Paul McLoone, nails and coffins. A guitar music horror story?

Jake Tiernan from Turnstiles ponders the effect on Irish guitar music as the legendary DJ swaps decks for digital.


Recently, Today FM announced they would be cutting ties with Paul McLoone after 22 years.


Head shot of Paul McLoone

The Undertone turned DJ was a champion of Irish indie music and many have lamented his sacking as a nail in the coffin for the guitar music scene in Ireland. Although his show will be sorely missed, by listeners and hopeful artists alike, I think the reaction is a symptom of a conservative and defeatist guitar music scene. A scene once home to trailblazers, now consists of a worrying number of traditionalists. If it wants to remain relevant and meaningful, it needs to stop playing the victim and look to its more successful contemporaries in the electronic and hip-hop scenes for inspiration.


The likes of Dublin rapper, Kojaque and Galway DJ, Kettama (who was due to support The Chemical Brothers last summer) have built their followings from the ground up to etch out successful careers for themselves in an era where sustaining the creative lifestyle is notoriously difficult. Their approach is modern in the same way punk was modern in 1977. In fact, your average electronic producer, rapper, DJ or bedroom pop artist in 2021 is far more ‘punk’ than Johnny Rotten ever was.


A huge portion of artists in these genres self-produce music and videos on a shoestring budget, market themselves independently on Instagram and Twitter, distribute through sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, all the while retaining complete control over their art and image. This allows them to bypass the traditional avenues such as Hotpress and RTE Radio in Ireland, which seem to cling to relevance only with guitar bands.


An over-reliance on institutions such as these is a dangerous thing, as it creates a culture of passivity. Sure, there was a time when you could record a batch of demos, send them around to radio stations and record labels and hope your lucky break was just around the corner. But, with the rise of the internet and after years of neglect by the mainstream media, a culture of activity developed in the former fringe genres that now dominate the industry.


Both Kojaque and Kettama began producing content with no industry backing before blowing up through word of mouth and algorithm alone and have even gone on to start their own record labels (Soft Boy, G-Town). For them, and countless contemporaries, DIY is a functional ethos. In large parts of the guitar scene, terms like ‘DIY’ and ‘Punk’ seem only to serve aesthetic purposes.


This isn’t to say they abstain from the old institutions (Kojaque’s Town’s Dead is the Hotpress album of the month for June), but there is no sense in either of these scenes that a career in music is in the hands of a magazine editor or a radio DJ. This is true for all music in 2021, and it isn’t celebrated nearly enough. The grip of the industry remains, but it is loosening.


I would like to add that there are obviously plenty of people in the guitar scene who have adapted to the modern landscape. From independent record labels to online radio shows and podcasts, publications and the artists themselves, guitar music is certainly pulling in the right direction, but there are some more intent on pulling backwards. In art, politics and all parts of culture, harking back to the glory days is rarely a sign of health.


Public taste is ever moving, and the days of the members of the biggest guitar bands being household names are long gone. This is an inevitability and a fantastic one at that. But there is no reason that bands can’t flourish on the fringes, like hip-hop and electronic artists did in the 80’s and 90’s. The coffin of guitar music is not without its nails, but it’s time to start questioning who is holding the hammer.


*Paul McLoone is now hosting a weekly playlist on Spotify

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