How Irish popular music earned its Strypes

The Strypes played Glastonbury, and the most exceptional thing was that it was no longer exceptional

Old-school teenage rockers: The Strypes  Photograph: Davin O’Dwyer

Old-school teenage rockers: The Strypes Photograph: Davin O’Dwyer

Sat, Jul 6, 2013, 01:00

Last weekend, young Irish band The Strypes took to the stage at Glastonbury for what turned out to be a brawling, propulsive rock’n’roll set.

The BBC aired the set in its entirety. Critics lumped them in alongside the Rolling Stones in their reviews of the weekend. The band left to a wail of feedback and the oncoming march of stardom.

They are aged between 15 and 17, they make music that sounds like it was made 50 years ago, and they get away with it because it is played like they only discovered The Yardbirds yesterday. Given their youth, that’s probably what happened.

What’s just as remarkable is that they do not remember the 1980s and 1990s, when Irish popular music was a shallow pit from which band after band attempted to crawl. They have no idea of how much of these decades was given over to searching for “the next U2”. They have no memory of when popular music came predominantly in three flavours: rock, folk, and a rock-folk hybrid.

To The Strypes, it probably feels completely normal that an Irish band would play a big stage at Glastonbury.

After all, on the same weekend, Villagers, Maverick Sabre and Two Door Cinema Club were among those also playing to big crowds, and getting BBC coverage. The foursome have grown up in an era when Irish music is a flourishing, ever-evolving entity, in which fine albums are being released, discovered, or rediscovered, every week. This could be called a golden age for Irish music, if it didn’t increasingly appear permanent.

Already this year there have been cracking albums by Young Wonder, Mano Le Tough, O Emperor, Villagers, I Am The Cosmos and probably more I haven’t heard yet.

Curiously, in their narrow focus on old-school rock, the youthful Strypes are old-fashioned in more ways than one because Irish music has long since broken the confines of genre, examining every corner of sound except for K-Pop.

Daithí Ó Drónaí’s current house track, Chameleon Life, is a prime example of the health of electronic music here, and could be played on the loudspeakers to the nation every morning to get everyone pumped up for the day. Meanwhile, there are albums that won’t sit still in any one place.

Little Green Cars’s Absolute Zero is an album of great songs that sound like great songs from a dozen other bands.

This might be an unlikely diversion, but in the evolution of Irish music, Louis Walsh was a visionary. Sure, he only took the boyband template and gave it an Irish twist, but while the rest of the country was looking for the next U2, he was looking for the next Take That. With Boyzone, and then through Westlife, he broke away from the convention to show that Irish music could be about more than either trad or rock.

He wasn’t responsible for all of modern Irish music, but he proved there were other paths to success, and over the past decade Irish music has explored so many more of those routes.

It is no coincidence that this has paralleled the growth of the web.

As of this week, the Irish record companies have their three strikes agreement with Eircom to punish music piracy, yet the web has been perhaps the greatest catalyst in bringing modern Irish music to a point where it is arguably our richest artform.

The Strypes have their record deal, but Irish music owes much to the way in which the internet has freed music, and musicians, to discover, experiment, share and find an audience through far more organic ways.

Irish music can succeed because it doesn’t have to
get on a boat to find an audience. In a borderless world, it can be picked up by ears in Tokyo as quickly as it can in Trim.

It has grown because it is no longer reliant on an executive to be the arbiter of an audience’s tastes. If an audience is there, it will be found, or it will find you.

The Strypes’s old-style approach is epitomised by their hard-gigging route to success.

Yet they did not get their musical education through raiding their parents’ vinyl: they got it on YouTube. Ultimately, they’re a bunch of teenagers who mine rock’s past and are being hailed as its future, but right now most represent the confident, curious, glorious present of Irish music.


shegarty@irishtimes.com
@shanehegarty

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