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Blighty Beat

For a market like the U.K., authoritative champions of local music have arguably never been more important in the global world of streaming. We sat down with four key tastemakers to find out what’s hot in the world of new British music, movements on the horizon and biggest challenges faced. Below, you’ll hear perspectives from…

Julie Adenuga, one of the three lead DJs for Apple Music’s Beats 1, where she champions the British grime and rap scene. Fun fact: She’s also the younger sister of artists JME and Skepta.

Annie Mac, a longtime staffer at BBC Radio 1, who hosts a weeknight new-music show and helms the coveted “Hottest Record in the World” feature.

Mary Anne Hobbs, who broadcasts at BBC alternative station 6 Music and will launch a new weekday show in January from 10.30am-1pm, which, she promises, will be “compelling, contemporary, interactive and entirely unique.”

Sara Sesardic, a senior editor at Spotify. There, she aims to drive and reflect culture through a playlist portfolio that focuses on all things pop and catalogue.

What is the most exciting thing about British music right now?
Julie Adenuga: A lot of artists are taking control of their careers and being recognised for their talent. Some of the artists that came before them didn’t have this luxury, purely based on the climate that they came up in.

Annie Mac: Grime music—always grime music! A truly British sound, scene and culture. Something that can only be born in London, and something the rest of the world is finally starting to notice.

Mary Anne: For me personally, it’s that my listeners are so knowledgeable and free-thinking. I’m lucky to be trusted to tell them something they don’t already know. Artists will always say that it’s listeners who “complete” their music.

Sara Sesardic: With the optimism of DIY music in the streaming age, artists are pushing themselves and their music in new ways, and they’re reaping the benefits. [That can be seen in] Dave and Fredo’s recent #1, Jorja Smith selling out two Brixton Academy nights without a “traditional” hit single, and Dermot Kennedy’s recent gig at the Brixton Electric. It’s also a really exciting time for established artists who experiment with their music, moving away from formulaic sounds and reaching a wider audience than ever before.

Who are the artists you currently have your eye on, and what are your new-music tips going into next year and beyond?
Julie: Jorja Smith, Ray BLK, Octavian and Slowthai.

Annie: Where do we start here? Some amazing new rap music in the form of Slowthai and Octavian, loads of great new singers like Jade Bird, Laurel and Sam Fender—who I’m incredibly excited about. [He’s an] incredible lyricist and vocalist. In the world of dance music, there’s a whole surge of young brilliant female DJs coming through, like Saoirse and Or:La from Ireland, Haai and CC: Disco! from Australia, Courtesy, Willow, Amelie Lens—there’s so much talent coming through.

Mary Anne: The landscape changes so rapidly in 2018, it’s impossible to predict what might happen next, and that’s what keeps things exciting. If you want a few names: Lucinda Chua, Ethiopian Records, Kelly Moran, Abul Mogard and EX EYE.

Sara: There are too many to mention, but a few the team are excited about include the likes of Grace Carter, Lewis Capaldi, IDER, Dermot Kennedy, Easy Life, KAWALA, APRE, Emily Burns, YONAKA, Sam Fender and Maisie Peters.

Do you see any new scenes or movements on the horizon?
Julie: R&B is gonna be a real big thing over here in the U.K. I had a moment on my show recently and played a solid hour of U.K. R&B—it was lovely.

Annie: Disco has had a huge resurgence in dance music. Drill music, which is a tougher, more trappy version of grime, is huge for the younger generation of London kids. And there’s a lot of great new jazz in the form of Sons of Kemet and Ezra Collective.

Mary Anne: We’re feeling music become more socially and politically charged. Artists are recognising that they have a highly influential role to play in terms of helping to shape the future of society. Their messaging rings like a clarion call to young people, in an age where current affairs is so toxic.

Sara: Rock and indie has always been in good health, particularly in the live space, and we’re seeing a continued growth now in the streaming space. The return of Bring Me the Horizon and You Me at Six made a big splash on Hot Hits U.K. [playlist] earlier this year, and off the back of their Mercury Prize win, Wolf Alice enjoyed a huge influx of streams. This supercharge in rock, indie and alternative sounds is really exciting.

Streaming has made the music business more global than ever—are you concerned that smaller markets like the U.K. will find it difficult to cut through under the weight of the U.S.?
Julie: My only goal is to champion and celebrate U.K. music to whoever wants to listen, anywhere in the world. So many people are doing the same, and I think it’s the passion we all have that will contribute to the growth of British artists.

Annie: I was speaking to a manager of a major U.S. band a few weeks ago, and he talked about how London is the launch pad for the rest of the world in terms of making an impact as an act. And BBC Radio 1 is the only place to launch said act—we are a national radio station with no commercial obligations, and the only place in the world that can take a brand-new artist and introduce them to a mainstream audience of millions with just one play. London is a global leader. I don’t believe it struggles to make an impact under the U.S.; I believe the U.S. looks to the U.K. as a place to break and create success for new music.

Mary Anne: No. Erased Tapes, for example, have proven that the smallest of labels can make phenomenal impact internationally, because the label is so beautifully curated, and people respond to that sense of great craft and artistry. 

Sara: The U.K. has exported some of the biggest artists over the last few years, who have gone on to break records both on Spotify and beyond. A few examples include Dua Lipa, who was the most-streamed female on the platform last year; Skepta, a global music icon with breakout success in the U.S.; and Ed Sheeran, whose single “Shape of You” has become the most-streamed song of all time on Spotify.

At Spotify, we over-index on the export of our music artists, championing homegrown U.K. talent across our 65 markets. The U.K. has certainly made a global impact, and with there being fewer global barriers in the streaming universe, it will no doubt continue to do so.

From where you’re sitting, what are the biggest challenges faced by the British music scene? Do you feel positive about its future?
Julie: I’d love to see more independent in-frastructure in our music scene—more support to the people who want to do things their own way on their terms.

Annie: It’s a worrying time. Venues are closing all over the country. Streaming has hugely skewed the charts over here, which works sometimes—for Dave and Fredo with “Funky Friday” for instance—but this model doesn’t work for any other genre apart from rap and R&B, as they don’t traditionally do well on streaming. But on the plus side, the U.K. just keeps churning out so much amazing music and musicians. Britain is in a weird place. It has never been so divided, so politically in turmoil. People are pissed off, and this, more often than not, leads to exciting, brilliant music.

Mary Anne: David Bowie referred to “the tyranny of the mainstream,” and I hear him. But he knew, as I do, that as long as you have strong individual people who are prepared to stand their ground for what they believe, you’re winning.

Sara: I think there’s a lot to be positive about for the future of the U.K. music industry. It’s in really good health, having grown for the last three consecutive years—and by the end of this year, British consumers would have spent around three quarters of a billion pounds on accessing music legally.

There’s plenty of small and independent record labels doing great things with developing artists. Artists like Nina Nesbitt and Tom Misch are utilizing streaming platforms alongside traditional media. They’re getting creative in order to build a loyal and passionate fanbase, and it’s working.

How can you not feel positive about the British music scene when two homegrown artists, Dave and Fredo, can go straight to the top of the charts driven almost entirely by their own organically built fanbase?