The music press are all too keen to remind us of the destitute state of British guitar music. As soon as 2011 was ushered out of the door we were all quick to label it as the year of ‘new boring’, as we are no longer content to do it like a dude or weep Adele lyrics into our cups of tea. Clearly the only remedy for our stagnant souls is to listen to something made with four pairs of balls and six strings right? Well, apparently it is nowhere to be found despite the NME’s desperate attempts to trawl the Internet like a north sea fishing boat searching for those ever dwindling supplies of cod. It looks like every creative young soul has foolishly followed James Murphy’s advice and swapped their guitars for turntables, as Skrillex’s obnoxious whomp threatens to send us all to an early grave. There are fears that the situation may indeed be terminal as the old guard perpetually vomit up slogans of doom, the more avant-garde members of Oasis and Kasabian warning us how “bands are too afraid to take risks anymore” and “nobody rocks like they used to”. And to top it all, even Radiohead released a dance record…
Sarcastic ramblings aside, I have always felt that Thom Yorke and co. have always acted as a useful barometer to what’s happening underground, seeking to incorporate and reinvent music’s latest trends into their musical output. Serious hints about their hipster know-how were dropped in the weeks leading up to the release of ‘The King Of Limbs’, with their Dead Air Space blog routinely plugging tracks by Zomby, Untold and Ramadanman, showing fans that they still knew how to be down with the kids. The resulting albums (if you also count the release of official remixes) were more loaded with sonic experiments than epic solos, a clear sign that the UK’s burgeoning dance scene was more influential than anything guitar based.
I have used the example of Radiohead because I believe that this not an isolated phenomenon, but simply part of a wider trend of British bands that have been looking to MIDI, not Marshall for inspiration. Leeds based groups such as Fun Adults, Alt-J, and Adult Jazz along with Londoners Pushing Hands and Cloud Boat all fall under this category, prioritising groove and ambient textures over jangly guitar riffs and amped up distortion. The crucial turning point in all of this is undoubtedly the release of Burial’s seminal 2007 LP Untrue – its ‘dark garage’ sound a crucial factor to the establishment of UK dubstep. It didn’t take long for guitar based bands to borrow from this scene, as The XX broke into the mainstream in 2010 with a self titled debut that complemented their old alumni’s atmospheric sub sound with sparse, reverb heavy guitar licks and lovesick vocals. With a new wave of British bands following suit in 2012, I have tentatively decided to christen this movement the ‘alt post groove-punk’ scene, or XXindie (shin-dee).
Of course, dance influenced guitar based crossovers have been kicking around for a long time. DFA Records most successfully accomplished this at the turn of the millennium by releasing bands like LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture which both tastefully reconstituted NYC’s disco and post-punk heritage into their own distinct sound (this subsequently gave rise to New Rave Klaxons hype circus over here in 2006 but for the purposes of good taste I won’t remind you of the details). But what makes this new crop of British bands stand out is that they have found their left-field influences closer to home, creating a distinctly British crossover sound that has not appeared in this country since Primal Scream released Screamadelica in 1991. Perhaps pigeonholing these artists into a fledgling genre is a little premature, but this is only an attempt to underline my belief that guitar music in the country is not ‘dead’ or ‘non-inventive’ but simply operating under a newer, more atmospheric guise.By Jose Carbajo