BRIM­MING WITH TAL­ENT, CON­FI­DENCE AND SWAG­GER

It’s hard to think of a more boun­ti­ful, di­verse time in Ir­ish mu­sic in the past 20 years

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - YEAR IN REVIEW | IRISH ROCK & POP - UNA MUL­LALLY

The re­turn of garage bands, a rap scene com­ing of age, in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated elec­tronic mu­sic, bur­geon­ing main­stream stars, pre­cise pop. In the past, suc­cess in Ir­ish mu­sic had a ten­dency to be con­cen­trated in par­tic­u­lar pools: singer-song­writer booms, a host of in­ter­est­ing indie bands, the rise of a few big-voiced solo artists. But the Ir­ish mu­sic scene in 2018 is typ­i­fied by tal­ent, con­fi­dence and swag­ger brim­ming in every genre. It’s hard to think of a more boun­ti­ful time in Ir­ish mu­sic in the past 20 years.

Tal­ented acts keep emerg­ing, and a new grass-roots in­dus­try in­fra­struc­ture is also tak­ing shape, even at a time when night­clubs in the cap­i­tal are clos­ing and tra­di­tional me­dia for­mats plod to­wards ex­tinc­tion. A new gen­er­a­tion of mul­ti­fac­eted col­lec­tives that defy pi­geon­hol­ing are emit­ting a cer­tain en­ergy. Th­ese in­clude pro­duc­ers such as Dif­fu­sion Lab, whose ros­ter of tunes fea­tures work by Soulé, Ja­faris, Erica Cody and Hare Squead. As a me­dia com­pany, District con­tin­ues to cham­pion and cover home­grown tal­ent both in print, on­line and through its par­ties. Pro­moter Hid­den Agenda has come of age with its own vinyl bar on Par­nell Street amid un­cer­tainty about how Dublin can sus­tain it­self as a des­ti­na­tion for tour­ing DJs as District 8 closes. The list of crews bring­ing a vi­brancy to Ir­ish mu­sic in­cludes un­der­ground col­lec­tives such as Black Jam, broad­cast­ers such as Dublin Dig­i­tal Ra­dio, la­bels such as Soft Boy Records, and DJ/pro­ducer crews such as Gash Col­lec­tive.

A good deal of this en­ergy fizzing in Ir­ish mu­sic in 2018 is em­a­nat­ing from a hip-hop scene fi­nally find­ing its feet. Lo­cal rap­pers are climb­ing up fes­ti­val billings and pack­ing rooms. In terms of live per­for­mance, Mango x Math­man were every­where in 2018, from play­ing with an or­ches­tra on Cul­ture Night to man­ning their own one-night-only pi­rate ra­dio knock-off No Sur­ren­der FM.

The year’s finest Ir­ish re­lease was Ko­jaque’s Deli Day­dreams, eight flaw­less tracks across half an hour reach­ing a highlight with Evic­tion No­tice and Kean Ka­vanagh’s pure and louche vo­cal: “Cried about you this morn­ing / On my break from the of­fice / Su­san made me a cof­fee / She was em­bar­rassed and awk­ward.” Ko­jaque has marked him­self out as one of the best home-grown lyri­cists of his gen­er­a­tion. When Re­jjie Snow’s long-awaited de­but Dear An­nie landed, it smoothed away some of the skit­tish­ness of his ap­proach to genre. But that pick’n’mix ap­proach to genre is typ­i­cal of Ir­ish hip-hop, rap, R&B and soul, from the neo-soul of Biig Piig and the locker-slam­ming brood­ing rap of Luka Palm to the com­ing-of-age depth and in­tro­spec­tion of Paul Al­right’s Hun­gry.

Of course, with the yin, there’s al­ways yang, and Ir­ish hip-hop in 2018 also means the turgid raps of Ver­sa­tile, who sell out venues all over, the as­sumed irony of their be­gin­nings sail­ing over ca­pac­ity au­di­ences like a Har­court Street drunk leapfrog­ging a street bol­lard. Oh well.

If hip-hop is very much form­ing a new es­tab­lish­ment in Ir­ish mu­sic, there’s also a glance to the past with sev­eral bands do­ing ex­cel­lent things in 2018. The bril­liant Pil­low Queens ended their year with a sold-out show in Whe­lan’s in Novem­ber. Fon­taines DC, who seem des­tined to break out to fur­ther suc­cess next year, have been tour­ing re­lent­lessly and what’s pub­lic of their live 2019 al­ready stretches to the end of May, in­clud­ing a US tour with Idles. Mean­while, Bitch Fal­con signed with United Tal­ent in 2018. Then there’s Der­mot Kennedy on In­ter­scope, long primed for main­stream suc­cess whose songs are grow­ing in stature.

It’s funny to think Le Galaxie’s Plea­sure came out in 2018, given how fa­mil­iar its tracks are to fans who have seen them play the Ir­ish live cir­cuit, which they have toured heav­ily. The band has been given a sec­ond wind with MayKay, and the ti­tle track of that record is prob­a­bly the best the band has writ­ten.

Qual­ity al­bums abound: Wyvern Lingo’s self-ti­tled de­but, Saint Sis­ter’s Shape of Si­lence, Lisa O’Neill’s Heard a Long Gone Song. Plenty of es­tab­lished acts stepped up a level, too. Hozier re­turned with what is prob­a­bly the most re­alised song of his ca­reer, Nina Cried Power. The ever-in­ter­est­ing James Vin­cent McMor­row closed out the year by sign­ing to Columbia Records and RCA. Vil­lagers pro­duced a gem of a record with some of the nicest cover art around in The Art of Pre­tend­ing to Swim. J Colleran, for­merly known as Mmoths, cre­ated Gar­de­nia, the au­ral equiv­a­lent of an ex­panse of com­puter-gen­er­ated wild­flow­ers.

Some of the big­gest moves in 2018 were re­served for dance floors. One of the tunes of the year was Krys­tal Klear’s Neu­tron Dance, and the tal­ented and driven pro­ducer has many more bangers in his ar­se­nal. Or:la con­tin­ues to con­quer clubs around the world. Saoirse Ryan’s fes­ti­val di­ary for sum­mer 2019 is al­ready fill­ing up, and DJs in­clud­ing Aoife O’Neill, Cáit and El­lll are very much on an up­ward tra­jec­tory.

As ever, it’s the en­thu­si­asm of gig-go­ers, club­bers, fes­ti­val pun­ters and fans that gives this en­gine fuel. Right now it’s roar­ing, and what a great sound that is.

From top: Kean Ka­vanagh, aka Ko­jaque, Wyvern Lingo and Mango x Math­man

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