The Freedom of Finality
Last August, Otherkin’s cult following were hit with devastating news. In a statement released on Twitter, the Dublin band announced that they would be calling it a day after seven years together. Their tightly woven brand of pop punk, displayed on their EPs 201 (2015) and The New Vice (2016), led to a cult following in Ireland, and the recording of their only full-length album, OK (2017). They amassed over six million Spotify streams, the bulk belonging to ‘Yeah, I Know’, and found themselves supporting Guns ’n’ Roses at Slane Castle in 2017. From the outside looking in, Otherkin were a band experiencing some of the highest highs imaginable. Unfortunately, this isn’t always enough. The statement in August read:
… life in a band these days is one of extreme highs and extreme lows; there’s the elation after an amazing gig to the pressure of mounting bills, the pride of releasing music you’ve laboured over for months to the deflation of struggling ticket sales… a band needs a lot of fuel in its tank to get through it … the day arrived where our fuel ran out.
Shortly afterwards, the band announced a final EP, Electric Dream, and a farewell tour of Ireland, including a massive penultimate show in Dublin’s Button Factory and finishing in Galway at the Róisín Dubh, which I attended.
On the night, it was the music from Electric Dream that caught my attention the most. The opener, ‘All That Remains Won’t Be the Same’, revolves around a synth-hook so extravagant that Journey would be ashamed but it works. As does ‘Would You Die for Me?’ above a seductive Dr Dre-inspired piano roll. ‘On & On’ featured a colossal distorted disco performance from the rhythm section of Rob Summons and David Anthony. All three tracks are clearly informed by the freedom of their finality. In a different context, they could come off as corny or derivative. Instead, I hear a band having fun, making the music they want to make, feeling no pressure from the industry they’re leaving behind. It was the Otherkin classics that had the crowd in their most raucous form though. The thrashing energy of ‘Come on, Hello’, ‘Ay Ay’ and ‘Treat me so Bad’ saw limbs tangled on the dance floor, while orchestrated carnage accompanied ‘Bad Advice’ and ‘So So’. These tracks, which all featured on the band’s debut, flow into each other during the set. Guitar tones rarely waver. Neither does the energy – unless it’s dropping for a tension-building breakdown before erupting into a power chord from Conor Andrew Wynne above crashing cymbals. At times the song structure is predictable, but this serves as a chaos compass for the crowd.
In their relatively short existence, Otherkin’s line-up never changed, and this is evident in their musical chemistry. They never appear dispassionate, or take the fans who’ve been with them on this journey for granted.
I had wondered why the band chose to have their final show in Galway, as opposed to their base in Dublin, but it soon became clear. Videos and pictures from the previous night’s Button Factory gig indicated it was an emotional farewell. Galway, however, was the after-party. The pressure was off, the band were fed whiskey passed through the hands of the crowd, and they drank and smiled their way through the whole set. Frontman Luke Reilly spent as much time in and on the crowd as he did on stage. He was in total control, ensuring they were always out of control. Every member of the band left everything they had on stage.
This was my first time seeing the synth-rock four-piece perform, so I haven’t been a part of the Otherkin tribe, but the response I’ve seen to their disbandment in recent months has been remarkable. Instagram posts of friends at gigs throughout the years, of Otherkin tattoos, and stories of travels across Europe to catch the band one last time. In the Róisín, I saw friends and strangers embrace, mount each other’s shoulders and sing lyrics that mattered back at a band that mattered to them. The set finished with musicians and crowd as one, chaotically intertwined on stage. As I watched the crowd belt out the lyrics to ‘Yeah, I Know’ one last time, I realised that while Otherkin may not have achieved longevity in the music industry, they did achieve something that countless financially successful bands can only dream of: They meant something to people.
This is the eleventh review published as part of the Journal of Music/Galway City and County Music Writer Mentoring Scheme 2019 and is supported by Galway City Council and Galway County Council Arts Offices. Over the course of a year the editorial team of the Journal of Music are working with six new writers – Rachel Deckard, Massimo Cattaneo, Jake Tiernan and Kerri Haberlin (Galway City), and James Fleming and Tara Broderick (County Galway) – and publishing their reviews of music in Galway.
Read more about our previous Music Writer Mentoring Schemes here.
Published on 16 January 2020
Jake Tiernan is bass-player with the band Turnstiles and writes a blog at https://waxlyrical667328945.wordpress.com. He was a participant in the Journal of Music/Galway City and County Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme in 2019.