If you’re well versed in the Irish music scene, you might have noticed a recent surge in a particular genre. Most trends are a reaction to something, and the current rise in Irish garage-rock bands is no different, like the post-rock and math-rock scene before it. Ireland has historically been famous for producing singer-songwriters and lyricists, but recent years have seen a departure from this and a transition into something a little bit grittier.
There are many crossovers in the Venn diagram of garage-rock – punk rock, indie-rock, post-punk – the list goes on (and bands get very upset when you classify them incorrectly, so take note). The common denominator that tethers them all together lies not so much in the stylistic traits of the songs but in the grit, the nonchalance and unabashed nature of the bands, traits that many of them have customised to be their USP. Oh – and of course, the presence of ye olde electric guitar. The recent visibility and success of bands like Girl Band, Otherkin, Fangclub and Bitch Falcon has surely inspired others too.
As in any industry, music trends are cyclical in nature; genres go in and out of fashion. In order to validate this in Irish music territory, you need look no further than one of Ireland’s fore-frontal punk-leaning bands, Fontaines D.C. The band cite The Dubliners and Luke Kelly in particular, as major influences, and are “influenced and driven in equal measure by the rich history of their hometown’s counter-culture”. The city that brought them together is reflected in the music just as much as the city’s predecessors are; Luke Kelly’s thick Irish accent is prevalent in lead singer Grian Chatten’s voice while the cool indifference-cum-confidence of the instrumentalists is one of the most compelling aspects of their live sets.
Many of Fontaine D.C.’s songs are inspired by colourful Dublin-hailing characters from the illustrious Thomas Dudley in ‘Bang Bang’ to Patrick Joseph Marlow in ‘Hurricane Laughter’. Since The Dubliners came to prominence in the ‘60s, a myriad of music styles have weaved in and out of the forefront of Irish music landscape and yet it seems that things have come full circle as of late. This can also be seen in Dublin’s new buzzy band The Murder Capital who bristle with punk energy and are yet unmistakably Irish in their dress and attitude. The band have very quickly been picked for international management after a short time in the public eye. The long game awaits.
Powpig. however, don’t quite think it’s as simple as that. Anna, Andrea, Laura and Leah are a four-piece band (and Leaving Cert school students) from Limerick that make lo-fi garage-rock music and shows that this isn’t just a Dublin thing. Nationally, the likes of Altered Hours, Just Mustard, Wynona Vleach, Hot Cops, Slow Riot are plying their trade locally around the country.
Powpig’s music is rough around the edges but that’s where it’s charm lies. They argue that the reason they make garage-rock is more so rooted in nature as opposed to nurture in that they create similar music to that which they were exposed to growing up, “throughout our lives a lot of the music some of our parents listened to was punk/rock/indie/grunge music from their teenage years… listening to music like that definitely engrained that type of sound in us along with all the other music they played”.
The nature verses nurture debate is multi-faceted and timeless, but it does ring true that your surrounding environment during your formative years has a lasting effect on your hobbies, interests and more later on in life. Powpig describe themselves ambiguously as “indie” in an effort to prevent themselves from being pigeonholed into one sub-genre and because their inspirations are multitudinous, “with the streaming services available now, music is so accessible and I think you can’t help but be influenced subconsciously by what you listen to.” Their resolve to create indie-rock seems less like a choice and more of an organic gravitation.
Punk and rock music have traditionally been efficacious vehicles for channelling political and social commentary both in Ireland and beyond; The Wolfe Tones public endorsed the IRA in The Helicopter Song while The Dubliners consciously performed communist ballads of Ewan McColl. The music was reflective of the time. There has been no shortage of political issues to divulge as of late, and while international artists like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino have been praised for voicing opinions on matters relevant to them, the Irish punk-rock scene is beginning to channel their narratives towards the prevailing matters effecting us domestically here in Ireland.
All female indie-rockers Pillow Queens voice the struggle to survive in post-recession Ireland and the consequences of that on their mental health in their new EP State Of The State, while Thumper touch on the Dublin housing crisis in their track ‘Rent Is Due‘. As many Irish artists were, alt-rockers HAVVK were vocal in their advocacy of the repeal the eighth campaign and wrote their single ‘Once Told‘ in support of it. Predating those, the feminist garage punk band Sissy sung about the women who travelled for abortions on ‘Sail and Rail’ long before the Repeal movement hit its stride.
The fact that garage-rock offshoots in so many directions of other genres also lends itself well to accessibility for musicians – it’s a gateway drug. For Thumper, creating garage-rock was more of a happy accident than a realised intent; lead songwriter Oisín Furlong remedied a dose of writer’s block by placing time limits on his songwriting and not allowing himself to over-critique. This hurried, unpolished style lends itself to the thrown-on aesthetic of garage-rock, and this attracted the band because it “actively places songwriting on a pedestal and casts aside any notion that incredible technique or prowess is what makes a band great”.
Traditionally a male-orientated genre, the fact that females are making up many of these new bands is note-worthy; bands such as the aforementioned Powpig, Pillow Queens and Girlfriend. to name but a few are composed of all females while Dublin rockers Bitch Falcon are fronted by the fierce Lizzie Fitzpatrick. Could it be that we’re seeing a cross pollination of the global #MeToo movement and the (domestic) Irish garage-rock trend? Of course, there has always been some female representation in the genre but ten years ago, it’s unlikely that they would have made up half of the garage-rock bands listed in this article. What’s more, a report from Fender released this week supports this with 50% of all guitars bought in the UK and US now bought by young females.
The no frills attitude of the genre is one of its core characteristics yet its stylistic derivatives are actually quite pragmatic. Female punk-rockers Girlfriend joke that were it not for the “Ableton licence being too damn high,” they would be creating another type of music altogether. It’s true; picking up a guitar is considerably cheaper and less time consuming than learning an entire production software. Hidden within the quip lies a common thread that applies to all of the bands mentioned here in that the music and whole creative process is unpretentious. What you see is what you get and that’s exactly what’s special about it.
Listen to our new Irish garage-rock playlist on Spotify.