Beyond its long-standing role at the vanguard of electronic music, Britain is on the international radar thanks to a handful of Bandcamp rock bands, a renewed interest in grime and their own brands of post-Spotify pop. Here’s 20 artists to watch.
Photo Courtesy of NTS Radio/2814
For Fans of: Oneohtrix Point Never, Tangerine Dream, the Drive soundtrack
Lacing the gauzy genre of vapourwave with a special strain of yearning for the club, the sound of 2814 is ambient and amenable but with an intense dreaminess that can roil and leave listeners feeling woozy in all the best ways. Beat-less tracks on the duo’s 2015 album 新しい日の誕生 warble and warp so hard that they could be charted out in terms of rhythm. Whatever the two Londoners – HKE and Telepath – had in mind while making them comes across via deep-space transmissions that are easy to tune into and hard to shake. Other offerings since deliver on the same promise, including a track, “Impact,” on a compilation with a title that signals its sound well: Hardvapour.
For Fans of: Arca, Flying Lotus, Autechre
A longtime fixture in the Iranian underground rock scene, Ashkan Kooshanejad fled Tehran for London after playing a role in director Bahman Ghobadi’s No One Knows About Persian Cats, fearing for his safety once the authorities began arresting and beating participants in the 2009 Cannes-lauded film. After winning asylum in the U.K., Kooshanejad, who had already been recording film soundtracks, began work on the intriguingly unpredictable electronic compositions that he would release as Ash Koosha. A well-received debut, GUUD, attracted the attention of the electronic label Ninja Tune, which released an even more daring follow-up, I AKA I, in April. Befitting the futuristic bent of Ash Koosha’s sound, a virtual reality companion to the new album will be displayed on Oculus Rift headsets this year.
Fat White Family
For Fans of: FIDLAR, the Black Lips, Deerhunter
Fat White Family’s sneering psychedelic punk is the sonic equivalent of society coming unhinged. “There’s so much landfill indie and crap industry fodder at the moment,” vocalist Lias Saoudi said earlier this year. “All these horrible bands like Slaves and Peace and Wolf Alice. All this absolute drivel for angry nine-year-olds.” At the root of his criticism is the missed opportunities other bands have when it comes to making political statements in their art. No shortage here. Amid vulgar yet catchy creations like “Tinfoil Deathstar” and “Bomb Disneyland,” the five-piece have proven serious about injecting commentary into 2013’s Champagne Holocaust and this year’s Songs for Our Mothers, both released via Fat Possum. The world might never grasp Fat White Family’s importance in these turbulent times, but it’s been a hot, sweaty blast for everyone already at the party.
Fear of Men
Rosie Carr & Daniel Falvey
For Fans of: Aurora, FKA Twigs, the Cranberries
Upon release of their acclaimed debut, Loom, Brighton’s Fear of Men was nearly pigeonholed to death by fuzz-pop comparisons from C86-reverent critics. Yet their latest release, Fall Forever, recoils from the guitar-driven, dream pop structure and drifts into a more contemporary, electronic wilderness. The final result is a gorgeously spun tapestry of prudently spaced, percussive textures that aerate the tiniest, most intimate moments into a sprawling vastness. At the centre of it all, vocalist Jessica Weiss issues bold declarations of independence (then concessions) to a lover, portraying the push-and-pull of a troubled young romance that’s karmically cycled through centuries. The starkness of songs like “Trauma” and “Island” is appropriately matched with striking visuals by multimedia artist Eleanor Hardwick. After supporting similar acts such as the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Lower Dens, Fear of Men will finally embark on their first US headliner this summer.
For Fans of: Tortoise, the Bad Plus, Radiohead
GoGo Penguin are an instrumental trio boasting a DJ crew name while thriving in an avant-jazz universe. Over three albums, they’ve often sketched electronic ideas on programs like Logic and Ableton and transferred them to acoustic instruments. The results test tempos, textures and attention spans, nodding to production styles ranging from DJ Mustard to Diplo to Oneohtrix Point Never. On their Mercury Prize-nominated sophomore album v2.0, “Garden Dog Barbecue” simulates the builds and releases of EDM, while the chilled-out DNA of “Hopopono” is closer to trip-hop. Audiences at this year’s New York’s Winter Jazzfest and Cali megafest Coachella were worlds apart, but both could hear the guys showcase the syncopated discoveries of 2016’s Man Made Object.
For Fans of: The xx, Phantogram, Portishead
The first song Lotti Benardout, Arthur Delaney and Dom Goldsmith wrote together as Hælos was the irresistible goth-ified pop morsel “Dust.” After it blew up on SoundCloud, several more eerie, synth-pop torch songs eventually filled out this year’s full-length debut, Full Circle. Even when the trio echo moody electro forebears like Depeche Mode and OMD here and there, their dark synths and sinewy beats aren’t holding onto the past. Their approach – frequently syncing up Benardout and Goldsmith’s whispered disappointments – has communicated emoji-era pathos to festival audiences at Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Coachella.
For Fans of: Zomby, Kode9, Kuedo
Ital Tek – a.k.a. producer Alan Myson – came up making concussive, stroboscopic bass music for the hallowed but still hip label Planet Mu before turning, on his recent album Hollowed, to an unlikely influence: the late 20th-century Polish classical composer Henryk Górecki. His eminence has been offered as a stated influence for an album that brings to beats and bass a sense of contemplation and space inspired by Gorecki’s vaunted Symphony No. 3 (which you might have heard in movies even if unaware). No one will mistake a ripping, ruptured track like “Reflection Through Destruction” – with seething synth noise more prominent than beats that arise only at the end – as a candidate for classical repertory, but sophistication comes in many forms.
Let’s Eat Grandma
For Fans of: Cocteau Twins, Lana Del Rey, Kate Nash
Deeply weird and weirdly deep, the teen duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth craft songs that are sprawling and exploratory. Their debut I, Gemini peppers sprawling, playful electropop with unexpected left turns – recorder solos, rap breaks, toy piano interludes – and otherworldly vocals. Their sense of childlike wonder buoys their music, giving off a sense that they’re figuring things out as they go along; but as the band’s name (taken from an old lesson about how to use commas) implies, sinister elements lurk underneath.
Photo Courtesy of Sony Music
For Fans of: Skepta, Krept & Konan, Nicki Minaj
After Lady Leshurr broke out in 2011 with her mind-blowing freestyle over Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” Atlantic offered the Birmingham rapper a deal, suggesting that she release a Nicki Minaj diss track. The artist born Melesha O’Garro said no, and took the long road to success on her own terms. Although Leshurr refused to criticise another artist, she’s elevated insults to a comic art form on her “Queens Speech” series, where she deals in sharp pop culture putdowns: “I’ll be Beyoncé to these girls and I’ll Michelle them,” she deadpans on “Queens Speech 3.” Last October, she released “1 Million Views” after the brilliant one-shot “QS4” video hit seven figures in a week. It’s now at 29 million views and Leshurr just signed a publishing deal with BMG.
For Fans of: Lorde, Adele, Lykke Li
On her debut album Long Way Home, this young singer-songwriter crafts minimalist synth-pop that’s given extra emotional grounding by her rich, lugubrious alto. She started posting music on SoundCloud and soon garnered the attention of XL Records, which counts similarly soulful singers like Adele and Holly Miranda among its alumnae. She’s been championed by in-the-know DJs like Zane Lowe (whose new home, Beats 1, played the simmering “Falling Short” during its inaugural day) and Annie Mac (who named some of her tracks her “Hottest Record in the World”). Låpsley’s about to entrance listeners Stateside with sets at Lollapalooza and Outside Lands.
Location: North London
For Fans of: Tink, Dizzee Rascal, Stormzy
Standing at six feet tall, Little Simz is simply not to be messed with. First featured in English TV series such as Spirit Warriors and Youngers, the actress-turned-rapper premiered her 2013 mixtape, Blank Canvas, on Jay Z’s Life + Times blog; then made a formidable showing in the battle cry that was her 2015 full-length, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. She was nominated for Best International Act (UK) at the 2015 BET Awards and was most recently lauded by the Telegraph and BBC as one of the most “exciting” and “energising” acts at the 2016 Glastonbury Festival.
Location: Hackney, East London
For Fans of: Lana Del Rey, Massive Attack, Cocolores
Dive into the cool ether of Nigerian-born, Hackey-based mystic Phoenix Martins. Citing inspiration from Brian Eno’s hospital soundscape installations, she got her own start by performing for hospital patients as part of the Roundhouse Choir. Her debut EP, Get This, received a boost from producers Nick Carter and Joe Fields, who worked with an array of artists from Dido to the Neptunes. Martins’ latest release, a gauzy new EP titled 47, is a series of undulating, ambient meditations with a bluesy streak, prompted by some chance encounters with the divine. “47 is my angel number,” she professed to The Fader earlier this month. Although her online presence is low-key, we wouldn’t be surprised if she quietly crept her way into U.K. pop consciousness.
Carl Wilson Potter
For Fans of: Beyoncé, Madonna, Top of the Pops
Pop fans have more than likely already heard MNEK: His writing credits include songs for Beyoncé (“Hold Up,” to which he contributed lyrical and vocal melodies), Madonna and Mø. When he’s not busy giving pop’s biggest names a boost, the 20-year-old has been working on his own material. On the pulsing “At Night (I Think About You),” MNEK offers up an impassioned vocal performance over a track that fuses glimmering synth-pop with chopped-up electro, recalling the desperate late-hours pining of which he sings.
For Fans of: The xx, Robyn, Alison Moyet
Singers Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlett form the core of this British electro-pop quintet, their husky-yet-sweet harmonies tempering their tunes’ romantic yearning and clubby rhythms with a moody sensuality that hearkens back to the Eighties new-wavers they adore. With just a handful of tracks to their name, Nimmo attracted high-profile fans right off-the-bat: Actress and model Agyness Deyn, an early admirer, directed and filmed a video for Nimmo’s “Change” back in 2013.
Photo Courtesy of Blackest Ever Black
Location: Hackney, East London
For Fans of: The Haxan Cloak, Tortoise, Cabaret Voltaire
Fitting the measuredness and menace of techno into a post-rock playbook, Raime makes moody instrumental tracks that smack of a hand-forged and hand-played manufacturing process. The duo – Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead, plus others when Raime takes the stage – have been a staple of the aptly named label Blackest Ever Black since its founding in 2010, and their fusions of spooky electronics with live instrumentation (snaky guitar, spectral drums, etc.) conjure dark nights for corroded souls. Their new album Tooth is a creeper: Beware of listening alone.
For Fans of: A Certain Ratio, Pylon, X-Ray Spex
Shopping found kindred spirits in bands like Downtown Boys, Priests and Hysterics, but the London post-punks wage a different protest than their vociferous American peers. The anti-capitalist trio eschew explicit politics in favor of celebrating distraction as action: “They say I had time but I had time and I wasted it well,” Rachel Aggs sings with perfect staccato insolence. They practice what they preach, too, soldering charged call-and-response vocals to spiky mutant disco forged in the basements of DIY hubs, like Dalston’s now-defunct Power Lunches (where drummer Andrew Milk was the booking manager). Shopping are a crucial part of the U.K. independent scene, with each member playing in several different bands – notably Aggs in the equally great Trash Kit and Sacred Paws.
For Fans of: Jessie Ware, Blood Orange, Mabel
Borrowing from the same glimmering pop palettes of Eighties staples like Janet Jackson and the Cure, Shura paints scenes of modern queer love with a delicate R&B flair. The 25-year-old singer, songwriter and producer first piqued international interest with the 2014 video for her single, “Touch,” which harkens back to iconic imagery from the “Read My Lips” campaign by AIDS activist collective Gran Fury. “Touch” has since racked up 26 million views on YouTube, 3.1 million Soundcloud plays, and remix treatments from Four Tet, Delorean and Talib Kweli. She wrote her upcoming album, Nothing’s Real, with support from Sia and Adele collaborator Greg Kurstin.
For Fans of: Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Skepta
This physically imposing South London MC’s reputation in the U.K. rap scene has been rock solid for a while now. After breaking through with a series of freestyles in 2013, he recorded his well-received 168: The Mixtape in just one week, and followed it up with a fierce EP,Dreamers Disease, in 2015. He’s been awarded Best Grime Act at the U.K.’s Music of Black Origin Awards for the past two years and even got to perform his Top 10 hit “Shut Up” before the match between boxers Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte for the British heavyweight title. Stormzy’s full-length debut is due to drop this summer.
Location: South London
For Fans of: Arca, Fatima Al Qadiri, Nguzunguzu
The ghosts of rave-era jungle and early formative dubstep, when it was still an underground London thing, haunt the sound of Visionist. Cracked ambient frequencies teem with warped voices that can be cartoonish and alien at once, all abstracted stammers and sighs. Beats hit hard with a sense of creaking and grinding that makes the banging, when it happens (usually sparingly), all the more dynamic in the end. A couple of EPs for the label Lit City Trax made Visionist’s name before his 2015 album Safe, released by the adventurous electronic label PAN, made him a presence to contend with.
For Fans of: The Breeders, Hole, Mazzy Star
North London’s Camden neighbourhood has offered diminishing rock returns since the days when it formed Britpop’s epicentre. But Wolf Alice, proud young Camden natives raised on the ballad of the Libertines, have reinvigorated the crusty London borough. They spent five years paying their dues in its dank dive bars, first as a duo, then a four-piece, before releasing debut album My Love Is Cool last June. Although pegged as grunge revivalists by the British press, they’re not just another rock retread, mixing gauzy folk and muscular shoegaze with their infectious rage.