Bright lights: The Irish music scene in 2008
Last year may not have been the most inspired for Irish music, but that’s set to change in 2008. Eamon Sweeney picks his ones to watch
Published 11/01/2008 | 00:00
IT'S THAT time of year when it's out with the old, in with the new and everyone has a good gawk at the emperor's new clothes. Hopefully, the only way is up is 2008. It must be said that 2007 was not a particularly memorable or inspiring year for Irish music.
Indeed, if it wasn't for albums from Cathy Davey, Roisin Murphy and Adrian Crowley towards year's end, it could have gone down as an absolute stinker.
Acts like Delerentoes and The Flaws deserve credit for grafting a good live show and not being afraid of showing some ambition, but their respective takes on angular guitar pop are hardly earth-shatteringly original.
Perhaps we'll look back on 2007 as a transitional year. It was the year when Ireland finally caught up with the blogosphere, as fan-written blogs became the quickest and best way to find out about new music.
The excellent Nialler 9 was an indispensable resource for mp3s, reviews and new acts from home and abroad. One of the year's most memorable quotes appeared on the online-zine Asleep On The Compost Heap, which likened the Dublin musical community to "an insular and suffocating scene that is as dry as a bowl of Shreddies and full of non-descript groups of bitter little men who worship Joy Division and stab each other in the back on internet forums".
Cruel, but not without a grain of harsh truth, as a lot of the more promising new Irish acts hail from outside the Pale, such as Giveamanakick, Ugly Megan and Adebishi Shank.
2007 was also the year of the flop, as the sales figures for seasoned stalwarts such as The Thrills and Paddy Casey nose-dived with their third albums. To be fair, this trend wasn't unique to these artists and is generally indicative of a global slowdown in album sales.
One of the most talked about events of last year was the release of In Rainbows by Radiohead and their "honesty box" experiment, allowing customers to fix their own price for the music. The onus is on Irish acts and labels to seize similar initiatives in 2008.
Sadly, we don't have a homegrown equivalent of a Rough Trade or Domino nurturing artists like The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys and major label offices in this country are little more than regional outposts, but this could force acts to be creative and canny with their devices rather than relying on a label.
Even though his music is, in my opinion, excruciating, over-affected drivel, the Damien Rice independent route to success impressively by-passed the labels and created a far more lucrative and empowering environment for the artist.
The industry is dramatically shifting away from traditional business models. Any band or artist banking on a record company to come knocking with its chequebook are living in cloud cuckooland. The painstakingly slow process of scheduling and marketing an album could also become a thing of the past.
But how will Irish acts cope with this brave new era? Even though U2 brought out their own customised iPod and Snow Patrol released the most downloaded song in the United States in 2006, as yet no emergent Irish act has fully embraced the possibilities of the digital age. Our own equivalents to MySpace sensations such as Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen have been sorely lacking.
However, it is worth noting that Fight Like Apes, Lisa Hannigan and Ham Sandwich are accumulating a substantial amount of MySpace hits and are releasing their debut albums in 2008. It will be interesting to see if this online interest is reciprocated in sales figures, or whether the MySpace phenomenon is just another habit of a click-happy generation, who'll gladly sample something before ditching it and moving onto someone else.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that 2008 will be a better year for Irish music as the provisional release schedule is wonderfully eclectic. For example, it's hard to imagine a more diverse bunch than our three profiled acts -- Owen Brady, Carly Blackman and Givemanakick.
These three artists encompass everything from Brady's smooth ballads, Blackman's delicate French-infused chansons and Giveamanakick's pulverising heavy rock.
It's hard to picture them on the same bill, or, indeed, appealing to a similar audience. In an age of identikit muzak in a market over-saturated with generic bands and singer songwriters, this has to be a good thing.
The even more heartening aspect is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from the aforementioned acts, Jape, The Jimmy Cake, Chequerboard, Pinky, James McMorrow and Laura Izibor could all deliver interesting music this year.
Two eagerly anticipated comeback albums will also be released from arguably the two most influential Irish acts of all time, U2 and My Bloody Valentine. The success of a blockbuster act like U2 has been emulated somewhat by Snow Patrol. However, it is rather astonishing that we don't boast more acts like My Bloody Valentine, who are not household names but are still known the world over and deservedly acknowledged as true musical innovators.
Perhaps it's to them that the class of 2008 should look to when seeking inspiration. MBV could have signed multi-million pound deals with major labels, but valued their creative freedom over monetary gain and celebrity.
Irish music must take a brave and uncompromising stand as we rapidly approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Surely we want the global perception of our popular culture to be a bit more far-reaching and broader than boy bands and Riverdance? It's time to make our voices heard.