Saturday 2 January 2016

BBC Sound Of 2016

With labels gearing the launch of new artists towards this time of year, the BBC Sound Of list is becoming more and more predictable as a marketing tool. Yet the goal of the list has always been to recognise up and coming artists, and that remains as true now as ever. As a new year begins, let's take a look at this year's longlist from worst to best.

15. Rat Boy

What a name. What a racket. Rat Boy's music is like a manic mix of Jamie T and the Arctic Monkeys and he has a serious aversion to seatbelts. None of this is a good thing.

14. Section Boyz

On their debut EP 'Don't Panic', there's a track called Who Needs a Hook? Musically at least, that's exactly what Section Boyz need. The Boyz from Croydon have risen from a thriving grime scene but really they add nothing new to the genre - the EP is as dark and aggressive as you'd expect with a touch of trap, but it's far from memorable. Both Drake and Rita Ora are fans though, so popularity could well be imminent.

13. Blossoms

Lancashire has a rich heritage of providing rock bands, so Blossoms have a lot to live up to. Their sound is indie-pop-rock with a twist of 60s psychedelia and 80s post-punk - a retro sound that's interesting but far from forward-looking. Will we still be listening in a few months time? Unlikely.

12. J Hus

Fusing East London rap with reggae beats, J Hus is kind of terrible yet also great. Take lead single Lean & Bop. It's a song in which he fawns over "sexy girls" and how they "twirl in them jeans", before explaining he loves "chocolat-o but I never eat a KitKat". What's wrong with a good KitKat? Equally, it's catchy as hell and likely to inspire its own dance moves. It's a jam, but one you might be embarrassed to like.

11. Frances

Frances is a confusing artist. One minute she's cooing over sexy electronic beats and crystalline synths (Borrowed Time), or duetting with Ritual over subdued production (When It Comes To Us). The next she's singing lumbering piano ballads that lack distinction, like current single Let It Out that's been played considerably on Radio 1. The former Frances is an exciting prospect. The latter, not so much.

10. Billie Marten

Not to be confused with Billie Ray Martin, singer of awesome 90s dance track Your Loving Arms, the closest Billie Marten comes to pop is a subtle cover of La Roux's In For The Kill. Instead, she delivers gentle folk with a delicate vocal and all (Louis Walsh moment) at the age of just sixteen. She is, then, the Birdie of 2016 and likely to follow her success. Maybe even with a John Lewis advert by the end of the year. Ed Sheeran is a fan, so you should probably be too.


You've probably already heard WSTRN's debut single In2 as it gradually rises up the charts. Its chorus hook is irrepressible, the production as a whole displaying a slick level of polish that's missing from their East London hip-hop counterparts (they're from West London, hence the name). There's not much else to go on at the moment, but this is a smooth sound that could well reach huge mainstream appeal.

8. Loyle Carner

It's Loyle Carner, though, who proves to be this year's most exciting London hip-hop act (this time from South London). His laidback style is reminiscent of old school hip-hop, whilst his smooth flow and candid lyrics provide something far more personal and emotive than the usual "bitches in the club" content. Carner is more individual, intelligent and interesting than his peers, combining elements of Kendrick Lamar and Drake with a distinctive UK sound.

7. Izzy Bizu

There's no denying that the UK is in the midst of a soul renaissance, with heavyweights Adele and Sam Smith leading the charge. In fact, Bizu has supported Smith on tour, as well as touring with Rudimental. She's well settled into the scene, then, citing Amy Winehouse as a major influence, having Naughty Boy on production duties, and delivering a contemporary retro-tinged sound. The next Emeli Sandé?

6. Mabel

Mabel. It's a simple name that belies her musical heritage - her parents are Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack producer Cameron McVey. Like them, her sound is distinctive and progressive, soulful with a modern edge. Plus she studied music in Stockholm, and we all know Scandinavia is a hotbed of talent. Just imagine if she remixed her mother's Buffalo Stance...

5. Alessia Cara

Cara currently has the most streamed track of all the artists on this longlist, with her Portishead-sampling Here. That success is as much to do with her extensive YouTube following as it is the clever sample. The Canadian has blossomed singing covers, in particular The Neighbourhood's Sweater Weather and Taylor Swift's Bad Blood, garnering her plenty of attention. Elsewhere her music is fun, youthful and buoyant R&B-pop that's perfectly geared towards the Internet generation.

4. Mura Masa

He looks like James Blake and his sound was even inspired by the Mercury Prize winning artist, but the electronic music of Mura Masa (real name Alex Crossan) has more of a pop edge. Samples are chopped and twisted, vocals are warped, and the hooks often come with an oriental twist to match his pseudonym. In many ways, he's the new Jai Paul - though let's hope this producer of the moment actually releases some music. His best track? Firefly, which features...

3. NAO

You may recognise NAO from her work with Mura Masa. You'll more likely recognise her as the vocalist on Disclosure's Superego, one of the better tracks from their 2015 album 'Caracal'. Or you may have heard of her through the likes of Annie Mac and Zane Lowe, both of whom have praised her funky, soulful, R&B sound on Bad Blood and Zillionaire that mixes futurism with her unique vocal (she studied vocal jazz at music college). Alternatively, you may not have heard of her at all. You soon will.

2. Jack Garratt

In many ways, Garratt takes the best bits of all of the above artists. A multi-instrumentalist with influences as far reaching as Jack White and Frank Ocean, he sings with a deeply soulful vocal over processed synth production fused with piano and lilting guitar, before launching into heavy guitar solos. His sound, then, is somewhat undefinable, which makes him such a standout artist. The Brits have already chosen him as their Critics Choice winner and he's likely to be the BBC's winner of this list too. With this much talent, that's understandable.

1. Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa has caused quite a stir on the back of only two original tracks. Balancing both a music and a modelling career, she looks and sounds like magic. Her Soundcloud page, which caught the attention of Lana Del Rey's management, includes covers as varied as John Legend's All Of Me, Rihanna's Stay and fellow nominee Alessia Cara's Here. All showcase her sultry, smoky vocal that licks and swirls around pop hooks. Paired with Emile Haynie, producer to Del Rey amongst others, her debut single New Love epitomises her cool, edgy, sophisticated pop sound, whilst Be The One adds rich, crystalline electronics and lyrical vulnerability. Lipa is an off-kilter pop artist who brings something a little bit different to the 2016 table - something that deserves to be recognised.