Marching to the beat of their own drum

From indie-rock to electronica, the Dublin music scene has been thriving in recent years. To explore why, Gary Ibbotson talks to the musicians behind the revival.


A punchy drum beat and an ominous sounding bass line signal the beginning of Brass Phantoms’ single, ‘City of Wolves’. Immediately following, a crescendo of a twinkling guitar line, uplifting chord progression and open hi-hat rattlings enter the fray before bassist Ryan Cashell’s vocals join the lively mix. Friendly Fires and Bombay Bicycle Club but with more drive come to mind when listening to the track.

Drummer, Adam McCabe, tells me that ‘City of Wolves’ was a decisive moment in the direction of the band’s soundscape. “I think ‘City of Wolves’ started us off on the path of heading more towards the bigger post-punk sound, so Waiting Up [new single], is what we believe as the natural evolution up from that. Bigger sounding with more drive.”

Brass Phantom’s sonic offering has seen them play the Other Voices festival in Dingle, Kerry with a headline slot confirmed for The Workman’s Club in April.

However, the band’s quest to establish themselves among the local indie-music scene is echoed by numerous of other groups attempting their hand at the very same. The problem is, how does one get recognised among a sea of artists with similar ambitions?

A still from Brass Phantoms’ video for their song, Waiting Up, image by Brass Phantoms

On any given weekday a poster donning an advertisement of that night’s entertainment can be seen plastered on the windows and walls of Dublin’s various music venues. From Whelan’s on Wexford Street to the Voodoo Lounge on Arran Quay, Dublin city currently boasts a wide selection of venues ranging from the small to the large.

“The indie scene is so strong because of the support from the venues,” Adam says. “They’re intertwined, in the sense that the strength and reputation of these venues in part comes from how strong the music scene is.”

A local, unsigned band mightn’t headline the Olympia Theatre anytime soon, but a stage is certainly there to showcase their talents.

Whelan’s have provided a platform for local artists since 1989, image by Whelan’s Bar

Gaining a following

Adam tells me that Brass Phantoms have been together for about three years now and continue to gig extensively around the city. However, when quizzed about how he feels bands can distinguish themselves from the pack, he has a rather practical mindset. “I could spend hours thinking about what makes success for an indie band or how to even get people to listen, but if I’m honest, if I knew, I’d be selling that shit in a book for €15.”

“So all I can offer is my experience, and in my experience, what brings those people in is being in the scene you want to be in. You gotta start appealing to the people who will respond, whoever you think that will be. It’s not usually the case where a post-punk band strive among the hip-hop kids (although I am living for that day and those collaborations).”

Gavin White, a journalist with the Irish Independent and one half of the electronic house group, White Collar Boy, says that getting people to listen in Dublin requires innovation. “Being successful within Dublin requires a couple of things. You need talent of course. Songwriting is number one and following the sound you want usually comes after. Dublin is a very small city so you need to socialise in it. Building a fan base requires being inventive with gigs, record releases and getting to know the right people.”

Self-described as an electronic-garage group, Gavin and Mark Cummins came together after meeting at the Primavera Sound festival in Spain in 2011. In the intervening years, the duo has released three EPs with a full-length album due for launch in summer 2017.

The Dublin natives have also played Metropolis Festival, Forbidden Fruit, Longitude, the infamous Berlin club, Berghain, and most interestingly, the 11.10 Dublin to Waterford train to a packed carriage.

White Collar Boy performing Christ Church, 2013, image by White Collar Boy

Gavin is insistent that to make a name for yourself among the Dublin indie-scene, you must be creative. “Festivals are the main area to get attention and give you the opportunity to be heard by a lot of people. Embracing the DIY attitude though is important in making a name for yourself. Doing your own gigs, releasing your own records etc.”

This do-it-yourself mindset of White Collar Boy is reflected in their overall approach towards the industry. Including their gig on a train back in 2012, the group have also organised and performed on a party boat in the Shannon River and in the middle of Merrion Square, Dublin, in addition to releasing and distributing their own vinyl records.

Perhaps the duo’s most well-known track, Capslock, features Gemma Dunlovely’s ethereal and calming vocals layered over a medley of twisted synth sounds and Kavinksy-esque drum samples. The track is not only crisply produced but beautifully written also.


Independent but together

What Adam and Gavin both agree on though is that the independent music scene in Dublin, be it rock ‘n’ roll or electronica, contains a sense of camaraderie among the musicians competing for your attention.

Adam tells me that “Dublin wasn’t called the city of a thousand bands for no reason, and musicians here look out for other musicians.” A sense of the community within the culture can really be felt in his words.

“We are really proud of the music we make and the scene in which we are a part of,” Gavin says, echoing the sentiments.

However, what’s achievable with belief and companionship is limited when loftier ambitions are sought after. Adam says that although acts such as Kodaline, Riptide Movement, The Script and to a lesser extent, Hozier, have gained popularity due to their radio-friendly sound, he doesn’t see many local bands hopping on the bandwagon and writing more pop-orientated material.

Kodaline are one of a few bands from Dublin to make a name for themselves internationally in the past few years, image by, Drew de F Fawkes via Flickr

“Why I respect the scene so much is that I don’t think artist and bands are going to change their sound just to fit with the prevailing formula of success, the best, I think, just keep doing what they want to do.”

Begrudgery, however, is not what comes to Adam’s mind either when discussing such acts. “I have always told people that whether or not I enjoy the music of an Irish band, I have to respect the hell out of any of them who get to enjoy any deal of success, whether it’s selling out Workmans or the 3Arena.”


“The artists in Dublin have desirable products and there needs to be someone who can help to show the world that.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           – Gavin White


The future

Nadine O’Regan, former Phantom 105.2 and TXFM presenter and currently a DJ on Today FM, told me that attention from the major labels may be absent from the indie scene, but that doesn’t mean that bands can’t establish themselves on a larger scale.

“We’ve started to see some really interesting bands emerge like Girl Band, Bitch Falcon, Fangclub. Loads of younger bands. Girl Band sold out Vicar Street recently and they’re really distorted and grungy. If they can sell out Vicar Street, there still have to be people that want to hear alternative music.”

“At the end of the day, we are independent artists who don’t have much money aspiring to be the best we can be in an environment which demands expensive PR as much as it demands talent.” Gavin tells me when questioned about why contemporary Irish electronic artists are struggling to emerge on the world stage.

Unlike their indie rock counterparts, the electronic scene in Ireland has yet to see an act force their way into the mainstream. A problem, Gavin says, that is down to the lack of funds and resources available.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to play some gigs abroad in places like Berlin and London but it’s really tough without any sort of structure or pathway above to let us just focus on music and interact with labels we want to interact with.”

“There’s certainly some fantastic artists in Dublin at the moment like I am the Cosmos, Lasertom, Clu, Frank B, Gemma Dunleavy and Forrests for example but it really is a struggle for us as a city and country to export our artists outside of the country.”

“The artists in Dublin have desirable products and there needs to be someone who can help to show the world that.”

Although Irish electronica may be a step behind some of their alternative-rock comrades in gaining mass appeal, it is incredibly difficult to imagine a future without local electronic acts featuring on an international stage.

While the two genres generally, play to different audiences and appeal to different people, as a unit, the Dublin indie music scene is thriving and full of life.

In a brief, almost throwaway comment, Adam tells me “what’s happening in the Dublin scene is so unique and so varied that you’re missing some great things by disregarding it.”




Featured image by White Collar Boy via Facebook

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