punk in love

Is There a Place Left for Punk, Emo and Hardcore in 2015's UK Music Landscape?

When the alternative festival circuit is increasingly reliant on American and throwback bands to fill their big slots, where does that leave the UK's relationship with heavy music?

by Emma Garland
14 April 2015, 11:05am

This week on Noisey UK, we’re going to be celebrating the best of punk, emo and hardcore in our new editorial series Punk In Love. Emma Garland kicks things off, asking what the place of alternative music is in the UK music landscape of 2015. Follow all the content here.

Something’s fucked with heavy music in the UK, and I’m trying to put my finger on what it is. A quick survey of this year's festival bills will reveal a dramatic absence of big British rock bands. Perhaps there just aren't as many these days, but it seems as though all the "big slots" on the alternative festival circuit are increasingly being filled by either American or throwback bands. Or, they change direction completely. We're now in a place where Metallica occupied the unlikely premium Saturday night slot at Glastonbury 2014 and this year's Reading and Leeds is to be headlined by Mumford & Sons, which suggests that both music festivals and their crowds are becoming increasingly diverse - arguably to the detriment of identity.

This is largely due to the fact that the market is changing and festivals now have to continually diversify and in order to keep attracting new customers, the end goal being survival. In a climate where all the biggest festivals are competing for the same customers, nobody can really afford to appeal to the niche. But, when arenas that are supposed to be dedicated to "bringing the noise" are actually failing to proportionally represent new UK bands, that has a serious effect on Britain's relationship with its alternative music and the subcultures that accompany them. Is there a place left for the likes of punk and hardcore in the fabric of 2015's UK music landscape?

Historically speaking, Britain used to be the absolute hellmouth of anger and frustration turned musical. From Sex Pistols to The Slits, Crass to The Clash, Generation X to X-Ray Spex, the UK’s musical past is littered with bands who unapologetically could not give less of a shit. They spat, they swore, and they dressed like a local carnival falling drunk down the stairs into a box of safety pins and pleather. But more importantly, they had something to say. They were born into shitty socio-political environments, and they were none too pleased about it. You would think it would be the same in the UK’s musical present, all things considered, but not so much. Who do we have reppin' rock in the public eye in 2015? Royal Blood? Decent songwriters they may well be, but two comfortably raised men in snapbacks brandishing the logo’s of American sports teams don’t particularly make me want to engage with or do anything about the largely sorry state of current affairs. In fact, they don’t make me want to do anything at all. They make me want to take a long nap.

It's fair to consider how the current white-washed, posh-washed landscape of British pop music might be affecting the rest of the industry. As the very existence of the BBC Sound Of poll as well as the last ten years of The Brit Awards can attest, modern British pop music has entered the Era of Safe. Safe in that anything that could be considered original or daring in an artistic sense tends to lose out to something that has already proven itself to be successful. When FKA Twigs' weird sexy rope bondage is considered too much for The Brits - currently home to the PG-13 club of Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and former X-Factor runners up - you can only imagine how much the industry would not be down with a band like Good Throb or Fat White Family (whose last video was literally an anus travelling across the screen).

Of course, alternative music is often at it's best in it’s purest form, outside of commercial constraints, performed in spaces from whence it came - dilapidating venues whose bathrooms are in desperate need of re-grouting and landlords likely in need of an audit - and with the anger with which it was designed. For that reason, the scenes will always stay active even when it seems like nobody is paying attention. The level of activity may waver year to year, but active they shall remain regardless of what’s trending or doing well commercially. Most of the bands may not occupy the limelight in the UK, but few of them ever have. And just because your family members aren’t confronted with it during their commute to work, doesn’t mean it’s not blazing away elsewhere, not-so-quietly chipping away at the preconceptions and conventions that dominate modern life. And that’s exactly what the more hardened bands like Rolo Tomassi and Gallows as well as the newer generation - Good Throb, Shopping, Skinny Girl Diet etc - are doing and have been doing for some time: commanding their own turf on their own terms. The current place of the best alternative music in the UK is where it always has been: underground.

This week on Noisey, we’re going to be celebrating the enduring cultural forces of alternative music through our new editorial series: Punk in Love. As well as our regular content, we’ll be paying homage to punk, emo, and hardcore the world over, through interviews with new bands like Moose Blood and Gnarwolves, and veterans like Justin Pearson and Eva Spence that helped pave the way. We’ll be asking the harder questions the genres face, like why hardcore has such a problem with “hypermasculinity” and why the influence of women of UK punk in the 70s is often underplayed in comparison to the riot grrrl movement of the 90s. By the end of this week, we'll be able to see that alternative music in the UK is actually thriving, and we should all be paying attention.

This marks the beginning of an ongoing series, which will cover alternative scenes worldwide as well as taking a closer look at the issues around them. You can follow all the content, as it goes live, right here.

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Punk In Love is also manifesting as a new clubnight from Noisey. The first will take place at The Stillery in Camden on Friday 17 April. Info and RSVP here.