Words: Dylan Murphy
Artwork: Paul Smith
After another year filled with moments we’d rather forget, we’re zooming in on the positives. Ahead of 2022, we’ve curated a list of the ten acts ready to make serious moves. From drill artists boarding the hype train to enigmatic singers with a hit in the vault, we examined the bubbling Irish underground to highlight the next wave of breakout acts.
Last year, our inaugural Future of Irish Music was as much as a statement of who we were excited about as it was an homage to artists’ perseverance during you know what. While navigating streaming and finding alternative ways to grow a presence online is impressive and very necessary, there’s really nothing like playing live to a crowd to fans. It’s rarely an active Twitter account that converts you to a ride or die or a series of Instagram lives that have you hanging on their every word.
Usually, it’s hearing the track live that got you through your hardest moments. In those moments, you feel like a song was written especially for you. Unexpected performances reach levels of folklore that you rhyme on about for years after. It’s about being there for an act’s Workman’s debut and returning for their Academy headliner two years later.
As shows returned and we emerged from our respective caves, we promised ourselves we’d bin all the buzzwords of the last two years in favour of some more optimistic chat when looking towards the year ahead.
With that in mind, we’ve curated our second edition of The Future of Irish Music. I guess you could call this feature a ‘Ones To Watch List’ of sorts. This year, we actually got to see last year’s inclusions in the flesh and go to some shows that would inform this year’s selection.
When it comes to the list it’s hard to be prescriptive. It’s also inevitably not an exhaustive list of the acts we have high hopes for in 2022. It does however, consist of an array of acts at different stages of their career with different goals and inevitably different approaches to getting there. Though you might have a drill artist with only a few singles under their belt, their next single could likely be the one to blow the lid off the bubbling Irish scene. Elsewhere, there’s acts that have established themselves on the Irish circuit, but a recent refinement in their sound is close to pushing them onto an international audience. The bottom line is we are putting our trust in these ten acts to make major moves in the next year.
So let’s get on with it, here are our inclusions for The Future of Irish Music: 2022.
Listening to Ahmed, With Love. feels like you are eavesdropping on the inner psyche of a sitcom character. Not the annoying type that painstakingly pauses for audience applause with every weak pun, but the self-aware kind that flips the internet on its head and puts the ridiculousness of 2021 into full focus. He’s more Bojack Horseman than Big Bang Theory.
2020’s ‘pebbles.’ primed us for a big year for the rapper and he swiftly followed its sharp social commentary on racism with Napoleon Dynamite inspired humour in ‘As Luck Would Have It’ showing us rappers still needed a little dancing in their lives. Likewise, ‘Full Plate’ with KhakiKid showcased his eye for world building and as the moving parts of his various releases begin to coalesce and the bigger picture becomes clearer Ahmed, With Love. became a permanent fixture in our playlists in 2021.
If you really want to know more about an artist, go to the comments sections of their videos. More often than not, it’s fans saying “love from Brazil”, “Fantano sent me here” or some variant of “Iconic”, but if the music genuinely resonates with listeners you’ll find them opening up more in 500 characters than they would to some of their closest friends. That’s what struck us first with 22 year old Irish-raised, London-based singer Spider. New fans detailing to the letter how ‘Water Sign’ makes them feel, listing the films they wish it had soundtracked and the integral coming of age moments in their life it feels connected to.
The cinematic quality of both SPIDER’s releases make the commentary easy to understand. While the production lives in the outer edges of surreal pop music, the vocals move at will between ghostly confessions to raw moments of humanity. Combine that with futuristic characteristics and moments that leave the nostalgia senses tingling and it results in a series of hyper-emotional and paradoxical songs that need to be heard to be believed.
At the cost of over-analysing we just ask you listen.
In the last 20 years in particular, Ireland’s music scene has been enriched by increasing multiculturalism. Traditions have taken a redeye from one side of the planet to another and it has opened the floodgates for an explosion of new sounds. Unbeholden to anything that came before them, artists mix and match approaches not because of trends or anyone demands it, but because it feels natural. We saw it in hip hop with the West and Southern African influence on Rusangano Family’s seminal Let The Dead Bury The Dead and more and more acts are evading expectations of what music from Ireland can and should sound like.
Having moved from Lagos to Laois, aged eight, Irish-Nigerian songwriter Caleb Kunle is forging a new world informed more by mood and emotion than any adherence to traditional genres. I guess you could say there’s a bit of soul, folk and psychedelic motifs in there, but it’d do a disservice to try pin it down into any neat box. What is clear though, is while he draws influence from the cultures he’s been immersed in, the resulting spiritual quality to his records transcends borders and speaks to universal experiences of love, freedom and joy. All that and more became crystal clear in the 2020 EP Rose Hertz and his releases since then have only gone on to confirm our long-held suspicions that the now London-based singer is really on to something special.
2021 has been a year of firsts for Negro Impacto. They dropped their first single, played their first show (at our New Voices takeover of Workman’s Basement) and dropped their first EP.
A project born out of lockdown, common sense would tell us that a host of firsts in the best of times would be difficult let alone in the hellscape last two years. However, even if it was difficult for the pair, you wouldn’t know. When you listen closely, songs like ‘Mini Excursion’ examine insecurities and uncertainty, but the breezy delivery and almost tropical ambience has the power to transport you far, far away. Physically, you’re in Larne, but spiritually, you’re St Lucia. It’s main character music for the stress heads who need escapism, vibes for when the vibes are lacking and honestly, just a breath of fresh air.
Sure, there’s touchstones like The Internet, SkinShape and Thundercat, but Chi Chi’s charisma is unmistakeable and when her voice coalesces with StrangeLove’s instrumentation it could be no one other than Negro Impacto.
Traditionally, hip hop has been a genre that’s always taken itself very seriously and with good reason. It emanated as a response to systematic repression and as a middle finger to authority. Just think the philosophical musings of Yasiin Bey (FKA Mos Def) or the early punk ethos of NWA for an idea of what we mean. However, as its influence has stretched beyond the established boundaries of the genre and the internet has invited a number of other styles, ethos and sounds to the party we’re seeing a loosening of the rigid rules. While humour beyond witty punch lines was often deemed incompatible with hip hop, acts like Zach Fox, Father, Guapdad4000 and others raised on the internet are making rap that lightens the mood without compromising the artistry.
Following in that same vein is Dublin based rapper KhakiKid. Khaki isn’t exactly a new act, but his fun, freewheeling style really came to fruition during lockdown. In a time where old heads lament the new school’s indifference to the genre’s history, Khaki highlighted his willingness to pay homage to the greats through his reimagining of classic 2000s Neptunes and Timbaland beats on Instagram. Neither curtailed by the past or wholly focused on the future, having one eye on the rearview has worked in his favour. Moreover, tracks like ‘Slumped Up’ and ‘Breakfast On Pluto’ have crazy replay value and worked in tandem as invitations to his increasingly weird and surreal world.
The District feature length film department isn’t a thing yet, but when it is, the scores will be immaculate. The first order of the day will be to instruct them to soundtrack the moves of a protagonist trying to break free of rural Ireland in a coming-of-age tear jerker with ‘the bottom of the well‘. It’s the only official song that amy michelle has out right now aside from some impressive demos on Youtube, but that was all Method Records (slowthai) needed to hear to snap her up. If it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for us.
Usually, your mam would tell you not to put your eggs all in one basket, but sometimes you just hear something that has that indefinable star quality and you have to go all in. There’s a spine-tingling feel to the way amy’s feathery vocals cast themselves like a spider’s web across the sparse production and the spectral songwriting prickles the back of your throat like an unwanted flashback. For sure, there will be convenient comparisons made to the autumnal heartbreak of Phoebe Bridger’s records, but given space to grow we’re confident amy will carve out a lane of her own.
As far as early singles go, shiv’s ‘Golden‘ is up there with one of the most impressive we’ve heard. The first time it was spun in my house I watched from my earthly container as my soul separated from my body and floated towards the sky – it’s a completely transcendent track. So you can imagine our excitement when shiv released back to back EPs that kept that hot streak alive. The latest in particular, The Love Interlude, has the kind of conceptual depth that’s often reserved for far more seasoned artists, hopscotching between four seasons represented by four respective tracks.
The short film that followed was the final piece of the jigsaw to the immersive world that shiv was constructing and further evidence of a vision ambitious enough to push her from one to watch to established star.
Smoothboi Ezra’s music reads like an anxious diary entry. The kind that is made out of necessity, rather than some deeply romanticised main character spiel. There’s no sales pitch for an inevitable happy ending after the heartbreak, no checklist for resolution or even much attempt at speculative reassurance. It’s more a therapeutic stream of consciousness to bin the Sunday scaries than it is an aspirational reach for the stars.
It’s these realist qualities that connect and in their latest EP Stuck, the tender songwriting pretty much perfectly captures the tense paralysis of regret and romantic indecision. What’s more is, the vocal delivery and instrumentation doesn’t beg for attention and in an era of market-researched songwriting and sponsored posts, it’s refreshing. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t and that’s fine.
Listeners can sniff ingenuity a mile away and what makes Ezra cut through the noise is a brand of songwriting that doesn’t protectively coddle you from life’s imperfections.
D22’s SELLÓ was one of lockdown’s break out acts. Despite only releasing a handful of tracks, the rapper from the capital has gone on to forge a distinctive lane for himself in a scene that’s under threat of becoming oversaturated. Coining his own brand of ‘Gaelic drill’, SELLÓ enlisted a mix of Irish and english in his previous two releases ‘Dublin‘ and ‘As Gaeilge‘ before joining forces with Drogheda heavy weight Offica on ‘OGGY’.
Success means different things to different people, but with excitement within the scene swelling with each subsequent release, Selló’s next video could be the one to blow the lid off rap in Ireland.
Usually, when new acts burst onto the scene wearing their influences on their sleeves it’s easy to pick out where they’ve pulled individual parts of their sound from. A Pixie’s informed distortion here, bedroom pop textures courtesy of Clairo there or even a sleep-deprived whirr straight from the book of My Bloody Valentine. In most other instances, these pronounced nods can feel contrived however, with exciting fledgling acts it’s a right of passage and there’s often a charm and innocence to them that usually wears away as they explore and refine their own sound.
For many acts, the next step is often distancing themselves from these comparisons as they attempt to carve out their own lane and some artists never manage to shake the boxes they are placed in. However, for Galway upstarts NewDad it feels as though they’ve just skipped all of that with their first EP WAVES and landed firmly on their feet with their own distinct sound.
While you can hear various influences throughout their debut EP, the comparisons are less pronounced and the various inspirations inform each other as much as they intertwine in an inseparable soup of sounds. Their breakout single ‘I Don’t Even Recognise You’ feels like the soundtrack to a rare emotional resolution between brothers in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, while recent single ‘Ladybird’ has that special je ne sais quoi, a magic 90s quality that has you feeling nostalgic for an era they (and many of their listeners) were too young to experience. Trading Pokémon cards in school, Trolls dolls on the shelf, dusting off the VHS player after school on a Friday. Paradoxically feeling alien yet familiar and comforting, while their sound certainly differs to that of PinkPantheress they share the same vibey nostalgic DNA with the breakout star.
You can listen to all the inclusions in our complementary Spotify playlist below: