It's hard to believe Dublin-based four-piece BARQ have only been on the scene as a collective for two years. When I caught a couple of their performances at this past Canadian Music Week, I was struck by how cohesive they are as a group, despite the blunt opposition to their sound and rhythm.
The group has officially released their glitchy, robotic video for their single "Optimus Prime". This marks BARQ's third collaboration with the Irish filmmaking company Crooked Gentlemen, who have done a standout job on this visually stunning video. With its apocalyptic edge, the band members are living in a robot zombie world, apart from those few moments of neon clarity during the chorus. Lead singer Jess Kav has such a forceful, captivating voice that she holds her own against the aggression of the electric guitar. With a background in theatre, she is a force to be reckoned with both live and on a screen. Of the song, Jess says:
Optimus Prime is a bit of a discussion with myself about growing up a little. The feeling you get when you see that there are elements in your life that if you take them to excess, they become toxic. A huge part of growing up is to be able to say no to things and also to ask for help. The chorus is really about me expressing my vulnerability and saying to myself "it's ok to be weak sometimes". Sometimes I'm going to have to turn down stuff for my own mental well-being, similarly I will also sometimes have to ask for help from the people I care about, and those things are OK. Life lessons!
EARMILK: Explain the video for "Optimus Prime" to us.
BARQ: The video ties in a lot with the lyrical content Jess was talking about. Feelings of being weak sometimes go hand in hand with knowing you have to reach out of your comfort zone to try and strive for improvement. The verses portray a human element that is constantly on the verge of malfunction, with the neon dreamscape of the choruses being a representation of an upgraded self, just out of reach.
EM: What is "agrosoul"?
B: Agrosoul is a word we came up with to try and have a definitive one-word description for ourselves! Musically we've got a lot of rock and hip hop influences that blend with the more soul and r&b elements that Jess' voice brings to the table. So if you mix aggression with soulfulness you get agrosoul!
One of the reasons BARQ are killing the game right now is that they are completely independent. Unsigned, without a manager or a publicist, save for themselves. For some groups, it would be impossible to get exposure. Few people understand the amount of work which goes into making a band successful, but BARQ have managed to catapult themselves right to the forefront of the music scene in Ireland as well as reach people and fans across the ocean.
EM: What has it been like for you to be a self-managed and self-published band?
B: It's been a lot of work! There are so many bases to cover when you're looking after all the different aspects of being in a band yourself, that it does sometimes seem that more time is spent at the computer than in the rehearsal room. It is very challenging to constantly have to be on top of all the admin that goes with organising festival gigs/rehearsals/interviews/
artwork/social media, etc etc, while still making sure that you're dedicating enough time to writing and rehearsing, which is the most important element of what we do! One thing that makes it easier for us is that BARQ is a band with four members that have equal say in everything. This means that all these tasks can be divided up between us, or some people will naturally gravitate towards some elements of it that they are good at, so another person can take up the slack if necessary. Having to do all those things as a solo artist would be quite overwhelming!
Aside from their proactive approach to getting their art into the world, the band have spent the summer touring the festival scene in Ireland as well as playing standalone shows across the U.K. They are slated to close out Electric Picnic at the Body & Soul main stage on the third of September, and they are surely an act to pay close attention to in the coming months.