The past five years has seen an explosion of lively new talent in the Irish music scene, with everything from EDM to folk-influences being represented. Here are our top ten picks of the artists we think are making the biggest waves.
It’s been a hell of a ride for Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson (stage name CMAT). She dropped her debut single, ‘Another Day (KFC)’, all the way back in April 2020, which feels like eons ago in pandemic-time but was actually just a year and a half. Now her first live shows in Dublin and London have been sold out. The singer-songwriter from County Meath has earned a following singing about the personal dramas of day to day life and transforming them into camp country and pop dreams by way of her chronically catchy music. Her first album, If My Wife New I’d Be Dead is eagerly anticipated by fans for the 25th of February 2022.
A self described writer and producer of ‘Emotion-filled escapism’, Shiv is a Dublin-based, Kildare-raised musician born in Zimbabwe. Initially a DJ, Shiv pivoted in her career after the YouTube video of a song she wrote and performed at her sister’s wedding caught the attention of a talent-scout. Her debut EP, Me 2 Me, was released on December 4th 2020 and is stuffed full of hip-hop and lofi beats accompanied by the singer’s warm honeyed vocals. Shiv has been given airplay by some leading stations at home and abroad, such as Ireland’s 2FM and BBC Radio, and will no doubt continue to expand her horizons with an upcoming gig in Dublin’s soundhouse this November 19th.
A DJ duo from Northern Ireland, Belfast team Bicep released their second album, Isles, this year, which debuted at number two in the Irish charts and also reached second place in the UK music charts. The pair’s first album, simply named Bicep, was released in 2017 to critical acclaim. The musical team, made up of Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar, have come up with a sound that has been likened positively to such acts as The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, while maintaining a vibe that’s all their own. COVID-19 put a spanner in the works and prevented them from playing to a combined 10,000 over two nights in Brixton and a gig at the Olympia in Dublin, but if their enviable chart placement is anything to go by we can expect Bicep to bounce back, especially given the success of their latest offering, Isles.
Another Belfast musical act, Aislinn Logan is the woman behind such dream-pop melodies as Spree and Joyrider. Producing her EP Look I’m Flyin’ from a DIY recording studio in her bedroom during the lockdown, the singer has served up a four track offering of dreamy synths and heavy basslines, with lyrics about conquering your inner demons and casting off imposter syndrome. This new emerging artist has been well-reviewed by Hotpress, Nialler9, the BBC, and The Irish Times, and we’re eager to see what she comes out with next.
Formed in 2015 by a group of lads hailing from all over Ireland, The Murder Capital is made up of singer James McGovern, guitarists Damien Tuit and Cathal Roper, bass player Gabriel Pascal Blake, and Diarmuid Brennan on the drums. In 2018 this post-punk band set up their own music label, Human Season Records, and then followed up with their debut studio album When I Have Fears in 2019. In Autumn of that year they played a sold out tour across Europe, cementing their status as one of the most exhilarating new acts the island has to offer. Their lyrics encompass and voice frustration towards a whole host of contemporary issues, such as economic recessions, mental health, loneliness, and grief, while their live shows have gained a reputation as electrifying.
A five piece band from Dundalk, County Louth, Just Mustard have been building a name and reputation for themselves on both sides of the Irish Sea. Their acclaim is built off the back of an irresistible trip-hop and electronic sound, with more than a hint of rock. The group features five members, lead vocalist Katie Ball, guitarist and vocalist David Noonan, guitarist Mete Kaylon, bass guitarist Rob Clarke, and Shane Maguire on the drums. Like most of the artists on this list, the coronavirus presented an unexpected challenge, but having just signed with Partisan Records in England (home to break-out Irish act, Fontaines DC) we can expect great things from them, especially since their 2018 debut Wednesday was nominated for the RTÉ Choice Music Prize.
Alt-rock four piece Inhaler have had a massive year, in spite of less than stellar global circumstances. The band’s debut album It Won’t Always Be Like This entered the Irish Album Charts at number one when it was released this July, entering the UK Album Charts in the same spot and making the Top Ten and Top Twenty elsewhere in Europe. Inhaler is led vocally by Elijiah Hewson, who also plays guitar. The other three musicians are Robert Keating on backing vocals and bass, guitarist Josh Jenkenson, and drummer Ryan McMahon. The band’s indie sound has been a huge hit, and landed them fifth position in the BBC’s Sound of 2020 poll.
Out of the ashes of acclaimed Irish act, Little Green Cars, Soda Blonde has emerged with a pop-edge to their new music. The group consists of vocalist Faye O’Rourke, alongside Adam O’Regan, Donagh Seaver O’Leary and Dylan Lynch- all former members of Little Green Cars. The original band split on good terms in 2019 after reaching ‘the end of the road’ as a musical act, now Soda Blonde seems on track to match its members earlier success. Their 2019 single, Swimming Through the Night received favourable reviews from critics and the band will be performing throughout December of this year and making some appearances on the Irish festival circuit in Summer 2022.
Pillow Queens, a four-piece musical act comprising exclusively of queer women, was one of the most buzzed about Irish acts of 2020. The band employs a grunge and indie-rock sound, interspersed with sub pop, but shy away from hard and fast genre labels. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. They were nominated for the RTÉ Choice Music Prize at the start of 2021, as well as appearing on popular American chat show, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and appearing on the soundtrack for an Amazon Prime original film, Dating Amber. If that wasn’t enough, 2021 has also been the year they’ve signed to Sub Pop recording label- formerly home to such bands as Nirvana. The group is formed by Sarah Corcoran, Rachel Lyons, Cathy McGuinness, and Pamela Connolly.
No list of new Irish artists would be complete without a nod to Denise Chaila, the winner of the 2020 RTÉ Choice Music Prize for album of the year. Born in Zambia and raised in Ireland from the age of three, the Limerick-based hip hop artist, rapper and singer turned heads in 2020 with her breakthrough LP GO Bravely. Since then she’s become something of a household name in Ireland, performing in the National Concert Hall in February 2020, and RTÉ 2’s Other Voices: Courage as part of the state broadcasters series of live performances during the pandemic. In July of this year Chaila was selected as a headline act for the pilot music festival held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. Her irresistibly catchy beats and slick vocals will no doubt continue to propel her to stardom.