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STENNETT: WHERE ARE ALL THE ROCK STARS?

First Access boss Sarah Stennett delivered an impassioned speech at Midem in Cannes Thursday about where the subversive spirit of the likes of Sid Vicious, Debbie Harry and Keith Richards has gone in today’s music biz. Is rock & roll a dying art form? Read on.

Not quite, said Stennett, who pointed to Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Travis, Young Thug, the Quality Control label and the grime movement in the U.K., as examples of people ‘breaking the rules’ outside of a corporate system. “A rock and roll star is no longer defined by a sonic sound, it’s a spirit of rebellion that connects all these artists,” Stennett explained to interviewer Lisa Verrico of The Times. “They are usually outsiders, difficult and stubborn, with a very clear vision that seems unorthodox and doesn’t fit in.”

However, as the business has shrunk, the industry isn’t taking as many risks on characters that might be difficult to handle but could be part of something culturally groundbreaking, she added. “If you walk into certain offices today in the music business and you’re not playing ball, told to do this and that, and it’s very clear you’re going to be disruptive, you’re going to see consequences for sure. The business as a whole takes that disruption, youth culture and rebellion, as a sign of unreliability. I think all of us as a business have to be more open. If you want disruptive influencers that lead the way, you’ve got to accept chaos.”

Focusing less on stats and more on gut is also vital in shaking up the current status quo, said Stennett. “The idea of something being ‘too early’ means there are no stats. For me, if there is a lot of stats then it’s probably too late. What we’re interested in as a business and what excites me is too early, it’s when people need support. Artists who don’t get the support will lose the way and won’t have any hope of becoming an iconic rock star.

“You’ve got to invest in a way that allows people to be who they are and not get too focused on what’s happening to what they are already doing. It’s about letting people develop, proper development is really hard to do. Get involved early and sit and wait while people learn their craft.”

First Access is currently developing one of those subversive stars in rapper Lil Peep. Stennett found him living in a warehouse community in L.A.’s Skid Row (quite literally) after listening to his music on SoundCloud. She persuaded him to join the FA fold in exchange for some pink diamond grills and the promise of a tour in Russia, where he played a headline show in Moscow to 2k fans despite having no PR, press and no records. 30 dates across America in 600-cap. venues followed, and he played the 350 cap. Omeara in London in April.

“It’s amazing and exciting that kids are doing it themselves,” said Stennett. “That’s what’s going to create rock and roll stars. In [the rock scenes in] Seattle and Manchester, people just did it and led the way. They were the audience and they were playing to an audience without being told what to do. It was rebellion.

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