At a time when worldwide music sales continue to decline notwithstanding the ‘great’ vinyl revival and continuous rise of more online music platforms than behoves the industry, the resounding success of the current wave of artists making up the Irish scene is quite the quirk in the global musical landscape. It’s almost as if many of our current crop of artists are creating music both in and for a parallel universe, such is the remarkable quality, unorthodox nature, and uncharted ingenuity of their idiosyncratic outputs.
But just who makes up this ever-growing Celtic tribe whose unquenchable creativity knows no populist constraints? Who are the Irish artists currently gifting us with a wealth of musical treasure; unpolished, untarnished, glistening in its rawness?
In the first of a new ‘Discover Ireland’ series we look at some of the Irish artists who are not just sealing their credentials on the local landscape, but whose sound is in such stark contrast to that of the current flock of vanilla chart-toppers that they are making international industry veterans sit up and take notice.
In part one of the Discover Ireland series, we put ten artists with varying degrees of success under the microscope, finishing off the piece with a tailored Spotify playlist which you can follow or from which you can select a pick n mix to add to your own homespun choices.
Who? HUDSON TAYLOR, Unsigned folk duo from Dublin made up of brothers Harry and Alfie HT. Already have a huge online following as well as a couple of releases under their belt. Around since 2011, they’ve been steadily building a solid fanbase for their ‘bro-brand’ of acoustic folk, although pegging them into the ‘folk’ hole makes them sound more twee than their pop sensibilities would allow. Currently gigging whilst working on material for their sophomore album. 2017 should see them considerably up their musical game including stints at several of the big Summer festivals including Wilderness.
Who? THE ELATION, A Cork four-piece who share a love of “Music, Travelling, Writing, Recording, Performing” in any order you care to throw at them. While they name-check both Kodaline and Hozier in addition to forerunners of the ’80s alternative zeitgeist Talking Heads, it is probably Brit Award Winners The 1975, also referenced, to whom their sound bears the most resemblance.
Debut release ‘Xo‘ is like a mashup between the Mancunians (think 2016 hit ‘The Sound’) and a combo of Haircut 100 and Aztec Camera flying the ’80s funk meets new wave flag. All funky foundations and groove bass floodlit by iridescent synths and fuelled by a healthy dose of blood pumpin’ beats. They’re only at the start of their voyage and already the future looks XoX.
Who? TALOS, Experimental music project of another Cork native, Eoin French. Like the trademark slow builds in his songs, French has been gathering followers along the winding, visionary roads of his continuous musical travels since Talos’ inception back in 2013. And, like the fantastical zeniths of some of his more audacious compositions, 2017 looks set to bring its own dramatic highs when the multi-instrumentalist releases his debut album, ‘Wild Alee’, through Feel Good Lost on 21st April, the same day as his upcoming Irish tour kicks off in Dublin’s Button Factory. Full details on his FB page. Check out the official video for his current single ‘Odyssey’ here,
Who? CATHERINE MC GRATH, Co. Down born London based 19 year old hailed as the new Taylor Swift. There’s plenty of Taytay pastoral-pop ‘fluences going on but Catherine’s sound isn’t without a touch of LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood. Leaning towards Nashville for its stylistic direction Mc Grath’s vibe isn’t without its pop sensibilities. Plenty of finger-picking to keep the double denimers happy yet enough soft-pop to steer her into the mainstream flow. New single ‘Starting From Now’ was released on 10th March and judging by the Spotify count (66k+ in its first week) is gonna seal her fate as one of the Taylor-type stars of the not so distant future.
Who? BURNT OUT, punk cum rap cum ‘wherever the sound needs to be apropos the moodscape’ kinda band from North Dublin. Two songs in and already the media big cheeses are drooling. Their latest, ‘Joyrider‘ is full on Roddy Doyle without the laughs. Don’t be put off by the heavy-set Dublin vocals, this is more ‘mission statement’ than song. Tackling Dublin ‘street’ culture with its inherent notion that violence, intimidation and general ‘gittery’ define current day inner-city masculinity, the song seeks to highlight the destructive influences this lads mentality has had and continues to have on young Irish males. Social commentary doesn’t get more unequivocal than this.
Who? TOOFOOLS, “the brainchild of multi-instrumentalists Steven McCann & Lorcán O’Dwyer”. These Dublin based BIMM alumni are the cog around which many collaborative projections are formed. While the pair are the project’s masterminds and its only permanent members, they onboard a cohort of fellow musicians to flesh out their live performances. There’s a lot going on here and like many of their peers, TooFools aren’t foolish enough to box themselves off by sticking to a readily labelled style or sound.
There are some similarities with Norway’s chillwave, feelgood pop scene (yes, it is a thing) where the likes of Lovespeake reign supreme and like their Norwegian counterparts, TooFools muddle gold standard ingredients – funk, retro soul and Tropical pop accessorised with an infectious falsetto – to create a year round Summer sound full of rhythm and sway. The only single released thus far, ‘Touch’ is a bloody good example of golden sounds with an expert touch on production. TooFools have hopefully, started as they mean to go on. Top Notch.
Who? SOULÉ, Balbriggan native whose urban with a touch of class sounds are fast gaining her industry-wide recognition. Astonishingly, this part time musician cum student had her first single, ‘Love No More’, nominated for a Choice Music Prize. Soulé is one of a growing number of artists utilising the Dublin based collaborative hub Diffusion Lab and when not studying, can be found there working on new compositions, songwriting being a way of life since her childhood days.
This upcoming talent cites a plethora of influences from Macy Grey to Nineka but one can’t help recalling greats like Aaliyah, Caron Wheeler and Paris Grey as you listen to the Dubliner’s latest single, ‘Good Life‘ (even the title is redolent of what many consider to be the Inner City frontwoman’s finest hour). Creating sounds that cross over from classic soul and R&B to beat driven electronic pop, Soulé has nailed a fresh take on tried and tested formulae. Possibly one of the most exciting talents on the scene, get to know her before she goes global.
Who? EDEN aka Jonathan Lei Ming or the next Hozier. The 20 year old Dublin multi-instrumentalist and vocalist extraordinaire has repeated the impossible already achieved by the Bray man by going from zero to hero without even breaking into a sweat. In a minute period of time, he has garnered 135k followers on Spotify alone. How the hell? Whelans bedamned, this genius of EDM dance-pop sold out prime venues from NYC to LA to Berlin and more taking in 43-dates last year alone, and as if that wasn’t wow enough, has signed up to team SB – Scooter Braun – manager to Bieber, Usher, Ariana Grande & various other elite members of the gilded world of music US stylee.
Suffice it say, we can safely assume that Eden has ‘arrived’. His seven track mini-album, ‘I Think You Think Too Much Of Me’ from which ‘Sex‘ is the opening track, received nothing but five star reviews for its lo-fi perfect blend of wilful electronica and smooth R&B. Move over Andrew, the new kid on the block is moving into your star-filled stratosphere.
Who? BONZAI, another 20 something about to set the world on fire. Originally hails from Wicklow now living in London, this newbie cut her teeth with Guernsey born electronic producer Mura Masa, something which not only stood her in good stead but got her name very much in the frame.
Another crossover artist who seems to have allowed a myriad influences seep under her musical skin without the prerequiste labels, Bonzai’s style incorporates everything from grime through Brit-soul to sophisti-pop. There are, for example, some interesting nuances of Simply Red (Fairground) on the intro to the track ‘Stepping‘ from her ‘Sleep Hungry‘ EP. Gigs and festival slots are stacking up nicely including a stint at Dublin’s District 8 weekend 25th March as well as sets at Parklife and Blissfields.
Snatched up by Colombia records, this Irish innovator is yet another firework set to explode onto the international scene.
Who? LYRA Last but by no means least, this London based Cork native (yes, another one!) recently scored perfect tens all round when she delivered a blistering, high-octane performance on the Irish version of Dancing With the Stars – watch it below. Whilst comparisons with Enya and Marina Lambrini Diamandis (of The Diamonds fame) are not unfounded, for me there is more of an affinity with the wilful instrumental theatrics and free spirit Baroque pop of Florence Welch.
Her four-track debut EP, ‘W.I.L.D’, released in 2016, includes current single, ‘Emerald‘. The song, which is about remaining true to oneself, is a compelling fusion of intangible other-worldliness and widescreen warrior style instrumentals that could have led the charge of Queen Medb into Ulster, in which Lyra’s demi-operatic vocal delivery in the mould of Kate Bush, is an octave sweeping triumph. Currently riding high in the iTunes Top 10, Lyra is currently notching up some super cool dates for her Summer calendar including the biggest UK emerging artist showcase, TGE – The Great Escape. Doubtless great things await for this unique and exceptionally talented songstress.
From melodramatic High Queens to the stark black and white realism of on point social commentary, crossing hip hop, soul, EDM and folk, this is Irish music in Ireland 2017. Check out the first cut of my Discover Ireland playlist here … follow if you like. You’ll find me on Facebook and Twitter @DervSwerve. While you’re listening to the playlist you might check out Ireland.ie, the new Creative Ireland cultural website and portal to Ireland.
The Discover Ireland series will continue showcasing Irish music fortnightly.