As we approach the end of 2019 we want to stop and take stock of the year in new Irish music before we get to the end of year lists.
As an independent Irish music publication,we always strive towards the platforming and promotion of new Irish artists but not at the expense of quality. Whether it be through dedicated premieres or our weekly new Irish music list, fresh homegrown music is as much of a priority as international music.
With that in mind, we decided to compile a guide through our favourite new Irish artists of 2019. The final list, 50 strong, was a matter of much debate, late additions and nuanced discussion about inclusions and merits in the office. It’s a testament to the strength of the music that is emerging from one small island that cutting off our list at 50 presents a massive challenge in its own right.
In terms of criteria, we placed a three-year cut off point since an act first appeared. This means that acts like Maria Somerville, Sorcha Richardson and Tandem Felix who released debut albums this year and more are not taken into the criteria for inclusion because we’ve been writing about them for longer than the cut-off point. We also took an artists’ gigging activity and live performances into account. Live performance is a craft in equal merit to that of alluring recorded material (and the only way to make a career in music these days), and it’s a good marker of talent or potential in the formative stages of an act. Lastly, the likelihood that an act will progress to bigger and better things in the year ahead, via releases or otherwise, was taken into consideration.
While we are a Dublin-based website with contributors from Cork and Limerick, we always aim to discover and promote music from the length and breadth of the country. This year’s list features acts from 13 counties. Just over 60% are associated with Dublin, while there are 4 from Waterford, while there are 4 from Cork, 2 from Limerick, 2 from Kildare and 1 each from Antrim, Donegal, Louth, Galway, Kerry, Laois and Derry. The natural gender breakdown was 37 male-featuring acts and 17 female-featuring acts to the best of our knowledge ( last year was 30 / 25). 39 acts featured white acts and 11 featured other ethnicities (43 and 8 respectively last year). Last year’s full list can be read here.
We’ve decided to organise our list alphabetically as opposed to numerically, as the aim here is to showcase each act on equal footing. You’ll also find a Spotify playlist with tunes from all of the artist’s with music available on the platform below.
Choose a letter
Alex Gough has experienced unprecedented success this year. One of two Anomaly collective members on this list, Gough had a major breakthrough with the charming trip-hop bounce of ‘Breakfast’ receiving a huge boost of Spotify support and has continued to gather steam throughout the year working non-stop to release his excellent debut EP 80% and picking up bookings at Eurosonic and Ireland Music Week to name a couple.
Gough’s success lies in his live, organic approach to hip-hop combined with a perpetual underdog delivery – a product of years of experience as a drummer. 2020 is set to be a huge one for this rising star.
Newbridge/Kildare artist April has courted a lot of well-deserved hype with her soulful R&B sound. April’s visual aesthetic may be tongue-in-cheek but her moody, beat-driven output is no joke with the artist unleashing an army of singles and covers on her Soundcloud throughout 2019. ‘Would you let me in?’ is a standout gem of her back catalogue – a Frank Ocean-esque cut of deeply personal lyricism and sultry production. April is unquestionably an example of raw talent destined for a much bigger platform. She closed the year supporting Alec Benjamin on tour in the UK and Ireland.
London-based but Cork-born with with time spent in Waterford/Kerry and Spain, the R&B and hip-hop artist Biig Piig has had a bit of a breakthrough year in 2019. Jess Smyth, through her solo work or with London collective Nine8, caught the attention of RCA Records, to whom she signed in June of this year.
This is far from an overnight happening, Smyth has two solo EPs to date., released in the formative stages of the year, remains the finest Irish R&B project of recent memory. The Vol.3 EP is expected in the near future, with a long-form project not too far in the distance thanks to major label financial backing.
One of the most unique figures in contemporary Irish hip-hop, Basil marked the turning of the year with the release of his debut long-form Isaac Nelson. We reviewed that project at the time, while it remains ultimately flawed it does showcase an artist with a willingness to push the envelope in terms of evolving the socio-normative behaviours so closely linked with masculinity in hip-hop.
Basil is saying something few, if any, are, and even if the execution has been imperfect he stands out among his chosen field. Rumour has it there’s a Dah Jevu release from his prior act expected too, so keep an eye peeled.
Bonnie Stewart, aka Bonniesongs, is an Irish folk-rock musician currently located in Sydney.
While Stewart was active throughout 2018, it was a slew of single releases earlier this year (‘Barbara’, ‘Ice Cream’ & ‘Frank’) which captured our attention. Those singles, and the subsequent Energetic Mind LP which followed, were pilfered with a garage rock-esque sound which provided tons of body and character to Stewart’s folk roots. Gritty and grainy, Bonniesongs’ recorded material stands out as insightful and driven. Fingers crossed for more Irish dates next year.
Irish beatmakers stepped it up this year and Northern Irish lo-fi producer Cbakl is a fine example of that. The producer released his second full-length ‘Wisdom Is Misery’, an impossibly smooth collection of sample-based soulful beats that operate exquisitely as standalone tracks. Cuts like ‘Can’t Stay Away From You’ and ‘You Cried’ sound timeless are and impressively hooky despite being instrumentals. Cbakl has a bright future ahead and is sure to be collaborating with some major names over the next few years.
Celaviedmai has been an incredibly busy woman in 2019. The Galway rapper has released a string of polished, impressive singles as well as collaborations with Hudis, Tomi Keni and Nina Jae to name just a few. Whilst she is clearly still finding her sound as an artist, the sheer breadth of her output is wonderfully dynamic and indicative of a versatile creator that is willing to take risks and not rest on her laurels.
From the groove-driven R&B pop of Hudis collaboration ‘For Me’ to her sinister, queer-hop influenced verse on Tomi Keni’s ‘Cake’, Celaviedmai’s releases this year have exuded confidence and personality, a fact echoed by her upbeat and proto-pop star live performances. Here’s hoping that 2020 holds a full-length project for Celaviedmai.
The year is 2019, My Chemical Romance have gotten back together and one of Ireland’s most promising young bands is a raucous trio that make full-throttle pop-punk. Cherym blasted their way into musical consciousness this year with their sugary sweet, exceedingly melodic guitar anthems. Channelling the energy of Warped Tour circa 1998, the Northern Irish trio write insanely catchy numbers with enough bounce to get an entire county 2-stepping.
Impressing audiences across the country with their live performances at Output, Knockanstockan, Indiependence, Other Voices, Electric Picnic as well as a recent tour, Cherym have stood out as a must-see rising live act whilst putting out a string of memorable singles like the charmingly earnest ‘Abigail’. Catch them soon for a cathartic mosh.
One of the shining lights emerging from Limerick’s very buzzy hip-hop scene. Citrus Fresh is a PX Music MC with two EPs under his belt in 2019. The first of those, Early Days/Late Nights, boasted some of the most impressive lo-fi production and articulate lyricism featured on any Irish hip-hop this year. “That woman had me worse for wear / Bit like Leo getting fucked by the bear”.
Time and effort will see Fresh & his labelmates polish their productions a bit and hopefully gain more national traction through live performance and clever marketing.
Industrial trio The Claque may have gone relatively quiet in recent months, no doubt due to rota conflicts with the reignited Girl Band – both bands share a drummer. However, there is the kernel of something congenial already in the only two singles the band have released to date.
Begin with ‘Hush’. At first it may seem like a hodge podge, a whirl of disparate ideas and sounds. However, stick with it and the metallic guitar sounds and lead vocalist Kate Brady’s melodic delivery will absolutely win you over.
It’s all still very much to come from The Claque. They’ve already done quite well considering the brevity of their tenure, landing decent support slots, no doubt helped by the deep connection its individual members already share with the industry at large here.
However, connections will only take you so far, we’ll be eagerly awaiting the next studio release from the band – seeing how they stake their unique claim into the scene distinct from their previous musical outings as individuals.
Waterford four-piece Crome Yellow reverse engineered the usual path Irish artists take when first arriving to the scene. Instead of waiting to build hype and then releasing an album, the band released the superb See Why in March and built their hype around the release.
It worked too. How couldn’t it with the strength of the songwriting throughout their debut long-form? See Why boasts exquisite rock grooves, all tinged with a late 60s/early 70s’ psychedelic. Watertight songwriting from top to bottom.
One of the artists we featured on our introducing series, Dublin MC Dania walks the fine line between out and out hip-hip and the vibrant drill scene emerging from Ireland’s underground.
The bars are on point, in fairness. His debut Sonic Gold Mixtape platforms a young, hungry MC brimming with confidence and attitude. Production value remains fairly low, this will improve with more time and care put into his recordings. However, the flow and lyrics are sharp and undulated. Some of Dania’s rawer bars might make more sensitive listeners flinch, but it’s his life as he lived it. Would love to see the MC do more gigs around the city going forward.
Berlin-based producer Delush has spent the past four years honing his craft over Deutschland way. That all changed in 2019. Two big singles, ‘It’s Alright’ with Limerick MC Strange Boy Nature and ‘The Greatest Gift’ with Tolu Makay, have created a demand for his work on the homefront.
‘It’s Alright’ may be the quieter singles by the streaming figures, but for our money it’s a pure golden neo-funk anthem. The foresight which the artist and producer displayed in drafting Strange Boy Nature to do a verse should indicate the ear for quality Delush has, so too with follow up single featuring Tolu Makay.
With only two solo singles released in 2019 and a few features, Denise Chaila has already established herself as a key player in Irish hip-hop. Channelling her energy into putting out fully realised, impactful tracks, each of Chaila’s cuts this year have played an integral role in providing the genre with a self-referential conscience and awareness. ‘Copper Bullet’ serves as Chaila’s statement piece, going to task with a braggadocious and critical eye over Irish hip-hop and issues of race and gender whilst the spoken word style ‘Duel Citizenship’ provides a vital voice for second-generation immigrants in a way rarely examined within the scene. Elsewhere, Pass The Aux Cord’s ‘Man Like Me’ establishes a funkier but no less politically aware artist.
With the development of any hip-hop scene, it’s of utmost importance to ensure the political roots and reason for hip-hop’s existence are respected and treated with integrity (a problem that has been very apparent elsewhere with the output and behaviour of Ireland’s most well-known hip-hop act right now) and Chaila provides that analytical and insightful voice which should not be ignored.
DJ Eugene McCauley
Play Donk. Start a Facebook page, add everybody you find. Play more donk. Call everyone a sham and land yourself bookings playing to a packed out Academy as part of Konspiracy within a year. Ladies & Gentlemen, DJ Eugene McCauley.
Dublin four-piece ELM have undergone a bit of a transformation this year, both figurative and literal.
A roster change accounts for the latter and a new, dance tinged pop direction accounts for the former. Big, dancefloor singalongs like ‘Fear’ and ‘Paris’ illustrate the point. These are carefully assembled, radio-friendly bops. Try one out, good luck getting it out of your head afterwards.
The band also earn a place on this list for their gigging schedule, which has taken them around the country and abroad. Good on record and in person, ELM are among the finest at what they do in Ireland.
Emma Garnett’s music found new drive and focus in 2019. The hint came early with the release of the futurist afro-soul ‘Saharakungoh’ in February.
Having listened to Garnett’s 2017 Like No Other EP, the transition into this material was like an introduction to an entirely new artist. A lot of this is the electronic production, backed by Fehdah’s new drive for self-production and musical direction.
Tracks like the aforementioned ‘Saharakungoh’, followed by the equally impressive ‘Buffer Fly’ are dynamic and unique. A hybrid of afro-soul, house and pop melodies entwined beneath the cohesive web of a superb production.
That Garnett was asked by Three to collaborate with David Kitt and Kean Kavanagh on ‘Follow The Sound’ is a strong indicator that she’s begun to attract attention from all corners of the Irish music audience. A recent trip to Cuba via Havana Rum and a great live set at Other Voices only further compounds the notion.
Burner Records co-founder, St.Pat’s enthusiast and MC Fynch grew into the role of label head for most of the first half of 2019.
The MC was at the fore of a few label wide showcases across the city, before focusing on his debut release on his own label, the excellent Bookie Pens & Loose Ends.
The EP is a heavily autobiographical look at a pivotal point in any twenty-something’s life, feelings of listlessness and a constant lightness of pocket all inscribed with a sense of wit and humour. Check out highlight ‘Milkteeth’ for an introduction to the MC.
Left-field club music is proving to be one of Cork’s greatest strengths in 2019 and nowhere is that more apparent than with hard drum collective Flood. Since 2016, Flood has been putting out releases from Doubt, Tension and Syn and building a steady reputation and online following in the UK. 2019 saw the release of Doubt’s Steam Cycle EP, an impeccably produced collection of multi-dimensional drum-driven club tracks packed with tribal nods and unforgiving power. Most recently, Tension’s Catalyst VIP EP straddled the lines between deconstruction and danceability, offering up a cerebral sound to throw down to.
Flood’s approach to club music has drawn them a strong support base outside of Ireland, counting the likes of Ryan Hemsworth amongst fans, whilst still crafting an uncompromisingly unique and distinct body of music that Irish listeners would do well to pay attention to.
We’re backing Inhaler. Undoubtedly “I’m easy like an Ice Cream Sundae”, featuring on their last single ‘Ice Cream Sundae’, isn’t anywhere near strong enough lyricism to mark yourselves out as an emerging indie act in such a saturated field, but having caught the band live and judging from tracks like ‘My Honest Face’ the band have a sound and a style that could well grow legs and run to outlast the band member with a famous dad tag.
They’re already touring the UK, admittedly with the industry’s backing. Don’t want to take our word for it? Check your scepticism, buy a ticket for their show in the Academy on December 15th and see for yourself.