Since live music ground to a halt in March, and with subsequent attempts at staging physical shows scuppered by changes in Covid-19 guidelines, to say it hasn’t been a good year for the Irish music industry is a worthless cliche.
The first attempt at presenting online gigs in a creative, visually appealing way was by the forward-thinking Other Voices, a unit always one step ahead when it comes to matching practical production values with aesthetics. The Other Voices Courage shows began in April, continued into May and June and featured various Irish music acts filmed in imposing surroundings: Lisa Hannigan and Denise Chaila at the National Gallery, Fontaines DC at Kilmainham Gaol, Lankum at Kilkenny Castle, James Vincent McMorrow at Killruderry House, Kodaline at Swords Castle, and The Murder Capital at the Guinness Storehouse.
In many ways, Courage set an attractive if ambitious template, but not every online endeavour had the same levels of engagement or smarts. Over the past five months, Irish acts such as Dermot Kennedy and Niall Horan have staged streamed shows in splendid empty London venues (respectively, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Albert Hall). But what about lower-profile acts with neither the online pulling power nor the infrastructure to produce such bells-and-whistles shows?
“We are an industry of innovators and creatives so I would have expected nothing less than for people to figure out ways to emerge and make things work,” says tour/production manager Úna Molloy, a co-founder of the online festival Together in Electric Streams. The business model of the festival – which has been part-funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Arts from the live performance support scheme – is based on a revenue split between all involved in presenting it.
The artist gets the lion’s share of the ticket sales, says Molloy, “but the production team, the venue [and the] programmer get a split too. Some gigs will make good money, others won’t, but we will be able to create a really interesting programme with everyone playing their part, doing what they do best.”
Molloy points out that the Department of Tourism Culture and Arts has made an effort to appreciate how small independent venues work, how they’re not pubs with music playing in the background but rather music venues that sell alcohol as a byproduct of customer service. “They really worked hard to find a way to support us to get money into the hands of artists and crew through meaningful activities.”
The end result, she adds, is what music-industry participants haven’t had for some months: fee-paying gigs. “They may not be their usual Christmas run of shows to a lively audience but in a world where nothing is the same, it’s great to dust ourselves off and be busy for a month or two to end the year on the right note. I think it’s a really busy December for most artists and crew and that is the best we can hope for in 2020.”
In virtual tandem with Together in Electric Streams is Hibernacle, a more themed, empathetically programmed and wide-ranging online festival based in Doolin, Co Clare (also the recipient of Government funding). Event organiser Pearse Doherty says the curation of Hibernacle is a strategically-positioned building block.
“We will try and approach things from a different angle. We want to mirror the uniqueness of this year, welcome in the strangeness of it but also try and create something positive or interesting at least. We won’t be able to avoid the backdrop of Covid-19 but ideally we will find a protective space to sit within it.”
Of course, the realistic hope is that within six months physical gigs will be as prevalent as they were before March of this year. Molloy sees the benefit of online gigs as being “valued on a different level for different reasons” and, within the context of her work, of having “the freedom to plan regardless of venues not being open or whether we can have an audience or not”.
Similarly, Doherty admits that conditions relevant to physical gigging have changed. He speculates as to where it is going to land and what subcultures might grow from it. He hopes that “we can adapt our State-owned outdoor spaces to allow more accessibility for art and performance”.
Ever the promoter, he also hopes that Hibernacle won’t be a one-off event. “It would be a shame not to be thinking about where it will go next year as we plan for this one.”
Online Festivals this December
Other Voices: Bringing it All Back Home, December 2nd-6th
"An experience like no other in a year like no other," says musician and broadcaster Philip King. The Dingle-based event will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. The line-up and schedule (which also includes the separate conversation strand, Ireland's Edge) features:
- December 2nd: CMAT, Susan O'Neill, Damien Dempsey.
- December 3rd: Ailbhe Reddy, Nealo, Niamh Regan, Cinder Well.
- December 4th: Mark Lanegan, Gerry O'Beirne and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Aoife Nessa Frances, Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi.
- December 5th: For Those I Love, Séamus and Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta, Sun Collective, Pillow Queens.
- December 6th: Peter Broderick, Luz, Fox Jaw, Conchúr White, Brigid Mae Power.
All shows are free to watch but donations are welcome via the Other Voices website. The shows will live-stream at 7pm on rte.ie, Twitter, Facebook Live and YouTube. othervoices.ie
Together in Electric Streams, December 2nd-31st
This new venture is a collaboration between tour/production manager Úna Molloy, venue owner Dave Morrissey, online event producers Stream Engine and Lock Inn and numerous venues across Ireland. The venues are guaranteed 30 per cent of ticket sales booked via their respective online platforms. Shows featured are:
- December 5th: Sharing Songs and Stories with Emma Langford, Mike Hanrahan, Sive.
- December 6th: RSAG (album launch), Thumper.
- December 27th: Bitch Falcon (album launch), Zen Arcade.
- December 28th: David Kitt.
- December 29th: Scullion and Friends.
- December 31st: NYE Mix Tape 2020 (acts to be announced).
Tickets for each show cost €12 and are streamed live at 8pm from Lost Lane, Dublin. togetherinelectricstreams.com
Station Sessions, December 8th-10th
Station Sessions is a novel tactic to replace the traditional Christmas sight-and-sound experience that is carol singing. For the past four years, Iarnród Éireann has partnered with Focus Ireland to raise money for the charity to help fight homelessness. Across three nights, performances by a number of Ireland's most established music figures and some emerging acts will be streamed live from Heuston Station and Pearse Station in Dublin and Kent Station in Cork.
- December 8th, Heuston Station: Mary Coughlan, The Riptide Movement, Eleanor McEvoy, Mundy, Brian Kennedy.
- December 9th, Kent Station: Emma Langford, Mick Flannery, Jack O'Rourke, Emer O'Flaherty.
- December 10th, Pearse Station: Damien Dempsey, Erica Cody, State Lights, Oliver Cole.
All shows are free but donations to Focus Ireland, via their website, are appreciated. The shows will be streamed from 8pm each night on Focus Ireland's Facebook page and YouTube channel. focusireland.ie
Hibernacle, December 14th-20th
"A collaborative pilgrimage" based in Doolin, Co Clare, with a theme focused on "music, food, interviews and chatting, sharing songs and stories and composing music together". Hibernacle will stream events from bright and airy spaces, "allowing artists to connect in a socially-distant setting to create together safely and finish 2020 with fresh inspiration".
Livestreaming music events will take place on Thursday, December 17th, Friday, December 18th and Saturday, December 19th. Artists performing across those three evenings include Lisa Hannigan, AE Mak, Niamh Farrell (of Ham Sandwich), Saint Sister, Paul Noonan (of BellX1), Brian Mac Glionn (of Ye Vagabonds), Ailbhe Reddy, Felispeaks, Nealo, Anna Mieke, Royal Yellow and Moncrieff.
The full list of artists, activities, scheduling and ticket details will be announced on December 5th. hibernacle.ie
Social Connections, December 15th-30th
Taking place in Dublin's Grand Social, shows by 16 Irish music acts will be streamed and beamed into your living space. Performers include Oliver Cole on December 17th, Aoife Nessa Francis on the 18th, A Smyth on the 20th, X Collective on the 21st, Mongoose on the 23rd, Lemoncello on the 24th, Mundy on the 26th, Sack on the 27th, Susan O'Neill on the 28th and Zen Arcade on the 29th.
All shows are free and will be streamed from 9pm each nigh. thegrandsocial.ie
CMAT's Very Nice Christmas, December 17th
Perhaps more festive than festival – 2020's breakout Irish singer and performer CMAT (aka Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson) has been more astute than most when it comes to turning the disadvantages of two lockdowns and ongoing social distancing to her online benefit. Who better, then, to up the ante even further by curating her very own one-night-only live-stream Christmas party. A really impressive guest list includes Pillow Queens, Junior Brother, Maija Sofia, Rachael Lavelle, Lemoncello, Osaro, Viola Gayis, Maura Darragh and Rosa Nutty.
The show starts at 8pm. Tickets (€5) are available from headline artist and venue websites. Ticket-holders can watch the show again until midnight on Saturday, December 19th. cmatbaby.com and whelanslive.com