Part One: The Month in Brief
My New Book: The History & Evolution of Popular Music Radio in the UK (Page 3)
Fresh on the Net: My reviews for Batch 388 (Page 3)
Trust The Doc Radio: What’s on and when? (Page 4)
Trust The Doc TV: New Content and Branding (Page 4)
Trust The Doc Live: A gig under Tier 2 rules in New Cross? (Page 5)
Vanishing Point: Return of the monthly gig at a new venue (Page 5)
Part Two: Reviews of New Music
Part Three: Other Commentaries
And Finally …. (Page 11)
Cycles of influence in popular music (Pages 12 - 20) Article
So what has been occurring in December? Here is my summary of the main events at Trust The Doc Media.
THE HISTORY & EVOLUTION OF POPULAR MUSIC RADIO IN THE UK: MY NEW BOOK
Mid-December saw the publication of my third book The History & Evolution of Popular Music Radio in the UK edited by Sue Oreszczyn with cover art by Paul F Cook. (See the pic on Page 1). It represents almost a year’s research and drafting, redrafting etc. on a subject that has been close to my heart since childhood. My aim was to place the story of British Pop Radio’s development from the early days of Rock and Roll to the current landscape as it appears in 2020 against the backdrop of social, cultural and political events that impacted its journey and may have been impacted by that journey too. It was also to provide a thorough overview of how radio looks and functions today; also for this to include an analysis of its popularity and reach coupled with some insight as to how it is likely to evolve in the foreseeable future.
I was fortunate to have amazing input from Tom Robinson who, as both a highly experienced broadcaster on BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 Music and as a successful artist, has a massive knowledge both of the history and the functions of modern radio. Tom spent over an hour on the phone with me and recorded the conversation as an MP3 so I could listen to it whenever I needed to. I also had generous help from others like Jon Myer (GLR), Richard Pearson (ex-BBC Radio 1/Head of Radio Scarborough), Graham Belchamber (Conquest Radio) and friends like Lewis Bevan and Kim Gallagher. Sue Oreszczyn’s work on the book has been of unquantifiable value and importance.
The only slight downer is that, due to the costs involved with the Print-on-Demand service provided by Amazon along with their cut of net profits, I have had to charge £30 for the book (£20 more than I had intended). However you can download the Ebook version fo £9.99. So I will understand entirely if a lot of those who initially expressed interest in the book opt for the download version. Hopefully I can persuade some academic institutions to put the paperback in their libraries.
FRESH ON THE NET LISTENING POST: FAVES REVIEW
It was my turn again to write up the reviews of the ten winning tracks at the Fresh on the Net Listening Post (Batch 388) for publication on 7th December. What? Again? You may ask! But actually, when I reviewed them in early November, it was because no-one else was available whereas the December date had been in the diary for months. There were some bangers in there as always. If you want to read the reviews go to https://freshonthenet.co.uk/2020/12/faves388.
TRUST THE DOC RADIO: WHAT’S ON & WHEN?
December saw the successful launch of the Trust The Doc New Music Playlist show which goes out at 2PM (UK Time) every Sunday and repeats at 2AM on Monday for listeners in other time zones. Like all Exile FM shows it is then available on the podcast for a week. Because it is a playlist and not a conventional radio show, the tracks change less frequently and, like a chart, only a limited number leave or enter each week. This guarantees a decent number of repeat plays for priority tracks which, for new and emerging artists, is so important. Here’s how it all pans out.
Sat 5 - 7PM
Trust The Doc Radio
Live & interactive with shout outs, Track of the Week poll, regular features etc. 50% new & emerging acts, approx 35% current tracks by more established acts.
Sun 2 - 4PM/Mon 2 - 4AM
TTD New Music Playlist
Pre-recorded show packing 2 hours’ worth of the cream of current tracks (50/50 new & emerging and more established). My ‘A List’.
Wed 8 - 9PM
Trust The Doc Extra
Pre-recorded show mainly introducing new & emerging artists’ latest offerings including some not likely to make the other shows.
December also saw the rebranding of Trust The Doc TV’s magazine-style twice-monthly music programme as Upstream with a new logo and introductory piece courtesy of the amazing Luke Moore (of Operation Lightfoot). Editions 15 and 16 were packed with quality content and you can catch them both at https://youtube.com/c/neilmarchtrustthedoc.
2021 will see more content on the channel including a roving reporter covering events and interviews with interesting music folk outside the Capital and the introduction of the 6-Minute Interview where I talk to interesting music folk in short snappy interviews about their activities in new music. More news about this will follow in Edition 52.
TRUST THE DOC LIVE: A GIG UNDER TIER 2 CONDITIONS IN NEW CROSS?
It is far from ideal having to put gigs on where only fellow householders and bubble buddies can sit together (and audience members cannot talk to one another or to the artists performing) but venues are trying to stay open and manage within the strict Tier 2 rules. As such, I still hope Trust The Doc Live can return to The Amersham Arms in New Cross on Wednesday 20th January for a night of live music involving four superb acts. Namely Juliet & Nanette; The Tupelos; Amey St Cyr and Tantrumzentrum. All now depends upon how and when restrictions are reduced.
Tickets will be on sale soon via https://demerararecords.com/trust-the-doc-live and are only £6.00. It should be a cracking night of hot new music despite the Tier 2 restrictions. But it will depend upon us being in Tier 2. If Tier 3 is extended across the whole of January, it will have to be postponed.
VANISHING POINT: THE MONTHLY GIG RETURNS AT ITS NEW HOME
It has been a long time coming but, again subject to COVID 19 rules alowoing it, Vanishing Point finally returns and takes up residence at its new home of AMP Studios on Old Kent Road (New Cross/Peckham borders) on Thursday 4th February. It will have an ambient, futuristic and experimental edge with live sets by Hannya White; Tigersonic and Richard Sanderson and one to be confirmed.
We were due to kick off at AMPs back on 2nd April 2020 before the first COVID 19 lockdown intervened and scuppered plans. It has taken a further 10 months but the plan will be for the gig on 4th February to introduce Vanishing Point at AMPs with monthlies returning thereafter to the first Thursday of the month (as was the case at the Ivy House) so the next one will be Thursday 4th March.
It remains my intention that AMPs will also be the venue of the inaugural Tomorrow Calling Festival with both arches being used for the two main stages and the courtyard used for local creatives to come and set up stalls (food, refreshments, merchandise of various types etc.). This will happen around the first part of September 2021.
PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC
December was a little quieter for new tracks but only because Fresh on the Net closed for the Christmas and New Year break following the last Listening Post of the year which closed on 13th December and because my final show for new tracks of 2020 was 19th December after which my focus was on Best of 2020 shows. Nevertheless there was still plenty of seriously hot new music to write about. And. as the pic on Page 1 shows, my wife made Giant Banana Waffles - ideal brain food. :)
Not so many out-and-out Pop tracks this month; maybe because they were too busy making Christmas singles. There were a ridiculous number of those and that is just the snapshot I saw via Fresh on the Net and those pluggers and PR peeps who tried to get me to play them on my show!
Thankfully we did have Ellie Dixon & Austin Prince with the instantly infectious and R’n’B-tinged slow Pop duet New Waves. A track I spotted at Fresh on the Net moderation stage, I was pleased to see it get voted into our faves. I was able to pick it to be one of three Listening Post tracks I featured when standing in for Ming and Jon on the Monday Night Ride Out on Exile FM. Their voices, mainy an octave apart, complement each other well and they get straight on with spelling out the melody and feel of the track from the outset. Eminently radio-friendly, this ought to be on the Radio 1 playlist where it would be a stand-out track.
I have been playing Cat Ryan’s excellent Mannerism a lot on my radio shows and reviewed it last time out. Since then they have also submitted a track to Fresh on the Net entitled Mary Shelley Song, a jaunty Alt Pop track that works in a Ska influence. Lyrically intriguing and story-telling, it reinforces my view that they are one of the more interesting of the current crop of up and coming Alt Rock and Indie bands. Find them on the the Pillar Artists PR page at Soundcloud here.
Consistency is the name of the game where London and Winchester based Aussie exiles Fendahlene are concerned. So it is with the bristling, energetic and uptempo Alt Rock of Cookie Cutter Life with its rueful theme of a life taken down a dead end direction set to fuzzed up guitar, chunky bass and driving beat. Vocals are strong, melodic and laced with cool harmonies. Shades of Manic Street Preachers [especiallly in the descending chord figure in the verses] in a mash with White Denim while The Districts officiate. Another belter.
Brighton’s Hanya describe their music as Indie and new single Monochrome is a heartwarming piece of melodic, inventive Alt Pop that brings to mind Jane Weaver and Khruangbin in a jam with The Big Moon and Teenage Fanclub. Striking upper register female voice takes centre stage, supported by gorgeous guitar jangle and melancholic, touching melody. The subtle switches between major and minor for phrase endings and the three-chord cadences that punctuate key moments in the song are both clever and exquisite. Both beautiful and stirring, laid back and energetic. This is really pretty special.
The Gents are from Greater London and Essex and, in How would you like, they have gone for an Old Skool vibe that mixes Hip Hop a la Naughty by Nature/Eric B & Rakim with a soulful R’n’B vibe. The lyrics present a polite if somewhat traditional view of the ‘ladyz’ but also works in an appealing female vocal that dominates late on in the track. This went down well with Fresh on the Net readers and was one of my top choices both at moderation and at the Listening Post.
The Thirds are described on their Soundcloud page as ‘... a multi-faceted conglomerate of Hip Hop artists based out of London’ and there is certainly an impressively contrasting blend of male rappers on Wings. The backing track keeps it simple with crisp beat and a repeating vibrato synth riff while voices come and go, telling their individual tales of everyday life. It holds my attention and adds to the vibe with bouts of scratching and filtered voices lower in the mix. Tough and exciting.
Just when I was wondering what is going on with Hull’s King of Yorkshie Grime and Hip Hop Chiedu Oraka he storms back into our lives with the sparse and intense Outlaws. More scary tales of life on the North Hull Estate in his inimitable rapid-fire delivery style and broad Hull twang are set against a rolling, broken up beat and simple repeating synth figure based around four two-note semi-chords. Production is perfect, clear and crunchingly lo-fi. Great to hear Chiedu on top form.
James Numbere comes from a traditional Soul and Gospel background which explains this uplifting slice of contemporary Soul. Helped by having a rangey voice and penchant for rising up (sic.) to impressive top notes, he delivers Rise Up with effortless power and passion. A choon to blow away the Christmas cobwebs for sure!
I was very grateful to my friend and musician extraordinaire Mulele Matondo of Kongo Dia Ntotila for bringing to my attention the South East London-based Jazz-Soul band Kanna. Fronted by soulful chanteuse Harriet, they exude classy musicianship and a clash of styles that proves the old adage of the sum being greater than the parts with any cool band. Their sound is Jazz-infused Soul with funky and Latin leanings. Kanna have an eponymously titled EP out which provides a perfect introduction to their smooth style. I have already been playing Azure on my radio show but the entire EP is beautifully written and lovingly performed.
I have previously reviewed Bashaya Soul and their new track Heat is an irresistible slice of melodic Disco House with strong soulful female vocal, punchy horns, classy sax and a chord pattern straight out of the nineties Soulful House songbook. This is crying out to be on the playlist next summer in [a hopefully COVID-free] Ibiza. Some sweet jazzy piano adds another layer of class too.
Now back living in Amsterdam the amazing Bloom De Wilde returns with a slow, sparsely arranged new track entitled Flying Carpenters. A spacy synth plays sustained notes while light-textured Fender Rhodes provides the main accompaniment to Bloem’s voice which is both playful and expressive. Imagine Bjork in a jam with I SEE RIVERS while Joanna Newsom keeps watch. Slightly otherworldly, imaginative and compelling. Having had the pleasure of Bloem playing two of my live events in 2019, I look forward to her being back in London for more dates in 2021 all things being equal.
The last Track of the Week poll to take place on my live and interactive Trust The Doc Radio show on Exile FM in 2020 was won by the Finland/Germany-based duo Platronic with a song called Dreams. Kay and Sami really hit the spot with a driving uptempo salute to synth-pop in a mash with shoegaze. The melody builds around a chord structure and melody that is almost Abba-esque but in the context of a much punchier and contemporary take on Euro-Pop mixing it up with the buzzing, popping energy of Hot Chip or even Bombay Bicyce Club. Impressive, infectious and intense.
No you’re not experiencing deja-vous! It is another track by the irrepressible Machina X! Annie and Cyrus may reside on entirely different continents, separated by thousands of miles and separate time zones, but they keep delivering such a high standard of material. So it is with Wolves. Not quite a Christmas track, it sets Annie’s imaginative story-telling skills (incuding the kind of winter forest fantasy one might find in a seasonal children’s story book) and melodic sensibilities to Cyrus’s epic canter through a series of different musical states and tempi. There is a folk element that fits the mood of the track although there are enough of their trademark electronic and synth sounds to leave us in no doubt as to who we are listening to. Annie’s voice is as distinct and expressive as ever but playful and enticing too. I am tempted to stick my neck out and say this is their best yet. It is certainly on a par with their best work in what has proved to be an outstanding year for the duo.
Another band who have had an amazing 2020 are Cardiff’s Italian-Welsh Dream Pop warriors Lunar Bird. Despite Roberta being holed up in Italy while Francis is still in Cardiff, the fantastic singles and accompanying videos keep coming. So it is with Emerald and Blue. Buoyantly bouncing into centre stage atop a triplet time beat and swathed in swirling, sweet synths, it is unmistakably Lunar Bird. Roberta is in fine voice and the multi-tracked harmonies perfectly suit the cinematic soundtrack they have created. Typically tuneful and boosted by trademark pristine production, it is another winner that whets our appetites even more for the album due sometime in 2021.
Buildings In Motion is a side project of Mozz (aka Transmission 13) and there is an abum, just released, available via Bandcamp entitled Utopia from which I have played Blue Wave on my show. Like Transmission 13, this is slowly building and carefully crafted ambient music and sound. Mozz utilises synths, samples and spoken word to sparse, enigmatic effect, creating translucent soundscapes and dreamy textures. An album to lose yourself in.
Australian sound artist Lawrence English has a new EP out entitled Field Recordings from the Zone. Unlike his Mono series, these tracks are purely sound-based, capturing the aura of Queensland in the aftermath of a summer of raging bush fires. The EP also nods to the writings of Arkady and Strugatsky with their emphasis on uncertain futures. The sounds are stark, atmospheric and recorded with power and clarity. The highlight, for me, is The only way out is in with its enigmatic howling winds and underlying drone.
Heroin is an intriguing album by Stephan Matheu & Ekkehard Ehlers which combines field recordings with repetitive, possibly looped keyboard figures and fluid organ parts. Titles are interesting. For example, there is a track called Supertramp which may be a reference to a vague similarity between the onbeat keyboard stabs and some of the band of the same name’s well-known works. New Year’s Eve places calmly repetitive but loudly produced keys over what sound like fireworks. Blue Baby 1 consists of little other than a monophonic drone and semi-arpeggio figures based on a single repeating chord. Vinnie’s Theme presents a fragmented, dysfunctional rendition of Air on a G String by J.S. Bach! It is certainly an album that you feel compelled to listen to from start to finish; a unique collaboration in which music and sound interact and intertwine with strangely alluring results.
A band I was delighted to come across when reviewing the Fresh on the Net faves in December are The Fontanas. They describe their sound as “funky Brazilian and Afro Latin vibes”. Recently they have had airplay and serious props both from Edu on BBC 1Xtra and the legendary Craig Charles on the BBC Radio 6 Music Soul and Funk Show. Capoeira Mata Um is Portuguese for “Capoeira kills one”! No, me neither! It is a true gem though. Its lilting Latin sensibilities and passionate, pleading male vocal recall the Gibson Brothers (if they had sung in Portuguese, that is!) mixing it with Bare Bones. The syncopated horns have a Salsa edge although the beat is more Samba. I was doubly delighted that The Fontanas allowed me to show the wonderful video for this track on my Upstream programme on Trust the Doc TV.
Folk & Country
I am not entirely sure whether Folk is the right label to slap on Londoners Sandtimer but the picking guitar and warm vocal harmonies that dominate the lovely Yongo / 四五 place it in broadly Folky territory. Imagine a mixed gender but slighly male-dominated Staves in a jam with Timber Timbre while Mumford and Sons look on. As the voices rise up the register, so the band’s dynamics follow suit. It’s beautifully done and makes for compelling listening. A real gem.
American band Ghost Dance Collective released the EP Getting By in November and it duly landed in my in-box a month later. It is acoustic guitar and male vocal harmony dominated Folk. The sound is minimal and spacious, the harmonies quite traditional and looking back to the late sixties for inspiration. Melodically it is pretty and fluid. Third track Clouds is an appealing instrumental while final track Here comes the rain has a Simon & Garfunkel vibe. Plenty to get your teeth into.
AND FINALLY .......
Well, it was a lighter issue (just 20 tracks) this time due to the lack of new submissions over the Christmas period but no doubt I will be back to reviewing large numbers of new works on 31st January. As I write, the forecast for coming sufficiently out of Tier 4 (or possibly 5 we are now told) to be able to stage live events is not great. With a gig booked in 20 days’ time, I am struggling to see any option other than postponement. But fingers crossed that the vaccination process is successful and we begin to turn the corner soon. In the meantime, I wish you all a happy new year and let’s hope that, this time next year, we will be looking back on the year where everything became better again. See you on 31st January for more new music talk.
PS: Check out the article on Page 12. I may make articles like this a regular feature.
CYCLES OF INFLUENCE IN POPULAR MUSIC
Dr Neil March FRSA
Published in Trust The Doc (Edition 51), 31st December 2020
The evolutionary journey of popular music has been characterised by cycles of influence. In the last Century these cycles generally took place over twenty year periods punctuated by young generations of artists reaching back to the decade before last and cherry-picking the elements that appealed to them.
As early as the nineteen sixties, there was a tendency to reach back to the forties for inspiration. This was true of the Beat Generation Jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, whose Bop sub-genre took inspiration from the small improvising ensembles led by musicians like Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Bennie Moten. It included solo singers like Del Shannon, Helen Shapiro and Bobby Vee who took influence from the crooners and it was true of Soul and Rhythm’n’Blues (R&B) vocal groups who looked to the likes of The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers for ideas about combining harmonising voices with fluid counterpoint. The Temptations, with their spread of voices from Melvin Franklin’s deep bass to the upper tenor of Eddie Kendricks and his falsetto range, were a prime example of this approach.
By the seventies this tendency was more prevalent than before with fifties Rock and Roll providing the template for much of the Glam Rock era song construction and Doo Wop informing the Philly Soul groups. Even Disco owed much to the uptempo Dance-oriented Pop of Tamla Motown and the brassier Stax Soul. The popularity of the TV series Happy Days underlined the romanticisation of the Rock and Roll era for those too young to have experienced it for themselves.
The I - IV - V (12 bar) format of Rock and Roll music had been at the core of early Glam Rock songs such as T-Rex’s 1971 hits Hot Love and Get it on and Slade’s Get down and get with it. This reliance on an explicitly Rock and Roll-based format was taken a stage further by Wizzard who incorporated High School band-style saxophones into their sound too. By 1974, as the first wave of Glam Rock was fizzling out, a new wave of more direct fifties Rock and Roll pastiche-based artists came to brief prominence including The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy and Alvin Stardust. Mud also strongly referenced the fifties model while keeping a foot in the [primarily Slade-influenced] prototype Glam Rock camp; assisted by the songwriting and production skills of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman who had already provided hits for others including Sweet and Suzi Quatro.
The seventies also saw the straightforward R’n’B-infused Pop of Motown and Stax give way to a more sophisticated brand of Soul music, pioneered by Marvin Gaye’s ground-breaking 1971 album What’s going on and subsequently by Stevie Wonder and others like The Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin and Al Green. The vocal groups that became popular in the early part of the decade - The O’Jays, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Spinners etc. - looked to the close harmonies and syncopated rhythms of Doo-Wop, aided by the writing and production skills of Gamble & Huff, McFadden & Whitehead, Ashford & Simpson and others.
Even Punk, arriving in the mid-seventies, for all its alleged enmity towards Rock and Roll and Teddy Boy culture, relied on Rock and Roll-like three and four chord formats that represented a reaction against the perceived excesses of Progressive Rock and related music. Certainly the bands who had most obviously provided the inspiration for The Sex Pistols and The Damned - MC5, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, New York Dolls - all built their music on Rock and Roll-based foundations.
In each cycle, age has been a key factor. Essentially, each new generation of music artists has dismissed, in some cases ridiculed, the decade that has just ended. At the same time, they have been able to exhume the most appealing elements of the decade before; discarding all the negatives that led to its dismissal by the previous generation and reinventing it as some form of ‘golden age’! In the eighties, the Post-Punk bands looked to new sixties icons like Velvet Underground and The Doors while Ska and Mods resurfaced along with Psychedelia but all of them newly invigorated and modified. Conversely, there had been a large scale rejection and ridiculing of much about the music and fashion of the seventies. So much so that, in the early eighties, it seemed inconceivable that those elements would become influential again. Yet influential they did eventually become!
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. For example, German Electronic Pop pioneers Kraftwerk, who rose to international acclaim in the seventies, were a significant influence on the Synth Pop wave of the early eighties (i.e. Human League, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark etc.) as well as on Industrial Funk and experimental artists like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle (although both had originated in the mid-seventies). Similarly, bands mainly associated with the sixties such as The Beatles and The Kinks were highly influential in the nineties. Kraftwerk’s influence also continued into the nineties and arguably grew in importance with the advent of House, Techno and Trance. Their influence on a thriving electronic music scene has continued to be enormous.
Developments in the nineties seemed to support the theory of the twenty year cycle of influence. While Acid Jazz bands like Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies looked to seventies Funk for inspiration, a new wave of Rock bands (The Spin Doctors, Black Crowes, Reef, Xtreme etc.) began reviving early Heavy Metal and even elements of Progressive Rock. Perhaps most surprisingly, flared jeans and platform shoes made a reappearance! Glam Rock and Punk were both parts of a package of ‘classic’ British Pop that inspired the populist Britpop wave led by Blur, Oasis and Suede. Noel Gallagher, principal songwriter and guitarist with Oasis, cited Slade as an influence and the band covered their song Cum on feel the noize in 1995.
Manic Street Preachers looked to the sixties and Garage Rock for ideas but more so, they too referenced seventies influences with Punk and Glam Rock both clearly on their radar. The bands they were perhaps closest to in those early years were mainly from the USA. Pixies, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jnr, Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly and others also took inspiration from Punk and Post-Punk but combined it with elements of Heavy Metal and Garage Rock to create a melodic but heavier sound than the British bands. Grunge emerged as a new genre from that combination of influences with bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Queens of the Stone Age among its exponents.
Disco was a key influence on the diversification of House music and the advent of, in the first instance, New York Garage which itself began life as a hybrid of House and Salsoul, the latter also referencing the seventies. House music rapidly gave birth to a host of sub-genres (Deep House, Soulful House, Disco House, Banging House, Progressive House, Euro House etc.) and, from these genres and elements of Techno, Trance emerged as a popular genre in the nineties as the Club Scene grew rapidly over the second half of that decade and the influence of club anthems popular during Ibitha’s summer season led to their becoming post-summer hits in the UK.
Even at the turn of the Century [and Millennium], the cycle was again in evidence. Eighties [Old Skool] Hip Hop provided clear inspiration for another generation of rap-based acts like Akon, Nelly and Eminem. Soul artists prevalent in the eighties such as Prince, Anita Baker, Chaka Khan and The Pointer Sisters (as well as early eighties works by Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye) were among the influences on the Neo Soul wave spearheaded by Angie Stone, Jill Scott, India Arie, Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, Maxwell, D’Angelo, Donnell Jones and others including the British artists Lynden David Hall (who died tragically from Hodgkins Lymphona aged 31) and Kele Le Roc.
Post-Punk also resurfaced as a key influence at the start of the new millennium with bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Mystery Jets and Kaiser Chiefs referencing influences that included Gang of Four, Josef K, New Order and others who are primarily associated with the eighties. Franz Ferdinand’s music notably reflected the micro-funk Bass Guitar style of original Gang of Four member Dave Allen and the choppy upper register chord play both of Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill and Josef K’s Malcolm Ross while vocally they were closer to Josef K’s Paul Haig and others with lower range male vocalists and fluid melody writing styles such as Edwyn Collins (Orange Juice) and possibly even Human League’s Phil Oakey. Early Kaiser Chiefs material referenced a wide range of influences. Their iconic 2004 single I predict a riot drew partly on late seventies New Wave influences but the verses had echoes of Scottish Post-Punk band The Scars and the bridge to the chorus, which results from a key modulation, with its bassline descending in semi-tones while the guitar chords change in intervals of fourths and fifths, recalls Echo & The Bunnymen
In the USA, Chromatics and Warpaint were two bands whose music took inspiration from the Dream Pop of Cocteau Twins and Post-Punk bands like Siouxsie & The Banshees. Chromatics’ Ruth Radelet has also cited Tom Waits as an influence, an artist who has been active since the seventies but whose two most significant albums were released in 1983 (Swordfishtrombone) and 1985 (Rain Dogs) respectively.
There is evidence also of nineties music influencing artists whose careers began close to the start of the following decade with, for example, Swedish duo I Break Horses, whose influences include long-running Icelandic band Sigur Rós as well as others like Bjork and Mazzy Star who came to prominence in the nineties. Likewise artists like Americans Sharon Van Etten and Lana Del Rey, Australia’s Courtney Barnett and British singer-songwriter Kate Nash, all of whom broke through around the period between 2008 and 2011 and all of whom have influences drawing on artists prevalent in the nineties (from Bikini Kill and The Breeders to Julianna Hatfield and Kristin Hersch to name a few). So even as the lines become blurred, the twenty year cycle of influence continues to be evidenced.
Popular Music’s evolution over its first half-century of existence has been rapid when compared to the classical and jazz worlds. Critics might suggest this is because it is based on less sophisticated formulae that point inevitably to a short shelf life. In truth, that is a myth. The degrees of musical sophistication and technical adeptness vary greatly across all genres but popular music has already proved capable both of building a vast catalogue of classic works and of influencing other areas of music.
In the past decade and a half, that evolution has slowed. This should not be a cause for alarm. Popular music is no longer in an embryonic phase and, like most things that evolve in cycles, the changes now take more time and are so gradual that one often fails to spot the tipping point. It can, in this respect, be compared to how darkness gives way to light and vice versa or how an individual’s physical features change over time. One never sees the precise moment when it ceases to be dark, nor when it ceases to be light.
As I write, at the beginning of 2021, we have just experienced the beginning of another new decade. This time, however, there has no been no notable rejection of the music or culture of the last one and neither did such a rejection occur in 2010. On the contrary, 2020 has mostly meant more of the same. The dark shadow of COVID 19 and the restrictions it has forced us to live within may have had some bearing. It is, after all, difficult to launch a radical overhaul of contemporary music, art and fashion when gigs are scarce and people are not allowed to gather. I suspect, though, that it would have made little or no difference had there been no pandemic. In fact, one might argue that there has been more opportunity for creativity because artists have been at home instead of embarking upon exhaustive tours.
Despite these factors, 2020 has been a very good year for music. At least it has been very strong for individual tracks and some impressive albums even if, stylistically, they offer little change from what music sounded like in the previous four to five years. Still the twenty year cycle has not been entirely wiped out. For example, one can point to the influence of bands like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party on the likes of Do Nothing, Working Mens Club and Shame. At the same time, those bands all look back further to the likes of The Fall and The Birthday Party (Do Nothing), New Order and Talking Heads (Working Mens Club) and to Presidents of the United States of America, Devo and Gang Of Four (Shame). In this snapshot, we see a new pattern emerging. Current artists are not content only to look back twenty years. They are looking back across the entire nearly seventy year history of popular music and taking inspiration from multiple sources.
I hear evidence of this every week in my dual roles as a moderator for the popular digital music platform Fresh on the Net and as curator and presenter of the Trust The Doc Radio shows on Exile FM whereby I receive literally hundreds of new tracks by aspiring bands and artists. Each week I hear music influenced by, for example, Postcard Records (Orange Juice, Josef K and early Aztec Camera), classic British Pop (The Beatles, The Kinks, Madness, XTC, The Smiths etc.), UK Hip Hop and Grime (Little Simz, Dizzee Rascal, Loyle Carner, Flohio etc.), Singer-Songwriters (from classic artists like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon, Tim Buckley and Paul Simon through to Laura Marling, Phoebe Bridgers, Sharon Van Etten, John Legend and James Blake) and Electronic music (from Kraftwerk and Brian Eno to Four Tet, Floating Points and Anna Meredith).
The above is also just a snapshot. If we restrict our focus to current artists who have already broken through to the level at which they are receiving regular airplay on national radio stations (i.e. BBC Radio 6 Music; BBC 1Xtra; BBC Radio 1; Radio X etc.), again the influences that surface most commonly are not drawn from a specific era. Talking Heads are arguably more influential than ever before on current music. The Fall appear to have spawned a string of copycat bands; all the more so since Mark E Smith’s untimely death in 2018. Prince, Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins, Bjork and various others continue to surface as substantial sources of inspiration.
There are other factors to consider in relation to this decelaration of popular music’s evolution. One is the host of other leisure and cultural interests created in the post-digital era - computer games, mobile technology, social media etc. - which have reduced the importance popular music once played in the lives of most young people. Digital platforms and formats have also changed how we interact with music and what we prioritise in relation to it. For example, the concept of having a favourite band or artist is no longer as widespread or popular as it once was. Individual songs have grown in importance while artists’ entire outputs have become less important. There is no longer a need to release a single ahead of the new album and then pour energy into promoting the album with a tour and a marketing campaign. Many artists wil now ‘drop’ the album and focus, in turn, on different tracks over a sustained period so that the purpose of the album effectively becomes that of a place of storage where one can access the individual tracks on download and streaming platforms.
The tendency for popular music to share, at best, equal or perhaps lower status with a host of other leisure and cultural interests also impacts on its ability to be a catalyst for significant change. It may partly explain why the process of wholesale rejection of the recent in favour of the new has largely died out. It may also mean we will never experience a game-changing musical-cultural wave on the scale of Punk, Hip Hop or Acid House again; nor even smaller-scale movements such as with Rude Boys/Girls, Mods, Baggies and so on.
It does not mean, however, that we have reached some imagined ‘end of history’ where the future can consist of nothing more than the endless regurgitation of old ideas! On the contrary, music artists continue to innovate both in terms of how they construct and perform music and in terms of how they utilise sound. Originality is arguably a subtler concept than it once was.
In 2020, Arlo Parks, who turned 20 in August, has succeeded both in creating a sound and style that draws on elements not traditionally seen as bedfellows (R’n’B, Indie, Folk etc.) while her unique vocal and melodic style [and powerful lyric writing] has further marked her out. Pop Futurists Everything Everything continue to hone a style that brings the energy of Alt Rock together with Cinematic and Epic soundscapes. Rapper Loyle Carner has developed a very personal and rhythmically fluid style fusing thoughtful intelligent lyrics, imaginative musical backdrops and clever collaborations. Singer-songwriter Laura Marling may draw upon a long lineage of classic artists going back to Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading but she has a distinct and thoroughly contemporary style that is evidenced by her outstanding Song for our daughter album. American artist Julianna Barwick, meanwhile, has created otherworldly, detached and yet warmly humanistic soundscapes through the piecing together of hundreds of vocal samples and by constructing harmony and electro-ambience around them on her album Healing is a miracle. These are just five contrasting examples. There are many more artists for whom similar cases could be made.
Critics might point out that none of these artists sound especially radical or ground-breaking but such criticism misses the point. They have managed to stand out from a sizeable crowd in an era where it is harder than ever to do so. Furthermore, it is an era in which the free and affordable availability of digital technology has led to a huge increase in the volume of new tracks released independently each week. It is great that this situation, along with easy and cheap access to the efficient distribution of ones music across worldwide digital platforms, has made popular music more democratic. It does, however, mean that the market for new music has never been so overcrowded and oversubscribed. All the more reason then to applaud the achievements of those who are still able to shine.
We can only speculate as to how popular music will evolve and change in the years ahead. The part played in that process by cycles of influence may continue to be more flexible both in terms of the time spans the cycles cover and in the frequency of significant shifts in style and influence. At heart, though, the process of new generations of artists seeking inspiration from a past they are too young to remember first hand will no doubt continue to provide fuel for creativity and innovation.
Dr Neil March is an Arts Council & Lottery supported music promoter, entrepreneur and author. He is also a visiting lecturer at Universities in Greater London.
 https://www.mundoclasico.com/articulo/8979/Jazz-and-the-Beat-Generation - Article by Rubén Jazaro in mundoclasico.com (2006) discussing the Beat Generation and the role of Jazz artists.
 https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mills-brothers - Encyclopedia.com entry for influential African American vocal group The Mills Brothers.
 https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/the-last-temptation-2-707557/ - Article by Elias Leight in Rolling Stone magazine (2018) which discusses the vocal range of the band The Temptations.
 The 12-bar is a formula used extensively in Rock and Roll music, derived from the Blues, which uses a I - IV - V chord combination (known, in music theory, as tonic, subdominant and dominant). A typical 12 bar pattern goes: I - I - I - I - IV - IV - I - I - V - IV - I - I (with each number constituting a single bar in 4/4 or ‘common’ time signature).
 https://theconversation.com/marvin-gayes-1971-whats-going-on-remains-unanswered-today-88732 - Article in The Conversation (2018) by Stewart Maganga, Lecturer at the University of Malawi.
 http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Gamble%20And%20Huff.html - Soulwalking entry for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, pioneering songwriting and production team who fashioned the ‘Philly Soul’ sound.
 https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/59868/rb-artistsongwriter-gene-mcfadden-dies - Tribute to the late Gene McFadden in Billboard magazine (2006) which discusses McFadden & Whitehead’s contribution as writers, producers and performers.
 https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-nick-ashford-20110824-story.html - Obituary of Nick Ashford by Paul Hawthorne in LA Times (2011) which discusses his partnership with his wife Valerie Simpson as writers, producers and performers.
 The Teddy Boys were followers of Rock and Roll who dressed like the male icons of that era in drape jackets and ‘quiff’ hairstyles. The original Punks were involved in violent clashes with ‘Teds’.
 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/11/arts/music/velvet-underground-experience-john-cale.html - Article in New York Time by Andrew R Chow (2018) based on discussing the history of the Velvet Underground with co-founder John Cale.
 The Doors: The Illustrated History Paperback by Danny Sugerman (1988) - a definitive history of The Doors by Sugerman, a music historian and documentary maker who has been a leading authority on the band for many years.
 https://sarahollidaybooks.com/things-to-learn-about/mods-and-their-music/ - Detailed article (in Q&A form) by Sara Halliday (undated) explaining Mods and Mod culture (including the music).
 https://www.shsu.edu/~lis_fwh/book/hybrid_children_of_rock/Psychedelia2.htm - Excerpt from History of Rock published by Sam Houston State University, Texas, USA on Psychedelia
 https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002226805 - Grove Music Dictionary entry for Acid Jazz
 Britpop, Cool Britannia and the spectacular demise of English Rock by John Harris (2004) - detailed paperback charting the rise and fall of Britpop as a genre and the impact of its demise on popular music in the UK.
 https://blog.discogs.com/en/albums-that-made-neo-soul/ - Discogs’ ‘4 albums that made Neo-Soul’ written by Keith Nelson Jnr (2020).
 https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/the-30-best-dream-pop-albums/ - Pitchfork’s ‘30 Best Dream Pop albums’ (2018).
 Rude Boys/Girls were/are followers of Ska music, originally the Bluebeat and Rocksteady music from Jamaica such as Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Dandy Livingstone but later the British Two-Tone bands like The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness etc. and subsequent bands influenced by those scenes.
 The ‘Baggies’ were followers of Indie-Dance crossover bands associated with the Madchester wave most perfectly typified by The Happy Mondays but also including the likes of EMF, Jesus Jones, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Flowered Up, Soho, The Farm and others.