17 Feb 2015

British Guitar Music Is Alive And Kicking And Ready To Knock Your Socks Off

If any of you were awake and on the internet and reading various music blogs this morning, you'll have been lucky enough to read a piece (on a site I have a huge amount of respect for) that had an incredibly original take on music at the moment...


The article regurgitated everything you've heard before (here is it is but it's part of a wider spread of pessimism) and attempted to make guitar music dead by talking in depth about Swim Deep, The Vaccines and Two Door Cinema Club as if they're the only guitar bands in the world, and stacks them against Drake, Kedrick Lamar and Kanye West, as if they're just run-of-the-mill rappers. And it also uses one of those NME 'NG x' pull quotes to try and work out just why guitar music is finally dead and you should trash your guitars and use them as firewood.

But really, no one could be any further away from the truth. Sure, a lot of the crap pop music at the forefront of the British mainstream that just happens to have guitars is terrible. Mumford and Sons headlining Reading despite releasing nothing for two or three years is physically paining everyone, and those bands that are mentioned in that DiS article are all bands I (and lots of people like me) think are luckluster at best. But at the same time, lots and lots of great guitar bands are making music up and down the UK; some of them are small bands making energetic rock 'n' roll, some make more challenging music, and some make psyched out nostalgic music; and whilst the only thing they all have in common is that plank of wood with strings on it, they just prove that there's exciting stuff out there to combat any myths of guitar music being dead.


Let's start off with The Cribs - they've been on the scene for over ten years, and through slight variants of their music at each album, they've kept their sound fresh and exciting. As one of the best bands in the business, their bright, energetic sound is sounding anthemic on the material they've released from LP #6. And what's more, with a handful of hit singles in their bag (Men's Needs at #17 being their highest) The Cribs are on the brink of the mainstream, maybe a bit of a mainstream cult band if you will, so their refreshing brilliance kind of rubbishes the claim that all 'mainstream' guitar music is 'stagnant'. Oh yeah, and DiS really dig The Cribs as well, so everyone's happy with my claim that they make music that is both not stagnant, not dying, and with guitars, right?

But the trio aren't the only band making guitar music that brushes with the mainstream but really sticks out - after all, it would be a pretty weak argument, that; "guitar music isn't dead, but guitar music that isn't The Cribs is" - nope, there are countless other bands that Drowned In Sound should umm, drown in the sound of. Savages and Temples both cracked the top 20 with their debut albums, and both of them received almost universal acclaim. As well as that, they were both brought out on indie labels (Savages' being brought out on Pop Noire, singer Jehnny Beth's own label) that show not only is their music interesting, but it's also Championing indie labels in the way that it most certainly would if guitar music wasn't dead.

But maybe even the most annoying thing about that Drowned In Sound piece (and the general attitude of people across the board) is that it because the mainstream guitar music isn't mind-expanding, era-defining rock 'n' roll musics made by proper working class lads, all guitar music is dying. But away from the mainstream, as well around it like the bands mentioned earlier, there are a whole host of guitar bands that are lively and loud and make it worth getting up in the morning.

At the moment, my absolute favourites are Joanna Gruesome, whose 2nd album comes out this year; it's guitarry noise pop that contains all the energy in the world, and it's infinitely more life-affirming than any of the acts that Drowned In Sound champions as outliving guitar music. As well as that, intelligent yet energetic crunch-pop is also coming from Scots Honeyblood, whose debut was one of the albums of 2014. 

True, guitar music (a lot of the neo-psych and post-punk influenced bands) owes a lot to past influences, but so many bands of this type are in and around the UK ready to knock your socks off. Leeds' Hookworms and Eagulls released the two best British albums last year, and through a punk mentality, a lot of noise, and a level of vicious musicianship that's out of this world, whilst the city's also home to the caustic stoner metal of Black Moth and the baggy scuzz of Menace Beach - all 4 bands guitar bands that you'd like to think make some of the best music this side of the new millennium. 

The capital's guitar output is equally fantastic; maybe the sounds of The Horrors are the best example. Through making guitars sound so unlike guitars, and combine them with synths, their latest output (as well as the shoegaze and psychobilly sounds of their first two records) has made them an incredibly exciting band. But they're not all; fellow psych bands TOY, Telegram and Yak genuinely get the pulse racing, because whilst they do have an array of past influences, they belt them out at a tempo that can only be matched by the sheer volume of it all. As well as that, grimey, dirty punk rock is being made by Palma Violets, who split opinion, but really have an incredible amount of potential to bring out a great album. As well as that their tourmates for next month, The Fat White Family and Slaves (who will definitely be a feature of the top 40 soon enough) make equally visceral music, whilst also seeming fresh, exciting, and angry.

And man, I could go on and on about my favourite UK-based guitar bands for ever and ever, so I'll refrain from name-dropping one after another, but here's one last throw of the dice; if you think the UK's guitar music's stagnant, I'd recommend The Black Tambourines, The Wytches, FEVER, Wild Smiles, Nevermind Me, Wyldest, Dead Rabbits, Melt Dunes, The Voyeurs, Claws, The Soft Walls, Younghusband, Feature, Slowcoaches, Piano Wire, Bel Esprit, Kassassin Street, Cheatahs, Formes, The Children Of Leir, Bloody Knees and The Wave Pictures. That's it from me. Well. Maybe there's more, but I'll refrain from dropping anymore names.


And it's not just the bands either, it's the labels - Heavenly are home to a large amount of bands on that list, giving lots of psych bands their big break, whilst smaller indies are also making it all possible for guitar music to be THIS great as an underground scene. Strong Island release great stuff for us down south, whilst Brighton label Faux Discx bring out a lot of brilliant releases. Continentally speaking Fuzz Club release a lot of great European stuff, but their roster also includes some great UK bands, like Southampton's very own Dead Rabbits. It's hard to put into words just how many great labels there are, but obviously Domino, Rough Trade and Cherry Red release great stuff, and other guitar band championing labels include Speedy Wunderground, Wichita, Captured Tracks (alhough they're mainly American, they recently signed Novella), Sonic Cathedral and Fortuna POP!  

Despite countless people claiming guitar music is dead, it really is alive and kicking. You just sort of need to know where to look, and you don't even need to try especially hard to find it, but great guitar music is here, there and everywhere. In places it's one of the most forward thinking genres, one of the most expressive and one of the most angry. Whilst yes, it's not assaulting the charts, you've got to remember that sales have very little correlation with success; it is an acquired taste, but so are the rappers that Drowned in Sound put forward. And you've got to remember, whilst guitar music's commercial appeal might not be at an all time high, you've got to remember that between them Joy Division, The Smiths, The Sex Pistols (sorta), Led Zep, Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, The Libertines, The Mary Chain, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, Ride, Bauhaus AND The Stone Roses never had ONE UK number one hit between them, so it's far from remarkable that today's brilliant, brilliant guitar music isn't having the meteoric chart success that maybe it would need for Drowned In Sound to think it was still alive.