Comprised of Radie Peat on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Katie Kim on vocals and piano, John “Spud” Murphy on vocals and bass and Eleanor Myler on vocals and drums, ØXN is the first new act in eighteen years to record for historical Irish traditional music label Claddagh Records.

If Radie Peat and Katie Kim first performed together as a duo in 2018, January 6th 2021 witnessed the first live performance by the four musicians as a quartet. It took place during the COVID lockdown in Dublin and was broadcast as an “audio-visual collaborative streaming event” with striking visuals by Cork-based artist Vicky Langan. It coincided with the traditional Christian feast day known as Epiphany which is referred to in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas or Little Christmas. The date marks the end of the Christmas period and is meant as a celebration of women where roles as reversed at home. The tradition had died out but has somewhat enjoyed a revival in recent years.

What was originally a once-off collaboration focusing on women-centred narratives paved the way for the formation of ØXN as a band. Opening the record and setting the tone, a nine-and-a-half-minute murder ballad “Cruel Mother” metamorphoses from a traditional a-capella song into a doom-laden and spectral goth-rock anthem propelled by a sustained motorik beat. Released on 27 October 2023 last, CYRM is an outstanding début.

ØXN - CYRM (2023)
ØXN – CYRM (2023)

Radie Peat is best known as a singer with Dublin-based four-piece Lankum whose 2023 Mercury Prize-nominated False Lankum has been widely praised by the music press. Lankum’s success has also generated several fascinating side projects, including Ian Lynch’s podcast and subsequent anthology Fire Draw Near or his One Leg One Eye project for the excellent Nyahh Records. The formation of ØXN as a band could also be considered as another Lankum spinoff as both projects share John “Spud” Murphy as producer.

But the genesis of the band probably goes back much further. Since 2009, John Murphy has also been playing bass alongside drummer Ellie Myler with experimental shoegaze and krautrock-influenced three-piece band Percolator. He also first collaborated with Waterford singer songwriter and experimental musician Katie Kim on her 2008 début “Twelve” and produced Katie Kim’s dark, hypnotic and doom-laden 2016 masterpiece Salt. As for the Ox imagery, it probably finds its origins in Katie Kim’s latest 2022 release The Hour of the Ox.

Collectively, ØXN draw from a hugely diverse set of musical and film references, from ambient drone music to experimental rock, independent cinema and horror films, all of which help to steer their unique take on one aspect of the folk repertoire. Every song on CYRM is a murder ballad, either traditional, recently composed or it alludes to a crime.

The murder ballad is a rich sub-genre within the folk tradition which has been mined extensively by the likes of Nick Cave for instance. Over the last few years, Irish folk outfit Lankum, whose name derives from the title of a murder ballad, has been tapping into this rich cultural vein by juxtaposing the thematic doom of the traditional songs with haunting and experimental drone-based arrangements.

While Lankum base their drones on acoustic instrumentation as much as possible (hurdy-gurdy, uillean pipes, strings, accordion and concertina), ØXN don’t hesitate to embrace the sub-bass potential of synthesisers, electric guitar and bass as well as samples to weave a low-pitched and textured tapestry of sound.

Four of the “murder” ballads introduced by ØXN tend to feature female characters or are told from a female perspective. Both “Cruel Mother” and “The Wife of Michael Cleary” feature female characters that become ostracised from society, either because they have illegitimate children or are accused of being a changeling by their husband.

“Cruel Mother” was adapted from an arrangement of the traditional song by American performance artist and musician Andy Fenstermaker aka Andy the Doorbum. The influence of Galway dark folk singer songwriter Maija Sofia cannot be understated either. She originally composed “The Wife of Michael Cleary” and the song featured alongside another cover version of “The Trees They Do Grow High” on her excellent 2019 début Bath Time.

“The Feast” is another original composition by Katie Kim which first appeared on her 2012 release Cover & Flood. Concluding the album, the 12’50’’ long “Farmer in the City” is a daring and sweeping reinterpretation of a Scott Walker song taken from his 1995 avant-garde album “Tilt”. The song evokes the murder of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

The Claddagh Records label was originally founded in 1959 by Garech De Brún and Ivor Browne. From 1962 onwards, Claddagh Records was home to traditional Irish folk band The Chieftains who in their time revolutionised the performance of traditional Irish music. Following on from the groundbreaking work of Ceoltóirí Chualann in the late 1950s, The Chieftains completely rejuvenated the style by transforming what was originally a soloist-based tradition – or group-based in the case of Ceili Bands performing in unison for dancers – into a more sophisticated and arranged act. The Chieftains were of course instrumental in heralding the folk boom of the 1970s which saw the emergence of trailblazing bands like Planxty, De Dannan or The Bothy Band who all approached the tradition with a progressive rock attitude.

In that context, ØXN’s transfiguration of a traditional and contemporary folk repertoire through the prism of doom folk, post punk, drone and noise rock is a consistently radical choice for the reborn record label.