On Thursday 24th of May 2012, a little-known yet extremely buzzy band with an unusual name took to the stage at Dublin’s Academy 2, the smaller basement venue at Middle Abbey Street’s Academy.
Alt-J’s debut album An Awesome Wave wasn’t released for another four days, yet a sizable crowd were in attendance, inspired by the potential of debut single ‘Breezeblocks’, which had received copious airplay on the late Phantom 105.2.
Fast forward five-and-a-half years to October 6th 2017, arguably the most-buzzy new band in the UK this year HMLTD take to the stage at Dublin’s Workman’s Club to a sparse crowd of no more than 40/50 people.
This is a band that is selling out shows across the UK, and has played sold-out shows in France, Germany, the Netherlands and even Russia as well as earning rave reviews at festivals throughout the summer. Hotpress deputy editor Stuart Clark labelled them the highlight of this year’s Electric Picnic saying that in years to come those in attendance will “remember this moment”.
So why, less than a month after this seemingly eye-opening slot at Electric Picnic, did so few music fans show up at the Workman’s Club earlier this month? Has the death of Phantom/TXFM on Irish airwaves led to a dearth of outlets for new music in the country?
34-year-old music fan Al Fagan was at the Workman’s Club show having stumbled across HMLTD’s show in Stradbally. He said that the lack of an album may have played a role in why HMLTD haven’t yet made waves in Ireland, however, as mentioned above, that didn’t affect Alt-J.
Al, who grabbed the setlist from the Workman’s show as “they’ll never play to such a small crowd again”, says he’s not much of a radio listener but that his 28-year-old brother Kev, who was at the show with him, discovered most of his music through Phantom/TXFM.
“Yes I think that’s a real possibility,” said Kev when asked if he thinks he’d have known about HMLTD prior to his brother’s recommendation had Phantom/TXFM still been on the air. “In the past I would have discovered many Irish and overseas bands from Phantom/TXFM alone. Nowadays, bar Tom Dunne’s show on Newstalk and a couple of snippets on Today FM, you don’t hear anywhere near enough alternative/rock played on the airwaves,” he added.
Mathilde, a 19-year-old French student living in Dublin, discovered HMLTD through French music publication ‘Les Inrockuptibles’ back in May. She jumped at the chance to see the South Londoners in the flesh in Dublin, having missed a Paris show earlier in the year but wasn’t surprised by the low attendance.
“I didn’t see that many posters promoting the concert in Dublin. The group is still pretty new and you need to be very open minded to listen to them. Nowadays people tend to prefer less guitars and more software-made backing tracks,” she said.
Mathilde doesn’t feel that radio is the best way to discover new music nowadays, given the prominence of Spotify and other streaming websites, however, she did say that “alternative music definitely needs more recognition and could use a radio station”.
Is it time that a new alternative music radio station stepped into the void left by the silencing of 105.2? 8Radio, founded in 2012 by Simon Maher, the same man who began Phantom way back when, is doing a stellar job in promoting new alternative music, but it has been restricted to a mostly-online presence with sporadic weekends on the airwaves.
While an online alternative radio station is a step in the right direction, the surge in popularity of streaming apps such as Spotify and Apple Music, giving music fans total control of their listening habits, means radio is mostly listened to the old-fashioned way – in the car or at work – where internet radio stations are less accessible than those on FM.
So where can Irish music fans find new alternative music on the airwaves at the moment? Host of Today FM’s ‘Songs of Praise’ Ed Smith is adamant that Irish radio is “not quite the new musical wasteland some would believe”, pointing to Paul McLoone, Kelly-Anne Byrne and Louise Duffy as just some of the DJs leading the charge. However, Smith admitted that these shows are not on at prime times and hoped listeners would use the “listen back” features instead, which isn’t ideal.
“Ireland has excellent taste. Best in the world in my opinion, so what’s for them won’t pass them by,” Smith defiantly added.
Others, however, were less enthusiastic about what FM has to offer in Ireland. Seán Noone, David Dooley and Clare O’Hanlon, all music journalists at Irish music website GoldenPlec, admitted that, despite radio being their primary source of new music for most of their lives, nowhere provides the coverage that Phantom and its successor TXFM did.
When asked if 105.2 was his primary source of new music, Seán said: “Yeah, in the first and last few years of it. In the middle, when my interest was at its peak, I’d generally find them myself elsewhere.”
David said that he has “actually given up on music radio since TX wrapped up”, while freelance music journalist Ciara Sheahan said that she finds “nothing at all on FM. I’ve given up. Aside from some decent new stuff on 98FM’s Totally Irish, FM in Ireland is abysmal.”
A year to the day since TXFM went silent and even the music journalists in Ireland are now struggling to find new music. A viable alternative is needed or music fans in Ireland will suffer, but more importantly, Irish music will suffer.