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Blighty Beat

Interview by Rhian Jones

Since Phil Christie 
took the helm as President of Warner Bros. U.K., the exec has re-established former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher as a solo artist with one of the fastest-selling albums of the year, hit #1 with returning act Royal Blood and developed Dua Lipa into one of Britain’s hottest new pop artists. Christie was promoted after spending two years as Head of A&R at the Warner imprint. When announcing his new title, boss Max Lousada hailed the “inspiring executive” for his fresh perspective and deep respect for artistry. Christie was previously A&R Manager at Warner/Chappell, where he signed London GrammarBen Howard, Tom Odell and Royal Blood. New acts on the way from Warner Bros. next year include urban producer Steel Banglez, U.K. country artist Catherine McGrath and established electronic band Crystal Fighters, who will make their major-label debut. In addition, Brighton band The Magic Gang will release an album in April, and Christie is excited about the potential of young singer/songwriter Ten Tonnes. And look out for the return of Muse in 2018.

What is your strategy for Warner Bros.?
Aside from finding great artists and continuing to have hits, the main focus is to keep evolving the way we operate, put out records, market artists and have success. In a fast-changing landscape, it’s so important that you also change. If you’re static and repetitive, you’re in danger of falling behind. My main cultural ethos is to keep changing, carry on looking for new ideas and bring in new faces so that we keep the feel of the company young. 

What do you look for in new signings?
A voice that moves me, authenticity and great songs. Something I find myself coming back to is artists that have a strong sense of their own identity and personality in order to be authentic on social media, which is such an important part of how we are promoting artists. 

And Liam Gallagher is a prime example of that.
Yes, Liam absolutely has a sense of his own identity. He’d fallen out of people’s minds a bit, and our main role has been to remind people how entertaining he is and also how great his voice is when it’s paired with brilliant material. You could say that Liam was inactive after Beady Eye, but actually he’d built this amazing Twitter following and a rapport that was powerful and entertaining. 

His album was one of this year’s fastest sellers—what were the other factors behind that level of success?
As well as Oasis’ core fanbase, we were selling Liam to young people who haven’t been fans of Oasis or haven’t bought their records mainly due to age. That is reflected in the fact that his album was the fastest-streaming alternative rock record of all time in week one. The reason artists in the U.K. urban scene like Stormzy and Skepta were bigging him up was because they feel an affinity with the working-class-hero mentality that Liam represents. So it caught a bit of a moment. The record is good, so the reviews backed up the noise around him and gave people confidence that it was a great record to buy. 

Dua Lipa hit Top 5 with her debut earlier this year. What’s next for her?
There are still quite a lot of roads left in the campaign for her debut album. “New Rules” is only beginning to hit the states, so there are territories around the world where we have yet to peak with her. We’re using this debut album as a springboard to have a continued series of hits, and the opportunity to do it is huge because she’s now connecting on a global level. The goal is to make her into one of the biggest female pop artists in the world. 

In a fast-changing landscape, it’s so important that you also change. If you’re static and repetitive, you’re in danger of falling behind.

What challenges have you experienced in the U.K. music industry since you took the helm at Warner Bros.?
There is challenge and opportunity in how fast the business is changing since I took over—not only in terms of chart rules and the way that streaming has impacted the chart, but also in the way people consume music. We’ve moved to a consumption-based chart, and that is pretty significant.  It means we’ve had to work in a constantly evolving landscape. 

Where do you see the most exciting opportunities for artists and labels in future?
Visual content. We mustn’t forget the power of a traditional music video if it’s good, but the growth area is in short-form content and all that can be. We’re in the business of telling stories, and people are consuming music with visual. We need to be stronger in that space. 

What are your ambitions?
I want Warner Bros. to be synonymous with great music, great campaigns and significant artists. I want it to be a respected and innovative label.