Last Friday, news came that Dublin-based indie rock station Phantom 105.2 laid off most of its staff and would likely be changing its name and brand. Its owners issued a statement that the restructuring was necessary "in order to ensure its long-term viability".
The news was a blow but not a shock. Phantom started as a pirate station in 1996 before launching as a legit alternative station in 2006, but it has suffered an identity crisis in that time, as it tried to gain a larger foothold in the Irish radio market. Communicorp took a 30pc stake and the station moved to Marconi House, it seemed like the beginning of the end for Phantom.
Its music policy has shifted between indie rock and classic rock but it never really moved on from its original "alternative rock" ethos.
The problem was that the audience for such genres has moved on and, license obligations or not, the station never moved to embrace a wider range of music programming aimed at what a 15-34 year old audience might want. With €4.2m in losses, only three presented shows and a daily listenership that reduced the station to 15,000 listeners a day means Phantom is left in a translucent state.
As the recession hit, online music became more prevalent and their young audience emigrated, Phantom battened down the music hatches, relied on a formulaic playlist of the likes of The Smiths, Pixies, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bombay Bicycle Club and tried to fit in with the rest of the radio landscape by giving a greater focus to personalities and chat.
Music fans who wanted something exciting, current and that addictive sense of discovery, had to look elsewhere.
While Phantom has found a better mix recently in its playlist, festival stage and website, it has not made the leap to embrace the new music landscape on air. Recent shows like Richie & Richie brought a refreshing anything-goes playlist-free selection of music to the airwaves every weekday evening.
Phantom was always pretty supportive of Irish bands with shows like Cathal Funge's I-Con in the evenings but where does it go now?
Is there room for a radio station here that leads and doesn't follow? The opportunities for actual alternatives to mainstream radio are, depressingly, dwindling.
New Artist Of The Week - Glass Animals
When you hear that a band are from Oxford, it's likely you'll think of a well-read bunch like Radiohead or well-read party types like Foals. Either way, you're thinking the same ball park – rock bands.
Step forward then, Glass Animals, a band who are not easy to pigeonhole and who definitely aren't a rock band. They are well-read – their vocalist studied neuroscience. Their style is enigmatic, you won't find a blast of power chords or a drum solo here.
Their last single Black Mambo used guitar scrapes as a central sound and made for a sensual slow funk track, while B-side Woozy featured vocals from previous New Artist of the Week Jean Deaux.
Their latest track Gooey has more in common with the alternative side of R&B that is blowing up Stateside. The song is like a weird lullaby with bubbling percussion and a pinging bass with a chorus that starts with David Bayley singing "right my little poo bear, wanna take a chance / wanna sip the smooth air / kick it in the sand" before singing about "peanut butter vibes".
The track is executive produced by Paul Epworth, who recently worked with some singer called Adele. An EP is due to be released in April. Until then, get gooey...
Tracks Of The Week
Beyoncé ft Kanye West & Jay Z – Drunk In Love (Remix)
"You will never need another lover, because you're a Milf and I'm a motherfucker." Kanye's new verse on the remix of Drunk In Love served as a graphic and uncomfortable Valentine's gift to Kim. Everybody say awww.
– KLAPP KLAPP
In the last few years, these Swedes have collaborated with Gorillaz, DJ Shadow, SBTRKT and Big Boi. Yukimi Nagano's vocals are key to the band's alt synth-pop appeal and both characteristics are evident on the first single from their fourth album, which has beautiful squiggly bits and their trademark bounce.
– SWEET SPOT
There's always been a gift for nuanced rhythms in the music of Wild Beasts. On their third album, 2011's Smother, they honed the edges and now, on the eve of their fourth, Present Tense, intelligent, subversive and delicate tracks like Sweet Spot make so much out of very little.
Day & Night