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Róisín Murphy, 2020
Róisín MurphyPhotography Adrian Samson

6 things that inspired Róisín Murphy’s new album, Róisín Machine

How the Paradise Garage, Sheffield, and a pair of black PVC jeans shaped the Irish singer’s new album

On her fifth solo album, Irish singer Róisín Murphy takes influences from the creatively fertile period of dance music that emerged in the wake of disco and filters them through her own leftfield pop eccentricities. Róisín Machine was produced with Richard Barratt, AKA DJ Parrot, a legend of Sheffield electronic music thanks to his influential bleep techno with Sweet Exorcist, as part of All Seeing I trio, and, more recently, with his own Crooked Man project. It’s a working relationship that was solidified way back in 2012 when the two released the slow-burning “Simulation”, a track that is today immortalised as Róisín Machine’s opener – but the two actually go back even further, to the singer’s time in the UK city of Sheffield in the early 1990s, where she first formed the electronic pop group Moloko with Mark Brydon. (Moloko famously got together after Murphy walked up to Brydon at a Sheffield party in 1994 and said: “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body.” They started a relationship, and the chat-up line became the title of their first album.)

Disco clubs and disco singers; Sheffield; and Parrot – Murphy cites all of these as major role influences on her stellar new record. Below, she tells us how they (along with a pair of black PVC jeans) ended up shaping the sound and sensibility of Róisín Machine.

A YEAR, 1993

Róisín Murphy: 1993 was the year that I met Mark Brydon in Sheffield, and it was the year I became part of a scene that was really going somewhere – so meeting all the people in Sheffield at that time, people like Parrot (who was Mark Brydon’s best friend, incidentally), and seeing all the clubs and the parties going on that were interconnected. I slotted into that scene really rather nicely in 1993. I had gone to Sheffield in 91, and I’d decided to move back to Ireland cause I met an Irish boy, but I only managed to stay two months – I missed Sheffield too much! 

So I moved back to Sheffield, and that was when I met Mark. It was almost like my destiny was calling me back to Sheffield. We fell in love and it was the first great love of my life. We started to experiment with music. He was already a very established producer, and he had a part in building FON Studios, which was a big fancy studio. Whenever it was empty, we used to go there together and make stupid little novelty songs, like things where I said “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body?”, or pretending to be a Valley Girl. Gradually, slowly, we amassed a few tracks, and we got signed toward the end of that year. But really, what was most important was the fact that I’d moved in with my friend Dawn Shadforth, who’s since become a very successful director. I was on the dole and I got housing benefit and lived in a house with her. I was learning the craft of music and she was being helped, by local incentives, to learn how to edit and do stuff about being a director. The two of us were really on course to make a life for ourselves at that point, even without knowing it. 

So I think that was probably the most important year that resonates with this record, because I kind of have returned back to that scene. We – myself and Parrot – were being revisionist, looking back at where we’d come from and asking ourselves what, perhaps, have we lost? And we’ve tried to regain it in the music.


Róisín Murphy: I found his imagery to be an extremely good reference for what I was trying to achieve with the visual on this record, which was that it would echo the music being of the night. We were influenced by the mid-80s transition from disco into house. Within that, you’d got all these other mixtures of tribes coming together, when you could be dancing to Sylvester, or Depeche Mode, or Donna Summer. That time is reflected in the music technology of the time as well, in that all that music – wherever it came from, whether it was Bananarama or some house record like Robbie Rosario – could be brought back up on to a big mixing desk and it could be extended, it could be dubbed, it could be stretched, it could be warped, it could be remade for the night and for the discotheque. It could become disco, even if it was fucking Throbbing Gristle. That’s what was happening at the time. Stems were being brought back up onto big desks and things were being expanded and changed. It brought so many different cultures and tribes together and created something really magic.

Going back to the original question – sorry, I’m off here – I see that in Derek Ridgers’ work, in his lifetime of going in and out of every possible nightclub and documenting these people who had great aspirations to lift themselves out and beyond the mundane, the everyday, the class system that they were born into, the life that was plotted out for them. This was a space to make yourself; a space for individualism and freedom. You can really feel it in his imagery. There’s a real sensitivity to the people in his photographs – you can sense he cares for the people, there’s no stitching anyone up in his documentary photography. It’s about showing people at their best and at their most subversive as well. And most interesting, and most free.


Róisín Murphy: Again, this goes back to falling in love with Mark Brydon. “Seventh Heaven” – the Larry Levan cut of it – was a shared favourite record of mine and Mark’s when we met. When we came to making this record, Róisín Machine, myself and Parrot discussed the Padlock EP and it’s a load of re-versions of Gwen Guthrie songs. This is one of them, probably the most amazing one, and so we used it as a reference, an initial springboard to the idea of dubbed-out disco. But also, it’s my favourite song since a long time – since thirty years, my favourite song. 


Róisín Murphy: Danceteria was a mix between – as I said before – the goths and the hip hop kids and the electro guys and the early house and Depeche Mode people, all coming together with disco and funk and soul as well. That was very much what Danceteria, the club in New York, was about. It was a very open-ended music policy. And also, visually, it was a great inspiration to look at pictures from there, and to read about what people were wearing and the clashes of fashion and culture. Really, it starts there, I think, in Danceteria, and spreads everywhere – including to Stockport suburbia, for me in the late 80s.

Paradise Garage was going at the same time as Danceteria, but was much more Black and Hispanic, and much more tribal about the music. I was reading about it, ’cause I never went there, and read how Larry Levan would be tinkering with the sound system all week. He would be taking tracks into the studio during the week, extending them, dubbing them out, playing two records at the same time to extend them – he would meld anything, he had an alchemy with taking peoples records and pumping them to make them work in the Paradise Garage. And so that was really a big influence.

And then I was reading about other scenes that were related to this time, too, and Valencia, Spain was kicking off. There was a huge, like a mile long strip of just superclub after superclub, at a certain point in the mid to late-80s there. The music policy there in the beginning was very mixed, coming from all angles of youth culture. This mix, this initial science of putting these things together, is what created everything that we have had since. The same thing was happening in Belgium with New Beat, where they were taking old, fast records and slowing them down – disco records, weird records, records nobody had ever heard of before, you know? Out of that came a whole aspect of the scene that we now know.


Róisín Murphy: He’s been an inspiration all my life, and he’s always been someone everyone of my generation in Sheffield looks up to. He’s been someone I’ve gone back to consistently over my career to play other music that I’m making, too, to get his opinion, to put his ear across things. I also trust him to talk to me in a sensible way about it – there are other people with great ears, but I don’t necessarily want to have a conversation with them about a record that I haven’t put out yet, but with Parrot, I can trust that it’ll be a good conversation that will help me, rather than make me feel shit. And mind you, if I play him a shit record, he might make me feel shit, but he’s totally reliable.

About six or seven months ago, we only had half a record. Within a few short months, he’d pretty much had it ship-shape. I just knew from when I worked with him a little bit on Overpowered that he was the only person in the world that I personally could go deeper into this club culture music with. Not just because I know him so well – although it helps that we come from the same scene and everything – but I completely trust him to do it in a true, full-blooded way. I’m very lucky to have a few guys in my life that I trust this way, and he’s certainly one of the great musical musketeers of my life.


Róisín Murphy: Well, let’s go straight back to 1993 – maybe earlier actually, 1990. In the old days, we couldn’t buy stuff like PVC jeans in ordinary shops, you had to go probably miles on the bus to some weird goth shop to get something like this. I got mine in a goth shop in Stockport, which I got a few things from actually – a lovely t-shirt that I still have, the oldest item in my wardrobe, which is a Fat Freddy’s Cat. I was famous for my shiny black jeans when I went to Sheffield. And my skinhead – I had a skinhead. 

I used to go to the funky room in the Pallium every week on a Friday and go upstairs. It was all jazz dancers up there, and I’d be trying to do jazz dancing in these Japanese PVC trousers. You’d have a slick of wet moisture between you and the trousers before very long, but they looked so great, they were worth it. I could dress them up and dress them down. I could wear a red flamenco-esque shirt with them with collars, tied in the middle; or I could wear a t-shirt with them in the daytime and feel absolutely marvellous. I was famous for them, and the hair obviously. And my walk – which I wasn’t aware of for years, but then I was told later by the lads (Pipes and Parrot and them) that when I first came to Sheffield, people thought I was putting my walk on. There’s a dissonance, even when I’m walking. I’ve talked about this a lot in interviews, this dissonance across all my work –  like from one image to the next, from one song to the next, one album to the next, or even within a song – and I play with those things, but there’s also dissonance in what I look like, and what my body moves like. They didn’t believe that I actually move like that, but that is how I move. So I learned to dance in those sticky PVC jeans.