Cork woman Angela Dorgan oversees Ireland’s biggest showcase for emerging music acts, writes
AFTER 16 years, the country’s main showcase event for emerging music acts has changed its name. It’s a big move, but probably the right one.
Hard Working Class Heroes has become Ireland Music Week, and for five days next week, 50 acts across numerous genres will strut their stuff for label reps and other industry people, as well as punters. A related conference will address such issues as ‘social media strategy for musicians’ and ‘getting gigs’.
The main driving force behind the event is Cork woman Angela Dorgan. While many of her peers who emerged from Leeside’s rich music scene in the early 1990s have since gone on to ‘proper’ jobs, she is as passionate as ever about promoting young acts.
A career that began as a sidekick to the Sultans of Ping has continued through numerous generations of the music cycle, with literally hundreds of bands availing of the annual showcase, and hundreds more benefitting from the free advice provided by her organisation First Music Contact.
Dorgan — who in her academic life tutored Tánaiste Simon Coveney in first-year sociology at UCC (“He was very smart, very diligent. I liked him a lot.”) got involved in the Dublin-based organisation in 2004.
As a marketplace for artists to show off their wares, it has been a launchpad for the likes of The Coronas, Villagers, Hozier and Rusangano Family. For the 50 acts which are selected — chosen from about 500 who applied following the annual call in May for submissions — it can also lead to showcasing gigs in similar festivals around the world like South by Southwest, Reeperbahn and Primavera Pro. They to get to feed off each other as well.
“It feels to me like Irish music has got better and better because there is a callout, an annual mark to hit,’” says Dorgan. “When you have a music prize or a showcase event, as the opportunities grow, the competition to be part of this ‘Top 50’ each year makes artists up their game.”
One of the hot topics in the music world at the moment is gender balance on festival rosters and other events. Some people clamour for a more-even representation of females; others say gender shouldn’t be a deciding factor.
Ireland Music Week has a 45-to-55% female-to-male ratio this year, and for Dorgan, the issue is more nuanced than the simple Gender v Merit divide.
“From my experience the female and male musicians want to succeed by merit,” says Dorgan. “The most misinformed assertion is that every woman that is in a band does not welcome these kinds of initiatives. The mistaken idea with a gender balance is that merit is ignored, it is not. Our argument is if you are not in the room , your merit can’t be seen. If you’re not in the room, your merit is ignored. These kinds of initiatives put more women in the room.”
She believes on the responsibilities of showcases is to get rid of the assertion from festival bookers that the talent isn’t out there.
“The other role a gender balance achieves like with Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is that if you can see it, you can be it — the more you see something, the more permission you have to get involved in it. Music is no different to other industries. Men are already at the table. Women aren’t so much at the table.”
Some bookers claim there aren’t enough female acts to fulfil a 50-50 gender quota.
“We respond: ‘I think you’ll find when you went to our festival last year, which is Ireland’s key emerging talent festival, there was as many female acts as male acts. It’s starting to prove itself.
“Our Music from Ireland line-up at Airwaves this year is all female. Our line-up from It’s a School Night, as part of Ireland Week in Los Angeles in November, is all female.
“Neither of those was orchestrated. They just came to our festival and they were the best bands they saw, but if we hadn’t made a step to make an equal gender attendance they wouldn’t have seen those acts to book them.”
Running a finger down through this year’s programme confirms a growing trend — the rise in popularity of the guitar band. Dorgan, however, sees it more in terms of a resurgence.
“I don’t think it’s a rise. It’s a return,” she says. “We’ve overseen a 16-year cycle. Music is cyclical. I’ve seen it globally, nationally, locally. When we started [the festival], you had people like The Minutes, Delorentos, Director, really heavy guitar bands as well as loads of singer-songwriters. We had nine genres last year. There’s the same amount this year. It’s just the way music goes.
People are like, ‘Oh, my God. Where did The Fontaines come from?’ Fontaines aren’t a million miles away from where The Sultans were coming from in terms of ‘punkality’.
“It’s not to say the music is the same, but you could draw a direct influence between, say, True Tides and Emperors of Ice Cream – that kind of poppy, indie sound. It’s a real interesting anthropological look if you see what was playing when the guys and girls in bands now were kids. That’s where our music cycles come from.”
I tenuously draw a comparison with fashion. Flared pants, for example, come and go out of fashion.
“Exactly,” says Dorgan. “But at least the thing with music is that you can love it a second time whereas you should never wear flares a second time.”
Sounds of the south: Ones to watch from Munster
Ireland Music Week will feature artists from all over the country, but we asked Angela Dorgan to select a few of her favourites from her native province:
“They hail from Cork, the outskirts of the Andromeda Galaxy. They’re very much tongue in cheek. Brilliant songwriters. Very 1980s influenced. They’re a party band but don’t be fooled by their fun and games — they’re really lovely storytellers, very serious about their music and accomplished musicians.”
“He has really landed into himself as an artist. Simple, beautiful song writing. He’s from Kerry. He sings with his accent — I love people who sing with their accent and who own where they’re from. His musical ability matches his poetry. Like Bob Dylan, he has this old soul on him.”
“Caoilian has a beautiful voice. He’s quite musical — he plays guitar but as often he’d be doing loops and electronic. He’s one of those artists who makes you wanna be in a band — he just looks like he’s having great fun with it.”
“They’re three brothers from Cork. They signed to the same management as James Vincent McMorrow — to Faction Records. They’re indie pop rock. Solid, beautiful harmonies — the kind you can only get with brothers. Coattails-wise, they’re probably in the vein of Kodaline. Already have a huge following. Always pack out their gigs.”
“Meghan is from Belgium. She lives in Cork where she moved to study music at UCC. She has a gorgeous R&B voice. Her voice is what hits you. It belies her age — she’s very young. She has one of those voices that seems to have another voice inside it — it’s really rich.”
- Ireland Music Week will showcase artists in venues across Dublin, Friday, 4 October – Saturday, 5 October. See www.irelandmusicweek.com.