British Music is Booming Right Now
Communities and subcultures are thriving throughout the UK, not just in London.
Like most people who reside in London, I have a love/hate relationship with it. Sure, it may be the birthplace of PC Music and the epicentre of grime with multiple ridiculously great gig options every night of every week, but it’s also the hellmouth of the UK music industry. If you’ve ever attended a live music event in London, it was probably sold out, crawling with A&R types and reported on by pretty much every single press outlet in the country. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there is no actual sun in London. The city thrives exclusively under the burning hot glare of media attention.
Even if you’re going to see your mate’s band, who were recently profiled in the NME Radar section, you’ll have to queue down the street for twenty minutes before you get through the doors, and once you’re in the first thing you’ll do is drop ten bar on two cans of Red Stripe. Assuming the venue is still there, that is; and with the closure of Buffalo Bar, Madame Jojo’s, The Joiners’ Arms and Plastic People in the last twelve months alone, there’s a good chance it won’t be.
It's true that Britain’s best and most integral venues are dropping faster than a backing dancer in a T.I video all over the country - The Cockpit in Leeds, The Croft in Bristol, Cardiff’s Coal Exchange, every single Barfly apart from the one in Camden - but the rate at which London’s longstanding establishments are being swallowed up by gentrification or boarded up because of backwards licensing laws is genuinely alarming. Incidentally, London came up fourth on Forbes' list of cities with the most billionaires in 2015; certified proof that it is rapidly becoming the playground of the super-rich.
Yet London is widely considered “the place to be” if you want to have a successful career in the music industry. Record labels force bands to move "down" or "up" like getting a flat off Kingsland Road was somehow graduating from provinical backwaters, rather than a surestop way to smother any creative impulse with cocaine and bullshit. Nearly all of Britain's music media is based in London too, so their ravenous hunger for the new stretches only to England’s capital, briefly wandering off whenever rumours of a “new Oasis” are whispered from up North or someone starts putting on a night to rival Fabric in Bristol, before snapping back again. Aside from certain historical blips - Madchester, Liverpool's "Merseybeat" years, Bristol's early 90s electronica boom - the music industry in the UK is tirelessly focused on London. But why?
Before re-locating to London last year, I lived in Cardiff for twenty years and Bath for three; two UK cities where you’d get one or two great shows every month, probably at the same venue, and that was your lot - and you’d be reasonably chuffed with it. Put it this way: when I was living in Wales, I would catch a bus to my local train station, a train into the city, walk to the venue (this all took about two hours, because rural Wales) and then stay with a friend, because the trains would stop before the gigs finished. Now I skip out on shows that are happening in a venue literally ten yards away from my office, because there is always a show happening ten yards away from my office and if I miss whoever is playing it doesn’t really matter, because they’ll be back in a few months time between slots on the festival circuit.
You might get a better turnout at a London show, but the vibe in the rest of the country is very, very different. Obviously things differ depending on who is playing and where, but I’ve travelled back to Cardiff to see a band I could see in London on the same tour, purely because the local support bands will say things like THIS CITY IS ON IT'S ARSE, someone will get glassed, and everyone will go back to the same house party directly afterwards.
Music scenes outside of London also have more time and space to gestate. They say a watched pot never boils, but in London you can't have take a waz between some parked cars without thousands of people glaring at you, waiting for something to come out. The second something new sprouts within London’s parameters, it’s piled on like the last roast potato at a carvery. It’s hyped and manhandled and smothered to death before it even has a chance to naturally flourish into the best thing it could possibly be. That’s why you’ll find a vaporwave scene simmering quietly in Liverpool's underbelly, a gradually evolving psych community in Leeds, or the fact that grime is largely considered to be a London-based thing despite the fact it has active scenes in Birmingham and Nottingham as well.
Outdoor raves in cigarette-burn-on-the-map co-ordinates, putting on ramshackle shows as a clueless teenager, that one person everyone knows because they go to every single show in their local area: all these things can and do exist in London, yes, but not in the same way. From the resurgence of Makina (a form of Spanish hardcore techno) in the North East, to DIY communities in Leeds responding to austerity measures by banding together, to Brighton’s veritable melting pot of venues that put on grime upstairs and drillcore in the basement - the musical landscape of the UK is a million times more vibrant than what has come to represent us commercially. London may have a lot going for it in both mainstream and underground terms, but the sound of UK extends far beyond Brit school exports, Goldsmiths graduates, and the labels that house them.
All this week on Noisey, we’ll be falling arse-backwards into the state of UK music in a special series of articles about scenes outside the capital: from club closures to brain drains to free parties to local legends. Follow all the content on our Fuck London hub here.
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