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Mo Chara
Móglaí Bap
DJ Próvaí

Kneecap ‘Fine Art.’ 

When Mo Chara, Moglaí Bap and DJ Provaí – aka Belfast’s finest Kneecap – entered the studio with producer Toddla T in the summer of 2023, they quickly decided to scrap everything they had already prepared for the album they were about to record. Instead, they decided to build a pub together.

Built on a West Belfast side street, The Rutz is a community boozer, in that the entire community uses it. All human life is inside, either thriving, striving or skiving. There’s people just trying to get served at the bar or up on the stage performing; others are slumped in darkened corners or emerging bleary eyed and coke smeared from the toilets. Religious affiliations are irrelevant and the chatter is a intoxicating blur of English and Irish.

In the evening, the music is loud and shifts effortlessly between styles. There’s ethereal Irish folk song set to skittering beats brushing up against propulsive, bouncing low end dubstep. There’s samples from rave records blasting out at panic inducing volume and there’s louche funk that seems to seep out of the speakers like liquid. Two pints inside you and forty minutes spent in here is utterly spellbinding. 

Although the pub is currently just a figment of the band’s imagination, all of the action on Kneecap’s exhilarating first album – Fine Art – takes place in The Rutz. Like the band themselves, Fine Art is fiercely intelligent, consistently hilarious and genuinely thought provoking. It’s genius is to immerse you in a world thus far unrepresented in modern music. 

Across the record’s twelve tracks and the interconnecting moments between them (recorded by the band and friends including DJ Annie Mac), the pub comes to life vividly, providing the perfect backdrop for the cast of characters that join the dots throughout the album. From the moment the idea was born back in Toddla T’s studio, it was the obvious location to base the world of Kneecap in. 

Mo Chara “We’d been writing an album for around two years. We’d grown a lot quicker as a band than we were developing our production skills. We were getting big crowds at concerts and we knew needed to go for a bigger producer. When we got into the studio with Toddla T, we scrapped every song we had and started from complete scratch. T’s idea was to tell the story of Kneecap. So the record was conceived as the listener stepping into Kneecap’s world. That’s where the idea came to set whole thing in a pub. You walk into a pub at the start, there’s someone offering you a drink, there’s a singsong… really, it’s us taking you by the hand and leading you into our world.”

Moglaí Bap “You’re in there enjoying a pint at the start of the night then you go to the toilet and someone’s offering you cocaine, you go out and have a fag and bump into new people and all the time, the mood and the energy keeps changing…”

Mo Chara “The challenge was to show versatility across all the genres of hip hop. We wanted to do all of that whilst sounding cohesive. The pub was a really good way of tying it all together.”

Kneecap’s story began in 2017 with the release of their first single – C.E.A.R.T.A. (Irish for ‘rights’). The lyrics document a near miss with the RUC on the way to party, loaded up with enough illegal substances to warrant a stretch inside. While the track was quickly banned by Irish language radio station RTE for ‘drug referencing and cursing’, C.E.A.R.T.A. saw the band help usher Irish into the modern era thanks to some much needed creativity with the terminology.

Mo Chara “We’re Irish speakers living in an urban area, the first or second generation to be born in the city. Traditionally it’s a rural language after colonialism pushed it out west towards the sea. We wanted to bring the Irish language into the modern era by incorporating aspects of youth culture into it. There’s a different lifestyle in the city to rural areas. There were no words for drugs in the Irish language so we had to invent them. We’d recycle old words and apply them to modern things. That’s part of the world we want to create, where the Irish language is central and it’s modern.”

Moglaí Bap “The beauty of Kneecap is that we not only piss off people from the Unionist background, we also piss off people from the Irish community.. We don’t discriminate who we piss off. There’s conservative people in the Irish language community who think that the language should be sustained as an ancient language in all its beauty. They think we’re ruining the language with the words we’re using. But you start to hear young people using some of the words we use in our songs, referring to drugs or party life. That feels like we’re having a positive effect on youth culture.”

That positive effect comes into its own on Fine Art. A hip hop record in the sense that the glorious sprawl of Check Your Head was, its approach to modern music is magpie like, reflecting how an evening of music might evolve at a festival, or inside the right kind of pub. Where the band’s previous mixtape 3cag reflected life and issues in Ireland at the point of recording, Fine Art was always intended to be about the band themselves. 

Opening with 3CAG (no relation to the previous mixtape) – a beautifully spectral scene-setter that features the voice of Lankum’s Radie Peat (Mo Chara: “she’s the Queen of Ireland right now, it is a pleasure to have her on the album”) – the album quickly kicks into a couple of different gears on the title track which features dialogue sampled from an Irish TV show where a local presenter discusses a mural the band had painted in their home town depicting an RUC jeep on fire alongside the message ““Níl fáilte roimh an RUC” (translation: “The RUC aren’t welcome”). 

Mo Chara “The mural ended up on the BBC with Steven Nolan who’s like the Piers Morgan of North of Ireland. They had a massive debate about the painting And he says, ‘The band Kneecap claim the mural is just a piece of fine art’. So we sampled it into a dance tune and dropped it in where it kicks. That’s where the title comes from – when we were getting stick about the mural that’s the term we used. Because that’s the best description isn’t it? If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It’s still fine art.”

Elsewhere on tracks like I bhFiacha Linne and Rhino Ket, the spirit of the early ’90s rave scene is captured and brilliantly bound together with the frenetic energy of the 21st century club music. Although the two rappers were too young to have participated in the egalitarian outdoor raves that brought Catholics and Protestants together in the years before the Good Friday Agreement, they have been hugely inspired by a documentary from that era (Dancing on Narrow Ground: Youth & Dance in UIster). 

Moglaí Bap “That film is about how they were all taking really strong ecstasy pills and having a really good time together. It looked like this mythical land where the pills were so strong that you only needed one all night. The music on that film all ended up seeping into the record because we all loved watching it so much. The song Parful samples it too.”

Mo Chara “There would be bombings in the week then at the weekend people would all come together to take Es. It didn’t matter where they were from. Then the week would start again and they’d be back to killing each other. The contrast of life was so massive, but the rave scene really did start to change things.” 

Much less the sound of losing yourself dancing in a field, the first single from Fine Art (Better Way To Live) would feel more at home blasting out of the jukebox in the snug bar of The Rutz. An irresistible murky late night groove, the track sees the band joined by Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten (alongside that band’s drummer, Tom Coll) who perfectly captures the slide down the bar stool from sobriety into drunken indifference. 

Moglaí Bap “We’re good friends with Grian and Tom, we’ve played gigs with them before. We wanted to get them on the record so we got them drunk one night and made them sign the contract in the pub. After that, they are bound into doing it.”

Whether bribes of alcohol were necessary is unknown as Grian – like Radie, Annie and Harrow Road guest Jelani Blackman (Mo Chara: “He’s sound as fuck and criminally underrated) and everyone else who features on Fine Art – sounds entirely at home in the surroundings. It’s testament to how welcoming the world is that Kneecap have built around them. So, might as well head to the bar, grab another pint and maybe a Baby Guinness chaser too. And don’t worry about last orders, the lock in is going to go on all night. 

Words: Robin Turner

Manager - Dan Lambert:
Press - Steve Phillips:
Booking Agent (EU + UK) - Ed Sellers Primary Talent:
Booking Agent (US) - Mike Hayes APA Agency :
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