Future Stars? 2018’s Most Likely in Irish Music

As we edge into another year, we can’t help but look ahead to 2018 in Irish music, casting a glance the way of the country’s great hopes. There’s plenty to be excited about, from a rising hip-hop scene to plenty of impressive and lairy rockers, but we’ve narrowed it down to just seven rising stars. Here are our picks for Ireland’s most likely breakthrough artists for the next twelve months…

Jafaris

Ireland’s hip-hop scene seems to get better by the day, and while Rusangano Family are the much-acclaimed kings, Jafaris – who played Ngig in Sing Street – is coming up fast on the outside. With a quick quip constantly to the ready and a live show that seems to wow everyone before him, the Diffusion Labs rapper is working on a 2018 album as a follow up to the sensational Velvet Cake EP. Add the man to your ‘must see’ list before he starts playing anywhere bigger: when a vocalist delivers this kind of cuttingly intense honesty together with the boisterous on-stage persona that Jafaris has made his own, the result is certain to fly. [website]

Bitch Falcon

After a patchy 2017 that saw the three-piece undergo a personnel change, this grungy Dublin outfit are all set to fly once again. They seemed to be everywhere for a little while, with their pounding, intense live show backed up with an early single nodding to obscure parts of the body (TMJ) amongst a sprinkling of lairy, crafted riff-laden tracks. They have a cult-like following on the Irish guitar scene, and November’s new single ‘Of Heart’ created some buzz in the UK music press, too. And who wouldn’t want band merch with that particular band named emblazoned all over it. In a word, ferocious. Brilliantly so. [website]

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New Year Festival: A Very Dublin New Year

Custom House Quay during Dublin New Year Festival

Kodaline, light, aerial performers, brave water-tech and drumming mayhem: what to see at Dublin’s New Year Festival

It’s that time again: the year’s most anticipated night out, followed by a hungover vow to change yourself for the better, a gym owner’s favourite couple of weeks, the odd salad, and finally everything getting back to normal.

Dublin’s New Year Festival has been lighting up the city (literally) over the last few years, and has slowly expanded from mainly a big gig to a whole lot more. This year’s stars are massive Swords band Kodaline, who will be accompanied by Keywest and Hudson Taylor in an extremely local-leaning pop-fest lineup.

That core event is long since sold out, but there’s plenty of other stuff to explore, much of which is free, and spread out across December 31 and January 1. These events include several light displays (which are free ticketed events on the Custom House – register through Ticketmaster), acrobatics, smaller concerts, flyboarding and a host of pop-up performers.

We caught up with a few of the people involved to ask them all about what they do…

Heliosphere

Carrying out acrobatic performances whilst hanging from oversized helium balloons seems like a wacky and potentially dangerous idea, but also a nice way to present gymnasts in a new way, against a bright background, and allow them to perform.

Heliosphere pioneered the concept. “Research, testing and practise,” were key, they say, adding “we research the science so an envelope of just the right size and which is light and strong enough to hold the helium, is used with enough ‘useful lift’ for the aerialist to fly but be manipulated from the ground safely by the crew without so much lift that they fly as well.”

Vulpynes: Bring the Punk, Bring the Noise

Punk two-piece Vulpynes are only three singles old, but already look a good bet for Dublin music’s next big thing. So what has the lairy pair making waves in London and Berlin?

DUBLINERS VULPYNES had an inauspicious start. Formed after drummer/ vocalist Kaz Millar placed an advert on Boards.ie looking to form a band (future partner in crime Maeve Molly McKernan was the first to reply), the post eventually resulted in a four-piece. They played only covers, and lasted mere days.

Millar and McKernan had felt something click, though, and after a brief search for a bassist, decided to start making original material, and to go it alone. Their sound takes much of its inspiration from the 90s. It’s raw, nodding distinctly to acts like Hole, Alice in Chains, L7 and Soundgarden. Riddled with reverb, abrasive and fearless, it comes from a band dynamic that was very much full speed ahead from the off.

“We started off really determined,” McKernan recalls. “We were just eager to play, and took any gig we were offered. It’s a mentality we’ve kind of continued with. We want to play live, and the more people see us, the more people know us. It’s a word of mouth thing. With the UK shows, we reached out to promoters the first time around, and since then we’ve been invited back to do shows. We’re going to Berlin this month, too, and back to the UK in 2018.”

While relatively underground at least for the uninitiated (it’s based largely around a small handful of labels and venues, though there are surprisingly numerous bands), Dublin has long had a powerful and close-knit punk scene, based around lairy nights out, an enticing community spirit and supportive culture.

“It’s a really friendly community of bands,” McKernan explains. “They really want to help each other out, and they love music. It’s that community where we feel at home, and we’ve found it so welcoming. Everyone’s so genuine, with a real community spirit with no backstabbing, and we love it.”

While they connected specifically in order to form the band, the stories of Millar and McKernan’s journeys with punk are surprisingly similar. McKernan’s mum introduced her to bands like L7 and Hole at a young age, and now shows her support for Vulpynes by drawing, producing stunning illustrations of the pair as skeletons, or foxes. Millar’s older sister channeled Nirvana and Alice in Chains into her life.

Super Extra Bonus Party: Return of the Underdogs

Seven years after their last release, Ireland’s favourite indie outliers Super Extra Bonus Party return with a new single. They look back to their blistering best.

IT’S EARLY 2007, and against all the odds, Newbridge band Super Extra Bonus Party are stood on the stage collecting a gong and a large cheque, having taken home the Choice Music Prize for their self-titled debut album.

It’s probably the most controversial decision in the history of the competition. Cathy Davey, Delorentos and Kila are all household names, and all have acclaimed albums up for the award, but it comes as little surprise to those with their ear to the ground of Irish music. An album that’s only touched on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has, in some knowledgeable corners, been hailed as the most inventive Irish album in a decade.

With follow up Night Horses, the hip-hop/ indie fusion act returned with abundant Dublin-scene special guests in 2009, accompanying the searing and memorable release with a series of blistering and beloved live shows, before calling an indefinite hiatus in 2011.

Whispers of a return began as early as 2015, and with November’s new single ‘Switzerland’, the revered six-piece (seventh member Rodrigo Teles has sadly departed Irish shores for his native Brazil) have finally returned to the fray.

“It had been kicking around for a while, but the decision was made out the back of a pub in Dingle in December 2014 as part of a ‘tired and emotional’ chat we all had while on a mate’s stag,” Gavin Elsted tells us. “We felt that we had left things unfinished and without any external pressure, wanted to start working on music just to see if the old spark was still there.”

“It was never about the relationships in the band, because in the intervening years we’d still hang out whenever we could, so when we eventually took the first step into the studio, it was like we never left. There was so much joy at being back where we felt we belonged. I still think in some ways it’s an excuse to hang out a bit more with each other, but at least now we have something to show for it!”

Lankum: Sixteen Years of Trad Exploration, Delivered with an Angry Punch.

The Guardian hailed them as the best folk act out of Ireland in years. Here’s the story behind research-loving Dublin trad-folk miscreants Lankum

IN MID OCTOBER 2015, a little-known four piece appeared on the BBC’s iconic alternative music show Later With Jools Holland. Performing harmonised folk tracks like ‘Father Had A Knife’, the Dublin act could already trace their roots back more than 14 years. They’d finally got their break.

That band are now known as Lankum (more on that later), and the rise of the melodic four-piece was already well underway back home in Ireland. The big shot across the water came as a surprise, however. A demo CD that Lankum had sent to “anywhere we could think of” stood out from a pile BBC Head of Music Mark Cooper was hunting through, and next thing – at two weeks notice – Ian Lynch and his band were performing to a prime-time BBC2 audience.

The roots of Lankum, though, reach back through well over a decade of live performance. Lynch has been around Dublin trad circles since the 90s, and much of what Lankum do now is drawn from his involvement in the the kind of music-loving exchanges that still happen between trad-sphere friends and around pub sessions.

Things also went much further for Lynch. “There are lots of recordings passed around, and we often record at sessions, too. I’ve found if you ask and explain why you’re recording, people are great about it. I’ve never had anyone say no. It’s normal for friends to exchange tapes on the trad scene, too. I’ve also worked in the archives at Merrion Square, The Piper’s Club, and UCD over the years, and spent a lot of that time working while listening my way through the archives.”

“We draw from a mix of ideas,” he continues, “and that contains a lot of crunchy pub and field recordings, which are very far from polished. Some are rough as hell. Then there’s techno, krautrock, punk and even black metal in there. It’s not crossover music, the presence is quite subtle, but the different elements do make up our musical palette.”

Lankum also produce original tracks (and the traditional ones are often heavily adapted), but much of their work is drawn from Irish, Scottish, English and even German folk traditions, and routed in that quiet exchange of shaky cassette tape recording.

“The songs we write definitely sound like they’re out of the 18th or 19th Century,” Lynch explains. “We listen to so much of this stuff that it happens very naturally, we’re very immersed in that tradition, so it’s not really that conscious”

The Gaiety Panto: “It’s a challenge, but it’s really, really rewarding”

Love/Hate and Fair City star Johnny Ward talks his return to the Gaiety Theatre for pantomime season

HAVING STARTED OUT way back in 1873, the Gaiety Panto is a Dublin Christmas institution, a classically playful comedy returning night after night with plenty of stories… ahem… behind them.

This year, the age-old performance on offer is a stage adaptation of Rapunzel, featuring the return of Ireland’s most famous pantomime dame for the 28th time, as well as Ciara Lyons in the hair-y title role, and former Love/ Hate man Johnny Ward fitting right in as Johnny B. Goode.

For all the throwaway, sporadic feel of panto, though, the Gaiety offering is a serious undertaking, at least internally. For the cast, Christmas starts the morning after Halloween, with rehearsals underway in earnest.

“There are three days off scheduled for the entire run,” Ward tells us, as he returns to the Gaiety following his earlier appearances in Cinderella (2012) and Peter Pan (2014). “It’s hectic, but I remember it as a child and it means a lot, it’s a real Christmas tradition. You have to be aware of that when you’re performing in it. I met my girlfriend through my part in the panto in 2012, so it has great memories for me more recently, too.”

Ward is better known for his role as Pauley in Love/ Hate, with his character dying by falling from a balcony. He also stars in Fair City as Ciaran Holloway, so despite his earlier experiences, the panto is far from his usual style.

“Panto is frowned upon by some, especially those actors who only do film and theatre,” he admits. “But I think it’s important to do. There are some great people here. Joe Conlan [the dame] has been doing this forever and doesn’t do anything else as an actor. He specialises because he’s just really good at what he does. Panto isn’t like film and TV, and it’s his forte. He’s a real gentleman, but absolutely nuts with it.”

There are technical challenges that come with the role, however, in particular as it continues night after night. “There’s a part of the script that I read and just thought ‘that’s impossible’, looking at the stage set up, but I had the same experience last time, and it came off, so I’m sure we’ll do it,” Ward explains.

Myths, Wine, Hiking and Dramatic Industrial Wastelands: Why the Czech Republic’s East Beats Prague’s Tourist Crowds

Brno centre | © James Hendicott

THERE’S A LONG-standing joke in the Czech Republic’s second city Brno. “We know wine,” they say. “We keep the best wine for ourselves. The mediocre stuff we sell to tourists, and the really bad stuff we send to Prague.”

It’s fair to say the Czech Republic’s two main cities have quite a rivalry. A few years ago, Brno’s mayor spent a small fortune on building a modern-version of Prague’s spectacular clock in the city’s main square. It’s a phallic, towering, slowly-twisting statue that almost nobody can use to tell the time, and once a day it omits a strange glass marble, because… nobody seems to be quite sure. It’s odd, largely because the city doesn’t need to compete.

If Bohemian Prague is home to the dark history and literary pretensions, laid back Brno has a fast-growing collection of its own unique lures. A once impenetrable walled city, it’s main attractions are in a compact hub, a spot that’s become pleasantly alternative in the way it presents itself.

Trams chug through the pretty, classical streets. Local bars consist of shacks selling hefty glasses from Moravian vineyards, served in the open air around bubbling fountains. Cocktail bars like the magical ‘Bar That Does Not Exist’ (Ktery Neexistuje in the local lingo) have a menu of thousands of fiery, fruity concoctions made from a mind-boggling selection of boozy bottles.

In fact, the general off-the-wall vibe to Brno is probably its main allure. An architect, for example, once got irritated by negotiations over compensation for his construction of the soaring Church of St James, and so adorned a window ledge with a fornicating, nude-bummed symbol who still rests there today.

Then there’s the Brno dragon, adorning a tunnel in the city hall, said once to have plagued the city (his modern incarnation looks suspiciously like an alligator). St James’ church relatively recently discovered ossuary is a creepy, claustrophobic series of underground tunnels home to wall-to-wall heaps of skulls and bones, while bunker 10-Z – a former secret Soviet underground bunker close the city’s heart – might have jokingly plastered pictures of atom bombs on its walls today, but the other relics remind us of its deadly serious practical applications.

While Brno tends to align itself culturally with Vienna (another snub to capital Prague, we suspect), Ostrava, near the Polish border, is a totally different a more rugged beast.

Wonderfully Weird: the Charming 60s-Pop World of No Monster Club

From (kind of) faking his own death to releasing a single album with enough tracks to fill an entire radio show, No Monster Club’s Bobby Aherne recalls a career that’s hard to define.

BOBBY AHERNE doesn’t particularly like convention. As a core member of the wonderful Popical Island collective, a loosely formed Dublin record label that thrives on collaboration, his main outlet No Monster Club has been flirting with the fringes of the Irish music scene for some time, performing lyrically sharp bubblegum pop.

His themes are broad, their coherence, perhaps, coming from the fact that No Monster Club is emphatically not about the conventional pop subjects. Bursting with colour, Aherne’s tracks explore Africa, wish retirement on an artist he’s sick of hearing, riff on the buzz of charity shops, and happily harmonize on drinking and smoking in parks. In his latest project, he’s releasing a short EP every month for all of 2017.

“I didn’t want to do a whole album again, as it’s such a big project,” Aherne tells us, and as a man who once released a record with over forty tracks on it, an album might be bigger for him than most. “I just wanted to do songs this year without having to be coherent. There have been songs as a band, as a three-piece, and just solo stuff, as well as longer, more thematic pieces. With this project, I have the freedom to do that.”

The result is – in the best possible way – weird. On the latest two-track, Aherne explores the festival of Samhain, but throws an Ace of Base cover as a b-side (“it’s okay, because it’s one of the tracks that isn’t written by the Nazi one in the band”). Earlier releases – each presented with a kind of abstract, newspaper print EP cover – include a cover of Lally Stott’s 70s hit ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ and a jaunty summer ode to doing things yourself and Factor 50 sunscreen.

Things have been more fantastically odd in the past, though, like the time Aherne released a jokey press release for a track claiming that he’d died. Having taken it seriously, an American publication ultimately released a brief expose ‘revealing’ that the musician – who’d never been less than active on social media in the meantime – was still going strong.

“There was some grief,” he recalls. “Some blog ran a piece on the track, saying that sadly I’m dead now. The PR ‘story’ was that the track was put together from shoeboxes under the bed. The comments section had some mad stuff in it after people realised. There was one guy who said he couldn’t believe this guy, and that I deserved to be dead, and someone who is dead should get to take my place. Then a Chicago place did an expose that I’m not actually dead. I did find it funny.”