The Music Scene in Britain is Amazing; You’re Just Looking in the Wrong Place

The capital is harnessing a whole new generation of talent.

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maj 19 2014, 2:26pm


Fat White Family: Best of British

British music is huge in America; Ellie Goulding, Calvin Harris, Bastille, and a sentient mucus called Passenger all made appearances at the business end of the Billboard Hot 100 in the last year. Commercially, we’re responsible for the biggest artists in the world; Mumford and Sons have taken their bastardised barn-dance to the White House, middle-school jackals dressed in Aéropostale prey on Harry Styles, Adele has sold over 10 million copies of 21 in the US making it the best selling digital album in US history and, fuck me, a lot of people like Coldplay.

The list goes on: Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Olly Murs, The 1975, Sam Smith, and Jake Bugg have all had big radio hits in the US in the last few months. It’s the biggest invasion since the Beatles – except the music is objectively terrible. The Beatles wrote "Something In The Way She Moves"; Bastille's biggest hit is a live mash-up of "Rhythm Of The Night" and "Rhythm Is A Dancer". Do you get it? It's because they both have rhythm in the title.

We can forgive the United States for neglecting the majority of actually good British artists, they are, after all, the country that gave us both Kid Rock and Imagine Dragons. But here in the UK, we’ve little excuse. We’re living in one of the most creative times that British music has ever seen; London is heaving with young artists that refuse conventional wisdom and the cyclical churn of genre and style. For the first time in ages, it feels as if British music is not a competition between private school kids to see who can sign a 6-figure deal with Universal first, but bristling with exciting scenes on suburban streets.

Yet if you turn on one of the flagship music shows or pick up one of the surviving music magazines – institutions that should be in bed with British music's provocateurs and originators – they are, for the most part, mundane and retrograde; focusing on latter releases from bands long past their sell-by or those big-name UK artists giving our country a bad name.

This trickles down into the public perception of our country’s artistic quality. Our schools are full of brostep EDM being played on Beats headphones, sixth-formers walking around in Hype floral jackets saying whatever the 2014 variation of “swag” is, indie kids devouring the latest in post-Springsteen Pitchfork favourites; and it’s largely because most right-thinking young people in the UK think British music is a joke. The only British artists they hear about are middle-of-road parentally-approved FM radio gruel. Maybe there’s the odd side-dish of diversity, but like the vegetarian selection in Nandos, it’s limited.

There are young British artists in the capital who respire with talent, humour and truth, and they’re being neglected so Radio 1 can do another Tinie Tempah interivew. (I'm not being a London-centric media cunt by the way, London is just where they happen to be.) The artists may still be relatively small, but that's not their fault. We should be showcasing niche artists to as many people as possible, wrestling independent music from an inner-circle of five intellectuals playing soggy biscuit on a limited edition vinyl. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the current crop of artists that deserve attention.

Whether it’s the E3 postcode, the Balearic house of Berkshire, or a thing that happened in Manchester in the 90s, a high-concentration of artists in a small area breeds creativity. Each by-gone scene had a figurehead – Wiley, Paul Oakenfold, Tony Wilson – and, behind the Mercury Music nomination and critical adoration, a similar musical cavern surrounds King Krule.

Much has been said of Krule; he’s described as a romantic punk poet, an afro-jazz prodigy, an auteur who sings with the bloated, working class twang of a streetwear-clad South London scally. Every publication’s definition is different because it’s hard to convey, on paper, exactly why he’s the next great hope for British music. The words are all true, of course – King Krule is brilliant. But he’s the Shard peaking out atop a creative boom that’s enveloped South London.

Each month a night called STEEZ takes place; an event where the youth of South London express and absorb art from sofas, the floor, or with their belly propped against the bar. The evening starts with a myriad of spoken-word poetry, speakers, acoustic acts, and freestyle rap artists, and concludes with live bands that should be tearing up the airwaves. It’s an all-you-can-eat-buffet of culture. The whole thing costs £3 (if you get there at the beginning), it lasts ten hours and, besides watching an Italian guy break the Mentos and Coke World Record, it’s the best thing I’ve witnessed all year. Headed up by a guy called Luke Newman, it’s the puzzle piece that connects the dispersive creativity South of the river.

STEEZ has existed since 2011 and to call it just a monthly night is a disservice; it’s a community in which young Londoners are encouraged to create without fear of judgement; an omnipresent sanctuary in which everyone is equal. This approach: sharing, listening, and appreciating, has bred genius talent. Krule and his friends all attend. The result is a massive inter-connecting collective of young musicians that, currently, work under the radar.

Sub Luna City – a group that consists of brothers Rago Foot and Jadasea – played at STEEZ in January. Their debut release – an 11-track tape titled City Rivims MK 1 – features production from King Krule and Black Mack, a British producer who has worked with Ratking and Lofty 305. Sub Luna City sound intrinsically British; the natural evolution of Rinse FM dubs and the dregs of grime. Their sound is a melting pot – it’s the assonance of a place where concrete and culture rule over trees. They’re like the Ratking of London. The two groups hang out together – and, as a fun-fact – Earl Sweatshirt shouted the Luna’s out when he played the O2 Islington Academy in April.

A whole host of artists link with Sub Luna City. MC Pinty, who is the guy featured in King Krule’s “Easy Easy” video, put out his first solo track a few months ago and we featured it as The Best Thing We Heard on Soundcloud That Week. His sound is unique; it nit-picks elements from iconic British music scenes but sounds like none of them at all. Jesse James and Rejjie Snow – both outsiders – connect with the group. Rejjie has appeared on Sicknotes, a radio station that Pinty used to run with friends and he recently freestyled with Jadasea and Rago in a half-hour video. Jesse has featured on a track with Rejjie and a track with King Krule and Rago. Everyone is connected but, rarely, is it picked up outside of this small insular group.

It’s not just rap music that is igniting South London. The minor chords that formed a massive part of King Krule’s breakthrough single “Out Getting Ribs” manifested themselves in a whole new group of atmospheric solo artists. Jerkcurb, who played the Fat White Family’s night Slide-In back in January, melds guitars together until they provide escape. Jamie Isaac, who you might have heard of before, stitches together a similar sound; one of beautiful isolation inside a city that often feels suffocating.

It’s a theme that runs across the majority of music that is currently produced in the South – no one has spending money, the future is a mirage, but music is a way to switch tracks away from the grim determinism of youth ennui.

The music scene in South London isn’t the only exciting thing in Britain that deserves representing; it’s just the only one that can be strictly defined by the buses that run through it. There are a bunch of other smaller scenes that still haven’t found their place in mainstream coverage; replaced with EDM, bands like Future Islands, and whatever Kanye West has said this week. The sound of British music is much more diversified than the representation across the pond suggests. South London is owning the hip-hop, jazz, and soul genres but we’ve also got massively interesting artists across the board.

Pop music – the kind that catalyses the right kind of endorphins not Katy Perry roaring at a firework – is all over Britain. Jungle – who, surprisingly, still haven’t been mentioned once on Pitchfork – lead the pack. They’re the biggest new band that we have in the UK. They sound unlike anyone else; stitching together R’n’B and soul into a blanket that is refreshing and sounds new, but is also familiar enough to be easily accessible. Their album - out in July - is beautiful. But behind the wide-coverage of Jungle is a bunch of artists that’ve been born out of the alcoholic slush-puppy vibe of latter-day Dev Hynes.

JUCE, who released the debut video of the year in March, are one group that will make you want to buy freeze pops for your crush. They’ve only released two singles but on the basis of “Call You Out”, they deserve to be the sound of summer. Dornik, who is signed to PMR, is the birth-child of Michael Jackson and Disclosure. Shura broke my heart a month ago. And then you’ve got Ben Khan; we interviewed him before anyone else, people think he’s Jai Paul, but he’s actually a guy that makes R’n’B that will appeal to intellectual music fans and casual radio listeners.

Pop and R’n’B music in Britain is great; South London has got rap, soul, and jazz covered; and then you’ve got the bands that evoke the sound of staying out all weekend, flitting between the pub, football, and chatting shit in someone’s lounge with a pile of suspect-looking DVDs and a blue bag of tins, before finally trudging home at 7am on Sunday morning, depressed because the sun won’t stop pouring through the windows of the bus.

Real Lies is one of those bands. They've put out two singles - "Deeper" and "World Peace" - and both sound like the sort of thing that no one else is making but everyone should be hearing - the sound of next weekend and last weekend rolled into one. The Rhythm Method, a group that is loosely connected to Real Lies, continue the story - the two tracks on their Soundcloud should be put on the stereo when arriving home bleary-eyed and cold-hearted. And then, on a slightly different tangent, you've got the few guitar bands worth a second thought; Fat White Family, Slaves, and Sleaford Mods.

This music has been neglected for too long; the press still hanging on to a model that stopped being interesting years ago. A lot of people are afraid to jump on something new until it’s finally able to be justified with a 500 word review of a officially released LP - something that is meaningless in the current pace of music.

I’m not saying that great publications have stopped covering great artists; a bunch of really good publications have given airtime to a bunch of the groups listed above. But I am saying that it’s time we started being proud of the music in Britain – bigging it up and covering it with the love that it deserves. Obviously, we're out here: premiering JUCE's video, the first two tracks from Jungle, doing Ben Khan's first interview, fucking around with King Krule in LA, and I'll stop now before I get a sore wrist. But this is bigger than one website or one group of artists; it's time that mainstream British culture sat up of what's going on in the underground. There are infinitely more great British artists that exist which haven’t been covered in this piece – I’ve neglected the entire electronic scene, mostly because that's being covered here – but that's the point, there's so much to talk about. Britain is so on-point, lets start celebrating the great music that we’re making. America, you're welcome to Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran - we're ready to start from scratch.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil

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