Mango x MathMan: 'Prosperity is for those who are given it'

The Dublin duo's debut is filled with sounds of the capital, overlaid with sincere and bittersweet observations of everything that's good and bad about the place they call home

Producer Adam Fogarty and rapper Karl Mangan, aka Mango & MathMan.

Producer Adam Fogarty and rapper Karl Mangan, aka Mango & MathMan.

 

At Lucky’s bar on Meath Street in Dublin’s Liberties, Adam Fogarty, aka MathMan, is drinking an IPA called Hop-On with a picture of the Dart on the can. The rescued Metro Burger sign that used to hang from the now demolished Screen Cinema building takes up a corner of the smoking section.

His creative partner, the rapper Mango, arrives and as Drexciya booms over the speakers, they leave the bar, walking around the corner to the Liberty Belle on Francis Street, stopping to gaze at something no longer there, the site of the demolished Tivoli Theatre/District 8 venue. Both men fall silent looking at the remnants of street art in the closed-off carpark. Like their parents before them, a new generation of Dubliners now trace the city’s landscape in absentia, memories held in outlines of places no longer there. Pints of Guinness are placed on a barrel outside the pub, and the group know as Mango x MathMan begin to discuss their debut album, Casual Work.

The weight of Dublin’s shifting environment and economics is shouldered by many artists in the capital, yet while some seeking success tend to look outward, urban introspection and the specificity of place has yielded interesting results in recent years. Acts such as Fontaines DC and Kojaque have centred the city in their work, with both romanticism and resentment at play. Reclamation is another. Contemporary creative representations of the city have moved far beyond the tropes of Poolbeg prints, and seep into everything from skateboard culture, to hiphop, to apparel, to street art.

It’s in this context that Casual Work arrives, 4½ years in the making, a year-and-a-half after their EP Wheel Up. At times, Casual Work transmits the literal sound of the streets, the actual noise of the city. The first thing on the record is immediately Dublin, the sound of town breathing and seagulls screeching. “Zero, zero : zero, zero,” the album begins, a reset, “Another day in the Dub.”

This is the public Mango, the endlessly sociable crew leader, session ready, laden with confidence and swagger

What follows is the anthemic, questioning, sincere, and bittersweet Dublin ode, Deep Blue, featuring Lisa Hannigan. This earnest transmission of resilience and tenacity positions their art in opposition to external forces piloting the city, towards what, we don’t know.

Ostensibly, Mango occupies three emotional spaces as a rapper. One is the hard-jaw-ism of an early track, Badman, which on this album, also extends to Chest Out and Mad Ting. This is the public Mango, the endlessly sociable crew leader, session ready, laden with confidence and swagger – “Fag and a stout, take after McGowan,” he raps on Chest Out. The lyrical flip side is the private Mango, for whom the crowds and clinking of glasses fade away and the late night emotional interior is cracked open, unleashing a stream of self-doubt, insecurity, fear and hope. The third is both overarching and embedded, the part of identity that is utterly rooted in a sense of place, and contains the questions such an attachment raises, namely whether one’s connection to Dublin is an anchor or a millstone?

MathMan’s primary accomplishment has been to capture the eclecticism of a particular kind of Dublin taste, and manage to contain all of its contradictions. Music in Dublin is not as segmented as seemingly disconnected waves of success are framed as. The underlying culture is revelling in a blend of everything everyone is doing and more – across all artistic disciplines. The audience freely meanders through clashes of taste and genre, with so many tribes bumping off each other, and all ending up at the same session at the end of the night.

The common denominator is the lust for music as a therapeutic release, of which rave culture is such a integral part. The essence of rave underscores a good deal of MathMan’s productions, which often ignore the delineations of genre by embarking upon triple sonic entendres that incorporate nostalgia, esoteric winks, and the bald and bare forcefulness that encapsulates so much of contemporary music globally.

MathMan’s music is sedimentary, containing within it layers of time

This is a melting pot first brewed on the sticky floors of teenage discos flavoured by the unmistakable scent of a malfunctioning smoke machine, brought into bigger clubs and on to larger stages, while maintaining the sense of bedroom studio graft. MathMan’s music is sedimentary, containing within it layers of time, the anthropological observations of what makes a city bop, and the memories of settings where a sound first connected; clubs, sheds, car parks, back seats, bedrooms, fields, tents, bars, basements, warehouses, studios, headphones.

Getting to this point was not easy. The group is independent; no industry management, no label, no booking agent. The highs of shows – such as their buzzing Saturday night gig at Electric Picnic this year – are accompanied by the lows of the financial reality of trying to make their art work (Mango still works in a shoe shop stock room). Cracks began to show, which, remarkably are exposed, not smoothed over on the album. Running through Casual Work is a narrative of creative tension and a friendship fracturing. “What’s the craic bro, it’s me,” an early interlude runs, MathMan leaving a voicemail on Mango’s phone, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on with you at the moment, but there’s something I need to tell you. You’re acting the b******s right now man, and you’re messing a whole load of people around . . . Look, I think we can really make a go at this, so gimme a call when you’re ready to work.”

“You can’t sugarcoat it,” Mango grimaces. “What you hear on the album is a watered down version of the reality at that time,” MathMan explains. At that time, Mango was having a rough year. A long-term relationship ended, there were deaths in his family, he lost a job. He had tried school, college, music with a former group The Animators, and it felt as though nothing had worked out.

“I just went, ‘f**k this’. I went drinking, sessioning, riding, taking everything, I just went out figuring myself out, but out on a binge. I think you can get lost in that. I was like, ‘f**k studio money’, I remember you [MathMan] turned around and went, ‘what do you mean f**k studio money, you’ve got a fresh pair of Timberlands on your feet you f**kin’ eejit.’ I wasn’t making priorities right. To be honest I was like, ‘if I go, I go’. Highway to hell, doing what I want. I think everybody goes through that at some stage. Thankfully I had someone saying, ‘yo, what the f**k?’ ”

That choice didn’t exactly result in a monastic lifestyle, but perhaps creatively a more fruitful one

MathMan pinpoints a moment at a Maverick Sabre show in the Academy where it was time for Mango to snap out of it. He took Mango aside and told him that selling out shows like this could be their reality, but it wasn’t, and if Mango kept up his messing, it never would be. “I was upstairs in the Academy,” Mango says, “looking at the bar and looking at the stage and went, ‘I want that’ – the stage – more than I want the bar, the party.”

That choice didn’t exactly result in a monastic lifestyle, but perhaps creatively a more fruitful one. What is strangely compelling about this record is how it ignores as many environmental influences as it sucks in. Hypebeasts, beware, Casual Work is in many ways the antithesis of the transient fashions that dominate hiphop.

While it possesses some of the directness of grime, there are also tinges of neo-soul and doses of garage, there are strings and there are moments of stunning vulnerability. On the closing track, Said & Done, one such moment lands like a gut punch. “Three times I tried to take my life,” Mango raps, “I don’t want to talk about it no more.”

“We don’t follow trends. It’s not about making what’s popular now,” MathMan says, with complete conviction.

We sit here and look left and right, and are surrounded by cranes and cultural institutions in rubble

Both are full of enthusiasm for the creativity bubbling in Dublin right now. The city is illuminated with talent, even if it’s becoming harder for those very people making the town what it is, to live in it.

“We sit here and look left and right and are surrounded by cranes and cultural institutions in rubble. We reject that,” MathMan says, “What’s happening around us does not represent us as artists, or as citizens of this country, or people who live in this city. We reject this. We hate this. The reason we came to the Liberty Belle is because we feel comfortable here. It’s part of who we are as people. We won’t grow in parallel to what’s happening in the city right now because we detest it.”

Mango steps in: “Also, we’re not allowed to go along with it. Prosperity is for those who are given it. That’s a very specific group. We’re not allowed that . . . But see them cranes? They say to me, ‘your time is up soon, son.’ That’s what it feels like to me. The Bernard Shaw is across the road from where I live. I walked home from work one day and something was missing, the Charlo [Charlemont Street] flats were just gone. I came home late one night after a session and saw the amount of cranes and it’s like: wow, this is what this is, this is a war on us. And if we can’t use our voice, we’re f**ked.”

  • Deep Blue ft. Lisa Hannigan is out now. Casual Work is out November 8th.
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