Punk’s Not Dead! The incendiary, unquantifiable Irish act Meryl Streep sits down with John Porter to try and unpack just what the hell makes the punk scene’s newest phenomenon tick.

Our job at Emerging Rock Bands is to tell you when an act is about ready to bust through the ever-present glass ceiling of grey, numbing blandness that shields our ears from almost anything that’s worth hearing or writing about.  In the case of Meryl Streek, though, we may already be too late.

The rise of the sharp-tongued Irishman has been meteoric.  Not content with supporting such luminaries as Enter Shikari and Public Image Limited in the last year, his own live act has truly hit home with audiences, and it’s not hard to see why.  Indeed, Streek first came to this writer’s attention after his explosive set at the recent Manchester Punk Festival, and it was the kind of festival set that has a ‘Sex Pistols at The Free Trade Hall’ feel about it, in that everyone and his dog will probably have claimed to be there at some point in the not-too-distant future (although, this time, Mick Hucknall could be forgiven for being laughed out of the building).

It’s on this topic that I begin our interview, and Streek proves to be a world away from his antagonistic, confrontational stage persona.  Relaxed, friendly, and possibly slightly disbelieving of his ascending fame, a distinctly shy smile stretches across his face as he genially remarks “I wasn’t expecting that! I was probably as surprised as you were!”, expressing his amazement at the size of the crowd inside (and outside) of Manchester’s Bread Shed.  “It was only once I got home on the Sunday I realized how crazy it had been.  It was very exciting.”

Previously a band veteran, largely on drums, of fifteen years (“I might have a baby face, but I’m thirty-four” he remarks, cheekily), he finally hit a mental wall in a haze of poor accommodation, too many substances, and general disappointment (as well as outrunning a particular disease you might have heard about), and resolved to go solo.  Streek takes up the story pretty succicintly:  “I’d had enough.  I got sick of sharing dorms, food, and money with a bunch of guys doing music I didn’t want to do – chasing money and organizing six people for rough dates and then realizing you can’t do it.  It’s complicated being in a band.  I don’t miss that at all.  So I came home, got sober, and finally focused on something I wanted to do.”

Photo Credit – Giselaszlatoszlavek

What he does is difficult to describe, for while it has the spirit of punk, and is certainly more punk in its lyrics and targets than a thousand shouty bands playing three chords (more on this later), it’s the blending of electronics and dance into Streek’s work that gives it its unique feel.  It’s a true mélange of dance, electronics, punk rock attitude, samples, and an incendiary spoken-word scattergun vocal style, in which the balance has to remain perfect throughout, lest any of the musical flavourings get lost.

Given all the moving parts here, it’s quite astounding that Streek tells me that it’s all entirely self-taught – most of his electronic and sampling skills learnt in early-hours work on the internet.  “That’s the thing that frees you.  Anyone can make music anywhere, now, even from their bedroom!” Streek says, smiling. “It was revelatory to me – I learnt all this stuff, started putting it together, and it dawned on me that I didn’t need a band or anything else now for me to be able to tell my story – I could simply do it myself.  That’s how it all started.”

Freed from the encumbrance of answering to peers or a hierarchy, Streek produces something very special and at the same time, very personal. The fiery, scattergun lyrics speak to all of our angers and anxieties, but you also get the sense that they’re very much coming from his own heart and soul.  Streek almost describes a kind of epiphany moment, when, after living in Vancouver for eight years, he took a look at the political situation in his homeland.

I feel his anger build as he explains: “I was looking back on Ireland as my home, this really small little place and I was like how the **** are the politicians getting away with being so corrupt? Essentially, I just started making the album, and I just got so angry watching these videos – Catholic Church abuse victims, family that can’t find out who their siblings are…so then I said to myself, great, instead of making a stereotypical punk album, I’m going to do it with happy backing tracks to see if I can trick people into not realizing what I’m giving out.”

The thread runs through Streek’s work – for all the excellent and often humorous sampling (he cites The Twilight Zone, for example, as both an obsession and an inspiration), there’s no dilution of the message.  Any time spent listening to any songs begats the howls of anger and derision towards the society we live in, and while the targets are varied, he rarely misses the mark, skewering everyone possible with searing anger.  You get the sense that this is something very important to him – while a fully paid-up member of the punk scene, he bemoans the insularity of it at times: “Oh man, how many years, like 40 or 50 years now of these political messages getting given out, but no one’s actually getting them across!  If I’m going to do it, I’m going to try and climb that ladder as far as I can go.”

Climbing that ladder has involved some at times interesting and possibly incongruous bedfellows – his tour with PIL involved sharing stage and tour time with one of the biggest iconoclasts in punk in John Lydon, something that, while a strange moment given Lydon’s more recent worldview, seemed to mean a lot to Streek, particularly in the context of his family members being huge Sex Pistols fans.  The momentum hasn’t stopped there, though, as he has a battery of festival appearances coming up, including 2000 Trees, Bearded Theory, the mighty Rebellion Festival, and even a slot overseas at Left Of The Dial festival in Rotterdam.

In essence, and while Streek may not like this given its religious connotations, he’s a travelling sermon, delivering a much-needed message to both the already-converted, such as his rabid fanbase, and those who are perhaps more sceptical – indeed, that’s the very reason he thinks he was on the PIL tour, to provide that big contrast and provoke difficult conversations.  None can probably have been more difficult than the <a href=”https://www.facebook.com/merylstreek/videos/153203887859044/”>infamous video</a> of an incredibly angry patron at one of the PIL gigs seemingly wishing death on him, but it says a lot about Streek’s approach that my mention of this draws a smile. “I was getting into arguments every night. Pretty close to getting swinging, punches out a few people you know, and it but I liked it. I actually liked it!”

So what next for Meryl Streek?  During our conversation, there was much chatter about a new album potentially ready to release in October (as we spoke, Streek had sent the music to his label).  On this one, he talks of moving his target from the church to the overall situation in his home country – hammering those responsible for the housing crisis, for example, as well as shining a light on unsolved murder cases and scandals within Ireland.  It would seem that there’ll be no softening in the message, then.  Mostly, however, it’s live shows for the foreseeable future, and you really get a sense that this is a man who feels free, not just to shoot from the hip (or possibly the lip, as it were), but to do the things that really both mean something to him and make him happy on stage.  There’s something very inspiring about being in his presence, not least because you feel that you might be talking to a true breakout star of a scene that you love and that badly needed a breath of fresh air adding to it.

Photo Credit –Giselaszlatoszlavek

If you want to be one of the people that’s able to say they were here at the genesis of something fresh, I’d advise catching it over the next few months, not just because the message is at it’s freshest and Streek’s on fire right now, but because even Streek openly admits that this may burn fast and bright.  “To be truthful, I don’t know how long I’ll do this for, but then again, no one ever does.  I’ve listened to bands for years say they were doing one last tour, and they’re still around twenty years later. Maybe that will be me, too!”

It’s impossible to tell, but with a message that seems unlikely to never go stale, and a creative fire that seems to always have the oxygen of new ideas to keep it burning, I’m not going to back against the fact that this will be an article read back on in five to ten years time as being one of the first places the world heard about a true music scene behemoth.  Streek is doing something unlike anything I’ve seen for some time, and I hope that in a world largely fatigued by the torment and annoyance of every day life, his message really does break through, because this feels not just like good music, but terminally important too.

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