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Archive for September, 2011

Welcome to Global Scene London

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Here is the second article introducing BAMM.tv’s Global Scene London by Zakia Uddin, exploring various elements of the music industry. In today’s article, she explores the phenomenon of “genre-bending” currently in vogue in London. Expect new editions of Global Scene every week, only on BAMM.tv. And as always, let us know your thoughts!

“The moment it gets a name it starts to die away”

I

In Camden, speculation about the death of tribalism in music—and its consequent effect on clearly defined boundaries between genres—takes a new twist. The Goth capital of London has its own pockets of ska fans and rockabilly fans. Its legendary Marathon Bar plays host to Kingsnake, a North London born-and-bred rockabilly guitarist who can often be found in the local Tesco’s and rockabilly hangout The Elephant Head in his stage get-up. There are no recorded performances or set out dates. He happens to be there most nights of the week, performing to a wildly enthusiastic, and as is befitting for the neighbourhood, rather drunken crowd. A fan of his who often performs alongside him on any given night of the week, who professed to have been raised as a rockabilly, seemed relaxed about the possibly loaded question of whether he was actively engaged with any contemporary music. “I sing Kylie in a rockabilly style, I sing Nicki Minaj in a rockabilly style…,” he shrugged.

Although Kingsnake identifies with a very distinct musical genre, he refuses to box himself in by only listening to one type of music. Journalists and industry figures have endlessly debated the idea that music tribalism has died, having been replaced by a more robust, genre-bending patois. Think about it: Is it any longer possible to really identify what kind of music people like by what they choose to wear? The other side of the debate centres on what this means for musical invention itself especially in a place like London where musical tribes have co-existed for so long. Are we in a period when musicians can finally say—without ruining their credibility—that they don’t feel bound to any particular style?

II

The term ‘post-dubstep’ has been bandied around for a while since the bass lines and the two-step sound got incorporated into chart players. Having produced huge stars in the shape of Katy B and adopted by global figures such as Britney Spears, the scene has extended far beyond its South London base. This leaves those who started out at the clubs as fans keen to create their own tags. Artists such as Ikonika, Jam City and Girl Unit have been pooled together under the ‘post-dubstep’ moniker, partly because their sounds are similarly sparse and spectral, utilising dubstep’s familiar, insistent basslines. However, standing on their own each artist brings in a massive range of influences. Girl Unit’s dance floor anthem Wut doesn’t necessarily epitomise the influences on display across the 24-year old Londoner’s music. Rather, it sounds like the Antarctic, with huge glacial synths with crystal notes dropping onto the surface, underneath pitch-shifted rave vocals. Girl Unit and Jam City share some of the tropes of the witch house scene—nocturnal atmospherics, sloth-like pace and epic scales. Ikonika’s super-intellectual rhythms are comparatively spare and intricate, less euphoric than melancholic. ‘Post-dubstep’ has also been used to designate bass-heavy music from New York such as FaltyDL and London-based musicians that didn’t emerge from the dubstep scene such as Kieran Hebden, otherwise known as Four Tet.

Despite attempts by some to associate it with the post-dubstep scene, despite the ‘stickiness’ implied by the use of the word ‘label’, one (erm…) label, South London’s Night Slugs, consistently refuses to be pinned down. Its roster includes Girl Unit and Jam City, but it celebrates their diversity more than their similarity. In a recent interview, co-founder James Connolly told The Guardian: “If you check what we made a year ago, it’s totally different to what we’re making now—it’s always evolving, always in flux.” Co-founder Alex Sushon, otherwise known as Bok Bok, added semi-seriously: “There’s actually a ban on giving [the sound] a name. The moment it gets a name it starts to die away.” Elsewhere they have said they want to create dance music that doesn’t just go for the reflexes. So is it an ethos without a genre?

Connolly has just released his album Neon Dreams under his DJ name L-Vis 1990, which explores the early Detroit sound using analogue instruments from the period. At the same time, Night Slugs’ US label star Kingdomm has gone on to open a sister label in the US. Talking to Dazed Digital, L-Vis said that the two labels would operate under a ‘collective unconscious’, which determined their sound without any specific ‘label prescriptions’.

Genre-pollination operates not only across cities, but also across the sea—throwing into question the idea that a style can be identified foremost with ‘a place’. Whether this is a temporary period before musicians again align themselves with a scene is uncertain. The music journalist Dan Hancox, an authority on the roots of grime, taking its origins in Bow, East London, to the wider London scene, comments on the term ‘post-dubstep’. “There have been plenty of times when the lines have been blurry in the past. In electronic music, the end of the UK garage period was marked by loads of names for loads of different new micro-genres. Before dubstep was dubstep it was ‘the Croydon sound’, ‘new step’, ‘8 bar’, ‘dark garage’. Maybe we’re in a similar moment now with the Venn Diagram displaying house, garage, dubstep and related animals. But maybe these sounds will never ossify into genres, and maybe that is a good thing.”

So is it the case that there is a scene percolating again slowly—or to quote David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, there’s a fish in the percolator? Or has there been a genuine shift which means that there is too much fragmentation, too much going on, too many influences in this city for another major era-defining, now globally influential genre like dubstep to coalesce?

 III

Wayne Francis of the 12 Tone Brass Band told BAMM’s Global Scene that he thought that production using the DJ programme Ableton and combining with instruments on-stage will result in “a new London sound” which is not “definable other than the fact that everyone approaches it this way”. He adds that is about the approach, rather than the actual ‘sound’. The idea is that the character and spirit that define an ethos are more important than prescribing to a specific sound. And this certainly fits with what’s happening across London in 2011.

Musicians arguably now face less pressure to fit into any scene, and this affords a great deal of creative freedom to experiment. However, the nature of London’s hipster culture tends to imply that as bands are often around for just a short time, there’s no apparent need to develop in a particular genre, or identify with one particular tradition. The quick turnover of bands barely meets the appetite of taste-setting websites such as Platform and Hipster Runoff. Some of the biggest tags of the past two years, ‘witch house’ and ‘chillwave’, have remained amorphous, with bands loosely associated with the label, based on name or their aesthetics.

One example of a shape-shifting musician whose career trajectory defies categorisation is Devonte Hynes. Starting off in the short-lived hipster synthy dance band Test Icicles, he moved onto a solo career as Lightspeed Champion, singing rather wan, mildly depressive folk. Since then, he has become a constant chameleon on the fast-changing scene, relaunching most recently with the narcotic synth dance duo Blood Orange, who have made low-key, packed out appearances in Dalston, East London’s venues such as Efes and the Alibi.

Speaking to Interview, Hynes said that his desire to write a quick succession of projects was down to believing that “all music exists on its own and should be listened to with a clear head”. “That’s what I’m hoping to achieve by giving different names to each new project I begin,” he said. “I’m always weary of connotations. I don’t want people to listen to the music I make presently because they liked my previous work, or to dismiss it because they didn’t. I’m guilty of this as well—having preconceptions about other artists.”

Hebden is another musician who has objected to labelling but for different reasons. The 32-year old artist, now on his sixth album, told Clash magazine last year: “It’s all a bit silly to me, the speed in which everybody’s trying to bring out new genres. Sometimes I think it’s a bit disrespectful to what’s come before it.”

The aversion to labelling may come from a keen sense of experimentation, which has seen critics define their own terms to describe his sound—‘folktronica’ is one of the more memorable phrases—to label his experimentation with folk artist Adem, and other collaborators. Others have see Hebden as someone who borrows motifs from different genres in London and melds them into unique shapes to construct his own musical universe. Ironically, for this reason, he fits perfectly within the ‘post-dubstep free-for-all’ Zeitgeist, where artists are free to borrow and affiliate themselves at will. His upcoming Fabriclive CD is strongly influenced by his recent frequent residencies at London’s Plastic People, with his own distinct sounds combining with those of grime and dubstep. It could be a chicken and egg debate—Hebden’s credibility with his own music may give him the authority to experiment with established genres, or alternatively, the scene may have opened itself up to more experimentation.

Micachu, aged 24, is another example of a musician who has moved between different genres in London. A classical composer, she made her commercial name on the dance floor by collaborating with grime and dance artists. Her dance mix tape Filthy Friends featured singer Ghostpoet, Jack Penate and the pop band Golden Silvers. Despite going on to produce fuzzy, hookless, dark music characterised by its distinct technical flourishes such as open tunings, discordant noises, she describes her music with her band The Shapes as ‘pop’ music.

Speaking to Time Out in 2008, the singer said: “I don’t really know what it is. I’m not saying I’m doing something amazingly new and different but I’m a bit greedy in that when I bring songs to the band I’m taking a lot from everything I listen to. I’m a sucker like that. Like, if I’m into something, like garage or R&B, I try and write music like that. It gets all mixed up and makes it pop because it’s not one specific genre.”

These individuals would be hard-pressed to describe themselves as part of a musical movement, either seen as being ‘post-’something, or otherwise, but they have experimented from the outside, and been accepted from the inside despite their patchwork approach and refusal to integrate into any given tradition or genre.

The music that people listen to when they are out and about also informs what music is made back at home. Producer Daniel Avery, aka StopMakingMe, believes that DJs in London are instrumental in creating cross-currents in music across the city. “There are definitely lots of new DJs emerging who are all making names for themselves—and producers as well—who play in clubs but their music is informed by lots of things outside of the dance floor, outside of the club.” Aspiring DJs can sit at home and watch live broadcasts of sets at places such as the Boiler Room, instead of actually stepping out for themselves. While there are more opportunities to go out than ever before, there is also the online world of collaboration and uploading, potentially making music creation a more introverted experience that uses non-musical influences as freely as more conventional ones.

IV

Whether constant turnover by musicians and cultural mavens such as Devonte Hynes is good for the future of music or not might be dependent on which side of the ‘poptimist’ versus ‘rockist’ debate you fall on. The debate is relevant, as it forms part and parcel of a maverick approach to music, which refuses to align itself to any tradition, and questions the use of the term ‘commercial’ as criticism. One of the debates that may have had a significant influence outside of rock critic circles is whether all music should be judged from the same set of values associated with rock music, such as authenticity, tradition and posterity. Stemming from a famous article in the New York Times by Kelefa Sannah called “The Rap against Rockism”, the debate has changed music commentary and criticism itself. Beyonce’s latest album is likely to get more serious analysis than the latest Radiohead album, mostly because she’s glamorous and her music, being covertly seen as reactive and commercial, might offer a prism through which to analyse contemporary cultural obsessions.

Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Welcome to the Goon Squad was a paean to the music industry, which ended on a strangely jarring note. The friends and family of different generations ended up watching an ageing rocker perform a comeback gig in Madison Square Garden, his authenticity a uniting strand for those of different generations. The popularity of the book attests to the ideal that music can still have this effect, but the picture rang false. However, the book could also be perceived as part of the backlash against the new hegemony of poptism.

Several music commentators have pointed out staunchly poptimist critics could replacing one set of dominant values with another. Poptimist criticism is seen as being at risk of rejecting the legacy of rock criticism, which fought to shield popular music from the idea that it was inferior to classical music. However, with musicians embracing the possibility of picking from a smorgasbord of sounds, without any fear of being ‘inauthentic’, poptimism seems here to stay.

V

The attitudes of musicians towards the history of music arguably parallels that of fans and music consumers who have embraced technology that allows them to mix up musical genres, regardless of tradition and scene. Countless editorials have already highlighted how having endless amounts of music at your disposal makes the prospect of listening to a whole album paradoxically feel like working. A recent article in The Observer asked whether musical tribalism is dead following the announcement of the finalists for 2011’s Mercury Music Prize, which for the first time included a huge cross-section of genres in its embrace. London-based acts as diverse as electro band Metronomy, electronic composer James Blake, singer Ghostpoet and grime star Tinie Tempah were nominated side by side. Marketing figures were confused about whether this is a good thing or not. While there is a bigger market for all genres, how do you pitch these records to music buyers? Uneasy music industry figures said that the interchangability of genres threatens to make music more ‘grey’ and ‘homogenous’—that is to say, less marketable. Respected music sociologist and chairman of the Mercury judging panel Simon Frith pointed to how the free-for-all attitude was impacting on the music industry itself: “For some of these artists it is quite difficult to pinpoint what genre they represent… artists are not constrained by marketing labels any more.” The biggest losers appeared to be marketers, with musicians speaking excitedly about potentially being able to experiment with all the different types of music on their iPod when in the studio.

Secondly, it is important to ask whether music is the most important social glue when the internet allows young people to connect over gaming platforms and social networks. The same fear of losing an established set of marketing categories seems to have bought the Channel 4’s Tribes research project into existence. It began in 2005, with the aim of categorising an increasingly fragmented youth audience. Its research only identifies around five distinctive music tribes out of 23 in total. Despite the exercise in segmentation, the large-scale ethnographic study acknowledged that these affiliations, and indeed all the categories it found, were more fluid than ever before.

So, diversity. It seems you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Arguably, the historical roots of different genres in the capital still serves as a source of inspiration to musicians. Without London’s unique variety of influences, so many different sounds wouldn’t be up for grabs. Some recent (short-lived) developments have included grindie, which was very briefly championed by grime artist Lethal Bizzle, who made a rare urban incursion into the NME’s tour in 2007. He told The Independent: “In the Nineties it was really divided. I think people were scared to cross over but me and a few others have just thought, ‘You know what, fuck it! Let’s try and do something different.” ‘Grunk’ may have been a better term, given that the most referenced artists by Lethal Bizzle were the Sex Pistols and other punk bands from the late 1970s. Interestingly, the scene has taken off outside of London, with Leeds-based Hadouken being most closely associated with the cross-genre sound, which mixes up punky guitar riffs with spitting. That poses the inevitable question of whether the vastness of the London musical landscape means that it’s easy for new sounds to develop, but harder for them to cohere into their own ‘scene’.

VI

On the other hand, it’s not as if everything in The Big Smoke has become The Big Creole. Digital radio station Deju Vu recently decided to resurrect grime nights on Monday, marking the shift from when grime and dubstep events used to be held on Sunday nights because the music was considered otherwise too inflammatory. Grime artist Frank Sly described the move as a “positive one” for the scene. However, others have spoken out against the “perversion” of the sound elsewhere. In June, journalist Mark Doogan complained in a provocative statement against the development of ‘gorestep’—the term for dubstep from US-based metal producers such as Skrillex who have made the sound much more wobbly and heavier than before. “Unfortunately [US artists] are not mad for the sound us Brits went mad for. I know I’d rather be wanked off by Freddie Kruger wearing a wire brush round his palm, than go out and listen to that trash,” Doogan colourfully observed. Commentators on the UK-based Grime Forum and even scene originator Skream described Doogan as verging on hysterical, but his comments show a sound is still seen as part of an ethos stemming from a lifestyle by some fans.

A recent exhibition at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane documented dubstep in pictures over the past ten years, showing an inextricable intertwining between the iconography and the genres of dubstep and grime. As Rory Gibb of the Quietus said: “[The attendance] is a reminder that, though some of the sounds they’ve pioneered have become globetrotting prodigal children, the people involved in FWD>>, Rinse and Tempa have been tirelessly working away in the underground for years. You don’t collaborate with such a passion for such a long time without gaining a sense of perspective.”

The disappearance of dress codes denoting certain musical affiliations has also resulted in much hand wringing. Teenagers who have never known a Walkman and have only ever downloaded music can buy Ramones and Black Sabbath t-shirts from Top Shop, when previously getting a band t-shirt meant that you’d been at the gig to get to the merch stall. Streetwear, such as baggy t-shirts and skinny jeans, are commonplace across urban and dance scenes. However, if tribalism is about having a certain look, then there’s no shortage of scenes predicated on getting the dress code spot on. It’s possible to speculate that these style-driven scenes, where musical innovation is less rated than getting it ‘right’, are a reaction against the idea that there’s a ‘universal’ definition of cool. The South Bank held a massive vintage festival in July, where the iconic Royal Festival Hall was transformed into a north and south-divided dance floor with music in each room covering scenes between the 1950s to the 1990s. The outfits on display and the attention to detail, combined with a deep knowledge of the music and how it should be played—there’s a Northern Soul rule that no DJ should ever play the same track more than once in their career—indicate that tribal affiliation is still considered a worthy investment of money and time.

That said, some scenes, metal and folk in particular, seem impervious to change. Jake Harding from London metal band Dead Existence told BAMM’s Global Scene that “metal doesn’t get bigger or smaller. There’s always a loyal following of fans. There are certainly some more commercial styles that have become more charty and popular, but they’re not necessarily metal any more. It’s maybe influenced more commercial styles of music.”

Responding to the debate on whether music tribalism is dead, Hancox said: “Nah. I went past Brixton Academy the other night as it was kicking out, and there were 3,000 people pouring onto the streets dressed head to toe in rockabilly garb—all tats and quiffs and turned up jeans and big 50s dresses. Tribalism may have changed, and in some areas it’s intensified, as with rockabilly, which is a weird one. Look at teenagers in London. They still wear their affiliations literally on their sleeves.”

If anything, the idea that genres die easily borrows from the same sort of superstition as the notion that ‘photography can steal your soul’. The obsession with documentation appears to pickle and preserve certain forms of music, serving to create nostalgia before its time. The power of genre to evoke an ethos or way of living remains strong, as proven by the recent riots in London. Cultural commentators were quick to identify rap as an influence. Historian David Starkey went on the BBC flagship current affairs programme Newsnight, blaming rap music for making “whites black” and encouraging young people to loot and riot. In December, the background to the student unrest and gatherings in squares was grime, with Lethal Bizzle’s Pow emerging as an anthem.

As a global city, London’s musical movements have tendrils everywhere, drawing in influences and then twisting them for its own ends. On the ground, the cross-fertilisation of different sounds has resulted in a scene where labels can become anathema to artists wanting to experiment. However, at the same time, the development of some genres of music are tied so closely to London that no matter how popular the sound becomes, it can always be reclaimed. The closest parallel to a scene such as grime might be punk in the 1970s. Punk brewed into its distinctly English variant in a similar economic climate, where the young felt disenfranchised and excluded. For that reason, grime and punk might have seemed like obvious bedfellows, despite leaving each other dissatisfied in the end. However, the musicians speaking to BAMM all confirm that cultural heterogeneity in London makes it a very different place than three decades earlier. Wayne from the 12 Tone Brass Band told Global Scene that “no one’s defined by their culture, but everyone’s culture has a place within it. And within the youth, more than the older generation, there’s a lot more intertwining and intermingling, which really wasn’t around before…”

Cross-pollination can happen because individuals feel freer than ever to move across scenes, while local musical influences help nurture and ground artists. This snapshot of London’s diverse music scenes has tried to pinpoint what makes London such a great site for musical innovation and collaboration. This is a task paradoxically made harder by the current vogue for labels and artists to deny tribalism or adherence to any genre. The denial allows musicians to give credence to all the different genres they are playing with in their music. It is possible to observe the phenomenon as part of the cycle of music scenes in the city, a fluid Venn diagram of a global city in perpetual motion. But a more exciting perspective would be to interpret the cross-pollination we see today as part of a wider, more long-term socio-cultural shift, making people eager to challenge the boundaries of music and the assumptions that come along with the terrain.

Tell us what you want to watch on BAMM.tv

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With September now in full swing, the impending switch (in the Northern Hemisphere at least) from picnics, suntans and being outdoors to more autumnal and wintertime pursuits looms large. This usually translates into a message by the main broadcast networks of “watch more TV”. And who are we to go against the grain? Watch more BAMM.tv indeed.

A difference exists between a large, traditional broadcasting network and a smaller, more nimble digital broadcaster, in the way the content is created. Between both, though, the method is the message. In the major leagues, ideas are pitched and refined, target demographics identified, audiences are surveyed, scripts are written, the machinery gets rolling and Charlie Sheen (remember him?) gets rich.

BAMM.tv goes straight to the source. Sure, we are first and foremost live music content creators, but as musicians working with other musicians, we often find ourselves getting caught up in long, random conversations that somehow end up being really rather interesting and memorable. Unsurprisingly, these often happen at drinks after work, or over dinner, that sort of thing, and also unsurprisingly, the talk often turns to the “behind the scenes” side of the music world. So, rather than keep all the fun for ourselves, we decided to film some of it and share it with you.

Of course, we do actually have similarities with the traditional networks as well. We create pilot series and screen them to test audiences, but the method tends to be a bit more free form. The shows are made with the best production values we can harvest from an incredibly low budget—you have been warned, this isn’t the usual high-quality BAMM visual standard, it’s just three prosumer handicams mounted on sticks in a small studio. But the ideas and the discussion are all there.

So we’d like to introduce you to… Food Fight (clip 1 clip 2). Take one topic, add two teams on opposing sides of an argument, add a moderator and a dinner table, and let the wine, and conversation, flow freely. We’ve been thinking about the question of copyright a lot recently, and so the question came up of do we even need it anymore, or if so, for how long? Aidan Sansom moderates on behalf of BAMM.tv in this first pilot episode:

We then follow that up with a discussion that was so engaging, that we decided to run the pilot episode at double length. It’s about a matter close to our hearts, because BAMM.tv has a distinct focus on live music—but what’s better, the immediacy of a live recording, or the nuances of multitrack recording in a studio setting? Our Music Operations Director Phil Lang moderates.

The point remaining is that the shows are made for you. (Don’t forget to check out BAMM’s Global Scene, premiering this weekend as well!) We want to hear from you, here on the blog, on our Facebook page, our Twitter feed and over at YouTube. Don’t be shy! If you love it, we’ll commission a proper series, with everything you’ve come to expect from BAMM.tv. If you hate it, we’ve got a million other ideas we’d love to share with you. So, sit back, relax, enjoy the show, and we’ll be back shortly to discuss with you where we should go from here.

Thanks for watching, and let us know your thoughts!

The Bob Podcast #15 – “All Summer – No Bummer”

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The Bob Podcast #15: “All Summer – No Bummer” by BAMM.tv

The sun is still shining in San Francisco. So before we start biking in the rain for 6 more months, we’re going to bring you some songs that are new to BAMM.tv as of this summer.

We have filmed at Phono del Sol Festival in SF and Photosynthesis Festival in Neah Bay, WA. We let the City Beer Store celebrate their 5th birthday party in the studio (best beer selection ever). And even though we’ve mostly been editing or on the road, we managed to have a few in studio concerts as well. Enjoy our newest additions to the BAMM.tv library and have a great rest of the season.

Featuring Music From:

-Lulacruza
-Bartel
-Religious Girls
-Keyzer Soze
-The Soft White Sixties

Lulacruza

There is an aquatic quality to Lulacruza’s music that draws you in. Somebody have these two score a film already.

Religious Girls

A big thumbs up to Tyler McPherron on this one. A sedate park setting isn’t exactly ideal for a band like Religious Girls, but his edit on this really captures the energy these guys have at a live show.

Keyser Soze

Jammal Tarkington (vocals and sax) first came through BAMM.tv with the killer Who Cares. He’s a major talent, and although not seen in this performance, he’s an assassin on the flute. Flute Assissin…band name available, folks.

To subscribe to the Bob Podcast (they come out weekly), head over to our SoundCloud Page

Like the column? Hate it? Let us know and comment below.

BAMM In-Depth: London’s Music Scenes

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This is the first of many in-depth articles by Zakia Uddin exploring various elements of the music industry. This time, to coincide with the upcoming launch of BAMM.TV’s Global Scene, she exposes London’s varied music scenes.

I.

In 2004, emerging grime star Wiley mocked the obsession with defining a music ‘scene’’s sound with the track ‘Wot Do U Call It?’ on his debut album ‘Treddin’ on Thin Ice’. Its title refrain in an old-school Cockney accent is followed by pushy suggestions of ‘urban’, ‘garage’ and ‘two-step’ – all early names for grime’s rapidly developing sound. Wiley sardonically responds: ‘I use their scene but make my own sound/It’s mine you can’t claim what’s mine/It’s my time to bait you up’. The track is a meta-commentary on the internal battles that go on when creating a sound and laying ownership on it, when other people want to pin it down and compare it to already familiar styles. Ironically, ‘Wot Do U Call It’ became definitive of grime – arguably London’s most distinctive home-grown genre. That scene has evolved, but the discussion of new genres remains heated. So how do we, the musicians, and the record companies decide what makes a bunch of bands a ‘scene’ – especially in a musical landscape that’s as diverse and fast-moving as London?

London is the kind of place that makes you feel as though if you’re not at an incredible gig, you’re the only person that’s not. The city’s live scene is flourishing, leaving the most seasoned gig-goers in the sprawling metropolis flipping coins to choose between three to four ‘must-see’ gigs a night. A casual scan of Time Out’s listings for the average weekend presents upwards of 50 choices, with even more options online for the more intrepid investigator. The digital revolution has, paradoxically, fuelled the growth in the live scene. It’s become a truism that bands must tour more these days, in order to recoup losses from illegal downloads, but arguably it’s become easier for people to put on shows and get together to make the music in the first place. What this means for the London gig-goer and the new arrival to the city is that it’s now easier than ever to find new scenes, developing on the ground.

Rather than musical development in the city being a series of kaleidoscopic revolutions, there are many genres co-existing and developing in a parallel fashion. Arguably, genres can be seen as the seismic plates underlying the busy music London scene—trends come and go, but the evolution of music styles moves much slower. Dan White of the band Orders of the British Empire told BAMM.TV’s Global Scene: “Word of mouth London changes all the time, because people are told a certain area or type of music is cool. But as soon as you get them people that want to go to that place, another little counter-culture springs up somewhere else.” While word-of-mouth can keep mean that what’s fashionable changes month-to-month, London’s scenes are still divided by genre. Speaking to Global Scene, upcoming band Jonah Maddox describe London’s music lovers as composed of “tribes”- while they’re nomadic, they also each have their own ethos. Discussions about crossovers and developments and the existence of scenes continue, suggesting that musicians and writers feel keenly about what might seem to be journalistic conveniences to confused readers.

II

So what makes a genre unique to London and how does London help create some genres? It seems to be a two-way relationship. London informs how the music is made, while also shaping what it is about. Two genres that demonstrate these influences respectively are noise and grime.

Noise, for example, is a relatively small music scene dependent on the interactions of tech-savvy music lovers who promote each other’s gigs and play in each other’s bands, creating a protective ecosystem. The term is a catch-all to describe different inflections of the same impulse to make loud, complex music, dropping drums in favour of synthesisers, guitars, pre-programmed beats, 8-chip squalls and feedback. There is an old-fashioned element of performance, with bands such as Cementimental citing controversial figures such as GG Allin as “inspiration”. Arguably, such a scene could not easily exist outside of London, as there are fewer venues are up for grabs and like-minded individuals cannot travel more easily to collaborate after connecting to each other online. London hosted what was called the First International Noise Conference at the Vice Magazine-owned Shoreditch pub Old Blue Last. Given the ability to instantaneously upload footage from such an event and make it available internationally, it may not be such an ambitious title. However, most of the performing bands lived in the capital, with performers migrating between the audience and the stage, seamlessly blending into each. Tim Drage, part of Cementimental and promoter of several noise nights, commented that London was integral to his music: “It’s right there when I set out to record and perform some music. There’s more different things, opportunities, gigs, people to work with in a concentrated area than anywhere else in the UK, and more people interested in any given niche activity so more chance of getting a reasonable turnout for a noise show.”

The impact of the internet over the past seven years has certainly made a difference to how such scenes develop, especially those that are more niche or specialist. Drage added: “Things are definitely more active these days than when I first moved to London some seven years ago. There are more gigs going on and far less of the sort where I’d be one of three paying audience members the other two of whom would turn out to be friends of mine.”

In contrast, one of the aspects of grime that makes it distinctively “from-London-and-nowhere-else” is its subject matter that draws upon the slang of the estates, raucous, harshly lit night buses and the inner-city schoolyard. The music, which leaked into the mainstream after the release of Dizzee Rascal’s debut Boy in the Da Corner, is an offshoot of the UK Garage scene, which gave us era-defining bands such as So Solid Crew. Broadly, grime took the syncopated rhythms of its progenitor, turned them up, and layered choppy sounds that mimicked the harsh spitting of its MCs on top of low bass frequencies. Its subject matter and splicing of sounds and aversion to the sugary hook differentiated it from the bloated, pop sample-heavy US rap that dominated the British charts.

Some of the most prominent purveyors were young, with Dizzee Rascal only 17 on the release of his first album. ‘I Luv U’, which relays a teen lovers’ dispute with its back and forth girl-boy vocals, set to ominous bass, anti-hooks, and a glowering drum beat, moved away from the minimalism of UK garage to embrace something much darker, yet strangely accessible. The youthfulness of most grime listeners—and makers—necessitated a low-cost approach to production, with local radio stations and home-made DVDs and CDs crucial to distributing music in the early stages. Artists such as Lady Sovereign developed their sound by swapping early tentative examples of their music online with future collaborators. Ignoring this entrepreneurial element, grime became a scapegoat for politicians and others that precisely objected to its aggressive sound, and thus recalling similar objections to the distinctive UK permutation of punk two decades earlier. Arguably, the reality of hearing teenagers talk to one another how they really do, seemed to shock authority figures.

The debate about authenticity has changed direction now, as many early artists have had commercial success. Tinchy Stryder, Tempah T and Chipmunk’s chart hits have given rise to arguments about whether grime’s original sound has been compromised by pop production. On the flipside, there have also been fears that the music simply won’t translate in the US, with one urban artist Sway telling The Guardian last year that American audiences told him he sounded like Harry Potter. Despite this, the uniquely London vocals are becoming more representative of a British sound here and abroad.

UK garage’s other offshoot dubstep has had a more far-reaching influence internationally, but its producers and makers feel strongly that the London scene retains its distinctiveness. Local dubstep producer Caski’s describes how the city has an energy of its own which shapes the music of residents – and even those who are just passing through. He said: “London’s special, man. London’s like New York City, if you went to New York, I’m sure the residents will tell you we invented this, and this is our version of this, and it’s the same with our version of this, if you move to London from New York, and you were like I’m a dubstep producer from New York and I’m over here, you’re not going to sound like any other New York producer’s tracks sound like. You’re going to sound like either a bass-weight guy or a midrange guy or you’re going to take influences from where you are. If you’re in London, no doubt you’re going to be making rave music quickly.”

Dubstep evolved out of 2-step garage, itself a sub-genre of garage music, which deviated from the standard 4-4 rhythm. It kept the pitch-shifted vocals, and added a propulsive bass line that moved submerged by the half-time of the drum sequences common to it. The genre gestated first in Croydon, South London, where the figureheads of the scene including Skream and Benga started playing in local clubs before the central London night FWD >>, which gave a home to the sound and its producers.

However, it took several years before a breakthrough album emerged from the scene, with artist Burial’s self-titled album being one of the first most hyped albums of 2005. His second album ‘Untrue’, released in 2006, is a soundtrack to London life, titles such as ‘In McDonalds’ and ‘Night Bus’ chronicling and romanticising the shared mundane post-clubbing experience in the metropolis. His choice to remain anonymous reflected dubstep creators’ focus on developing the sound and its move away from the superstar culture that had defined other scenes, such as big beat in the first half of the 1990s. The showcasing of the music by respected BBC Radio 1 DJs John Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs as a distinct genre gave it an international presence, but its makers such as Caski point to how it is impossible to transpose such a home-grown genre to another place without losing or adding something in the mix.

Despite such possessiveness, others believe that dubstep’s newly evident presence in the charts has made it easier for others to get in on the scene – wherever they are. From Britney Spears’ relatively early adoption of the sound in her single ‘Hold it against me’ to Rihanna’s collaborations with seminal dubstep producers Chase & Status, the genre’s tropes have become commonplace in pop. Born-and-bred London acts have also made the music commercially appealing on a big scale. Grace Wood of digital agency Lilac London said: “Acts like Katy B and Magnetic Man appearing in the top ten have opened up a world for bedroom DJs and producers to step up and take hold of the ‘scene’ and make it their own. It’s not just restricted to dubstep either, that’s just one example.”

The half-time drum beats and the typical “spaciousness” that define dubstep are now giving way to more intricate productions, which have led to the coining of the term “post-dubstep”. It seems at the moment to be a hold-all term for several artists that thrive on the eerie nocturnal expanse of dubstep, while experimenting with new beats, and alternately stripping down and embellishing the sound. Some exemplars of what some call post-dubstep include south London’s Night Slugs label, artist Ikonika and producer James Blake, among others.

III

The comparative liveliness and international scope of these scenes fuel the debate that guitar music “has died”. Yet any music-goer in London can easily pay testament to how it is thriving in the city. In the early 2000s, after the first flowering of what was called Britpop, a band called The Libertines created a cult of fans who were keen once again to get close to their idols. The bombast of stadium-filling acts such as Oasis and Blur was rejected by Carl Barat’s band, and the many bands sharing their orbit in North London. Though the music itself wasn’t breaking any new ground, its distinct romanticism appealed to fans alienated by the sudden popularity of their former favourite bands, now casually talked about on weekday morning chat shows and in tabloid newspapers. The Libertines played music that recalled a (mythical) England, looking like chimney sweeps in their Sunday best, singing dreamily of Albion and mythologising rainy London and its bedsit-dwelling failed poets. While the dream swiftly turned into a Fuseli-styled circus of drug rumours, and inter-band rivalries, The Libertines arguably alerted many young people in the city to the ability to DIY. Playing gigs in basements and even on the street, with fans filming and documenting history as it was being made, they created their own mythology. The epicentre of this scene remained in Camden, where Britpop had taken root only a decade earlier. Dedicated fans would have seen Razorlight on the circuit supporting the Libertines before they went off to have international success with anthems such as ‘America’. Offshoots such as Special Needs and The Holloways (named after the much-maligned Holloway Road in North London) are still kicking around while the annual Camden Crawl continues to attract thousands of music lovers, from Europe and elsewhere, seeking out the next big thing.

While the arrival of the Libertines injected a tangible passion into the live scene, other music lovers in the capital were strongly aware of a gap in the market for a more experimental indie. Upset the Rhythm describes itself as a collective, forming in 2003 to promote bands that were too awkward, angular and unpolished to appeal to NME readers. The collective sought to promote bands in venues that for a few years became weekly pit-stops for what might be described as the first wave of self-conscious hipsters, wearing checked shirts, non-prescription glasses, and American Apparel. The Luminaire in Kilburn, north London and Barden’s Boudoir in Dalston, east London played host to eclectic bills, with bands only united by their stage theatrics, and DIY enthusiasm. Though the more quirky American music scenes influenced many of the bands it highlighted, Upset the Rhythm created their label to give London’s experimental bands “a natural home”.

Chris Tipton, one of the founders of UTR, described in an interview in 2008 how he had wanted to change the relationship between fans and artists after travelling to San Francisco and checking out the live scene there. He said: “The relationship between the band and the audience was totally different from what I had seen in London. There had been efforts to create shows where amazing performances could happen and where people could enjoy a whole evening of shows. These shows were events rather than gigs.” Part of UTR’s mission statement was to keep prices low. The average ticket price was £5, making it easy to check out an intriguing sounding show, with the guarantee that at least one band would be worth the entry fee.

Since setting up as a label and promoters, UTR have curated Yes Way, a festival for UK-only bands in a former South London motor show room, brought over bands to play in medieval church towers behind graffiti’d bus stations in East London, and held gigs where strangers have sat on the floor clasping each other’s hands. Their two most-used venues, the Luminaire and Barden’s, no longer exist, with the latter (and the kitsch, oddly overpriced, furniture shop Barden’s that it was below) swept away in a wave of gentrification. The closure of Barden’s last summer attracted hundreds of music goers to say goodbye, with the police eventually turning up to clear the streets because of the noise generated in the still largely residential area.

While it began as a cross-cultural exchange, UTR has in fact bought an inventive energy to the live scene in London. Their influence can be seen in the appetite for novel events, for seeing bands in small spaces and novel intimate settings. As James Avery (StopMakingMe) told Global Scene, the tiny capacity venue is back. For example, last summer saw the return of Bandstand Busking, with bands utilising London’s forgotten bandstands to do acoustic sets for free. The outdoor setting paradoxically gave each performance a unique intimacy as the bands sang bare-voiced, against the wan backdrop of the cold English summer, with the audience leaning inwards over the sides of the bandstand, scarcely less close to the musicians than the audience members sitting in a semi-circle on the floor. The “event” gig goes hand-in-hand with the need to make an impact in a city where there is almost too much choice. Grace Wood, of the digital music agency Lilac London, comments: “I think for a new band starting out, it’s bound to be hard. There’s so much choice in London and it can be hard to try and build that little world around you and build a database of loyal fans.”

However, some artists are averse to the kind of hype that can swallow up a scene or an artist before they’ve even embarked released an introductory EP. The kinds of bands emerging on the London indie scene are more willingly experimental and less keen to “place” themselves anywhere. Summer Camp is an example of a band that confused the mainstream media by refusing to lay claim to the hype. A number attempted exposés eventually persuaded the musicians to reveal themselves as Platform editor Elizabeth Sankey and songwriter Jeremy Warmsley. Though Summer Camp’s obsession with the past feeds into the problem of “retromania”, charged by critic Simon Reynolds, arguably the duo haven’t adopted their aesthetic because it is already familiar to people, and therefore more commercially lucrative. While their music samples dialogue from dark US high school comedy Heathers and their candid, grainy artwork fetishises the 1970s, their willingness to wholly embrace and scrapbook whatever they want in aid of their own mythology also makes them a distinctly London band. Warmsley has long been around in the city’s more quirky indie scene, hosting near-secret gatherings at his home for the recording of a Wayne’s World-style chat show with musical interludes from other singers. The need for a sense of occasion in London enshrouds the indie scene, not only affecting the venues but also musicians’ identities.

IV

This overview of London’s most notable genres leaves much out that is also distinctive about the music scene in the capital, because it is impossible to cover the depth and breadth of it in this short space. It doesn’t take into the club scene, and the many bars which put on DJs in the background, the audience half-listening while the DJ serendipitously does something alchemical with glowing waveforms on a laptop. And it doesn’t account for the many acoustic artists who play every night across the city, to handfuls of tourists, interlopers, friends and family. It also can’t include the everyday musical events such as the ukulele and banjo gatherings where people turn up and play together just for fun, the audience being part of the band itself. It all feeds into what makes London an exciting, varied scene, with the search for endless invention driven by a need to honour their historically-rich surroundings, be it estate, cavern-like club, established performance hall, or a dark, anonymous, dingy pub.

Coming Soon: BAMM’s Global Scene

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BAMM goes back to school: The Big Smoke as a Global Scene …

Autumn’s tidings have come early to London. The wettest summer for almost two decades has produced both storms and fires. The imagery is both literal and figurative, and sets a sombre backdrop into a still-new-but-becoming-familiar context that the world is very much in motion, in ways that aren’t always obvious. The picture invokes a sense of organic matter going to seed. A sense of inevitability. Urgency. Perhaps a shrug. Meh.

We know the feeling: Summer’s over, kiddo, your tenure at the beach is finished. It’s time to go back to school.

Back to school, for BAMM, means tightening our focus and imagining our next adventures. This means bringing you the best new music, for sure, but also thinking broadly about how the music industry is evolving. The sombre, tiring landscape is seen from a brighter perspective. A moment of realisation sets in about how quickly things change, how fast our lives move, and how, if you look at things in the right way, how many opportunities are out there.

No, but seriously, let’s just say the glass is half-full. We all know there’s more music being produced and consumed than ever before, and that the cost of making it all happen is, by all accounts, much more affordable now as compared to what it used to be. BAMM.TV works with artists wanting to monetize their content, globally. We do this, because we all know that every single night, in the cities around the world, at places where musicians gather, there are incredible, amazing gigs happening. And they mostly just disappear into the air. But people still keep coming back, night after night, to relax and listen to music.

They make a scene of it. That’s how a scene starts. It just happens.

Let’s imagine a show called Global Scene. Let’s go out and speak to the musicians in the scene, and the promoters, the organisers, the fans, the people sustaining the scene. Let’s hear what it’s like to be a musician, to inhabit a unique place and time, and just take a simple snapshot of what’s out there. Let’s compile interviews, discussion and live performance clips from the people who do it for a living. And let’s keep it short, about a YouTube video in length.

So that’s what we’ve done. BAMM’s Global Scene starts Friday, the 16th September. We’ll start with a look at London, and then progress on to Amsterdam, bringing you two of Europe’s most vibrant cities for music. We’ll bring you something new until the end of the year.

The show starts soon, so keep an eye on www.facebook.com/bammtv and www.twitter.com/bammtv, and don’t be shy, tell us what you think. Better yet, throw blog.bamm.tv onto your RSS feed, so you can automatically get the links to our upcoming magazine-length articles about the challenges in defining London’s varied music scenes, which accompany the Global Scene series.

BAMM.TV is rockin’ out all September long, so keep in touch and watch this space.

BAMM Friday Round-Up

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BAMM’s most interesting pickings from the intertubes from the previous week …

– The demise of the old-school music retail model continues apace; major high-street chain HMV are reportedly in dire straits.

– Heard of a little company called Google? They’ve just launched their own music blog, entitled Magnifier.

– Footage emerges of one of Amy Winehouse’s last recording sessions; a duet with Tony Bennett.

New material from alt-country superstar Ryan Adams.

– Music headlines don’t get much more abstract than this.

– An in-depth look at the Six Levels Of Apple Fandom. Whereabouts are you on the chart?

– 4chan founder Christopher Poole tries to break into the mainstream with Canv.as. Unsurprisingly, the kids at 4chan hate him for it.

– Want a chilling reminder of your own mortality? The Bangles formed 30 years ago.

Appwatch: VidRhythm

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In terms of combining music and technology, the folks at Harmonix have a pretty good track record – with ‘Rock Band’ and ‘Dance Central’ they’ve created two of the most defining music video games of all time. Now they’ve turned their attention to the world of iPhone/iPad apps with something that – while it isn’t a game – shares many of the same compulsive traits.

VidRhythm allows you to assemble video clips of literally anything, and the app then throws them all together into a crazy video music-mix. It’s by no means a professional music-making tool – infact, it works along similar lines to the successful ‘In A World’ app series, in which users can make their own spoof movie trailers from their photo collection. If you’ve ever wondered what your barking dog, your humming fridge and your neighbor’s farts would sound like as a rave-off mash-up, here’s your chance.

Watch Rio Contento by Lulacruza on BAMM TV

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If you only watch one video featuring hypnotic vocals, South American instrumentation, miscellaneous sound objects, field recordings, and electronic manipulation today, then make sure it’s this exclusive performance of Rio Contento by Lulacruza. Actually, let’s refine that statement: if you only watch one video at all today, make sure it’s this one, because these guys are one of the most distinctive, unique and powerful acts you’ll have heard in a long, long time – guaranteed. Longtime BAMMites will know that we’re very passionate about sharing often-overlooked World Music with a much-deserved larger audience, and an awesome band like Lulacruza only deepen this passion.

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