What does Irish music sound like? We’re not talking about the current musical landscape or specific Irish musicians; what makes music sound Irish?
Ireland arguably has no long-standing and all encompassing musical tradition other than trad. We’ve got our own small scene; traditional (and untraditional) folk like Villagers, Lisa Hannigan, and Glen Hansard. We’ve got the DIY and electronic haven of Le Galaxie, Fight Like Apes (now defunct), Two Door Cinema Club, Jape, All Tvvins, and Róisín Murphy, the closest thing we have to an Irish musical gay icon.
“Ireland arguably has no long-standing and all encompassing musical tradition other than trad”
Indie instrumental bands like And So I Watch You From Afar, God Is An Astronaut, Overhead, and the Albatross continue to rip holes in every speaker they’re played on. And then there’s Hozier, who stands on his own really. Irish hip hop and R&B / pop hybrids are in the healthiest place, and the fast-developing scene includes Soulé, Costello, JYellowL, Kojaque, Rejjie Snow, Tebi Rex, Jambo, Invader Slim, and countless others repping.
Now, at this present moment in the twilight of 2018, we have a distinct and established subset of Irish indie; Picture This, Kodaline, The Script, Walking On Cars, sad lads with guitars and That Voice who soundtrack Discover Ireland ads and every damn time you walk down Grafton Street. This, friends, is mooju core.
“sad lads with guitars and That Voice who soundtrack Discover Ireland ads and every damn time you walk down Grafton Street”
The etymology of the term is easy to trace. In 2017, someone tweeted that this faction of Irish indie should be called “mooju core”, but why is this? Well, “mooju core” is presumably meant as a derogatory side-eye directed at the lads and gals who only wear their county colours, post Snapchat stories saying “reunited with this one”. The type also branded as “locals” or “bare minimum Twitter” in other circles. It’s terrible but also kind of hilarious in its accuracy.
Mooju core as a sub-genre arguably began with that most popular of Irish bands, The Coronas. Around since the early 2000s, the Coronas have been releasing tunes that are in turn catchy and melancholy, tunes like “Heroes or Ghosts” and “San Diego Song” which have stayed in heavy rotation since release due to their obvious yet satisfying pleasures. Unfeasibly popular duo, Picture This are very obviously descended from the Coronas, with their more annoying sub-Danny O’Reilly frog-throated warble and stabs at universal emotional connection via asinine lyrics like “I don’t really know what you want / But I hope it’s me / Am I right, or am I wrong?” They’re definitely the nadir of this wave, trading the satisfying pop pay-offs of bands like the Coronas and Delorentos for… well, nothing. The thrills aren’t even cheap; they’re non-existent in poorly-constructed pastiches of “whoa-oh” mid-2000s indie, which wasn’t good enough to pastiche in the first place.
Kodaline aren’t much better. Their first album was safe yet charming soft-rock anyone would feel comfortable bellowing in a stadium and whenever “Brand New Day” plays on Gogglebox. Their sound flatlined with their sophomore effort while their lyrics got surprisingly bitter in an Ed Sheeran “I’m a nice guy, but…” kind of way, and let’s pretend that their newly-released third album didn’t happen.
The Script could have avoided the “mooju core” label, if they’d stayed on the promising path they set out for themselves. They began as a fairly down-on-the-ground affair with cheesy yet undeniable singalong epics like “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” and “Breakeven” still ubiquitous to this day, bringing a hip hop element to the tried-and-tested U2 mould when hip hop didn’t really factor into Irish music listening. They mostly devolved from there, with Will.i.am features and Danny O’Donoghue’s tenure on the Voice UK cementing him as a Topman Bono, and will currently dip their toes into the shallow end of any genre that proves profitable, the logical endpoint of which is the unholy chimera Freedom Child. This seems to be what happens when Irish bands very obviously aim for the stars (read: the States) without the range to root their sound in anything but the usual touchstones of U2 and Coldplay.
“This seems to be what happens when Irish bands very obviously aim for the stars (read: the States) without the range to root their sound in anything but the usual touchstones of U2 and Coldplay.”
Hudson Taylor are too good-natured and “salt-of-the-earth” to fit the label of mooju core, as is the beige but charming Gavin James. Really, Mooju core is low-effort, lowest common denominator stuff, based on further diluting Coldplay’s diluted U2 stylings with little to no actual song-craft and annoying vocal affectations that female indie musicians get ripped to shreds for doing. They may rule RTÉ 2fm and play the New Year’s Eve festival for years to come, but it’s worth imagining a day when something more interesting comes along to define popular Irish music and proudly represent our depth and diversity of talent on the world stage. Please may it happen soon; this milk is losing its flavour.