You can’t help but feel sad, as the wistful synthesisers of “All That Remains Won’t Be the Same” radiate through the ballroom of the Button Factory, at the appropriateness of the opener of Otherkin’s second-last gig as a band. It’s a Friday night in late December, and while the rest of Temple Bar is preoccupied with pre-Christmas pints, the attendees of the Curve St venue are fixated on Otherkin, watching a Dublin band who electrified audiences around the world streak towards the end.
The group was conceived by Luke Reilly, David Anthony and Conor Wynne during a holiday in Toronto, with the trio shortly afterwards meeting Rob Summons on an online forum. Fast-forward to 2015, and attention from record labels began to grow thanks to the release of the immense single “Ay Ay”. At the tail end of their college careers, the band eventually signed to Rubyworks Records
“We were getting offered jobs related to our degrees, but we also got offered the record deal and we just decided to go for it – that was the point where we realised this was a full-time thing”, recalls vocalist Luke Reilly, in the green room of the Button Factory – hours before the band’s final performance in Dublin. “Being in a band is a great thing but it’s also extremely difficult. I don’t want to say it’s not for the faint-hearted, but you really have to be aware of the commitment you’re making before you get into it.”
The members subsequently each took up part-time jobs in order to support their long list of expenses. Such dedication paid off – over the years the band have had annual festival appearances, played support gigs for Guns N’ Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers and earned a coveted spot at number two on the Irish album charts.
The tour doesn’t conclude until the following evening, but Reilly provides the patrons with the closure they deserve: “Tonight’s the real final night”
But all good things have an expiry date, and in August Otherkin announced that they would be disbanding. The quartet, who remain best friends, committed to a farewell tour after seven years together. Reilly says they’re still very close: “If anything, I think we decided to call it before that happened. It’s not a case of anyone fell out or anything like that – if that were the case we wouldn’t be doing the tour.”
With the news of the group’s dissolution came hints of a silver lining. Electric Dream, a six-track mini-album, was released in September. Consisting of concepts that would’ve eventually amounted to the group’s follow up LP, the release was a noticeable departure from the band’s previous work in terms of sound. “We didn’t want to be seen as a one-note band who just played garage rock songs and that’s it”, says Reilly.
The release saw Otherkin adopting a more hazy tone, alongside elements of the grunge aesthetic that defined their sound: “We had a burgeoning interest in electronic music and we had synths lying around that we weren’t using a lot so we thought it would be cool to incorporate this into the new sound.”
In the Button Factory, Otherkin’s devoted masses show love for tracks from all stretches of their musical armoury. Freshly released club banger “On & On” prompts friends and family alike to relinquish any inhibitions in a frenzied mosh. In a stark yet oddly appropriate contrast, the classic live behemoth “Hardcore” finds a saturated Reilly held aloft by half a dozen devotees. As the microphone cable begs for slack amongst the masses of squatting patrons, the only individual upright in the crowd is Reilly himself. Otherkin have always been like this.
Aside from wreaking havoc in some of the city’s classic venues, the band also made an impact on the wider Dublin music scene through SOMA, their monthly club night held in Whelan’s. Borne of a desire to protect and celebrate the Dublin music community that gave birth to Otherkin, SOMA has given a platform to a host of bands as well as hosting artists from the city’s flourishing hip-hop scene.
I know it’s not commercial or radio-friendly – but it’s our best song, and they should be the ones that go out. It shouldn’t be a case of what will do better on radio
“SOMA originated out of house parties that myself and David threw in our old house, the 201”, Reilly tells me. The household in question, in Dublin’s northside suburbs, was the base of operations for the group in their formative years. The famous house parties played host to a variety of Dublin bands still prevalent in the scene today – including Bitch Falcon, Thumper, Paddy Hanna and Wounds. “It was a really great platform for us to put on Irish bands we liked, and also build a bit of a scene if you want to call it that”, says Reilly. Guitarist Wynne then proceeded to move the event to Whelan’s, providing the means for smaller Irish bands to play the recognised gigs that they deserved.
With a discography consisting of various EPs but only one full-length album, you could be forgiven for thinking Otherkin’s departure is premature. But leaving at the top means Otherkin will be remembered for the good times – Reilly says that “we never wanted to be one of those bands that had a period where they exploded for a bit and then that was just it”. In the Button Factory, the main set concludes with the tune that catapulted Otherkin into the stratosphere: “Ay Ay.” The irony of the song – which defined Otherkin’s identity in the early days, is particularly acute. “Surrender art and be dumb, they don’t want you to be clever or curt. Why don’t you heed what they say to you? Become some meat for the radio!”, announces Reilly in a tone that verges on anthemic, as the crowd lose themselves to a tune that paradoxically sees Otherkin at their most radio friendly.
A police siren teases the return of the group for the finale – Reilly later reveals to the crowd that this was their first-ever encore as a band. As the bridge for fan favourite “Love’s A Liability” divides the crowd, the sudden realisation that Otherkin are no more seems to hit. The track suits the nostalgic atmosphere of the venue – it was at this point in the set that the band would invite the crowd onto the stage to join them during their early gigs. The band thank managers, technicians, engineers and the fans for their support. The tour doesn’t conclude until the following evening, in Galway, but Reilly provides the patrons with the closure they deserve: “Tonight’s the real final night.”
When it comes to the future, all four of Otherkin’s members intend to continue pursuing music in one way or another. Reilly, discussing the difference between being in a band and making music solo, says that “when you’re totally responsible for something, it feels like it’s more part of you”. Bassist David Anthony is in the process of opening The Clinic, a recording studio in Clontarf, with Reilly and Anthony both operating the recording and production ends. “It’s just a thing to help Irish bands make great tunes and get them out. If anybody reading wants to, they can give us a shout”, Reilly smiles.
Wynne, whose background in marketing predated his cultivation of SOMA, is involved with MCD Promotions. Wynne also intends to maintain SOMA, and to retain its ethos. “He’s great for new bands coming through and giving them shows”, says Reilly. As for Rob Summons, the band’s drummer and the graphic designer behind the majority of their promotional designs, the future holds more creative endeavours: he’s the creative director for Dublin store Musicmaker.
“So So”, which closes out album OK, creates an obtuse mosh pit in the Button Factory, as Reilly bellows: “I see the division, I see it now.” Otherkin bid their farewell to Dublin with their biggest song to date – 2016’s “Yeah, I Know”. Before the show, Reilly tells me that “in terms of summing up the first album of Otherkin, that’s totally it”, but says it wasn’t always viewed as single material despite its four and a half million Spotify streams. Reilly muses: “I know it’s not commercial or radio-friendly – but it’s our best song, and they should be the ones that go out. It shouldn’t be a case of what will do better on radio.”
The track’s unapologetic, abrasive motif lacerates the Button Factory, and it’s fitting. These days, too many young bands reach their conclusion with a whimper, but in the Button Factory, Otherkin bow out as they came in – with a bang.