Words by Alex Payne
Images via Alcopop Records! and Kick Down the Doors PR.
As music continues to become more accessible, we keep getting confronted with the same paradox; the more music there is, the less we know what to listen to. The democratisation of music has made the artform more diverse, more representative and more innovative, but the trade off is that it’s harder to control the quality. With that in mind, I’ve chosen a handful of smaller artists that I both enjoy and believe are talented enough to stand a chance of achieving mainstream success, and briefly explained why. For more underground recommendations, check out our Hot and Rising playlist on Spotify.
It’s been just over a year since Pop Smoke was tragically murdered, leaving a gaping hole in the fledgling New York Drill scene, and there’s been a race since then to fill his shoes. Most will have bet on the mutton-chopped CJ, and his chart smashing “Whoopty”, but with a tiny discography and questionable street-credentials it’ll be interesting to see if he’s truly the new king of New York Drill, or just a steward. For a more authentic take on the genre, check out 26ar. With an unrivaled work rate – releasing almost 25 singles in the last year alone – and his ability to combine catchy hooks with bellicose verses, 26ar may be one cosign away from truly enjoying the genres mainstream success.
Largely skirting under the radar thus far, Andy Polk blends the evergreen appeal of angsty emo with glitchy hyperpop to create a potent sound set to capture the hearts of disillusioned Zoomers everywhere. His sophomore album, “phantom”, saw Polk commit harder to the darker elements of his sound, and having the confidence to rely more on his infectious vocals. Armed with just a couple of albums and a handful of singles, Polk stands every chance of being able to ride the hyperpop wave.
Hazy and reverb-soaked are practically pejoratives at this point, and for good reason – most artists use them as a crutch – but Earth Dad offer one of the most compelling reasons for why they remain vital elements to indie-pop. Sonically similar to Real Estate and Crumb, what separates the six-piece from their peers is their ability to capture a sense of fun. Dubbed “space pop”, by the band, their sound builds upon textbook indie-pop with drawling harmonies and spacey drums.
An earworm, for those unfamiliar, is a term that describes having the phenomenon of having music stuck in your head. Why do you need to know this? Because Elliot Joe Whitehead’s most recent single, “Let it Slide” is so obnoxiously catchy that it’s practically the textbook definition, and will continue to rattle around your noggin days after hearing it. The simplicity of the track belies the level of polish achieved here, with bubbly, arpeggiated synths sandwiched between the plodding bassline and retro vocals. Intoned atop of the synths, the lyrics see Whitehead channel his inner Depeche Mode to lament over a lost lover, urging them to give him another chance. Despite being armed with just an older EP and “Let it Slide”, Whitehead has managed to amass a healthy following in a little over a month, which stands as a true testament to his craft.
Hailing from Cork, now residing in Berlin, Ellen King (aka ELLLL) is one of Ireland’s most vital producers, and is committed to shaking up Ireland’s electronic music scene – and not just from behind the decks. Her off kilter brand of experimental techno manages to feel simultaneously disjointed and danceable thanks to the manipulated nature samples that are interlaced with ultramodern elements. The resulting sound is somehow both insatiably catchy and anxiety inducing, but it works! Beyond her own art, King has also helped found the GASH COLLECTIVE, a group of likeminded DJs, producers and promoters who are determined to increase female representation in the Irish electronic scene.
Out of the ashes of Haze rise Home Counties, the Bristol based indie-band that are serving socially conscious lyrics with a healthy dose of fun. Operating from the same side of the coin as acts like Sports Team, Working Mens Club, Squid, NOV3L and Pip Blom, they share the same indie-rock cum post-punk sound, and capture many of the same British idiosyncrasies in their lyrics. Despite being hit by Coronavirus restrictions just a couple of months into the band’s existence, Home Counties are thriving, and deserve to be caught live once gigs return.
If your knowledge of Welsh rap is confined to the likes of Goldie Link Chain, let Newport based rapper and producer Lemfreck serve as your wakeup call. Flitting between solemn and braggadocious on a whim, he proves that he’s able to broach any topic, equipped with an arsenal full of slick flows and rich beats. His sophomore EP “midnight” saw Lemfreck further hone his sound, introducing new flows and growing into his sound. Still not convinced? Until recently, nowhere seemed further from the UK’s rap scene than Ireland. One year on though, the torchbearers of that genre, like Hare Squead, have been joined by an explosion of new talent, such as Denise Chaila, A92 and INK. Wales is itching to be the next unlikely region to be taken seriously by the rap game, and the likes of Deyah, Astroid Boys and Lemfreck will be the ones to deliver it.
Cellists are often left resigned to supporting roles within mainstream genres of music, but Lucinda Chua is working hard to buck that trend. After performing alongside FKA Twigs and Slint, Chua has boldly decided to carve out a lane for herself, and has begun formulating her unique conceptualization of chamber-pop. Armed with her cello and vocals, her tracks gently explore a spectrum of emotions, and offer an antidote to the bombastic and eccentric trends that currently dominate pop.
Ones to Watch lists are rife with one cliche in particular: comparisons. Despite my best efforts, this list is no exception, and for good reason, for there’s no way to communicate an artist’s sound than by drawing that parallel. In this case however, it’s especially warranted as Swedish trio Port Noir sound eerily similar to both Royal Blood and Death From Above 1979! Of course, they’re far more than that comparison lets on, and they incorporate elements of pop and r&b into their alt-rock recipe. Glossy and accessible, Port Noir follows a tried and tested formula without losing their originality.
Metal has a rich pedigree in Wales, including Bullet for My Valentine, Skindred and Pretty Vicious. The latest act looking to join that list is Sydney Fate, and their devotion to the metalcore sound make them deserving contenders. Armed with a healthy duality of cleans and screams, stellar production, and an arsenal of guitars, the sextet consistently captures the zeitgeist of early noughties metalcore. Unabashedly indebted to the alternative scene that they draw influence from, the band is sure to be catnip to emo kids everywhere.
What is it about Croydon that allows it to keep churning out top quality rappers? Stormzy, Krept and Konan, and Hardy Caprio all hail from the borough, as does Teks Sinatra, who we’ve tipped as one of the rising stars of Grime. Sinatra offers a more conscious approach to the genre, depicting his fears, heartbreaks and struggles over chilled beats. Authenticity is laced throughout, and his lyrical ability rivals some of the titans of the genre. Once he’s gotten more experience under his belt, nothing should be able to stop Sinatra reaching the big leagues.
Ever wondered what it would be like if M83 and MGMT had a baby? No, me neither, but if they did it would probably sound something like Telemarkk. Capturing the same spacey, jangly synth-pop elements, the Southampton based duo have a knack for riding the line between innovative and comfortable. With barely enough singles to count on two hands, Telemarkk’s high levels of consistency and polish belies the fact that they’ve only been releasing music for just over a year.
Generating comparisons with Madonna and Kate Bush is no mean feat, especially while still a teenager, but that’s exactly what Tizane has done. Featured on both the Umbrella Academy and American Horror Story soundtracks, Tizane is now looking to cement herself as an alternative tinged popstar in her own right. Her debut album “Cherry” dropped this month, and practically oozes with rebellion and confidence. Read our interview with Tizane here.
Don’t forget to check out our Hot and Rising playlist for more recommendations!