Unfettered Irish dance to a brand new tune

Belfast’s Bicep perform at US festival Coachella.
Belfast’s Bicep perform at US festival Coachella. Photograph: Matt Cowan/Getty Images for Coachella

From Celtic reels to the Cranberries, and Val Doonican to the Pogues, Irish music has long found fame in Britain. Now a new wave of acts from the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland are taking over the British dance scene – this time with electronic music.

The new sounds are rooted in folk music as well as club bangers. Many names will be unfamiliar, such as producer J Colleran from Co Kildare, Dublin’s Seán Mac Erlaine and Galway’s Olan Monk. But there are higher-profile acts, like Bicep of Belfast, who have had millions of streams on YouTube, and Dublin’s Krystal Klear, whose Neutron Dance is of the year’s biggest dance singles.

“The electronic music scene in Ireland is massively having a moment,” says Tiarnan McMorrow, one half of DJ duo Brame & Hamo from Sligo, whose track Roy Keane has been a huge hit this summer. “It’s become a hotspot for producers, DJs and festivals in the past four or five years. Everybody is getting behind it.”

Colleran (the J stands for Jack) says: “Music in Ireland is thriving. Collectives and labels are bringing like-minded people together and they are forming communities to react to what’s going on politically. It’s definitely a very inspiring time.”

Ireland’s increasing liberalism – on same-sex marriage, on abortion and with the election of Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister – is also firing up young people. Isis O’Regan, founder of Room for Rebellion, a sister group of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, says: “Young people are enacting change, and the arts scene is reflecting this. Music is offering a sense of community and escapism.” Dublin-based DJ Cáit Fahey agrees. “There are a lot of exciting things happening in Ireland right now and it’s 100% related to the political climate. Friendships and communities are being built on the dance floor to fight against these issues.”

Others think the energy is partly due to licensing laws. Unlike the 24-hour club cultures in London, Berlin and Amsterdam, many venues are forced to close early. “We have to finish at 2.30am here so there is no time to waste. The night always ends on an absolute high. It is great to have unlimited opening hours, but it is also amazing to leave everyone wanting more,” says McMorrow. The scene is attracting international attention. Spanish dance music empire Elrow will soon expand into the country, and the rise of sell-out festivals, such as Electric Picnic in Stradbally, which took place this weekend, Belfast’s AVA and Forbidden Fruit in Dublin, is making it a touring destination, with local acts benefiting.

“Big breakthroughs DJs, like Denis Sulta and Mall Grab, are purposefully touring Irish cities outside the obvious ones,” says Gabriel Szatan, writer for Red Bull Music Academy.

Olan O’Brien, the owner of All City Records in Dublin, thinks the boom is a result of the local talent pushing through.

“It comes down to collectives like Gash, Room For Rebellion and Club Comfort bringing open-minded platforms and a choice of parties to go to.”

Social media and music-streaming platforms have also helped connect artists and attract new fans. “Since the development of computer software, new music no longer takes years and years to come up and artists don’t have to leave in order to become successful,” says Jon Wozencroft, senior tutor in sound and visual communication at the Royal College of Art. “Irish artists are benefiting from the fact that you don’t need expensive equipment or a record company to disseminate your work, you can do it yourself.”But Will Rolfe, founder of Forbidden Fruit, says the success is ultimately down to the Irish character: “Irish people go pretty full on in every aspect and they do it in a joyful way.”