not afraid to be political. Up the ’Ra is a sarcastic anthem to ignorant nationalism, and they’ve penned an ode to one of Limerick’s most famous former ministers, Willie O’Dea. Despite the leap in profile in the past week, few know who Mr Chrome and Blindboy are, due to their habit of wearing masks made from supermarket bags.

Prior to their YouTube virals, the Rubberbandits’ initial routines consisted of prank phone calls. When they began playing shows, their set evolved to include songs. They’ve played to huge crowds at the Electric Picnic and the Bulmers Comedy Festival. In September, they were asked to speak to Trinity College’s Philosophical Society, signing their name in the guest speaker’s book alongside Al Pacino, Nelson Mandela and Jonathan Swift.

Comedian Des Bishop is also a fan and thinks part of the success of Horse Outsideis timing. “We’ve had a rough few weeks and people are looking for a bit of relief, but it’s more than that. People want to be part of it, and that can’t be explained. I’ve always like them, right from their Willie O’Dea song. I watched Horse Outsideand thought it was fun, but it was only when I watched it a second time that I realised how good it was. It’s the attention to detail.”

Bishop also points out that the song could end up being the biggest Irish-generated YouTube clip. At 1.5 million views to date, he believes it’s unlikely that half the Irish population has watched it – and that instead it is picking up a lot of international traffic. “It’s the perfect YouTube phenomenon – short, simple and catchy – I keep singing the ‘Fitzy drives a Mitsi’ line to myself.”

Bishop has even had to deny claims he’s one of the boys, as curiosity rises about their identities. “They are who they are.”

What's a bag of yokes, Willie?

LIKE MOST things with a whiff of controversy about them, it was inevitable that the Rubberbandits would end up on Liveline. Yesterday, Joe Duffy gamely fielded complaints from concerned citizens about Horse Outside.

“You’re laughing at children who can’t protect themselves and you’re promoting something that is killing people,” said one caller.

The Rubberbandits’ Blindboy countered: “Someone needs to give that man a dictionary to look up the word ‘irony’.” Perhaps the most surreal part of the debate was former minister Willie O’Dea giving his two cents. “It’s art, Joe.” Was it also shameless electioneering, Willie?

Duffy brought the demon hip-hop in, declaring that O’Dea “had never endorsed 60 cent (sic)”, to which Blindboy quipped: “No, he endorsed 2Pac.” It was radio gold and will go down in lore as one of the funniest ever Liveline interviews. There’s far more likelihood of the Rubberbandits having a Christmas number one than O’Dea ever again being asked: “What’s a bag of yokes, Willie?”


The Rubberbandits play Dublin’s Button Factory tonight and the Pavilion in Cork on December 21