Irish music but not as you know it: Spotify’s new Irish sound
The New Éire – ‘The next generation of urban sounds representing the Emerald Isle’
The bouncy pop electronics of Soulé’s ‘Troublemaker’ could pop off dance floors at any time
Over two hours and 59 minutes, Spotify crystallises the fresh Irish rhythms currently bumping beneath the nation’s concrete pavements and in subterranean clubs and venues. Just in time for St Patrick’s Day, the streaming service unveiled a lengthy playlist of recent rap, grime, soul and alternative R&B. The New Éire is what Spotify dubbed it. “The new generation of urban sounds representing the Emerald Isle.” Here’s a musical revolution rarely televised but coming through clear as diamond on modern day digital transmitters. Smash that big, green play button to hear the daring sounds helping define young Ireland.
The New Éire – a catchall expression I doubt will catch on – offers the clearest showcase of the inventiveness happening within its focused genres. It captures the size and scope of music scenes that have been thriving both on-stage and in studios over the past 12 to 18 months and that continue to grow. I can envision cultural historians one day holding up this playlist as a significant landmark on a road that led to even bigger and better places. For now, it at the very least has provided a boost to the chosen artists: Spotify-curated playlists have been known to bring unknown sounds to millions of fresh ears.
Trying to throw hard definitions over a set of 54 songs is a fool’s errand but bump all 179 minutes and you’ll frequently hear some key sonic elements: rasping drum machines, murky synths, polyphonic rhythms, peppy steel drums, streetwise flows and attitudes so swaggering they could liquefy an adamantium skeleton.
A lot of the music is stoned and a lot of the music is sinful. Cheap beer, hash and Xanax probably fuelled the playlist’s creation in equal parts
There are songs on the playlist that are deep-thinking (Terawritz and Tony Mahoney’s dusty rap track Holy Ghost engages with Ireland’s Catholic history) while others are lively (the bouncy pop electronics of Soulé’s Troublemaker could pop off dance floors at any time). A strand of the performers deploy heavy Irish accents, some carry the influence of their African heritage, and others tune their voices to a more region-neutral sound. A lot of the music is stoned and a lot of the music is sinful. Cheap beer, hash and Xanax probably fuelled the playlist’s creation in equal parts. Broadly, you could call this a party set, yet there are tracks here that could soundtrack your ascent into heaven, and tracks that are as menacing as the students of Cobra Kai.
Much of the music is being pioneered by the kids of migrants. As this nation evolves into a more pluralist sphere, music represents the clearest expression of cultural exchange and evolving Irish identity. These records are important literature to anyone trying to fully understand Ireland in 2018.
Key to this wave of musical enterprise is mutating technologies and new musical platforms. As the music industry has twisted and bent over the past decade, kids coming up in an increasingly digital world have equipped themselves with a knowledge of circulating their work. Pressing vinyl records is fun but new-age rap stars make their name on Soundcloud freestyles and inexpensive but impactful YouTube clips.
The lumbering presence of the internet on global music trends means very few local scenes remain self-contained. Irish artists call upon everything from the blistering South London grime of Wiley to the emotive North American indie R&B of Drake. They’re building new platforms on existing structures, unburdened by commercial concerns, regional loyalties or expectations on what music created on this island should sound like.
Many songs on The New Éire that are in keeping with global fashionable sounds and could easily travel beyond our borders. Yet this is art wrapped in the Tricolour, as quintessentially this island right now as the work of James Joyce was a century ago. This, the playlist screams, is our thing.
More so than ever, there are structures in place to help these artists thrive. Star quality can’t always be funnelled onto tape without hot beatmakers –take production house Diffusion Lab, which helmed 10 songs on the playlist. Elsewhere, Word Up Collective, a clique of artists operating both together and independently, is well represented with cuts from Anti-One, Tebi Rex, Jordan Adetunji, Sean X, JyellowL and Sequence. Stronger Together is the mantra.
Highlights on the playlist are everywhere. Ama’s off kilter, bled-dry vocals on the lurching synths of Don’t Change successfully encapsulates the feeling of young relationship drama (“You talk all that bullshit behind me just know that shit always get back to me,” he sings). The sound of Caleb Kunle’s falsetto on gentle boom-bap number Eden might well impress neo-soul polymath D’Angelo, while the smooth finger snaps and polished synths offer a dapper backdrop for Erica Coady’s throwback R&B on Good Intentions.
If you’re looking for potential superstars, the tuba-voiced Sequence is featured on three songs that draw from London street sounds and his Nigerian roots while leaning towards a steel pan-driven, future-cop production style favoured by Atlanta rap star Young Thug. I’m also quite partial to Emzee A’s unusual but melodic rap style, heard on the rattling hi-hats on Time Flies. MC and Scene veteran Kojaque reveals his jazzy proclivities on Bubby’s Cream, while Mango and Math Man’s Rapih (Selecta) is grime music that could score a street race in next Fast & Furious movie, if Vin Diesel was up for importing that franchise to the north side of Dublin. I could go on.
You won’t like every song here; that would be too much to expect. But listen to The New Éire front to back and the blistering scenes it summarises become undeniable. Given that most of the artists are right at the beginning of their recording careers, it’s tantalising to think about the bold sounds and statements this group might forge. There are future stars here. As Irish music fans, this is a moment to seize. Waste no time.
Digging a little deeper
The New Eire only includes music posted to Spotify, meaning the playlist was hardly definitive. Here’s four scintillating tracks that are available elsewhere.
Neomadic: Lanquid Flowz
Taken from last year’s The Neomadic Tape, the bugged-out Lanquid Flowz encapsulates the duo’s stoned, silken brand of hip-hop.
Why-Axis: A Downtown Girl
On A Downtown Girl, Why-Axis unleashes a jittery but fun vocal style that channels the sanctified spirit of Chance The Rapper.
Rap group T.E.D. have a couple of tracks on Spotify but absent from the set is Shawty. Catch this wavy ode to the trio’s sweethearts on YouTube where it comes with a vibrant video shot in Dublin.