Introducing: The Rubberbandits

Hometown: Limerick, Ireland
Listen to: ‘Bertie Ahern’ & ‘Waiting’

If you’ve just gasped at the thought of an ‘Introducing’ article to cover a duo that have been releasing music for more than a decade, bear with. Yes, The Rubberbandits may have been kicking around for what feels like forever, but for the past few years it’s felt like the music has very much been on the back foot.

Famous across Ireland for 2010’s ‘Horse Outside’ (which only missed out by a whisker on claiming the Christmas No.1 and as of September 2020 has more than 20m views on YouTube), The Rubberbandits have maintained something of a cult profile in Britain. Formed of duo Blindboy Boatclub (Dave Chambers) and Mr Chrome (Bob McGlynn), the group’s darkly satiric output is eclectic to say the least. You might remember the video for ‘Dad’s Best Friend’ being featured in 2017’s Trainspotting sequel. Or perhaps you’re a fan of Blindboy’s weekly podcast, with his hot takes covering politics, celebrity, Irish influence over 1920s pop-music and damn-near everything else. Last year even Auntie Beeb took notice of the writer and mental health advocate, commissioning the more famous half of the duo for a criminally underlooked documentary series (Blindboy Undestroys The World).

But it’s still music that’s at the heart of The Rubberbandits. Part parody, wholly political and dripping with more irony than the rustiest of ferrous metals, there’s nothing else out there quite like it. And thanks to the gig-free past few months, they’ve finally had time to finish off their latest tracks – a process that, according to Blindboy’s Twitter account, has taken the past two years. Cue excited reactions from all those who spend too much time online. 

The first of these new songs, ‘Bertie Ahern’, is classic ‘bandits. That is, it’s weird as hell. Focusing on “mam’s new man” who shares a name with the controversial former Taoiseach, the track explores a new relationship through the innocent eyes of a child. It’s a dark, heavy sound full of an oppressive mood, lightened by Director Ray Sullivan’s Easter egg and visual gag-filled video. The fishing sequence stands out as particularly memorable, dripping with off-putting gore. There’s even echoes of ‘Dad’s Best Friend’ in the repeated final line “I need you to be proud of me”, and fans are sure to love the strong narrative and signature sound.

Don’t be disappointed if you find ‘Bertie Ahern’ a touch too much for you. It’s easy to be put off by The Rubberbandits – if you’re not in the mood, some of their tracks can come across a bit too much like a joke from your mate that you just don’t get. There’s the crude humour, often laden with expletives and packed into lyrics you probably wouldn’t want to repeat across a room full of strangers. Then there’s the references to Irish politics and culture that don’t always easily translate, though of course that can hardly be seen as the group’s problem, especially not by an English critic. Stick with them though, the rewards are worth it if you can get over the initial weird factor and tune in to the humour. 

For me, it’s the second new track that’s really something special. It would be hard to describe anything by the group as mainstream (and even said with the best intentions, they probably wouldn’t take it as a compliment), but ‘Waiting’ might just be the most enjoyable song they’ve ever made. It’s certainly a tamer, easier route into the group than ‘Bertie Ahern’. It has a groovy, up-tempo beat that gets stuck in your head. It has memorable lyrics that are easy to hum along to. It doesn’t contain a solitary use of the word ‘fuck’.

Naturally, the video is a little less family friendly, featuring Mr Chrome dancing around on the roof of a multi-story car park in a rather fetching pair of electric blue trackies. Keep an eye on what happens between him and the girl at the end. It’s a great accompaniment to a seriously solid piece of music, which, unlike some of The Rubberbandits’ output, really does still work as a song standing alone. It’s a real earworm.

There’s less edge, irony or pure piss-taking, but that’s no bad thing. The most stand out tracks from their 2011 debut (and so far only) album Serious About Men all blend solid beats with good banter in the same way, making music that’s both funny and worth enjoying beyond the joke. That’s because there’s far more to The Rubberbandits than just novelty; they’re a serious group making some serious music. They just happen to wear supermarket carrier bags stretched over their faces. 

It’s very unlikely that either of these two new tracks will shoot to stardom the same way ‘Horse Outside’ did. On the back of that single, the group skyrocketed to Saturday night television and headlined Trinity College’s Ball. Neither ‘Bertie Ahern’ nor ‘Waiting’ are likely to provoke the same reaction, lacking the immediate, obvious jokes of the band’s debut. Put simply, your dad won’t find these funny if you post them on your Facebook wall. Put even more simply, you don’t even post things on your Facebook wall in 2020. The sort of thing that went viral in 2010 doesn’t even make a dent today.

But listening to Blindboy’s podcast, or reading the duo in interviews, you get the impression that they couldn’t care less. Even the decision to stay anonymous through the use of pseudonyms and masks only adds to their cult image. Sure, on first listen their lyrics may come across a little laddish, but there really is far more to The Rubberbandits than meets the eye – or indeed, the ear. It’s easy to excuse anything as satire these days, but this is parody done to perfection. And even that feels like an unfair review. In so many ways, what The Rubberbandits do requires a different way to do critique. Do you judge the music as art, part of a wider mixed media piece together with the brilliantly-produced videos? Or is it just another comedy routine taken up to eleven? Whatever it is, it’s totally unique and more than worth a few minutes of your time. Just don’t ask the lads about the bags, okay? 

Words by William Baxter

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