Sound of 2014: Is this the last waltz for the band as we know it?
Solo artists and producers are all set to dominate this year’s music world – with not a four-piece in sight
Next week the 15-strong longlist for the BBC Sound Of 2014 will be cut down to five and an overall winner announced. Given that the award has been previously won by acts such as Adele, Jessie J and Haim, next week’s top five will give us as clear an indication as possible as to which way the dice will roll this year.
There is, though, something very strange about this year’s longlist – for the first time there are no bands (as in singer, guitarist, bass and drums) on it. The main building block of popular music has been demolished to be replaced by solo artists and duos. And in a further acknowledgement of how music is now being made, most of these seven male solo artists, five solo female artists and three duos are very heavy on the collaboration front – jumping from producer to featured artist to contributor on any amount of diverse songs.
The list is conservative in that it only favours currently commercially viable sounds – there’s a whole heap of computer-generated urban pop in there, a lot of easy-on-the-ear/ anodyne soul/r’n’b vocal talents who are flexible enough to perform any material handed to them, and a fair smattering of sensitive acoustic guitar types as well as a nod to progressive hip-hop.
This matters because all the BBC stations will be favouring the shortlisted acts in a heavy- rotation pattern. And where the BBC leads, others follow. As the editor of trade magazine Music Week, Tim Ingham, has it: “There is a central pool of acts who are pimped out to judging panels. We’re operating in a market where the volume of artist album sales has never been lower. Anything that can create noise around a new release is going to boost a record label’s marketing campaign. There’s a lot of lobbying around a limited pool of priority acts.”
So will this year really mark the end of ye olde four-piece band? The last rites have been administered to the genre a good few times over the past few years but this time it looks like resuscitation is out of the question unless the spirit of The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand can be magically evoked. The only act on the longlist who could be described as “rock” are the rifftastic Royal Blood – but even then they are a duo and may fall at the first White-Stripes-tribute-band hurdle.
The last band to come out on top of the Sound Of poll were The Bravery all of nine years ago, and they’re now missing in action. There are rock bands out there but it’s all just so much indie landfill or some trust fund kids on a gap year who haven’t moved on musically since the last Libertines release.
The fact is, a solo act is cheaper to run and maintain. From a record label point of view, it’s also a lot easier to exert pressure on one stars- in-their-eyes individual (“work with this producer”, “release that cover version”) than it is to go into battle with a gang of four who have ridiculous notions of “growing as artists”.
There’s no time or money for growth anymore. All you need is one person who can hold a note or programme a synth, who is not criminally insane or a drink/drug/crack addict and then you pair them up with a Calvin Harris-type super- producer for an instant top-five hit. Bada Bing, Bada Boom.