'For some it's Ireland, then the world. For me it's the other way'
Dubliner Jonathon Ng, aka EDEN, used social media to get his music out there and is now signed to the same management company as Justin Bieber. Our reporter meets the rising star
Jonathon Ng truly began to realise that his music was reaching a wide audience when Lorde left a sweet message on his Facebook page that espoused just how much one of his songs, 'Sex', had moved her.
The 22-year-old from Stillorgan, who has been making bewitching electronica under the EDEN moniker, didn't believe it was her at first. But further investigation showed it really was the New Zealand pop star, who is responsible for some of the most arresting chart music of the past few years.
"I love 'Sex' a lot," she wrote. "It does something very simple and intense to my brain. You managed to make it sound just as messy and emotional and twitchy and kind of in love and definitely freaked out as that situation feels. I wasn't sure how to contact you, so I went for the old Facebook wall - LOL. But just wanted to say 'hi' and please keep making lovely things. I'll listen."
He was over the moon, Ng says, and readily admits to being a bit star-struck.
"It meant so much," he says, speaking in the bar of Dublin's Sugar Club before a special audio-visual playback of his forthcoming album. "She is somebody I look up to, although it still means a lot when people discover my music and like what I do - no matter who they are."
A lot of people are bound to have a similarly enthused response as Lorde when they hear Ng's debut album, Vertigo, which is released by the hip Astralwerks label this weekend. It's sophisticated pop boasting shades of electronica, indie and dream-pop.
Ng, whose father is from Hong Kong and whose mother is Irish, has been on the radar of music aficionados for a couple of years now. He's part of a generation that has harnessed the power of YouTube and social media to get his music out there and to grow a fan base. He's not really part of any scene in his native Dublin and his burgeoning success will have taken many by surprise.
"For some, it's Ireland first - and then the world. But for me it was the other way around. What helped was the fact that there are YouTube channels - Majestic Casual and MrSuicideSheep - and they promote other people's music. And people would hear about me through that.
"But it's funny," he adds, "some people get lots of views [for their songs] but it doesn't translate into any real-world success, like ticket sales or an actual fan base. I don't know what the special sauce is to make it happen."
He believes luck plays a significant role, however. "No doubt about it - it plays a part in everything and there's always been an element of chance, but the more hard work you do, the more you minimise the need for that element of luck. I think if you put a lot of music out there, you've a greater chance of reaching people than if you only put the odd thing online. I mean, I put a lot of music online - and all of it for free - and it found an audience."
His debut EP, End Credits, has been streamed eight million times on SoundCloud and its title song was what first alerted Scooter Braun - manager to Justin Bieber and a host of A-listers - to the young man from Dublin.
"I got an email out of the blue in the summer of 2015," he recalls, "and it said 'Hi, my name is Michael George. I work with Scooter Braun management'. And I thought at first, 'Isn't that the hardstyle DJ from Germany?' And then it was 'phew, it isn't'. I waited a day to get back to him - my inbox was barren then, but I didn't want to appear to be too keen. He replied immediately and said, 'Can we jump on Skype?' so we did that and he was telling me about who they managed and I told him I think I didn't want to sign for a label or management for six or 12 months. But then my whole world flipped upside down in the next couple of weeks from industry people, and all of it was on the basis of the song 'End Credits'. I hadn't sent my music to labels. That kicked off this sort of weird frenzy about me."
Michael George is in Dublin with him today and cuts a very different figure from the showy types who often wind up working in such roles. Ng and he are close.
"Working with Michael has been great - he's one of my best friends now. It was one of these really serendipitous things. He said we need to do shows, so we did some in Dublin, London, New York, LA and San Francisco. It felt incredibly real then. Up to then, I'd always felt outside the music industry."
Ng spent his early years in Hong Kong but most of his childhood in Dublin, and it was there that he and his three siblings were sent for music lessons by their parents. He took to the violin comfortably and taught himself the piano and guitar. In his teen years, he started tinkering with the music program GarageBand, effectively learning the production techniques that would stand him in good stead when he first started releasing music, first as the Eden Project and, then, as EDEN.
"What really changed things for me was when people like Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia started to make music that was entirely recorded on computer. I basically robbed my parents' computer and and started to make music that way."
It was during his Leaving Cert year that he first started posting online the tracks he had completed. "I really should have been studying but I released a new song every Monday for eight to 10 weeks [under the moniker of the Eden Project]. The teachers didn't know and my friends didn't either - it was something I kept to myself - but I could see that people were getting it."
He had already attracted considerable attention by the time he went to Trinity College to pursue a science degree. "After about two weeks, I started dropping out of certain lectures so I could work on my music. My mum tells me she could see it coming, but I dropped out before the first year had ended and that's when I changed my name to EDEN and released the End Credits EP.
"In retrospect," he deadpans, "it was a good decision."
It certainly was - he was already on his way to becoming one of the country's most exciting new musicians, even if he was going about it almost by stealth. Not for him membership of any Dublin music scene.
"I think there's a lot of great stuff coming out of Ireland now - and Irish hip-hop is really getting the recognition it deserves, for instance - but I always just did my own thing. In the same way that having a community or a crew around you can be really great, it can also limit you because you might find yourself fitting into a culture or slotting into a group of artists that can almost be a hindrance. Anything that's boxing you in. It's not the end of the world - people can make genre music and be very successful - but it's not for me."
Vertigo is out this weekend. EDEN plays the Olympia, Dublin, on April 24
THE SCOOTER BRAUN EMPIRE
The US music manager may be best known for his long-running involvement with Justin Bieber, but his roster includes several of the biggest names in music today.
Ariana Grande: her R&B-tinged pop has got her big very quickly, although the scars of the terrorist attack at her Manchester gig last year will surely take a long time to heal.
Black Eyed Peas: the will.i.am-fronted outfit have been quiet of late but their catchy, crossover songs are among the most streamed in music history.
Kanye West: at his pomp around the time of 2010's opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West was the master of all he surveyed in the rap world. A forthcoming album could put him back on top of the pile.
Martin Garrix: the Dutch DJ is part of a new breed of superstar DJ who can command enormous sums for every show he plays. The Amsterdam native is only 21.
Psy: his global mega-hit 'Gangnam Style' showcased the strange appeal of K-pop (Korean pop), and he's still an icon in his native land.
Usher: one of the biggest-selling stars of the 2000s, he's famed for his business sense and he and Braun own a record label, Raymond-Braun Media Group (RBMG), whose acts include Justin Bieber.