Cast your mind back, if you will, to 2009. Right from the outset, the last year of the noughties was being dubbed ‘The Year of the Female’; a clutch of young musicians in possession of the X chromosome were being corralled into a makeshift scene, solely because of their gender. Of course, I can’t play the saintly onlooker and chastise my fellow music journos for their laziness – I’m sure I was as guilty of buying into the fuss surrounding acts like Florence & the Machine, La Roux, Little Boots (above) and Lady Gaga, at the time. (Little Boots, by the way, was one of the worst interviewees I’ve ever had the misfortune to have a phone conversation with. Twice.) The thing was, though, that most of those acts were largely pop/electro-pop oriented. Just two years on, however, and the landscape has tilted in favour of musicians with a rockier demeanour.
Look at the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ poll, for example; for all intents and purposes, the taste-making list drawn up by UK industry figures is redundant. New music is there to be discovered and recommended, not coldly thrust upon you by a group of anonymous people cherry picking a list of the bands that are being buzzed about most deafeningly. However, some of the female names on this year’s longlist seemed to demonstrate the shift away from pop music. There’s Warpaint, for example, the LA four-piece that channelled the gloom of the much-missed Organ with their excellent debut last year. Esben and the Witch, a female-fronted Brighton trio, so impressed Matador Records that they became the first British band to sign with the label in five years.
The Domino Records-signed Anna Calvi is also currently frantically propelling journos and bloggers thesaurus-wards in search of new adjectives to describe her brooding, guitar-led indie-rock. Personally, I don’t really get the fuss – but maybe I need to give the album more time, see her live (she plays Dublin’s Workman’s Club on February 23rd), or just banish the niggling ‘sub-PJ Harvey’ notion clanging around my head every time I listen to ‘Blackout’. But there are worse artists to ape, of course.
Harvey herself also has a new album out on February 11th, by the way. ‘Let England Shake‘ impressed me from the first listen; it’s her first ‘solo’ record since 2007’s stark ‘White Chalk‘, although her frequent collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey are as omnipresent as ever. It’s a slightly barmy (one track drops in a triumphant fanfare riff at random points) and completely original offering. Harvey doffs her hat to no one.
But what does this supposed shift away from danceable floor-fillers mean? Is it just a case of swings and roundabouts? Do women with guitars wield more influence as ‘serious’ musicians? Have we finally seen the last of Florence ‘I’m 24, really, I am’ Welch‘s many re-releases of ‘Lungs’, or is she waiting to pounce with a fake ID and a follow-up at any second? Will anybody care about Gaga‘s latest wacky stage show if her next album is rubbish? Will La Roux‘s Elly Jackson lose the source of all her powers if she chops off her quiff for album number two? Feck knows. I’m just glad I don’t have to interview Little Boots again.