Other Voices has been expanding horizons on the Dingle peninsula

Other Voices celebrated the current richness of the Irish music scene, writes Joe Leogue
Other Voices has been expanding horizons on the Dingle peninsula

No longer a TV show

FIFTEEN years ago Other Voices hit our screens with the tagline ‘songs from a room’, a slogan long abandoned as a festival sprouted up around a late night music TV show.

The ‘room’ in question — St James’ Church — remains the centrepiece, and as Other Voices’ popularity has grown, so has the demand for the tiny supply of tickets for the headline shows.

However, Other Voices is now a fully fledged festival in its own right, and fills rooms and yards around Dingle. Dozens of free gigs, open to all, are hosted daily, the steady supply of live acts coming to a halt only to allow televisions across the town to stream the performances from St James’.

Other rooms are also being filled like never before — hotels and B&Bs are selling out earlier year on year as the Other Voices crowd swells from the industry insiders and curious fanatics who attended its early incarnations to this year’s attendees who come in their hundreds in the expectation of taking in a weekend of live music.

Other Voices may have been a TV show once, but has evolved to the point that its origin is now a small by-product of what it has become.

Girl Band stake their claim

The floor crew in St James’ Church handed out chocolates from a box of Roses prior to Imelda May and Lisa Hannigan’s sets on Saturday night. Before Girl Band took the stage, they dispensed earplugs.

It is an astonishing performance that confirms the group’s status as the most visceral live act in Ireland.

Howling throughout, Dara Kiely swings from the mic stand as if he’s hanging onto it for dear life, only to then launch himself forward to throttle it within the same verse, tugging at his shirt all the while as if to drag every last ounce of himself onto the stage for the world to see.

It is loud, it is uncompromising, it is chaotic, it is utterly compelling.

Plenty of Other Voices

This year’s event didn’t have the bigger international names of previous events, but more than ever before, this feels like a festival that celebrates not just the quality emerging on the Irish music scene, but also its diversity. The carefully curated lineup caters for every taste without ever hitting a bum note.

Irish indie doyens such as Windings play a fine set in the afternoon, then watch on as the likes of the impressive Thumper stake their credible claim for our attention and further consideration, while the arresting rap of Rusangano Family and Reijje Snow share the billing with the hypnotising trad of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Cormac Begly.

It’s an impressive showcase of the depth of musical quality emerging from Ireland right now, without ever feeling tokenistic.

Watch and learn

Dingle is an inimitable location, and the Other Voices brand has been carefully cultivated over time to create a unique goodwill among its patrons — and yet it leaves a blueprint there for enterprising communities to follow.

A church, a school, a courthouse, pubs — Other Voices has shown how everyday spaces can be exploited to host an event that is a national draw.

The greatest barrier to replicating this festival’s success is a lack of effort, imagination, and cooperation. With the right combination, any town in Ireland has the potential to do its own Other Voices — let’s hope that this is realised sooner rather than later, and that Dingle’s success inspires those with influence to open spaces that will allow creatives to produce more quality urban arts festivals.

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