INTERVIEW: Endem and Rob Irish | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Rob Irish

Endem and Rob Irish always intended to go to Chernobyl – yes, that Chernobyl – to shoot a music video, but they didn’t expect a pandemic to force them to rebook their flights three times, or expect that delay to prompt the writing of an entire album based around their trip.

It was originally booked for the end of May, and because the lockdown happened in March, we were like ‘It’ll be gone by May, won’t it, this whole pandemic thing?’” says Rob Irish, laughing at their optimism.

We’re still owed a load of money off Ryanair,” says Endem, shaking his head.

Acute Radiation Poisoning is a lockdown album and Endem says it would never have been finished without the duo being stuck at home. Initially a four-track EP, it avalanched into an album when Endem needed a new beat for one of his songs. He went to Rob, who he’s worked with exclusively as his producer since 2018, though they’ve been friends for far longer.

Rob showed me the beat and I was like ‘Ah, that’s mint’. I started spitting over it, and we both got gassed,” says Endem.

From there, they spiralled into a perfect storm of collaborative writing, partly because they work so well together, but also “because we were sat in the house just bouncing beats back and forward”.

You were writing at a ridiculous pace,” Rob tells Endem.

Every day, yeah. I had nowt better to do with my time and Rob was just flinging beats at me.”

The two ultimately wrote 15 tracks in what felt like no time at all. “Rob’s one of my best friends,” says Endem, “and when you’re working with a friend in that capacity, it doesn’t really feel like work.”

That first session became Levels, the last track on the album, and the most complicated. It’s one of Endem’s favourites because of the acrobatic speed rap – but they both pick Faith as “something special”. “It’s filled with dark introspective lyricism,” says Rob. “We kept all of Chernobyl’s deepest and darkest locations for the video.”

A.R.P includes beats and features from a variety of other producers and writers. But it’s directed and mixed in its entirety by the duo, creating, Rob says, “a sound of its own that’s exclusively ours.”

Chernobyl’s an amazing place to see. It’s a feeling you can’t quite describe, the eerie loneliness really puts you on edge knowing you could stumble into a radioactive hotspot at any moment, or anywhere you stand could simply collapse

The visuals are exclusively theirs, too, as “filming in abandoned locations is a vibe that we’re both pretty into.” Indeed, for anyone familiar with their previous work, Chernobyl seems a natural progression.

But getting the shots they wanted there wasn’t simple. Though they were, eventually, lucky with the timing of their trip, slipping into the country just before the borders closed so it was almost entirely empty of tourists, a huge hurdle was getting a drone into Chernobyl’s exclusion zone.

It was a nightmare,” Rob says, “because the Ukrainian Secret Service are really tight about drones. You can’t fly within 5km of the power plant, still. There’s nothing that people don’t know about it now, you would think, but they’ve inherited a lot of rules from the Soviet Union days. They had to check the memory card on the way out of the zone, and on the way in they had to know the model number of the drone we had, and loads of additional paperwork…”

But it was worth it. 100%. I’d do it again.” Endem adds. The drone took the shot for the opening of the video for Radioactive – a stunning rising view through the trees, over Chernobyl.

Speaking of the drone, it appears it may have had a mishap or two along the way, including a crash… “Yes,” Rob admits. “But not in Chernobyl. There are details of this story that we’ll leave out, but…” He launches into a tale involving beer, 2am and an annoyed concierge – because they had some mad adventures, of course. But they are eager to point out that the madness came after the labour.

We only had two days to do everything we wanted, so that really put us in work mode,” says Endem. “The amount of footage we got for just one video would normally be a whole album’s worth.”

And there’s a reverence in the way they talk about Chernobyl. “Even from a tourist perspective Chernobyl’s an amazing place to see,” says Rob. “This city frozen in time. There’s something in the air, and it’s not just radiation. It’s a feeling you can’t quite describe, the eerie loneliness really puts you on edge knowing you could stumble into a radioactive hotspot at any moment, or anywhere you stand could simply collapse.”

I ask if they have any other dream abandoned places to film in. “I think we’ve set expectations a bit high. We should have shot in Butlins and then Chernobyl!” Says Endem – but he has an abandoned Alton Towers-sized amusement park in Russia in mind.

They’re already making plans for January, when Endem will be returning to releasing singles, two every month for a year. It’s a lot of work, even with some of the songs already in place thanks to the lockdown writing frenzy. But, Endem tells me, hard work is part of it. He has been building the Legitimate Anarchy label with his co-founders since 2015, and is just starting to get what he wants from it, having taught himself how to promote music professionally – an area of knowledge in constant flux.

It’s such a minefield,” Rob says. “They change the algorithms every five minutes.”

It’s not easy,” Endem agrees. “There’s so many mistakes you can make. But when you know what you want to do, you just keep pushing forward, and that’s what I intend to keep doing.”

Endem and Rob Irish release Acute Radiation Poisoning on 5th December

 

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