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The 40 best new Irish bands of 2020

Welcome to the third annual Nialler9 new artists list!

It is of course, to state the obvious a very weird year to talk about new acts. COVID-19 shut down any route for a new band that would have included live gigs, meaning a distinct lack of buzz and word of mouth was happening. No festival slots or supports meant that there was no rung on any ladder in which to see how an act was progressing.

With the exception of a few artists – three who featured on this list in previous years – Denise Chaila, The Scratch and The Mary Wallopers actually created a buzz in the virtual live arena during lockdown.

What was left as a criteria, was the recording output of the music released by new acts, how they moved us musically and how they made a presence for themselves in a fully online world. We don’t take chart placements, social media numbers, viral hits or the like into consideration here.


Lastly, the likelihood that a band or artist will progress to bigger and better things in the year ahead if that’s even possible, was taken into consideration.

My initial longlist had 83 acts on it and I shortened it from 50 to 40 this year, as COVID-19 has also impacted us hugely as a publication – we no longer have daily staff – 40 was more manageable to present than 50 this year.

Words by Niall and Luke Sharkey.

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The accompanying playlist is here:

Previous lists:

Best new acts of 2019

Best new acts of 2018


Let’s get on with the list, in alphabetical order:

1000 Beasts

Cian Sweeney really stepped up his production and output this year, with a six-track EP that featured rising vocalists Shiv, Kayleigh Noble, Alex Tierney and Lenii along with an imaginative Elaine Malone remix that showcased the Cork musician’s growing electronic production chops.


Blakkheart

Cork producer Eimear Ann O’Sullivan has quietly been dropping an interesting array of productions that move between R&B, electronica and darkwave styles. The versatility has seen the artist team up with Craic Boi Mental, Double Screen for vocals while also singing over tracks as well.


BoyW1DR

Dublin rapper BoyW1DR followed up his Irish Wonderboy mixtape last year with another full-length No Play Boys and a clutch of singles and there’s a sense that even if people weren’t listening in their droves, BoyW1DR would be grinding out bangers.


Brién

Belfast producer and Soft Boy artist Brién stepped into the solo spotlight with the DIY Volume 1 EP showcasing his chops on kaleidoscopic beat productions while the laid-back groove of ‘Sundried’ that demanded repeat listening all year.


Caleb Kunle

The London-based Irish-raised Nigerian artist Caleb Kunle  released one of the finest EPs of the year wih Rose Hertz last month showcasing a polychromatic modern soul with 6 tracks recorded in lockdown with musicians that have never met.

The evocative guitar brass and flute shuffle ‘Call Me Mad’ was my standout but there was lots to recommend on the smudged acoustic soul release.


CMAT

Look, I know this list is alphabetical but if it was ranked, it’s clear no other brand new artist has made more of an impact on Irish music in 2020 than CMAT.

Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson’s CMAT project didn’t exist publicly at the start of 2020. It was only April when we heard her debut single ‘Another Day (KFC)’ which definitely feels longer than 7 months ago.

Having plied her trade in the duo Bad Sea, CMAT’s solo project took some of that project’s retro country swing and injected it with a modern pop nous with a big personality that removed the songs from the dour indie basement.

There’s a sparkling immediacy to ‘Rodney’ and ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!’ that is informed by a songwriter who has spent time studying great pop songwriting. CMAT won’t be pegged back.


Dena Anuk$a

Belfast-based Egyptian/London R&B artist Dena Anuk$a has been writing songs since she was 12 and there’s a confidence and verve to the string of songs and an EP that Dena released this year that we’re recognising by including her this year.


EFÉ

Anita Ikharo aka is the 20-year-old Dublin artist EFÉ whose debut EP What Should We Do This Summer? which has three songs to take home – ‘Garden’, ‘Table For Two’ and ‘Seven’.


Eve Belle

Donegal singer-songwriter Eve Belle has been knocking around a few year now but 2020 was the year that the artist released her debut album In Between Moments on Rubyworks, while hitting her stride with a mix of folk and pop music.


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