Interview: A Quest for a Real Hard Hob

"There is no manual for what we are doing..."
Andy Millington - director/drummer/screenwriter

*An extract from this interview appeared in the Downtown supplement of Cork's Evening Echo on Thursday, 28th November 2013

"There is no manual for what we are doing" exclaims Andy Millington, the creative leader of a team of eight Berlin-based musicians and animators who have embarked on a fascinating journey. Superimposing a live score atop a feature-length animated movie, The Quest for a Real Hard Hob is the story of an unlikely hero: Deco4. I catch up with the group to find out more about our metallic protagonist, the lure of the German capital and navigating torrid waters in a leaky ship.

The G-Man: Who exactly is Deco4?
Nick Brennan: Deco4 is a City Redevelopment Robot, who awakens in the darkest years of the 22nd Century to a seemingly deserted post-apocalyptic Berlin. As the story goes: "a hob is an element that can withstand great heat - it is only such an element that a robot can use as a heart". Deco faces an epic battle, as he struggles to follow what is in his own heart.

Having already dedicated such a large chunk of your lives to this project, Deco4 must nearly feel like a family member at this stage! What does he and Hard Hob mean to you?
Andy Millington: Deco is lost and in an ocean of confusion as we find him at the start of the story. Gradually he starts piecing things together that eventually culminate in him realising his destiny. This is exactly how it has felt putting this show together. We started with nothing but a description of a dream which we felt would be pretty amazing to bring to reality. There was no distinct plan of how it would turn out. The plan sort of evolved through necessity as we delved further into what we were trying to do. I think he means something different for everyone, as everyone can identify their own struggles with his. Our purpose is something we learn as we go along and it changes as we go, just to keep things interesting.

What kind of discussions were had around the table with the director and animators regarding the direction of the music?
Nick: The director is Andy Millington. He’s also the author of the original script, as well as the drummer in the band, assistant editor, and assistant animator (there is a lot of multi-tasking in this project!) Some of the music came from an older project of Andy's. More was composed and produced by the lead producer Dave Senan, and more still was worked on in rehearsals by the band as a whole. Therefore, the musical and visual directions developed side by side.

The setting, story and even the colour of the movie paints quite a bleak picture yet the bits and pieces of the soundtrack such as 'Can’t Find My Way' and 'Creepin Off The Battlefield' are quite uplifting. How important - and maybe even difficult - was it to ensure this balance of light and dark?
As alluded to above, the music very much reflects the movie. The script itself has plenty of uplifting moments, and an ultimately positive message (we’re keeping our cards very close to our chest here, until the full show has been aired live). However, the atmosphere is overwhelmingly dark. The balance was reasonably straightforward to maintain, as the script dictates everything.

Dave played a lot with major keys when positivity was required. The tracks you mention really are songs, where the live band aspect shines through. The darker elements are where we draw on electronic influences more, with big references to dubstep and electro. The band will still play these tracks live, but the contrast is marked.

With such different tasks, can you tell us a bit about each of the eight involved?
Nick: As I mentioned, we all multi-task! Of the musicians, I already mentioned that Andy, also the drummer, is really the heart and soul of the project. It's his baby, and without his drive, positive energy, and dedication, it would never have happened. He is from Dublin and has been involved in playing in bands, running festivals and story-writing for many years.

Dave Senan, also from Dublin, has put in huge work on the production front. He will play keyboards and synths live, but his work in the studio is the backbone of the soundtrack. He is also running the fundraising campaign. He runs his own label, Pleasuremode, and has worked as a techno DJ and producer for nearly 10 years under the moniker Senator.

Michael McFadden, Navan, is the guitarist, assistant producer, project manager and photoshop slave. He played in toneControl, then GetUpGetDown, is the frontman for professional covers outfit The Sunbeams, and has worked as a DJ for almost a decade.

I am Nick Brennan, the bass player, sound engineer, tour manager, and photoshop donkey. I’ve also been involved with toneControl, GetUpGetDown, and the Sunbeams. We moved here from my hometown Cork 5 years ago.

Shane Sutton, another Dub, is the main animator, editor, and artist. He is also a well known painter, and IFTA nominated movie editor.

Jonny Mullins is the lighting and projection engineer, and web manager. He’s from Ennis and has loads of experience working in various clubs in Ireland. He is a professional web designer in his spare time. [Website design is offered as part of one of the various indiegogo rewards]

Andreas Creutzberg is our 3D animations guy, and the only non-Irish member of the team!

We do have another team member, Carla Ryan, who will eventually be our manager, but for now, she’s not really involved in the project. There have also been a series of interns and other contributors, but the above is the current full time squad.

From film and animation to musical composition and live performance, as an artist, what’s it like to find yourself in the middle of such a creative cloud at this minute?
Andy: Overwhelmed most of the time to be completely honest, as there is no manual for what we are doing. Or maybe there is but we just never checked for the instructions. Either way, it is an absolute rollercoaster. One day you feel amazing, like you are about to explode with excitement, and well up with emotion because things are clicking into place, and the next you’re racking your brain over another obstacle that we have to figure our way around.

This is going to sound really weird but it kind of feels like we’re all together on a deserted sinking ship but there is a lifeboat right at the front. If we stop for a moment as the back of the ship sinks beneath the storm, we’re we run. It feels like life and death because we are so passionate about making it the best thing that we can. It's this team spirit and the necessity of creative thinking that will get us to safety. Once we are free on the ocean and the idea really proves itself to the audience, then I know we’ll feel much freer in terms of creativity. Right now we have to get it right, but I know come Saturday 30th November, we’ll all be singing in our little life boat looking out at a beautiful sunrise and sharing the rum we found stored in the hold.

What brought you to Berlin?
Nick: Mick and I moved here 5 years ago. After toneControl broke up, we started a new outfit, GetUpGetDown, which was a live Dnb/Dub act. With toneControl, we found our options in Ireland somewhat limited, with regard to the underground live music scene. As our longstanding ties had been cut in the city, we decided a change of scenery would be a good idea. London was our first port of call, but we were put off by the crippling expense and unbelievable stress of day to day life there. Berlin was next on our list, and we fell in love with the place after one weekend.

Andy had a similar reason for coming here. He arrived with his old band, The Lucas Project. They intended to stay for a summer, but equally fell in love with the place and he’s still here three and a half years later!

What makes Berlin a city so conducive to making music, art etc.?
Nick: The low cost of living, the positive work/life balance, the space, the thriving scene (though admittedly, for entry level live music, there’s a serious lack of decent venues at the moment), the vast array of nationalities, the laid back approach to life (Berliners go very much against the German stereotype of relentless efficiency), a fairly decent private and governmental arts and culture funding network. The list is endless!

What elements of toneControl are present in the music?
Nick: Well, Mick and I are involved, and we have always enjoyed mixing electronic influences with live music. However, I wouldn't really compare the music directly. It’s a completely different approach to writing and performing.

What good use will the indiegogo funds be put to?
Nick: The team work full time every day to make this something special, but when it comes to the finishing touches, we do need to hire a few extra people. So our plan is to raise the funds to hire four digital compositors and one assistant. They will put the various shots and scenes together onto the timeline to finish it.

We ran a succsesful campaign on last year, which helped get the ball rolling. Most of our personal savings have been poured into the project up to now, and hiring the extra professionals, while expensive, would get us over the line. It's something we can't afford to do ourselves, but without it, we will run out of time and money to complete the project at the current rate of progess.

Now that it’s not such a sparkly new idea anymore, some folks tend to be sceptical when it comes to the idea of crowdfunding with some bands/projects exploiting the process in order to skip the hard graft part. What would you say to these people?
Dave: Crowdfunding can't really be exploited. If people like what you offer, then I think it is an amazing platform for bands and projects to get help. Crowdfunding is not the easy option, it is really hard work. Successful campaigns either succeed because of very generous family and friends or because the campaigners worked unbelievably hard to make it work. Or both.

You can't just throw up a campaign and expect money to roll in. It just doesn’t happen unless you already have a fanbase. If that’s the case then you’ve already put in huge work to get those fans and you have the chance to bypass record labels and agencies telling you what to play or produce. Your fans can do that.

To get a campaign noticed is no easy feat, and then it has to be presented so people believe in you and your idea. I absolutely love the idea and ideals behind it and I really hope it never gets exploited. If we can show people what we are doing and they support us, that gives us an incredible boost in confidence. It helps us gain new supporters and pushes us forward.”

Tell me about November 29th and what is happening?
Nick: The Galil√§akirche is an old church, currently used as a museum for the youth resistance. They also run occasional shows and film festivals. It provides the perfect backdrop for the Hob, with a huge pipe organ looming over the stage/altar. We staged the very first test screening of Act 1 there last summer. On the 29th, it will be the first test screening of Part 1, which is Act 1 and 2 of the show, a 55 minute live cinematic concert. In other words: half of the full show.

We hope to raise further funds towards the indiegogo campaign and to gain useful audience feedback. The whole thing is very new to us, so we're very interested to see if the story comes across well to an audience, as well as how the music and film together affects a crowd. We will have a drinks reception at 7.30pm, show at 9, and DJs from 10 til late.

Hoping the indiegogo funding and all else goes well, what are the long-term plans for Deco4 and co?
World domination! We plan to get a tour of Europe up and running in 2014, ideally followed by a US tour in 2015. We also have some contacts in Japan, and Australia is also well within our sights in the not-too-distant future. The plan is to tour Part 1 first, to begin building our audience, and then follow up afterwards with the full show.

The Triskel Christchurch is a beautiful venue with a proper digital cinema screen now that it’s the main independent cinema in Cork. See what I’m getting at here?
Haha, absolutely! In fact, I was already in touch with Plugd last summer, and they were certainly interested in the concept. The Pavilion is another awesome Cork venue that is just perfect for what we’re doing. Cork and Dublin will definitely be the first dates in the calendar once we're in a position to start booking tours!

The A Quest for a Real Hard Hob team have 22 days to go with their indiegogo campaign. To contribute, visit

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