Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
We’ve teamed up with Hennessy to celebrate the acts pushing the needle in Ireland on their own terms. Ahead of a huge event in The Complex celebrating the Future of Irish 2023 cast, we spoke to the six acts we’re tipping to make big moves in the next twelve months. Qbanaa, Curtisy, Lowkick, ENI, DeCarteret, and MOIO speak about their missions as artists and what the future holds for artists on the island.
No doubt, we’re living in times of upheaval. The future, or the lack there of, depending on your interpretation, is causing a kind of existential anxiety that is hard to shake. Between AI, climate change, culture wars and social media constantly reminding us about it all, it feels like being stuck in a lift with a broken tannoy announcement.
Music isn’t immune to these developments either and technological advances are seemingly the unavoidable centrepiece in conversations about the uncertainty that lies ahead. Without deep diving on the ethics of deep fakes or whether AI-generated Drake songs are up to scratch, it’s clear that two things can be true at once. Technological innovation is causing moral panic and putting TikTok at the centre of creation but it’s also democratising the playing field for independent artists.
While inevitably, that means there’s a lot of noise to cut through, the nature of online discovery means the acts have agency to do it on their own terms. So, when it comes to selecting a class of future leaders in music, it’s hard to be prescriptive about what the criteria is. In this case, it’s better to refer to the stories of the previous alumni.
The likes of BRICKNASTY, who had four songs at the time of inclusion in 2021, have since went on to sign to FAMM, (Maverick Sabre, Jorja Smith), For Those I Love went onto win the RTÉ Choice Prize for Album of the Year with an undeniable piece of art. Whereas, Archy Moor has quietly released a phenomenally overlooked EP and Zak Oke has been consistently dropping gems through his depart.e.ment label. The point is, success is subjective and no matter what data you have to hand, you can’t boil art down to a forensically-researched set of outcomes.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see the appeal of Curtisy. The Tallaght native has quickly become your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper and can often be found joining forces with Ahmed, With Love., Rory Sweeney and E The Artist as part of the new wave of Dublin’s rap-adjacent odd balls. The unforgettable centrepiece of this relationship came courtesy of one of the tracks of 2022 in ‘Men On A Mission.’ and earned them a remix from none other than Kojaque and a subsequent performance together at a charity fundraiser in The 3Olympia Theatre. So it’s safe to say he’s not exactly new, but after a slew of tapes and singles, he’s got hoping to get looks outside of the island.
“The Olympia [Theatre] with Kojaque, that was game changing. That was crazy. I’ve been doing shows for maybe like 300 people max and then going into that and it going well, I feel like I can do anything.
“I like rapping ’cause it’s the most concentrated form of information in music. A lot of time my music is not really a structured story. It’s a lot of things that I just spewed into a song. All the emotions and feelings, I just put them on the page. I don’t do a lot of reading back through and breaking it down. I just put my thoughts onto a page and it sounds good.”
Given his slow drawl and his poetic style, it’s not hard to understand the Earl Sweatshirt comparisons. His coded but heartfelt raps align with the former Odd Future member too. It’s music that’s both mysterious and relatable at once. “I like to get the stuff off my chest without telling the whole world everything about my life. I like to vent into the songs but I don’t want the whole world knowing everything about me” he says. In an era where rollouts are subject of meticulous social media schedules and forensic market research, it’s refreshing to hear an artist that’s not precious about his work. Curtisy is prolific and with two EPs in the last twelve months and an album on the way, he’s is pining his hopes on a critically-acclaimed debut.
Much like Curtisy, ENI’s allegiance to hip hop owes a lot to state side artists. If the former’s music is led by a quest to be vulnerable, then ENI has so far shown the other side of the coin, pitching herself as one of Ireland’s most confident and uncompromising new rappers. “I would describe my sound as very dominant. That’s who I am as a person. I’m outspoken. I’m confident. I’m not afraid to say what I want to say”, she explains.
Though born in Dublin, ENI’s father was raised in America and so predictably, she often relates more to US artists like Lola Brookes and Lakeyah. While it’s understandable that people would want Irish artists to extend the legacy of those that came before them, what’s equally exciting, is those that completely buck the trend and tap into an entirely new wave. “I know there are no Irish artists there [In my influences] but that’s just not where I get my influence from. I want to be a mix of both Irish and American and I have my own influence in terms of being Irish, you know?”
ENI’s story is becoming increasingly more common. As both the daughter of immigrants and as part of a generation raised on a diet of TikTok, it’s no surprise she’s got a borderless sound. Nowadays, music often has a global audience before it really has a chance to marinate in its place or origin. So when ENI puts her own spin on sounds more commonly associated with Atlanta and New York and shares stages with Dark0 and Chip, she’s laying the foundations for other women to do the same.
“My mission as an artist would be to inspire young women who want to rap and make music, but don’t see people in the forefront that inspire them to do the same thing. I want to be an inspiration to young women who would like to rap but feel like, ‘Oh, but I don’t have anyone to look up to’. I want to be that person that they look up to and be like,’ Oh, if ENI you can do it, I can'”.
Likewise, Qbanaa is creating sounds in a space that’s relatively nascent in Ireland. Sure, the Irish-Cuban singer shares bilingual DNA with Kali Uchis and Biig Piig, but make no mistake that the D1 native is carving out her own path. Growing up between Cuba and Ireland, she was raised on a diet of salsa and Spanish choir songs at mass with her Granny in Dublin. So it’s no surprise that her songs have enough energy to make you move but a classic feel that wouldn’t alienate your parents. She explains this marriage of cultures felt like a natural fit when she chose her stage name.
“Qbanaa is Cubana with a Q, it’s supposed to integrate the way Irish people would pronounce Cubana, so it sort of brings my two homes together in a lighthearted way.”
Following an accident, Q turned down the chance to do a PHD in favour of returning to Dublin after a stint in London. Encouraged by her experience in the neo-soul scene, she became determined to be an innovator in Ireland.
“And so what makes me really hopeful is I so when I moved back from London, I saw a huge gap in you know, the neo-soul community and jazz. And so I started my own open mic and jam of a jazz fusion called ‘Soul Juice’. It was the scariest thing, to open up something like that because I was like, ‘where are all these new solo artists hiding?’ But the place was absolutely packed. There’s people sitting up the spiral staircase, listening to music and getting up and jamming and being so free with each other that it gave me a lot of hope that the neo soul scene in Dublin is growing and that we don’t need to look elsewhere”, she beams.
Sure, it’s early days and Qbanaa isn’t the first neo-soul artist in Ireland, but so far, she’s three for three with singles, has a successful headline show under her belt and is quickly building on a successful blueprint. So, it’s not hard to see visions of a bright future where her music touches all parts of the world.
She’s not alone in highlighting the importance of community either. Chamomile Records co-founder MOIO’s success is very much a team effort. Having made his name as the producer behind almost all of the Dublin label’s singles, he came out from behind the boards in January this year with his own debut single ‘SUNBEAMIN’. It’s a track that stays true to the collective’s optimistic worldview and builds on the foundations laid down by ‘Smile’ by Monjola and Aby Coulibaly’s ‘Weekdays‘.
Given the level of quality output in the collective, it’s understandable if you thought the early releases were a calculated product of a label executive. However, like any great movement, MOIO’s career and Chamomile’s existence was a natural development, that started from DIY bedroom productions.
“I feel like I’ve always kind of been an artist – like unknowingly. I think as I left school, I actually started making music because before I was doing performances, school talent shows, playing in bands with my friends doing covers and and all that sort of stuff. When I left, it just kind of translated into producing and it was weird, because no one showed me how to produce I kind of figured it out myself”, MOIO explains. I think I was like 18 at the time and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I feel as if I should have been doing in my whole life'”.
Chamomile and MOIO made a splash initially during lockdown – a time where music was completely oversaturated with new releases. That trend has continued to this day and he understands better than most that it’s authenticity that cuts through the noise to potential future fans and community and real experiences that convert them to listeners for life.
“Having community around me is important because we all kind of bounce off each other. So all my friends that are making music, we are always like sending music to each other and we all kind of push ourselves forward, which is which is really important. I think, and it’s nice to have people around you that are as as inspired as you are to create constantly.”
Sure, a lot of the collectives are in their infancy, but given the output already, that makes it even more exciting. “I think, I think the music will get better, we’ll have some new names and I think some people in the scene right are going to take the wheel and go off.
Music makes me hopeful for sure. Because I’m hearing songs, some of which are unreleased and i’m like ‘Oh, this is special’, you know? So I’m excited and that really that yeah, that definitely makes me hopeful for the scene.”
A common thread between MOIO, Chamomile and a lot of other rising acts is they keep one eye on the future without totally abandoning the past. Given Ireland’s history of storytelling and acts like Kojaque pushing it into new territory, it’s no surprise that jazzy hip hop is in a rich vein of form on the island. While North Dublin hip hop trio Lowkick are making self-sufficient rap that stitches samples and heartfelt poetry together, you’re also as likely to find them blending electronic and classical sounds. So it makes sense, that they describe themselves as sitting somewhere in a venn diagram amongst influences like Sampha, The Streets, Mount Kimbie and Earl Sweatshirt.
This approach to music is shared by a lot of the artists they surround themselves with and having been a regular in sonically diverse local lineups, their support slot for rap futurist Jeshi, was a game changer for the trio. “Seeing all the acts around us like Curtisy and Karim (Ahmed, With love.), BRICKNASTY, they’re going crazy right now. There’s a lot going on in Dublin right now, it’s inspiring”, they say.
“In a way, it’s still really young as a scene, especially in the kind of areas that we’d be in, so like nobody has these like walls or anything. So it’s a really communal feeling of like everyone is just kind of happy to see everybody else doing well… When people are doing stuff they’re not getting put in boxes like you have people from all over the country, doing different stuff on the same bill.”
While the genres on the lineups may very, the through line to the acts that feature is their values and worldview. The reason a jungle producer can share the stage with an act that makes raps for stoners is they both have a commitment to being part of something bigger than themselves. When a DIY community comes together it’s bigger than the sum of its parts.
“I think the Irish scene is going to be starting to get recognised a lot more. SELLO has gotten a lot of recognition. I think guys like him coming up is great. I think more overseas recognition in general will become the norm in the next five years.”
This hope for a sustainable future of music in Ireland is also shared by DeCarteret. While the County Clare singer places herself somewhere in the inseparable soup of neo-soul and RnB, the fact you often find her on lineups with a similar cadre of rotating acts as Lowkick further reinforces the aforementioned collaborative spirit of the capital’s DIY community.
However, while the capital’s scene has been important for DeCarteret, she also has found optimism for the future in returning to the country. She’s in touching distance from the scene in Cork and can detox from social media whilst being surrounded by nature. This all coalesced into a more wholistic approach to creativity that’s more sustainable and full of inspiration. What’s more is, the separation from the fog of big cities and hamster wheel of trends has allowed DeCarteret to pull from her influences without ever drowning in them.
“I grew up in the countryside. I’m a countryside gal. I did not mix well with the city. It was good to try but being back there and being part of the land is what is fuelling me right now”, she explains.
“There are so many new and exciting artists, you know, end up every day and I don’t know the more but I see new artists pop up all the time. Especially down in Cork. It’s so untouched down there. I love the county of Cork. There’s so many amazing musicians down there. It’s completely untouched. And yeah, I’m just excited for that to can continue growing. There’s so much more to Ireland than just trad. And I love trad, but there’s so much more especially nowadays. There’s a lot of hip hop and r&b coming through I’m excited to be taken in that wave with the rest of them”.
“I used to think I couldn’t reach my goals from Ireland because it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race so easy, but since I moved back to the countryside, I’ve been able to have a wider perspective and 100% I think I’ll be here for for the rest. There’s no need for me to move off to the UK. I’m happy exactly where I am, sure flights are only a tenner anyway.”
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