The Irish music scene is in particularly rude health at the moment. As a State.ie reader, you’ll most probably have noticed – being that we bring you a monthly live triple bill at State.ie’s Faces series, plus twenty fine new acts every January and another new Face each and every week. Of course, we’re not the only ones as all our colleagues in the digital world throw their weight behind a plethora of acts too. Turn on your radio late at night – an archaic concept I know – and you’ll find the likes of 8Radio, TXFM, Dan Hegarty, Colm O’Sullivan and Paul McLoone doing their bit. So, all’s well then?
To an extent. With all the best will in the world, none of this is going to propel an act to a mass audience – although it might prove a starting point. The problem is that the breakdown of the music industry has created the sort of inequity in resources that the Premier League would be proud of. We’ve seen that Irish acts are more than capable of making a name for themselves – look at the recent success of Imelda May, Kodaline, The Script, Villagers and growing stature of Little Green Cars, Delorentos and Walking On Cars. What connects them is the support of a major, or at least influential, record label. Even in these days of the democratisation of music, it’s hard to see any new act achieving any substantial success without the support of the old guard. Take a look at our Too Good To Be Forgotten feature to see how things have changed since the days when the likes of Power Of Dreams could pick up a major deal with ease.
On Twitter last week, the Planet Mu signed Solar Bears were decrying the lack of labels in Ireland. They have a point. The demise of the Richter Collective did leave a gaping hole, with perhaps only Psychonavigation, Out On A Limb, Reekus, Delphi, Rubyworks, Smalltown America and Popical Island – itself a collective more than anything else – still flying the flag. As fine work as these and others do, the artists represent only a tiny proportion of the acts active at the moment.
It’s the same story when it comes to gigs. At the top sit the main two promoters, at the other end a loosely connected collection of venues, live nights and dedicated individuals and groups. Again the middle ground is lacking, a space where acts can play beyond their own boundaries and find a new audience. Bodytonic, Skinny Wolves and Choice Cuts have built their own niches through a commitment to quality shows and have constantly expanded, while Homebeat recently took Carriages on a national tour and this weekend will join with Happenings to stage the Another Love Story festival. Venues and promoters in Cork, Galway, Belfast and Limerick work tirelessly to give acts a break too.
Again then, what’s the problem? For a small country, Ireland has a remarkably inventive and creative music scene. Some amazing music is being made, music that deserves to be heard by more than just those in the know or who are prepared to go and hunt it out. While some are producing sounds that by their very nature are going to find them a select audience, there are some potentially major names in our midst – from the hip-hop of Hare Squead and Simi Crowns to the dance of Kormac and Daithí (signed to Sony in Ireland), the haunting Somerville, the alien pop of Nanu Nanu, the furious Bitch Falcon and many more. People WILL love this music, they just need to come across it. It’s taken Ham Sandwich a decade and going through more crap than most, but their Olympia sell out in April proves as much.
Yet should this be something that bands should worry about? Is the mainstream really something to strive for, dominated as it is by soundalike pop and dance music? It’s not a question of competing with Taylor Swift but one of scale. The subject of musicians getting paid reared its head again over the summer yet if more people downloaded the music, bought the records and went to the gigs, would that not get the money flowing?
There’s one name I haven’t mentioned. On July 4th 2013, State premiered the EP by a new Irish artist signed to the Rubyworks label. A couple of months later we did the same with the video. Now signed to Island records, Hozier has just been added to the BBC Radio 1 playlist. The glass ceiling can be smashed, we just need to make sure it happens more often.
Getting Heard will be the subject of the State.ie of the Nation Address at Another Love Story on Saturday at 4.30pm – featuring Emmett Condon from Homebeat, Stephen White from The Last Mixed Tape, Roger Quail from Rubyworks and Davey Moor from little xs for eyes.