By Cathal Donovan O’Neill, Julie Landers, Elle Kelleher, Fionn Kelleher
I was only dancing
By Elle Kelleher
I rang in 2020 at a gig in the Kino. Surrounded, not just by my social bubble, but by strangers who would be my best friends by the end of the night, I danced until my clothes were stuck to me with a mix of sweat and drink. As I crushed to the bar and tried to be seen by the bartender in the crowd, the thought never once crossed my mind that billions of all sorts of everything were floating through the air. The only time I worried about bacteria was while queuing for the bathroom. The next morning someone sat next to me on the bus home. This was nothing more than a slight annoyance to my seedy, hungover self that wanted nothing more than to slump into the seat. Even then, I was planning my Christ-like return to the gigs of Cork City. I took everything for granted. We all did.
The day I turned 21, the Taoiseach announced that the schools were set to close. Less than a week later, everything else followed suit. Weeks stretched into months of containment and anxiety as we struggled to get to grips with the virus. I know I wasn’t the only person who found themselves giving a little more credit to 28 Days Later this last year. As the world opened up again, the live music industry remained shut down, seemingly indefinitely. In saying that, it would take an awful lot more than the plague to stop the musicians and promoters of Ireland, and what we’ve seen this year is proof that we have a beautiful and innovative industry worth supporting.
Months later, I finally found myself back at the Kino. Fighting every impulse in my body, I sat and watched Pretty Happy, a band that calls for serious dancing. I waved at familiar faces but I couldn’t leave my pre-booked table to approach. Still, it served as proof that the heart and soul of music in Cork is Covid-proof. I’m looking forward to dancing with you all again.
A soundtrack to relearn home to
By Julie Landers
This year was intense. In just trying to survive, I lost some of the flexibility I once had for listening to new music. I leaned back on a select few comfort listens amidst the chaos. Phoebe Bridgers released Punisher on the same day I started therapy which was serendipitous timing. I’ve had it on repeat for most of this semester. Two Sufjan Stevens albums, both very different and wholly transcendental, were highlights for sure. Taylor Swift’s folklore made me confront my internalised misogyny and embrace the fact that she is a brilliant songwriter.
In terms of Irish music, this year has been phenomenal. There hasn’t been a single CMAT song that I haven’t liked, the woman is a national treasure. The Mary Wallopers’ live-streams kept the morale up during the first lockdown. Deadbog’s self-titled EP was a gorgeous exploratory shoegaze unit. And you cannot talk about Irish music without mentioning the queen Denise Chaila. Seeing her perform in the National Gallery as part of Other Voices was a euphoric experience.
The arrival of Bandcamp Fridays pushed me to explore music that would never have shown up on my Spotify algorithms. Katie Kim’s Charles/VV11 tethered me to somewhere beyond the rainy streets of Cork. She is one of the most intuitive and talented artists I have ever heard.
We’re talking music, so I’ll take creative liberties and wedge in an anecdote. I talked myself into a band. Then, when we started rehearsing (between two lockdowns), I was petrified, acutely aware of how badly I felt I took up space and how shy I was. I asked the brains of the operation, Elle Kelleher, what to do.
I had never done that before in my adult life. Imagine taking up space like that! I was terrified. But, the beat kicked in and the guitars filled the room and beneath it all, I screamed. I followed that scream around my body, flailing as it shook on my bones, tensing as it strummed on my muscles. And for the first time, in a very very long time, I felt totally free. The pressure behind my eyes receded. The rigidity in my shoulders eased. I don’t know if that band still exists, but that freedom cannot be unfelt. The freedom that making music and following sounds allows.
Art has supported us through one of the most difficult periods of our lives
By Fionn Kelleher
When I and the regular contributors to this section were given the task of writing a personal 2020 roundup, I admit my gut reaction was to worry: have I listened to much music released this year? Will I have to write excessive fillers — such as this — to offset my ignorance?
Naturally, I’d like to take this opportunity to plug our own music scene here on the island of Ireland. We must support our own artists whose art has supported us through one of the most difficult periods of our lives. I know we at Byline veer towards not mentioning that global event, but the impact that art has on our lives has been especially realised this year. The calibre of music coming out of our community is something to celebrate and cherish, and I’d like to thank every creative in this country for making our world a better place. If you’re able, don’t forget to support Irish artists on Bandcamp when possible!
Nealo’s latest project, All The Leaves Are Falling, is a must listen. Full of storytelling through rap and singing, groovy beats, and thoughtful collaborations, this is an album that deserves to be listened to intently from start to end. The ever-personable Denise Chaila released Go Bravely earlier this year, with ‘CHAILA’ being an instant hit. If you enjoyed the flare and flow of that single, the entire EP is worth checking out. For more funky tunes you can dance to, TheLastPoetZen’s 2020 release, NoNames, might be up your alley. Cork-based Zen creates music with afrobeat influence, so you might enjoy this record if you’re a fan of R&B and rap — I especially love the percussive elements of this album. In the realm of electronic music, I couldn’t go without mentioning two of my favourite artists, Marcus Woods and Arvo Party, both of whom introduced new LPs into the world this year. Woods’ Self-Portrait is a must-listen for fans of ambient music, and Arvo Party’s Inheritance if you’re into a bit of everything.
I’d like to thank those who’ve read my contributions this year, and I wish you all the best of health in the coming year.
Burying the lede (and the farts)
By Cathal Donovan O’Neill
On January 1st, 2019, my brother and I made our first group playlist. There were three rules:
- You can only add songs you think the other person would like, not only songs you like. 2. You can delete any song you don’t like without needing to explain.
- You don’t get mad at the other person for deleting your favourite song.
It was a fun new way of exchanging music (he went on to attempt to add several songs by The Strokes back; once the playlist got big enough to bury tracks, I started hiding hour-long fart samples to come up on his shuffle), but it was also a way of communicating at a time when I was spending more time in college and he was on the cusp of Leaving Cycle.
Now that we’ve spent about seven of the past nine months at home, we’ve been using it less. I can walk down the stairs if I want to recommend something to him, and I’m just upstairs if he wants to tell me it’s worse than invasive intestinal surgery. Playlist-communication isn’t needed as much right now, but I expect once our mates in Ringaskiddy serve up two vaccine juices on the rocks the D.O.N. playlist will be back in action.
It’s something that I’ve been thinking about over the past year. There’re lots of ways to think about music – cadence as maths, improv as magic – but at its heart it’s about expression of feelings, meanings, stories. Even if you can’t produce it yourself, when you find the pieces that express something in your soul, sharing them with other people can be the most exciting thing in the world.
Mixtapes evolve into playlists, and while the jump to digital has reduced the effort expended by physically recording on tapes or CDs, it’s still exciting to receive a selection of music somebody made just for you. Person-to-person recommendation has become one of the only ways I find new music – that human touch matters more to me now than ever.
If you have a song that means the world to you but nobody to send it to this holiday season, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or DM, I’ll listen to it. I’ll send a song back. Might be fun.
Wear a mask, wash your hands, we’ll talk again in the new year.