Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Irish music 2012: the lay of the land

There’s something quite invigorating about the start of a new year and all that the changing of the calendar on the wall brings with it. Time to start anew. Time to try out well-known Gucci model Sam Beckett’s great line …

Tue, Jan 3, 2012, 08:54


There’s something quite invigorating about the start of a new year and all that the changing of the calendar on the wall brings with it. Time to start anew. Time to try out well-known Gucci model Sam Beckett’s great line all over again. Time to go back up the hill again with renewed vigour. Out with the old, in with the new and all of that. Your man Pope Gregory XIII knew what he was doing, you know.

There are naturally some traditions which go hand in hand with this changing of the guard and, for the music-writing classes, this is the time of year to attempt to predict the acts who are going to do great things in the coming year. You’ll find my list of 10 Irish acts who I think are going to make an impression in the next 12 months here, all of whom will be familiar to visitors to this neck of the web. You will also find my list of get-out-of-jail-free cards, caveats and conditions at the start of the piece. Ain’t going to be that solider, bud. Anyone who still thinks that those who compile these lists are infalliable and really know what is going to happen in the next 12 months is living on another planet smoking a pipe with Stephen Ireland.

Let’s be honest, it probably won’t be a brand new act who’ll end up being the Irish sound of 2012. There will be plenty of brand new acts who’ll make a splash next year and who will be featured on this blog and others as the year spins out but, in terms of going beyond the small constituency of new band watchers and blog readers, you need to look further afield at acts who’ve already done their developmental work. It used to be called “paying you dues” but “developmental work” sounds swankier. Going forward.

Because it’s a long-term game. The meme of our time, after all, is time. It takes time for an act to sort out their heads, it takes time for an act to realise what they’re doing. You don’t become the sound of 2012 by suddenly appearing in 2011 and making like you’re cock of the walk. Every act who will make a splash in the coming 12 months, from Lana Del Rey and Emile Sande on the international front to Little Green Cars and This Club at home, have been working their butts off for years to get to this stage. The best overnight success stories are the ones which take five years because these usually lead to sustainable careers. And isn’t that goal?

Speaking of sustainability, it’s also worth looking at what’s going on offstage as well, starting with a spot of omphaloskepsis. For the size of it and the volume of music produced, the Irish music scene generates a lot of introspection and analysis. It’s fair to say that media coverage, by and large, breaks down along predictable lines. Most of the mainsteam outlets concentrate on the big hitters, the acts who can sell a couple of thousand downloads of a new song or sell out a big room because that’s what mainstream media outlets do. The non-mainstream media, by contrast, concentrate on the acts who either haven’t yet hit those goals or who never will or who are very happy to make music for themselves. The non-mainstream media usually slags off the acts which the mainstream media covers because that’s the default setting (The Coronas will rarely bother the Hype Machine and both are perfectly happy with that state of affairs) and the mainstream media usually doesn’t bother going near the darlings of the non-mainstream media (not that some of those darlings want to have any truck with the showbiz pages). Two parallel lines rocking off into the distance.

Of course, both sides can up their game. I’m with Handsome Young Stranger when it comes to the current trend for music blogs to cover their asses with the term “curation”. When you stick up YouTube videos and Soundcloud clips – especially videos and clips which everyone else is pimping at the same time – with just a scrap of explanation or review or critical slant, please note that this is just softcore PR and nothing more. Less curation and more criticism please, especially criticism of some of the non-mainstream’s most sacred cows who’ve gone fat and lazy. We know you think it – now write it.

Also, it’s never really a good thing when cosy relationships exist between artists and those writing about said acts. It’s sadly inevitable in a country as small as this, but it amazes me that it still goes on and that it’s somehow seen by both sides as a positive. Where’s the critical remove, the distance required to serve your readers? And don’t give me that aul’ shite about blogs being different and being there to act as a cheerleaders. If you want to be a cheerleader for the act, spellcheck the press release. But, thankfully because it’s a small country, we can recognise the ties that bind and hence why some writers are probably not quite as highly regarded as they think they are. More declarations of interests please – or, better still, find someone else to cover because there’s no shortage of acts.

Still offstage, it will be an interesting year for the domestic scene’s infrastructure and influence. The entire industry is still in that fascinating state of flux when anything can happen, which is good news for anyone keen to get involved in the barter between act and audience. The more things change, the more opportunities present themselves. For example, remember the handwringing and obituaries when Road Records closed down and how many stressed the problems Irish acts would now have flogging their new albums? But since then, there’s been both an explosion of new releases and a number of new retail stores entering the scene in the capital. Just because something changes doesn’t mean it’s the end of days. Scenes morph and adopt to new realities. Life goes on. Life has to go on. And the domestic scene also adopts to these changes because that’s the natural order of things.

In terms of influence, I’m eager to see how the focus on Irish acts at next week’s Eurosonic festival in Groningen is going to play out. These are acts who’ve come through the mill here at home over the last few years and it will be interesting to find out what Eurosonic’s battery of booking agents, festival promoters and media folks make of them. The proof of the pudding will be in the festival bookings they receive as a result of their 30 minutes onstage in the Netherlands and where things go from there. It’s all very well to bang on about the health of the domestic indie, alternative and electronic scenes but, unless we’re looking to tip the hat to Éamon de Valera’s call for economic self-sufficiency, the acts need to make an impression abroad too. A gig in a room in Groningen is one place to start that dance.