Hate to admit it, but Irish dancers are inevitably bored by the same traditional dance tunes, and it turns out feis musicians are, too.
Anthony Davis and Liam O'Sullivan -- better known as musical duo Anton & Sully -- provide the perfect antidote to musical monotony. Known for jazzing up slip jigs and infusing whimsical romance into heavy jigs, the two musicians aim to create a sound that gets step dancers pumped up and performing energetically -- oh, and it's fun for them, too!
Anton & Sully released two popular Irish dance CDs, "The Feis Album" and "The Feis Album, Volume II," along with side project "The Bootleg," an album they recorded with fellow musician Steve Byrnes (together, they form trad group Kayna). The duo also plays at major dance competitions, so they know exactly what gets a dancer jumping high and feeling the beat, and they also understand what uplifts the audience.
"There's a position during a feis, normally after a really long set of hornpipes or heavy jigs, when the whole room is yearning for something different, something with a little more energy," O'Sullivan, an accordion player, said of his experience playing at competitions. "A feis musician can really change the mood of the whole hall."
"Playing the same tune over and over again, I get bored and impatient," said Davis, a piano player who avoids such an occurrence by maintaining a fresh repertoire of tunes to keep things exciting.
That's important for engaging the dancers on stage, too, O'Sullivan said. He and Davis pay close attention to a dancer's style, explaining that there's a collaboration between dancer and musician during competitions.
"The relationship between the musician and dancer is so linear," he said. "Especially during a slow hornpipe."
This skill -- the ability to adapt music to the dancer's energy -- is one that Davis and O'Sullivan have developed and translated impeccably to "The Feis Album" and its follow-up CD.
Davis said that infusing different genres is key to creating music that is identifiable and enjoyable for any audience.
"I just try to adapt Irish music into something that everybody will like, because traditional isn't everyone's cup of tea," Davis said. "We are trying at the moment to keep Irish dancing as hip-hop as possible but still having that traditional vibe."
Besides hip-hop, Anton & Sully's albums reflect loads of unexpected musical influences -- everything from Jamiroquai to House of Pain to Calvin Harris. Those particular influences are more obvious in the presentation tracks produced by the duo. These are the songs played before results are announced at major competitions.
O'Sullivan admitted to channeling his own emotions for music-making inspiration.
"If I ever feel very agitated, sometimes it just comes out," O'Sullivan confided, adding that he's been known to produce a "very sad, miserable heavy jig" or two.
If you're dancer who hasn't already heard either of Anton & Sully's albums, or Kayna's "The Bootleg," you can purchase them online through AntonioPacelli.com. Volume I of "The Feis Album" and "The Bootleg" are also available for download on iTunes. A third feis album is in the works for early next year.
Davis and O'Sullivan will play the North American Nationals in Chicago in July, and they intend on bringing a bunch of CDs to sell, so keep an eye out for them in Chi-Town if you're lucky enough to attend. They also hope to tour the U.S. with Kayna in the future.
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