NI Acts for 2016

Chris Jones sets his sights on the emerging names, established favourites and returning heroes expected to make the most noise in the year to come

There's no question as to the identity of Northern Ireland's breakthrough artist of 2015. Derry teenager SOAK made good on her enormous potential – not to mention the weight of expectation that has followed her around since she was 14 – by releasing her debut album on legendary London label Rough Trade, touring far and wide, and being rewarded with a Mercury Prize nomination and a Northern Ireland Music Prize victory. Nice work, Bridie.

As for 2016, it's not quite so straightforward. We may not have the dead certs that SOAK always seemed to be, but there's potential in spades, and the odd returning hero…

Pleasure Beach

Next year's biggest hopes have been around longer than you think – Pleasure Beach is the latest incarnation of the band formerly known as Yes Cadets and, before that, The Elliots. This time they seem a strong bet for success with songs like Go and a big-hearted, anthemic sound that pitches the band somewhere between The National and Arcade Fire.

Robocobra Quartet

Fusing jazz, hip-hop, beat poetry and the spirit of hardcore punk, Robocobra Quartet have been a serious live draw around Belfast for the last couple of years. In 2015 they began to venture further afield with dates across the water. They're too weird to be massive, but a definitive artistic statement is still to come. Maybe we'll hear it in 2016.

Two Door Cinema Club

Things have been quiet on the Two Door front for over two years now – despite Alex Trimble saying at one point that their third album would be out by early 2015. It looks like 2016 will be the year, and given that they are now signed to Parlophone (home of Coldplay and Blur) you can expect the new record to make a lot of noise when it arrives.

Chris Hanna

Belfast-based electronic producer Chris Hanna seems to stand at a crossroads. His short-lived downtempo project, Unknown/UNKNWN/OneKnown has apparently come to an end, with Hanna returning to his house and techno roots via releases on Ejeca's label Exploris and Timmy Stewart and John McIver's label Extended Play. Whether 2016 brings atmospheric electronics or club bangers, his reputation is only likely to grow.

exmagician

Cashier No.9, we hardly knew ye. The Carryduff quartet quietly called it a day a couple of years after receiving plaudits from home and abroad for their 2011 album To The Death Of Fun. But now songwriters Danny Todd and James Smith are back with a new name and a new vehicle. Their psychedelic, groove-heavy indie rock sound remains, but this time with a grittier, darker bent.

Jessica Doherty

Young Derry singer-songwriter Doherty enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2015, her music having taken her to Los Angeles and put her on stages alongside the likes of SOAK, PORTS, Ciaran Lavery and Booka Brass Band. Her delicately beautiful single 'Wolves', released during the summer, served notice of her promise. Expect much more to come in 2016.

Jealous of the Birds

This time last year, Portadown teenager Naomi Hamilton was unknown to all but friends and family. Then in March she released a home-recorded EP of rare quality and charm and sent the NI music fraternity scrambling to find out more about her. She's been performing with ever-greater confidence and we hear she's been recording in a studio too – let's hope the intimacy and character of her music remains, because it's very special.

Ciaran Lavery

In 2015, singer-songwriter Ciaran Lavery put his solo career on the backburner as he focused on Sea Legs, his beautiful, ethereal collaborative album with electronic producer Ryan Vail. However, he finished the year with a solo show at Belfast's The MAC theatre, and 2016 looks like being the year where he makes his own indelible mark. Recently signed to 'a large indie label' (your guess is as good as ours), the second solo album from Lurgan's answer to Damien Rice is out in May.

Katharine Philippa

2015 was a relatively quiet year for the prodigiously talented singer, songwriter, musician and producer. But she did seem to choose her performances well, selling out a Belfast show for the first time and playing in Dublin and Cork to boot.

Philippa finished the year by releasing a fine collaborative single with Edward Butler, but even without that she would merit inclusion on this list. She is a marvel – genuinely one of the biggest talents we have – so maybe 2016 will see that talent reach full flower.

Malojian

It was only in May that Stevie Scullion aka Malojian released his lovely, bucolic second album Southlands. But he's not a man to take it easy if he can help it, and in February he's heading to Chicago to record his next album with none other than Steve Albini. The former Nirvana and Pixies producer (sorry, 'recording engineer') is famous for his old school approach and fastidious attention to detail, so combined with Malojian's songs the results should be essential listening.

Sea Pinks

Also unlikely to ever rest on his laurels, Neil Brogan has just released his fifth Sea Pinks album in a little over six years – his second since recruiting a permanent band and making use of a proper studio. By now, fans will know what to expect – bittersweet indie-pop par excellence, gloriously unbeholden to the whims of fashion and getting better all the time. This time round, even the London critics are taking note…

A Bad Cavalier

Back in 2011, former Panama Kings frontman Niall Kennedy was all set to launch a new vehicle for his songs. But then he was invited to join And So I Watch You From Afar as their new guitarist, and so the last four years have been a whirlwhind of touring. In 2015 he finally put a band together, played some gigs and released a couple of tunes – much to the delight of PKs fans. Look out for more in 2016 – ASIWYFA commitments permitting.

Autumns

For my money, Derry post-punkers Autumns were one of the live acts of 2015 – they channel Joy Division, the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Birthday Party with a viscerally powerful live show that is impossible to look away from.

That's partly down to the wiry presence of frontman Christian Donaghey and partly down to the gleeful joy with which they make an unholy, pitch-black racket. It's been a drip-drip of single and EP releases so far, so keep your ear to the ground.

Goons

Comprising members of the much-heralded but now defunct alt. rock bands Fighting With Wire and LaFaro, Goons are a band with pedigree. Their debut Belfast gig was well-attended and very promising, but that was almost a year ago and little has been heard from the band since. We understand that they plan to record an album before the summer and, with that, presumably there will be gigs too.