Between 2002 and 2009 a band unknown in most circles blistered through the Irish underground scene with riotous gigs and a number of punk-pop stand-outs like “Silence in Conversation” (81,000 hits on YouTube) and “Taken Away in a Car.”
Over the decades, quality Irish punk tunes have included The Undertones’ pop-punk classic “Teenage Kicks”, SLF’s less-than-stiff “Alternative Ulster”, and The Sultans of Ping’s “Where’s Me Jumper”; each remarkable in their own right. But for my money, Sickboy’s “The A-Tune” is Ireland’s greatest ever punk song. 2016 is the ten year anniversary of the track’s arrival on the scene (listen and watch below).
During that era, Sickboy – from Dublin’s North Side – toured the US & Europe, played a heap of festivals, including SXSW in Austin, Texas, and supported a variety of alternative legends, like The Coral and Gang of Four. The band inspired countless others, such as current Dublin-based noise behemoths Girl Band, who attended Sickboy gigs in their teens. And later, out of the ashes of Sickboy, came Dublin alternative acts Crimes Against and Ghost Estates.
It’s hard to point out what’s so exactly great about “The A-Tune”; whether it’s the intro’s distorted riff, the perfect breakdown, the screaming guitars, or that the vocals are precisely overwhelmed with noise. Maybe it’s that the sound of the song’s snare drum is a perfect explosion, or that the vocal harmony at its end makes you wish it wouldn’t. It’s the sum of its parts.
The track, produced by Marc Carolan (sound engineer with Muse), was the selected Six Nations Rugby theme song of 2008, regularly playing on Ireland’s RTE TV stations. In that same year “The A-Tune” featured as Phantom FM’s (precursor to TXFM) most requested song. Canada’s Mixtape magazine claimed Sickboy “the saviours of modern rock”.
Not that any of that matters: an analysis of accolades is boring. What matters is how the track sounds, and – like everything else – how it makes you feel. Its heavy energy captures the spirit of what it means to be young and angry, and is an essential experience.
Conor Purcell is the editor of Wide Orbits.