2015 had some exciting moments for Northern Irish acts. Derry’s SOAK released her debut album, toured the world and picked up the Northern Ireland Music Prize. A number of bands toured around the UK, while R51 found themselves in Reading and Leeds on the BBC Introducing stage and Hot Cops made their way to Norwich for Radio 1’s Big Weekend. We asked some of our staff who they’re tipping for success in the coming year.
Such is the way of the Northern Irish music scene that any time members of a previously successful band start up a new project they’re bound to get instant attention. This certainly seems to be the case with ex-Cashier No. 9 members Danny Todd and James Smith. Thankfully one listen to their debut release only serves to justify the interest they’ve garnered so far. The fact that the band are already on London label Bella Union is in no small part down to their polished, layered sound.
Take ‘Place Your Bets’ as an example. The track is as smooth as it gets on vocals and guitars with an undercurrent of psychedelia. Other tracks released so far point to a band who have already nailed their sound. The band are set to release their debut album Scan The Blue in March. For a band that launched just last year, that this album is already so hotly anticipated is a testament to the music they’re making. exmagician have everything in place for a big, big 2016.
Back in October 2013 I witnessed one of the most well known Irish artists of recent times play an intimate show in the confines of the Limelight 2. That artist was Hozier yet he wasn’t there to headline he was there to support Derry’s rising stars Little Bear who seemed destined for huge things no matter who you spoke to.
Fast forward to 2016 and the landscape is quite different. Hozier is now a million record selling, Grammy nominated artist while Little Bear disappeared off the scene. The Derry four piece changed their name to PORTS and locked themselves away in a studio to record their debut record.
The first song to break from the sessions was ‘Gameplay’, a dreamy introspective affair that suggests they have found a way to improve their already impressive emotionally spirited sounds. ‘The Devil Is A Songbird’ is a release that you should have marked in your calendar and with any luck will finally propel one of the finest bands in our small province to Hozier like success this year.
► Making Monsters
Making Monsters were a band to watch in 2015 and they didn’t disappoint. Touring up and down the entire country and delivering relentless, high energy shows night after night, as well as a UK tour with Fightstar, mean that they’re also a band to watch for 2016. Dynamic vocalist Emma fronts the band, her versatile voice capable of going from sweet to snarl in a heartbeat, combined with the intricate, heavy riffs of guitarist Paul, and battering ram rhythm section of bassist Gary and drummer Brian—Making Monsters are capable of combining catchy melodies with crushingly heavy riffs. They are a breath of fresh air in the metal scene. With single “Noodle Sync” released last year providing a preview of what to expect music-wise from the Derry four-piece, and more live shows sure to be announced, expect Making Monsters to make more noise on a local and national level in 2016.
► brand new friend
North Coast’s lo-fi indie pop group brand new friend is an exciting new artist worth keeping an eye on. One of the more successful groups to form within the last year, the sibling duo Taylor and Lauren have cast a crucial role for the young music scene in Belfast. While quickly gaining attention through demos, they were featured in the Chordblossom Christmas show and supported English singer/songwriter Joe McCorriston at McHugh’s Bar. The pending release of their debut single ‘I Was An Astronaut’ is highly anticipated given their immeasurably quick success on the basis of simple yet impressive demos such as ‘You Make Me Wanna Grow Up’, one of their newest demos which features a tribute to the late David Bowie. This lo-fi indie pop group have already developed a unique sound from pop punk influences whilst simultaneously pulling on the strings of acoustic and lo-fi to create an addictive sound. Due to their quick rise in a matter of months and their upcoming plans for recording and gigging I believe this band will experience exponential success, much greater than they have already seen.
Every now and again over the years an album comes from nowhere and knocks me on my ass and reminds me there is good music out there of all types (and volumes). So, that an album I listened to last year did exactly that was no great surprise but that it was from a local band, while not totally a shock, was certainly a source of immense satisfaction.
The album in question was ‘This is a Raid’ by Armagh’s HOW and, all these months later it is still an album that I return to regularly. There’s nothing too cerebral about it; it is not music to ponder on. Maybe that is why I find it so refreshing to pop it on every now an again. It’s an album that hits the pleasure centre with immediacy and leaves a warm glow.
I don’t know the band’s plans for 2016 to know whether my faith in their continued upward momentum is justified, but if I were in charge of the band I’d be wringing every last drop of promotion out of the album. There’s nothing wrong with the tracks they have singled out for promotion to date, but for me the 3 big songs off the album – the irrepressible ‘Suzie’, the wistfully infectious ‘Coney Island’ and the beautifully haunting ‘Fall In Love’ are begging to be on local radio at the very least, and from there?
Make it so boys.
► Alpha Twin
If 2015 was any indication of things to come, then 2016 should prove to be truly impress for up-and-comers Alpha Twin. A seemingly endless amount of gigs from all over has served to baptise the young band in the dark arts of gigging (A.K.A playing in obscure bars with questionable patrons) minus the usual requirement of a blood sacrifice (see Led Zep). The new year promises exciting and enthralling new challenges as they continue their passionate mini-tour, which includes several upcoming gigs in established boozers around the Belfast area (most notably Voodoo on the 21st of January), while promises of new recording sessions this coming spring have fans salivating at the prospect of new original tunes hitting the airwaves. Singer-and-guitarist Tomas Fisher, bassist Eoin Bannon and drummer Andrew Mullan continue to gain experience and improve their live sets and technical skills, providing rip-roaring live shows that threaten to break the souls of lesser men, while their heavy and daring recording style keep eager listeners hungry for more.