I know enough about Irish music to talk about it to foreigners but not enough to talk about it with people who actually live here and because of this fact I often end up overthinking as to why that’s the case. I’ve always struggled with the idea of “Irishness” growing up, associating the inevitable feelings of alienation inherent to living in the middle of nowhere with Irish culture at large – basically just blaming my inability to talk to people on my inability to solo a sliothar (or learn off a W.B Yeats poem) and becoming a misanthropic bastard as a result. Ireland was always viewed as some fundamentally depressing place, a regressive and backward country where all the sane people managed to leave – leaving a bunch of rabid culchies behind to make life hell for those of us who thought that Nathan Carter’s music was a bit shit. It’s hard to put into words how easy it is to go long periods of time in Ireland while completely avoiding Irish culture or art – our national broadcaster just reruns cheap American shows the whole time, our news sources generally just regurgitate whatever’s going on across the Atlantic (assuming you’re even reading an Irish news source in the first place), and social media has made us all deeply knowledgeable in the antics of random Bolsheviks from Ohio and their hipster brewery inspired struggle sessions. As a post-colonial nation we’ve always been fundamentally insecure about our identity and culture – a band has to make it in England or America to even be worth our attention and the idea of someone singing in their own accent is still considered notable nearly a hundred years on from the formation of the Free State. Now I don’t have any real solution to this cultural insecurity (after all I’m still yet to get around to reading Frantz Fanon), but I thought it’d be fun to talk about said insecurity to the four people who read this blog while writing about my extremely base-level knowledge of “alternative” Irish music. Nothing helps you understand why you’re only capable of talking about Irish music to foreigners like talking about Irish music to foreigners I guess (apologies to the one Irish person I think sometimes reads these posts, I’ll have hopefully gone back to writing about the Valve News Network lad by Thursday).
It’s nearly a trope at this stage to call Fontaines D.C. the “biggest” thing in Irish music to the point where I’m scared of losing my cool Irish Twitter mutuals for doing so. If I actually went to concerts (or left the house) I’d talk about their explosive live shows, their sudden ascent over the last few years, and how tracks like “Big” or “Boys in the Better Land” play with universal emotions inherent to growing up in Ireland but instead I’m going to use this paragraph to talk about their debut album (which was pretty good), and a minor Twitter backlash (which was pretty stupid). ‘Dogrel’ was the record that finally got Fontaines on the map, with Pitchfork (the litmus test for whether you’re allowed to enjoy an album) giving it an 8.0 and BBC Radio 6 (the litmus test for whether oddly cool fifty-year-olds can enjoy an album) asking if Fontaines were the best new band of 2019. However, around the time that it suddenly became cool to enjoy the band, we all had a song-and-dance outrage about the lead vocalist Grian Chatten seemingly handwaving away the history of Irish music. While discussing the influence of Irish noise-rock group Girl Band upon their work, Grian remarked that “before [Girl Band] the only way to sound Irish was to be fuckin’ ‘diddly-diddly-aye'”, inevitably leading to people getting mad about the ignorance inherent to this statement.
Most people viewed this remark as if it was evidence of some arrogance or inauthenticity within the band – people just cynically (and understandably) viewed it as an attempt for some posh pricks from Dublin to sell out their scene in exchange for some foreign attention (with one person claiming it reeked of “classic Dublin hatred for rural Ireland”). However, the reality behind this statement is somehow even more depressing than thinking about people from D4 looking down on us culchies – Chatten just said the quiet part of our post-colonial insecurity out loud. Irish music has never actually been just “diddly-diddly-aye” and even ignoring that, the fact that Grian could so easily look down on our history of folk music feels evident of something larger. Our scenes have been sidelined to the point where it’s concerningly easy to think that they suddenly appeared out of nowhere the second that we started paying attention and decades of repression and colonization have lead to us internalizing the idea that our music and language are somehow “backward” or worth escaping from. Chatten’s comment shouldn’t be depressing to us because it seems like an attempt to discredit our collective creative output, it should be depressing to us because it’s scarily easy for someone to fall into the exact same attitude that fueled it. If we’re ever going to get past this post-colonial cultural insecurity we’re going to have to ensure that the teenagers who inevitably get inspired by bands like Fontaines and The Murder Capital are able to appreciate our cultural history fully – in other words we’re just going to have to force our work to the forefront of Irish life until it’s impossible to sweep us aside and slightly less people blame their insecurities on their inability to play hurling.
Now this would usually be the point in these weekly music posts where I’d launch into my second ramble about another album I was obsessed with for two weeks but since I’m being very indecisive tonight I’m instead just going to talk a little about the five songs and/or music videos I send to foreigners while pretending to understand the Irish music scene. I’m finding it extremely hard to write this blog post (it turns out that if I try writing more than five pieces a year my brain short circuits completely) so I thought it’d be a good idea to ape one of those godawful top five lists they run on BuzzFeed and Joe.ie, even if it just gave me the illusion of being self-aware or whatever. Hopefully this will serve as a good simulation of one of my one-sided online music conversations and a decent reminder of why I had no friends for the longest time.
1. The Murder Capital – Green & Blue (2FM Session):
The Murder Capital are one of the most emotionally intense bands I’ve had in circulation this year and there’s no chance that I don’t end up writing a blog post about their work at some stage in the future. ‘Green and Blue’ is a track off ‘When I Have Fears’, the band’s raw debut album inspired by the tragic loss of a friend from suicide (a scarily universal experience within Irish culture). It’s nearly cliché at this point to say that a post-punk band sounds like Joy Division, yet The Murder Capital perfectly capture the energy and emotional intensity that made me fall in love with ‘Unknown Pleasures’. I’d highly recommend checking out the full album at some stage, but I feel as if this live session perfectly encapsulates why this Dublin band are worth paying attention to.
2. MMOTHS – Eva:
MMOTHS, the (former) ambient electronica project of Newbridge-born producer Jack Colleran was scarily underrated. The producer (who started out as a teenager messing around with a demo version of Ableton Live) shed his nom de plume with ‘Luneworks’, a forty-one minute LP that straddles the line between ambient indietronica and outright pop perfectly. ‘Eva’ is a perfect example of this – for all my talk of experimental Ugandan club music I’m still a basic person and as a result, I find ambient takes on pop extremely exciting. It presumably also helps that the title unintentionally evokes memories of being a denial-ridden fourteen year old watching the twenty-fourth episode of Evangelion and having my brain melted as a result, something I am inexplicably nostalgic about now. Either way, this song objectively slaps and you should give it a listen.
3. Pillow Queens – Rats:
I find it hard to write about Pillow Queens because once I described them on Discord as being “like a lesbian version of Weezer in an alternate reality where Weezer continued to be a good band” and I think that perfectly summarizes why you need to be paying attention to them. I was torn on what Pillow Queens song to feature on here as their whole discography is amazing but I settled on ‘Rats’ just because of how funny this music video is. Can we just do this but unironically? It’d be fun.
4. Rusungano Family – Surviving The Times (This Ain’t No Disco):
This Ain’t No Disco is a really cool webseries I should pay more attention to. The show (which is run voluntarily and funded through Patreon), aims to “amass comprehensive evidence [of] the unprecedented surge in unique and interesting music being produced underground in Ireland today” and does so by showcasing artist after artist in performance and conversation. Rusungano Family have already received a fair amount of (well-deserved) love, but this performance never fails to inspire me so I thought it’d be worth including in this blog post.
5. Regret Will Come – Audrey:
At this stage the friend forced to read over this draft before I make this post public is probably sick of me talking about my love of the music of multi-instrumentalist Fintan Gallagher, better known as Regret Will Come. ‘Audrey’ is a track off Regret Will Come’s self-titled, arguably one of last year’s most underrated releases (and one I got to gush over while interviewing him for my last zine). The Thin Air perfectly described this self-titled as sounding like “a catch-all Bandcamp postcard of a solitary bedroom life unlived in the vein of early (Sandy) Alex G” and ‘Audrey’ perfectly captures this feeling. Audrey is a song that perfectly captures the feeling of wasting a Sunday online and I love it for that, even if it makes me really annoying in the eyes of random Discord friends forced to listen to my internet rambles.
I’m finding it scarily hard to finish this blog post so I felt like I’d call back to one of my previous minor obsessions, the life and work of Irish poet Paul Durcan. Durcan is essentially what’d happen if you let an AI generate the coolest person humanly possible, but if you accidentally only trained said AI with the opinions of washed-up English teachers. Durcan’s poetry is great not only due to his tendency to get mad about his ex-wife or talk frankly about his depression, but due to his ability to unintentionally capture the feelings and energies that I associate with Irishness. This is probably best personified through ‘Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil’, the titular poem of his 1999 collection. In this poem, we follow Durcan as he drives over to watch the All Ireland Football Final between Kerry and Mayo with the parish priest. Something I’ve always appreciated within Durcan’s work is the calculated bleakness that permeates throughout his poetry – everything is slightly depressing and that feeling captures exactly what I enjoy about Irish culture. The Irish experience can be condensed down into the idea of feeling like shite while being on god knows how many antidepressants watching ‘The Sunday Game‘ with a priest and I find that oddly beautiful. Ireland is the country of Paul Durcan, of MMOTHS, of The Murder Capital, of Pillow Queens, and of hundreds of writers, musicians, and artists that I’ll probably never get around to talking about – perhaps we should stop being so insecure about that fact. We’re probably always going to be miserable bastards, we may as well respect those who turn that fundamental bleakness into art while we’re at it though.