Music

10 of the hottest Irish acts you should hear right now

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Here are the Irish bands and artists set to blow up over the coming year
Written by Lauren MurphyPublished on
The Irish music scene is positively flourishing right now – and best of all, it's not just one particular genre that's killing it, either.
Right across the board, acts from the worlds of pop, indie, electronica, hip-hop and more are doing great things.
We've chosen ten of the most exciting up-and-coming acts to keep your eye (and most importantly, your ears) on. These are the bands and artists that we expect to come good on their potential over the next year or so – no pressure at all, lads.

1. POWPIG

We first heard of Powpig a couple of years ago, when their fellow Limerick band Whenyoung recommended them as “one of the best bands we've ever played with”. Still in their teens, these four young women are absolutely brimming with the sort of raw, fizzy energy that you want in a DIY indie-punk band. To our ears, they're somewhere between Patti Smith and Tune-Yards and they're more than capable of writing a catchy tune. An album, when they're eventually ready for it, could really be special. Until then, we'll be giddily glued to their ever-developing sound.

2. ELM

A band who have been steadily simmering away for the last few years, there's a bit of a feeling that ELM could be ready to boil over at any moment. The four-piece pop band write atmospheric, elegant pop tunes that often have messages behind them; their 2016 single 'Concentrate' tackled the issue of transgenderism, for example (their drummer Ca is trans). They've come on in leaps and bounds since then, as evidenced by their recent single 'Paris', which has a major Years & Years vibe. In their own words, they're '4 stunning queers, playing classy pop'; in our words, they're exactly the sort of band the Irish mainstream music scene needs.

3. JUNIOR BROTHER

If you thought you'd heard everything that a young man with an acoustic guitar could do, that's because you've a) been Sheeran-ised and b) haven't heard Junior Brother yet. Kerryman Ronan Kealy released one of the finest folk albums of 2019 with 'Pull the Right Rope', an album steeped in storytelling tradition, with fine playing and Kealy's beautiful, lilting vocal style. Last year, he even released a very-relatable-to-a-generation-of-Irish-people single called 'Hungover at Mass'. What's not to love?

4. RUSHES

There has been some phenomenal music emerging from Dublin production house/label Diffusion Lab over the past couple of years; Jafaris, Soulé, Mango x Mathman and Erica Cody are just some of the names in their network. Add Rushes to that list, too; slick, r'n'b-flavoured electropop courtesy of an enigmatic performer who we know very little about. Think the slick production and vibes of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean with a touch of classic soul in the mix, and you're about there. Who is he? We're not quite sure, but his debut EP 'Glimpse', released earlier this year, could go toe-to-toe with anything coming out of the US r'n'b scene right now.

5. HAPPYALONE

If trippy, spacey, DJ Shadow-influenced 'genre fluid alt-pop' is your bag, these are your guys. The Cork trio have already scored a 'hit' of-sorts with their debut single 'Colours', which was released back in 2017 and has clocked up over half a million Spotify streams; not bad for an unsigned band with little promotion and basically no major profile outside of muso circles. That's all set to change over the coming year as they gain momentum with their 'audio visual' shows, as seen recently at Electric Picnic, and their forthcoming headline tour. We get a major Jungle/The xx/Massive Attack vibe off their various singles released to date – and we can't wait to see what they do next.

6. TANDEM FELIX

There's plenty to be said for the ever-evolving nature of music and how technology has changed and shaped the music we listen to – but if there's one thing we've learned, it's that there will always be space for top-quality indie folk-rock in our lives. Tandem Felix are one of the finest Irish proponents of that genre, with hat-tips to the likes of Wilco and Grandaddy in their easygoing sound. With several promising EPs under their belts in recent years, their debut album 'Rom-Com' finally landed in October of this year.

7. AILBHE REDDY

The notion of a 'hit song' has changed radically over the past five years. 'Hits' are no longer solely reserved for songs that sell the most copies or songs that are played most on the radio (although clearly, both still play a part), but songs that have scored massive streaming figures on Spotify. In that case, Dubliner Ailbhe Reddy is a seasoned hitmaker; her 2016 song 'Distrust' has been streamed over three million times on the platform, with 'Relent' and 'Seasonal' also clocking up over a million each, too. Her distinctive brand of indie-folk songwriting - often with a spiky edge that's softened by some seriously beguiling vocals – is completely captivating. Her debut album, due in early 2020, is shaping up to be quite special.

8. KNEECAP

Look: any group with song titles like 'Gael-Gigolos' and 'Your Sniffer Dogs Are Shite' are immediately going to grab our attention. But we bet you didn't reckon on hip-hoppers Kneecap rapping in Irish, did ya? Unless you did Higher Level Irish in the Leaving Cert or are fluent as Gaeilge, you won't have a notion what Northern Irish trio Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Provaí are on about – but that makes no difference whatsoever. With the odd English word like 'na bastardaí' thrown into songs like 'C.E.A.R.T.A', there's enough to get the jist of what these buzzers are all about. They call their references to ketamine, the PSNI (or the RUC, as they call them) and the like satire; either way, they're surely destined to be huge.

9. LYRA

Another rising star from the Rebel County, there's no question that Cork native Lyra takes her cue from the likes of Florence + the Machine – but since when has that been such a bad thing? Her brand of anthemic, epic pop was made for big festival tents and montages at the Olympics. Again, no bad thing. Check out new single 'Mother' as evidence, while 'Falling' – her single from earlier this year – is altogether more considered but no less compelling. She's even had a song (a cover of 'I Only Want to Be With You') on the soundtrack to Hulu web miniseries of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. Big things are surely imminent.

10. AEMAK

Like many, she's been steadily plugging away at her craft for years – but could 2020 be AE MAK's year? The woman known as Aoife McCann to her pals makes quirky, melodic pop songs driven by her beautifully idiosyncratic songbird voice, best heard on the addictive, upbeat 'I Can Feel It In My Bones' from 2016. Her more recent fare, like 'Dancing Bug' (remixed by Le Boom) and 'We Have It Right Here' have taken a more experimental, synth-led direction. Either way, she's making very interesting music.
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