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Blindboy Is Breaking Taboos for a Generation of Irish Lads

The Irish rapper and podcaster talks to us about masculinity and the abortion referendum that is currently polarising the country.

by Roisin Agnew
Apr 27 2018, 12:44pm

Blinndboy

Being referred to as “cunt”, “gowl” ,“jolly Fontleroy” or “charming Joshua” has become something of a weekly experience for listeners who tune in to the phenomenon that is The Blindboy Podcast.

Blindboy (AKA Blindboy Boatclub) is one half of Irish rap duo The Rubberbandits, famous since 2011 for wearing plastic bags over their heads and rapping about Honda Civics while being chummy with Russell Brand. Over the years they’ve become a household name for their consistently anarcho-ludicrous sensibility and social commentary, that’s made them equally likely to play a pub in Edinburgh as perform at the Venice Biennale.

The Blindboy Podcast is equal parts irreverent and illuminating. Sometimes they tell stories about an otter called Yurty Ahern. In other episodes they talk about meditation, Carl Jung, “hot takes on the universe”, the paintings of Caravaggio, and a poem supposedly written by the actor Jeremy Renner that begins with the line “I’ve been kicked out of Portugal for fondling the pauper’s baubles”. Running without a proper sponsor and funded only by its Patreon page, the whole thing has a DIY, “socialistic” feel as Blindboy puts it. One fan even went out to his studio and soundproofed it as a show of support.

Topping the Irish charts almost constantly since it launched and currently with 250,000 weekly listeners (and over a million worldwide monthly), the podcast’s cult following has further cemented Blindboy’s status as the voice of his generation. It’s a title he gained after a widely shared appearance on Irish TV show The Late Late, in which he riffed eloquently on the motif: “My generation can’t afford houses. My generation can’t afford to have children. My generation are either leaving the country or jumping in rivers.”

It's his down-to-earth and erudite way of speaking that has seen Blindboy become a central figure in a consciousness-raising moment for Ireland right now, characterised by anti-establishment feelings that surfaced during the recession and deepened with its much touted recovery.

Over the past few years a number of societal debates and political scandals have made the country do some drastic soul-searching. There was the marriage referendum, the years of austerity, the Tuam babies scandal, the death of Savita Halappanavar, the direct provision system, and the recent Belfast rape trial to name but a few.

The result has been a renewed interest in politics among young people and a rise in grassroots activism, which has come to a head in what has become Ireland’s most polarising debate in over 25 years: the abortion referendum. On 25th May the Irish electorate will be asked to vote "Yes" or "No" in favour of repealing the 8th amendment of the constitution, which makes it illegal for women in Ireland to have abortions.

This week saw the launch of the #Men4Yes campaign which called on Irish men to publicly come out in favour of a "Yes" vote. Blindboy tweeted his support and on Thursday released a video in which he interviews actor Cillian Murphy about the importance of the male vote. “Cis lads will never personally need an abortion, I worry that their attitude to the referendum is apathetic,” Blindboy tells me. “My biggest fear is whether the men of Ireland get off their hoops and vote.”

On Twitter, as on the podcast, he’s appealed to people’s common sense and compassion. “It's about living in a society where we have more fairness,” he says. “Abortion is going nowhere, keeping the 8th won't do anything for the ten Irish women a week who receive abortions illegally. Repealing is about allowing for safe abortion that isn't criminalised.”

Over the years, he’s tackled subjects such as mental health and suicide through humour and by being, to borrow his phrase, “a fierce sound cunt”. It’s made him a significant voice among young Irish men. “I come from a culture," he says, "where as a lad, speaking about or exploring my emotions is essentially taboo."

Depression and anxiety loom large on the podcast, with Blindboy drawing from a bank of personal anecdotes to pull focus on what’s being seen as a crisis in male mental health at the moment. Over 80 percent of all suicides in Ireland involve men, with Blindboy’s hometown of Limerick accounting for the highest rate per capita in the country. “Honesty, openness, and fearlessness around emotional language, and introspective thinking, are great tools for tackling this,” he says.

With five weeks to go before the abortion referendum, the Yes vote has a slim lead with latest Irish Times/IPSOS MRBI polls suggesting 47 percent of all voters would vote in favour of a repeal of the 8th amendment. Blindboy offers no predictions, saying simply that if it passes, “it will give us a more just society, one where people aren't criminalised because of their bodies.” He’s continuing to appeal to young men to register to vote before the 8th May deadline.

As paperback copies of his book, The Gospel According To Blindboy, hit shelves this week what’s clear is that the podcast has given him a very real pulpit. “I regret not getting into podcasting earlier,” he says, “I've strived my entire career to have true creative control and I finally have it. Every moment that I'm making the podcast is intensely happy for me.” There’s rumours of more live shows, a possible Russell Brand appearance, and a confirmed Cillian Murphy episode this coming Monday, but he could do anything and people would still come back for their weekly “podcast hug.”

In characteristic fashion his hopefulness is tinged with the anti-ness that’s made him so beloved. He ends with a warning about the current state of Ireland, where money is flowing back in and there’s a real danger of collective amnesia falling over the place. “We shouldn't allow the current boost in the economy to lull us into a state where we keep our eyes off the ball," he says. "That's when we start to ignore the problems of our society. That's also when the government does snakey shit. Don't let that soothing drug of retail therapy confuse you into thinking that everything is grand now. It's not. It just has a new coat of paint.”

@Roisin_Agnew

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.