You may have heard of the Rubberbandits: a comedy rap duo from Limerick, Ireland. They're best known for the song Horse Outside, an all-star hit produced by RTE currently sitting pretty at twelve million Youtube views and an all-Ireland Christmas number two on the charts. You might be reading this going, wait, you mean the two guys who go shirtless, wear carrier bags on their heads and speak with a ridiculously exaggerated accent? The ones from that Russell Brand thing? You'd be right: they're all of these things- and more. Recently, they've been stylizing themselves on Facebook and Twitter as, excuse the language (but get used to it): "Gascuntist Artists." They even pulled out of a poll on Joe.IE asking for the best comedian of the year, explicitly stating that they are artists. Despite all this talk, they never really help people to understand the meanings behind their hilarious, deeply bizarre comedy. In this article, we'll try and find out whether the Rubberbandits really are more than just Ireland's answer to Goldie Lookin Chain.
Direct evidence of "subtexts"
Talking about the Rubberbandits in any critical sense is incredibly difficult, because the vast majority of attempts to talk to them "seriously" are brushed off by the duo, replied to with nonsensical tales of feline accountants and drug-based slang. This audio piece from RTE's Liveline features Blindboy defending Horse Outside from people who just don't get it, in perhaps the only example of the Bandits talking about their art seriously.
It's easy to see why they are primarily seen as comedians: they started out doing prank calls on MySpace, and didn't start producing music until much later. They hang out with Russell Brand, who might be a bit of a politician now but used to be a comedian. And yes, their songs are very funny. As I mentioned, one of the easiest parallels to draw is with Newport band Goldie Lookin Chain, a rap collective who do pretty much just make music for fun- and have for more than a decade. One of the criticisms leveled at GLC is that they either glorify or demonize yobbish chav culture, depending on whether their music is satirical or not- though it almost certainly is, it's not always clear. The same could be said of the Rubberbandits.
Back to the audio piece: it's Blindboy, or Anthony, on the defense. With the video hosted on RTE's official YouTube channel, negative feedback from normal Irish people on the ground could be dangerous. If they can't make people understand that the lashings of bad taste and bad behaviour shown in the video are ironic, then they will be quickly lambasted by various sources of power such as the Dail and the Church. The Bandits themselves often put on a brave face: they're not in it for the money, and they've no particular respect for any authority figures, but they still have reason to be worried- if people don't get the irony, then what was the point in making Horse Outside at all? Blindboy's talk of subtexts is everything to unlocking the meanings of the duo's music.
Getting inside "Horse Outside"
As by far the RBs' most popular tune, Horse Outside is the one that's been picked apart by media and fans the most. Shot by shot, it's also the one which received the most attention in its music video. Presumably this is because the pair knew they had an actual potential money-spinner on their hands, with the song being considerably more upbeat, catchy, pop-music-ish and with higher production values than their previous output which is mostly in a more traditional hip-hop style. The first clue is the warning at the video's start- that it's intended for a mature audience. In this case it doesn't just mean over a certain age, but with the required capacity to avoid offense and comprehend satire- much like some of the internet's greatest hits such as Cyanide and Happiness and pretty much the whole of Newgrounds.
Unfortunately for the Bandits, the trouble comes in the form of a one-off, throwaway line, delivered by fellow Limerick rapper Weenz, who before the song's start mentions that there is nothing wrong with "drinking and drugging" in a house with children about. As Blindboy explained on Liveline, there clearly is- the guy doesn't exactly look like a model citizen. The next scene drives the point home with a man shaking his head in "a disapproving fashion." Unfortunately for Blindboy, his opponent in the debate doesn't think of him as a comedian nor as an artist- he thinks he's primarily a musician, and remarks how offended he'd be to see something like that on MTV.
Meanwhile, Weenz didn't let the haters get to him- he's recently released his own single, Local Celebrity, in which he shows off the extreme attraction local women have to him now that he starred in Horse Outside. One YouTube commenter remarked that the "assholes... motivate him."
"She looks like Billie Piper after half an ounce of coke."
One of the first things that hit you when you watch Horse Outside is just how incredibly fake everyone at the wedding is. It's set in a Church, but the actual film set is a "contemplative space." The smarter guys are dressed in suits, but not one of them has their suit on properly. Much like the Bandits, who are standing in the middle of the church for no apparent reason, their faces don't really match their rented jackets. The girls are absolutely covered in shoddy make-up and fake tan, and one even continues to apply hairspray straight from the can, without any care for the woman behind her who is forced to inhale it. It's clear that no-one at the wedding attends church often, and it's also clear that the wedding itself is a bit of a circus. Everyone except the bride and groom seems to be sizing each other up for "a finger and a shift" afterwards. Even the bride is badly dressed, with her bra strap showing from her backless dress. The groom backs away from the kiss, wiping his lips as if it wasn't appreciated- perhaps, seeing his single friends hooking up, he's already regretting his decision on commitment. Just as later seen in other RB tracks and Local Celebrity, the women play second fiddle to the men, relying on them for their lift back to the hotel, no matter how shady they are. Darren Gibney, the third man, with a Subaru, is perhaps the most frightening, mouth agape, turning to stare at his passenger even as he hurtles down the road. It's clear that none of the men are particularly safe. The bridesmaid in question, despite winning awards for her model beauty in real life, appears sour underneath badly applied make-up and an overly sexualised dress. This is something she herself feels strongly about- the over-sexualisation of women in the modelling industry. Truly, the whole video is steeped in irony. She responds to the predatory men by taking on an overly aggressive persona of her own, playing them off against each other. The Bandit singing (I can't tell them apart) responds to this not just with his own aggression, but with creativity. He's not giving her a lift- he's giving her the ride: Irish slang for sex, and probably a pretty obvious innuendo elsewhere. This point is driven home by one of the later verses, where the bridesmaid tells him to "ride me like a horse."
Bizarrely, throughout the entire video it seems as if only the singing Rubberbandit and the bridesmaid are talking, and no-one else in the Church speaks- other women wait idly alongside, desperately trying to improve their appearance, at stark contrast with the bridesmaid's commandeering role. The men stare idly into space, stopping only to recite the song's chorus as if in prayer.
The Bandit becomes increasingly obsessed with the horse rather than the girl as the song goes on, stressing that he's known the horse all his life whereas the girl is only a casual encounter. The horse itself is embossed with the TV show's logo, Republic of Telly- perhaps to show that the RBs owe their career to the horse, whereas the girl is something they could do without. The point is driven home by the final scenes of the video, where the girls start wearing horse masks, therefore removing the need to have employed an award-winning model at all. When they do ride off, the girl now wears her own plastic bag, again stressing her own anonymity- she could be anyone... the man has interest only in her body, and her ability to ride with him on his horse.
A three step plan: "Bag of Glue."
Released a year earlier, the Rubberbandits' previous tune Bag of Glue gets a video which is at a complete contrast to Horse Outside. Without RTE's help, they produce a video which is enshrined in what can simply be described as shittiness. There's nothing particularly wrong with the song, it's just as much of an earworm as Horse Outside. The video, though, seems purposely bad. First it seems as if we're stuck in the Nineties, but it turns out that it's just a commentary on those terrible local nightclubs. We have one here in Bargoed, Caerphilly, called Blisters- and I'm sure they're all the same. People say they're a place where there are airbone STDs, but they still go there because there'e nowhere else to go and they're all hoping to get some. However, the pair quickly turn this perception around, insisting that their club is "only men." It's this framing in the video which quickly leads me to thinking that the core motif of the song is about Generation Y's crisis of masculinity. In a world where us young men learn how to be a man from the media, we're told we need to have mates, we need to be aggressive, play sports, go clubbing, and aggressively get what we want from girls. The video's killer joke comes when the Bandits insist that everything is "not gay," even "these two lads over here, they've started seeing each other." It could be, in fact, that as one of the Bandits keeps insisting that it's "not gay", the other even adds that there's "come all over the place," and then immediately the men start getting shirtless, bathing themselves in pink light. The video may be a commentary on gay men being forced into the closet by Irish society completely blindsiding them. There's an Uzi on the table, but the men ignore it- none of them really subscribes to the notions of masculinity mentioned earlier. They even wear hats, despite the flamboyant, skimpy clothes they wear elsewhere.
Finally- the actual song. First, it starts with buying a Toblerone- in the Ross o Carroll Kelly books, the author Paul Howard frequently uses this as rhyming slang for being alone. The man in the song is lonely, and the desperate, overweight woman behind the counter seems to be all he needs. Again, he exaggerates how much she likes him, by saying she's "foaming at the mouth." This again is a facet of modern perception of masculinity, with men desperate to look attractive to potential partners.
Both the unlikely couple display an immature attitude to relationships, with them both being trapped in an extended childhood by modern house prices and, at the time, the worst of the recession- a collapsed job market, especially in Ireland where the Celtic Tiger threw itself off the nearest cliff. This is shown by their affair happening "on her mother's bed."
The pairing is far from perfect, with the man insisting they both "get wrecked on bags of glue"- continually, as this is the chorus of the song. However, the love affair described in the song becomes more and more unrealistic as the song continues, with the singer stating that his girl likes to "stuff her mouth with chicken every time we kiss." This, juxtaposed with the video where the Bandits are wrestling each other on the club floor half naked, makes the tale more and more unlikely. Has the heterosexual relationship been entirely invented to hide their homosexual relationship? Interestingly, the pair once joked that they were "only gay for tax purposes."
The RBs then deliver instructions on glue-trip sex, where they clearly state that they have no intention of doing anything sober. This might be a clue as to the young couple's opinions on their current place in the economy, which is weirdly juxtaposed by caring for the environment more than their own bodies- "just make sure you throw away the bag when you are done."
All in all, if Horse Outside was a commentary on sexism and the Church, Bag of Glue seems to be a commentary on how the recession has forced young people into a much longer adolescence, where they are forced to stay in their parents' homes much longer, can't get a proper job, and can't have a serious, mature relationship, whether it be gay or straight.
"Doing Ketamine in the Netherlands"
There are many, many more Rubberbandits tunes I could analyse. Some of them are dead obvious- I Like To Shift Girls is also about sexism, as well as terrible sex education, whereas Greyhound Shuffle is a kind of mission statement. Dad's Best Friend is about the mid life crisis, and of course masculinity. Fellas might declare their support for gay rights- but that's just a guess. You'd really have to look into the subtexts of that one to know for sure. Up The Ra is a parody of how some Irishmen can get a little carried away when describing how their country got its freedom from Britain. Black Man, then, would be commentary on the presence of the "token black man" in media productions. Possibly my favourite would be Double Dropping Yokes with Eamon De Valera, another song in the same vein as Up The Ra about many people's shoddy understanding of history. It reminds me of GLC's K-Hole.
Anyway, whatever the meaning of their work, they make some decent music, they make me laugh, and best of all they're making a program about the Easter Rising for RTE2 this New Year's, which I'll be eagerly awaiting on the International RTE Player. Let's hope that neither of them shoots themselves in the name of art, as in the above photograph, any time soon.