Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Putting a shape on 2011

There are some traditions which you shouldn’t mess with. With the fourth estate, it’s customary to spend December looking at the year that was and January looking at the year that’s ahead. Seeing as I’ve spent the Christmas break adhering …

Wed, Jan 5, 2011, 08:59


There are some traditions which you shouldn’t mess with. With the fourth estate, it’s customary to spend December looking at the year that was and January looking at the year that’s ahead. Seeing as I’ve spent the Christmas break adhering to other seasonal traditions (ie horsing into chocolate kimberleys like they were going out of fashion), I’ve decided to stick with the crowd on this one. It will be one of the few times when my peers and I agree on anything.

Let’s start with the tips, as much a part of this time of year as lofty resolutions. In last Friday’s Ticket, my fellow music writers and I put our collective necks on the line to highlight some acts we think might do some sort of business in 2011. I remarked last year that it remains to be seen what’s the new definition of “doing the business” and this remains the case going into 2011. It’s unlikely that many names on the various lists will provide surprises for regular OTR readers, as most of the acts mentioned have already been profiled here in our regular New Music slots.

Similarly, the BBC Sound Of 2011 poll, which is currently making its way through the final stages of the wash-cycle, contains names who were covered extensively here in 2010. That should be our new motto: if you want to know what’s on the BBC Sound of 2012 poll, make sure you read OTR in 2011. I’ll get the marketing bods on it ASAP.

There’s also a list from the NME of the 20 acts you’ll be reading a lot about in 2011. Worringly, Oasis revivalists and self-proclaimed neanderthals Brother feature here and elsewhere. Do we really want to see a return to lumpen mad-for-its? I would think the jury’s still out but Geffen would not agree having signed ‘em up. At least, there’s some glowing, artful minimalism ahead from James Blake and Nicolas Jaar (whose forthcoming “Space Is only Noise” release was my most played album over Christmas) to counteract all that misplaced bravado. If you want more on what might face these bright new things, check out this piece.

I hope that music from home will provide as much eating and drinking in 2011 as it did last year. It will be interesting to see, for instance, if the momentum produced during the most prolific and high-profile 12 months ever for Irish music continues. Over 200 Irish albums were released in 2010 but, seeing as the vast bulk of those acts won’t be putting out new albums in 2011, will the numbers at year’s end be as high? Actually, footnote alert, wasn’t there a few predictions over the last five years about “the death of the album”? That seems to have been a prediction with as much credence as “the death of blogging” or “the death of Bebo”. If artists keep on making albums, we’ll keep getting albums. When artists stop making albums, you can write that obituary.

Really, vast cellars of salt should be be supplied along with all predictions. Remember that no-one was predicting in January 2010 that we were on the cusp of some sort of golden age for acts with Irish passports. And while we might wonder what’s next, there are inevitably a bunch of acts already warming up on the sidelines with albums ready to go, just as there are probably also a bunch of acts who’ve been buzzed up by last year’s attention and want to go to work.

It will be telling to see how many of the Irish Class of 2010 go on to take their variation of the noise out foreign. I know, this is a particular bugbear of mine, but walk with me a little on this one. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to the home patch, acts with any sort of serious ambition for a long-run need to look further afield. This is a small wee island and it’s nigh impossible for a band keen to do this full-time to survive on income from here alone. Taking the noise out foreign doesn’t just mean hassling the bejaysus out of the last remaining major label A&R men in the world, but rather coming up with smart, bespoke ways to turn homegrown buzz into something with international legs. This will take time, patience, largesse and a large degree of luck, but it can be done if the will to do it is there.

There already have been some inroads (mentions here, tours there) to go with what Villagers and Two Door Cinema Club have done and are doing, but there should be bigger splashes to come. I’m curious to see what James Vincent McMorrow, for one, will do elsewhere this year, especially as he seems to have now sorted out his live show.

There are quite a few new-ish Irish acts I’m looking forward to hearing more from in 2011. Seven albums I’m looking forward to hearing in 2011 are those which are hopefully coming from Squarehead, Cloud Castle Lake, Daithí, The Casanova Wave, Jennifer Evans, Niamh de Barra and Krystal Klear. At least, I assume those albums are coming. Each of those acts demonstrated huge smarts in the last 12 months which auger well for what they might well do in 2011 and beyond.

On the business side of the music business, you can expect a lot of the stories which grabbed the headlines in the last few years to continue to play out again and again (and again). This means that we’ll be writing about ticket prices, Ticketmaster, gig turnouts, record labels, Spotify, streaming, retail, IRMA, piracy, new solutions, festivals, radio and unforeseen circumstances. Sorry about this in advance, but this is the way of the walk on the music business patrol and will be for some time to come. That much needed reset will be some time in coming.

Like Fianna Fail, these issues are not going to vanish overnight. Ticket prices won’t fall and Ticketmaster will continue to vex ticket buyers, when that ire should really be directed at the acts (and promoters) who use Ticketmaster as a handy whipping boy. Gig turnouts will range from good (especially for the big arena and stadium shows) to pathetic (especially for new visiting acts where the promoter has done sweet FA to promote the show – hands up those who saw Jamaica or Boy & Bear play in Dublin last year?). Record labels will still hang around (the bad ones) or morph into newer models (the good ones). Spotify will work it all out and become a global streaming jukebox. Retail will continue to be something old people like me sigh and tut about, while young ones wonder what all the fuss is about (and the slide will continue – look at this morning’s news from HMV with 60 shops to be closed and Christmas sales down 10 per cent). IRMA will spend even more money on lawyers. Piracy will become an issue talked about by people who don’t realise that that particular battle is long over. New solutions will be provided at least eight times a week. We will see even more micro and niche festivals in Ireland over the summer months. For radio, see retail (especially if advertising revenue continues to slide). And some clever buck in a promoter’s office must surely come up with a new way of saying “unforeseen circumstances” this year. In fact, we should offer a prize for this.

Me, I’m looking forward to 2011. In my strange, mixed-up, slightly warped, illogical head, odd years trump even years every time. I’m as eager as ever to come across some amazing band I know nothing about who will knock my socks off. I’m gagging to hear an awesome tune from some bunch of unknowns which has way more resonance than the fourth forced album from some bunch of Irish has-beens who should have stuck with the day-job. I’m hoping to come across a return to form from some act I’d written off ages ago to show that I’m (occasionally) wrong. I’m patiently waiting for new development on the music business beat which means we can stop having to write about the current gallery of self-serving, smug, clueless, uncaring, feckless wasters who’ve done absolutely nothing other than protect their own neck for the last decade (this can also apply to the Fianna Fail/Green government). Despite the fact that I should know better, I’m optimistic. Hey, it’s going to be a great year.