This post was written by Annabel Monkhouse, a Music Industries undergraduate student at BCU who assisted us on our visit to Dublin in June 2013
In June I was sent to Dublin to research music heritage and the music scene in Ireland’s cultural capital. What I found wasn’t entirely what I was expecting.
When I think of Irish music, the first thing that comes to mind is jolly, upbeat, flute heavy music, played by groups of old Irish men in smokey pubs. Although that does exist and is still a large element of Dublin’s music culture (whether or not it has ‘sold out’ to tourism is another argument), it is not just about the traditional scene.
Like any cultural city, Dublin has a thriving live music scene which I was keen to discover more about. The first place we visited on our trip was Tower Records. Initially people were unwilling to chat, until we met Shane. He plays in a few bands around Dublin so knows the scene well and had fairly strong opinions on music and what was going on, just as you’d expect from someone working in the largest record shop in the city.
We ended up speaking to Shane for a good half an hour about his thoughts on music heritage in Dublin and how he felt the live music scene had changed and evolved over the past few years. Initially we asked about the more traditional Irish music and whether young people ever bought any. However, although they stocked it, Tower Records didn’t sell much. They were more of standard independent record shop, so we moved onto the current music scene.
After U2 and Thin Lizzy, I, and possibly many other people would struggle to name any other successful bands from Dublin. We spoke to Shane about this and he mentioned the live music venues in the city and their recent change in hands. He told us about the venues changing the way they run, and now instead of paying a band to play, the band has to pay the venue. According to Shane, this is putting the local bands off playing the city and instead they are heading to towns such as Limerick. He felt this could be discouraging to local musicians.
After searching for the hidden record shops and trying to track down people we had been told knew ‘everything’ about music we found the more traditional Irish music shops. Sadly a couple of these were fairly empty when we visited, however the owners assured us many people who were either keen to learn more about their heritage, or fans of the traditional music often came into the store. One traditional Irish music store, Celtic Note, on Nassau Street had the feel of an HMV for example, because of its chart section, posters on the wall and the organised racks lining the shop walls. I found this interesting because it wasn’t going out of it’s way to push the fact that they sold ‘traditional Irish music’; it was just a normal record store and people were buying the records, proving that there is still an audience who are interested in this particular aspect of the Dublin and Irish music scene.
We then headed over to an independent record shop set up in a cafe, running alongside a vintage clothing shop. Elastic Witch is run by Gibb Cassidy, who also DJ’s around Dublin. He also spoke to us about the music scene in Dublin but completely disagreed with what Shane had said. Gibb felt that the live scene was still going strong and that many artists were trying new and interesting things in terms of their music. Gibb told us that he tries to encourage bands from Dublin, and will always stock their records in his shop. When we mentioned the traditional side, and keeping the heritage alive, Gibb started reeling off names of artists who use the older, more traditional instruments when making their music. For example an artist called Daithi O’Dronai who plays an electric fiddle and uses recordings of traditional irish instruments and songs, looping them to make more modern sounding music. I found this very interesting because although sampling old songs is incredibly common in popular music now, it’s rare to hear a track that actually samples traditional music. Here is a video of Daithi O’Dronai. The sound quality is poor but it nevertheless demonstrates what he does
I think this is the most exciting element of traditional music. How it is being interpreted, remade and re modeled to appeal to a completely new audience. The tradition is being kept alive in a much more interesting way than old men playing in pubs to tourists.
The Dublin I saw in my brief time there seemed to be fairly tourist focused, especially around Temple Bar. To me it felt like the more traditional scene was surviving on tourism. The gigs during the day in the local pubs were filled with Americans and the odd English man, and when we asked about instruments in a music shop, we were informed their main clientele were American. However, this is based on my very brief, personal experience.
Music is clearly an important aspect to Dublin’s cultural heart, clearly demonstrated by the wall of fame, the statue of Phil Lynott, the numerous record stores and streets lined with buskers.
Here are the video interviews we conducted with those we met.