Other Voices: Hozier, Sigrid and Fontaines DC on two decades of the Dingle music festival

Musicians look back on the local festival that became an Irish cultural juggernaut

St James’ church in Dingle

“This thing.” That’s how Philip King tends to refer to Other Voices. “This thing we do.” Or “this thing that’s happening here”.

King, whose partner, the Emmy-winning filmmaker, Nuala O’Connor, and three of their children, triplets Juno, Molly, and Ellen, are part of a broader team that makes Other Voices happen.

The Other Voices music producer Aoife Woodlock is renowned for enticing huge music stars to Dingle in Co Kerry in winter to play to an audience of dozens at St James’ church. Tina O’Reilly is a multifaceted producer and a key member of South Wind Blows, the production company that makes, among many other things, Other Voices. There are many more people involved across design, production, and a cast of collaborators, contributors, and workers that’s hard to keep track of.

But this “thing” – what even is it?


For some Other Voices is the music festival in Dingle, for others it’s a TV show, for plenty of artists it’s a platform. Now, as the entity celebrates its 20th anniversary, there is a sense of taking stock while simultaneously juggling a huge amount of output and projects.

But, remarkably, a more overriding feeling is that the “thing” is entering a new era, one which didn’t just survive the pandemic but managed to thrive during a torrid time for live music and artists.

This year’s Dingle-based manifestation of the Other Voices “thing”, the 20th iteration, taking place next week, is made up of five parts.

There will the performances in St James’ church, to an audience, also filmed for RTÉ, and broadcast around Dingle and online live.

There’s the Imro Other Room, a kind of development stage for acts, which will also be filmed for television.

There’s Other Voices Presents, a series of gigs in the local nightclub and arts centre.

There’s Ireland’s Edge – O’Connor’s baby – the “ideas” part of Other Voices, a conference of sorts made up of smart people talking about big things.

And then there’s Banter, a series of conversations hosted by Jim Carroll, in Foxy John’s pub.

David Gray celebrated 20 years since the release of his album White Ladder at Other Voices in 2020. Photograph: Rich Gilligan

The usual Music Trail, where dozens of artists perform in pubs around Dingle over the Other Voices weekend, is not happening this year due to restrictions on live music and entertainment in pubs.  Musicians are always central to what Other Voices does, and for their 20th anniversary they’re breaking out the big guns. In the church performers include John Grant, Sigrid, Fontaines DC, Kay Young, Mango x Mathman, Tolü Makay, Villagers and more.

For their anniversary they’ve also published a coffee table book of photography from their archive, curated by the renowned photographer, who also shoots Other Voices performances and people at every opportunity Rich Gilligan.

Perhaps it’s easiest to capture what Other Voices means by asking some of the biggest artists who’ve performed there about their experiences.

Sigrid: ‘I can’t wait to come back’

The Norwegian pop star Sigrid landed in Dingle in 2017. She would go on to sell out Dublin’s 3Arena, along with lauded performances at Glastonbury. But in the church she inhabited a different state, as many artists do. One of the things that makes performances at Other Voices so compelling is that the intimacy strips things back to the essence of the artist. There is nowhere to hide. The audience is a safety net, and fail you may, sail you must.

Sigrid has spent a lot of time thinking about Dingle since she first played there. “I remember the audience. They were so in it and there to listen to the music, which we appreciated so much. We played in the evening so I remember the lights outside giving the church a mystical vibe… I just think Dingle really made an impression on me.

“We’ve travelled so much and seen so many places, and it’s not a secret that Ireland is my favourite place, but I remember leaving Dingle thinking ‘damn I hope I get to go back, I need to see the water and more of the nature’.”

The day Sigrid played Dingle she vividly remembers a rainbow. She acquired an Other Voices shirt, and wore it constantly long after she left. “I’ve definitely been thinking about Dingle a lot ever since we left,” she says of that trip four years ago. “I can’t wait to come back.”

Norwegian singer Sigrid performing in St James’ church in Other Voices 2017. Photograph: Rich Gilligan

One of the tracks she’ll be performing in Dingle, her new single Home to You (This Christmas), will encapsulate the festive vibe that also permeates the weekend.

Fontaines DC: A ‘beautiful shared experience’

Fontaines DC, Ireland’s biggest contemporary rock band, first played Other Voices as part of the Music Trail in 2016. For their drummer Tom Coll, Other Voices “holds a very special place in our hearts to be honest. It’s something I grew up watching on telly when I was really young, and I was exposed to so many amazing bands because of it.”

Coll remembers the gig the band played in Geaney’s pub. Members of one of their musical inspirations, the hugely influential Irish band Girl Band, turned up, which to Fontaines was a “really big deal”. Since then Coll has returned to Dingle four times as a punter. “There’s something about the atmosphere in Dingle that you can’t replicate. I’m absolutely buzzing to be back there.”

Every time he has returned Coll walks up to the church to look at the outside of the building, “because it’s such a special place for Irish music”. This year the band will play inside that church for the first time.

“There is no barrier between yourself and the audience,” he says, “Everyone is in a tiny town in Kerry, and are all having this same beautiful shared experience, which I think really sets the festival apart from any other in the world. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve spent so much time there, but it really does feel different to most.”

For Coll the memories of performing, watching other acts, and experiencing the festival as a fan create a sense of a combined experience.

“I’ve a memory of sleeping in my car after driving down on a whim one year to see Bitch Falcon and Overhead The Albatross. There were about six of us piled into my car trying to get a bit of sleep in the freezing cold that year.

“The first year we played was also really special because we watched the Girl Band stream from a pub up the top of the town and it honestly blew me away. It was myself and the lads in the band and then a load of local older men watching a Girl Band gig in the smoking area of a pub. It was quite surreal really, when I think about it.”

Hozier: ‘Intimate, exciting, electric’

When Hozier, who first performed in the church in 2013, was interviewed by Other Voices presenter, MayKay during the pandemic, he said: “I suppose people might describe it as a sense of arriving. You’re arriving home. There is such a community of musicians, and even there’s new communities that are formed within that timeframe. People are meeting each other for the first time, people whose work you admire. And you’re getting to listen to music otherwise you wouldn’t have had the chance to. It’s a very intimate, a very exciting, a very electric time, which is also accentuated by where you are in the world and where you are in Ireland . . .

“As a teenager, when I was 13 or 14, as an aspiring musician, someone whose heart was bound for music, you always looked at Other Voices as this special event and special showcase of global talent and Irish talent. For me as a teenager, that was the top dream . . . I think all musicians who play Other Voices hold it in very high regard.

“The culture of people who are working to make Other Voices happen – there’s a wonderful culture within that, that permeates all elements of it. So that’s particular to Other Voices. You can find elements of that elsewhere, but I’ve never done a festival or something that has quite that same feeling.”

Hozier has played Other Voices twice, in 2015 and again in 2020. Photograph: Rich Gilligan

Two decades on – having grown from songs in a room into an Irish music platform, live experience, television show and more – Other Voices travels a lot, but Dingle is still its home.

Because it’s also about the idiosyncrasies of a western European island at the outset of winter. There is a literal bluster and squall to Dingle at this time of year, a dramatic cragginess to the coast, and a spectacular ethereal beauty to the light.

Locals call the visiting music fans The Scarves, as fans arrive from all over the country bundled up in woollen scarves, protecting themselves from the enthusiasm of an Atlantic ocean that crashes its air, water and salt towards the town.

Pushing the door of an old pub, the scarves are unravelled, the notes begin to play, and everything that feels diffuse in description comes alive in the atmosphere. The “thing”, the essence of it all, is about being present.

The limited edition Other Voices book, Collapsing Distance, is available from othervoices.ie, for €55