Often, individuals will retain elements of where they grew up. Regardless of the flaws, or the strengths, these environments help create us. Gemma Dunleavy’s newest track, ‘Up De Flats’, speaks to this relationship, emphasising the profound affect inner-city Dublin has had on her. Despite your own influences, everyone can relate to this affectionate ballad to community, identity and pride in place.
North Wall is the area in which Gemma Dunleavy grew up. Dublin in the 90s wasn’t all Boyzone, Riverdance and B*Witched, there was a serious drug problem with heroine ripping through communities. And yet, in the face of hardships and subsequent preconceptions, Gemma stands proudly by her home. Further than this, her up-bringing deeply influences her art. Gemma’s particular formula of silky, soulful, electronic, R&B has grown from this environment of resilience and togetherness. ‘Up De Flats’ is her second release this year, following on from the honeyed, pulsating track ‘If I’m Down’.
But, let’s take it back for a minute. ‘I Was Never Young But I’m Not Yet Old’, from 2018, lays the groundwork from which ‘Up De Flats’ picks up. Directed by Laragh McCann, it is both visually and aurally poetic. The spoken word lyricism matched up with ethereal soundscapes and placed against a backdrop of defiance, it paints a picture of Gemma’s Dublin.
Having made music that speaks to this for years, she shows no sign of relinquishing her home as a source of inspiration. ‘Up De Flats’ is a love song, for which you would be mistaken for thinking the subject is a sole person. An ode to inner city life, it speaks to the people, places and culture she grew up around. From the off, it’s one of Gemma’s most R&B driven tracks. The garage-esque beat (reminiscent of early Streets, ‘Has It Come to This’) melt alongside the delicate harp that runs throughout. The inclusion of a harp arrangement has become, for me, a tell-tale Dunleavy twist. The usage of this somewhat unusual instrument, drives most of her hip-hop infused electronica, giving each track a celestial, airy dimension.
Not only does this new track showcase Gemma’s mastery of sound, but also of words. Her song writing has always been open and honest, but ‘Up De Flats’ particularly displays her integrity. Speaking on the influence of her home, in an interview with The Last Mixed Tape, she says: “In the past I’ve been very protective of my upbringing because it’s been shown in a bad light. But, in reality, it’s the best gift I could have ever got. So now I don’t just want to be protective of it, I want to shout it out.” And shout it out she does. Throughout ‘Up De Flats’, inner city Dublin is personified, inflated to a status of deep influence: “Everything I am, I owe it to you”. Recognising both it’s flaws and truths, the track is a celebration of belonging to a community and owning your identity.
One of the most effective elements is the ending, in which, alongside Gemma’s vocals, we hear her neighbours continuing to chant: “shouting up the flats from the rooftops”. Reminiscent of the inclusion of family and friends in the ‘I Was Never Young But I’m Not Yet Old’ video, she celebrates her community by literally including them in the art.
‘Up De Flats’ will be the title track for Gemma Dunleavy’s first EP. Created in partnership with Doc Martens, this 6 track project is set to be released on the 10th July. If ‘Up De Flats’ is anything to go by, the EP will be packed full of experiences and memories. Indeed, on Facebook, Gemma revealed that it “explores cyclical patterns of behaviour, hardships and grief, but most importantly the sense of community in the north wall.” Being so candidly transported into Gemma’s world is a profound experience, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
The verdict: Ice pop! The perfect summery treat for when you were done running through the backstreets as a kid. Not to mention vibrantly colourful (although it would always be a fight for the blue raspberry). They’re basically childhood packed into a flavoured ice tube. Cool, sweet and refreshing… aaaaaaaaaah! (っ ͡❛ ᴗ ͡❛)っ🎔
Listen for yourself:
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