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Features

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.
Ryan Bassil
London, United Kingdom
19.5.14

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.