A new generation of Brit hitmakers are this year’s festival must-sees.
I remember first hearing Brit duo Disclosure’s glorious infatuation anthem “Latch” at the tail end of 2012. A dyed-in-the-wool dancemusic lover, I had lots to lock on to: swooning synth lines, bass-thumping bliss and the achy-breaky falsetto of young crooner Sam Smith. But what truly set “Latch” apart from clubland’s throbbing melodies was how Disclosure (Surrey brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence) had reworked a house classic into a thrillingly contemporary sound.
If the hero’s welcome Disclosure got at this year’s Coachella is anything to go by (I have a sneaking suspicion that the cheers weren’t caused solely by inebriation and sunny desert skies), festival crowds are now falling under the soulful spell of these U.K. house revivalists.
But why exactly is British electronic music having a moment? Chalk it up to a new generation of talented singer-songwriters and producers who are kicking pop conventions h
to the curb. Acts like Disclosure and drum ’n’ bass quartet Rudimental have tapped into their country’s rich musical DNA while updating the sound for 21st-century palates— much like when Daft Punk re-calibrated the dial of dance music in 1997 with its boundary-smashing debut, Homework.
But Disclosure and Rudimental are not alone. A crew of young performers from across the pond—Sam Smith, London Grammar, Sasha Keable, John Newman and Ella Eyre, to name a few—played a part in the hitmakers’ staggering ascent and are now branching out into auspicious careers of their own. Smith, only 22 years old, won the BRIT 2014 Critics’ Choice Award and graced the stage of SNL— before even dropping a debut record.
Call it an antidote to America’s mammoth EDM explosion or a post-underground, post-historical renaissance. Over the past year, British dance music has shifted from the confines of hallowed nightlife shrines to sold-out international tours. Disclosure alone clocked in over 40 festival dates in 2013 and performed at Coachella two years in a row, which is a rare distinction. Still, the duo’s meteoric rise caught even BBC Radio 1 broadcaster Annie Mac, one of the first to champion Disclosure, by surprise. “I think the biggest bit for me was seeing this grainy YouTube video of Disclosure in February performing ‘F for You’ with Mary J. Blige live onstage in New York,” she tells me. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Something has happened here!’”
According to Mac, who is currently filming a documentary about Disclosure, the U.K.’s electronic lineage is partly responsible for this sweeping embrace of the past. “London is a place where a lot of genres are born, like drum ’n’ bass, U.K. garage and grime,” she says. “What’s considered exciting in new U.K. music is being able to create something wildly contemporary from the stuff that came before us.”
Ella Eyre is another name bound to register on tastemakers’ radars. The 20-year-old with big hair and even bigger pipes caught the ears of many a drum ’n’ bass fan on Rudimental’s smash hit “Waiting All Night.” Now, she’s parlaying that exposure into solo acclaim and prepping her full-length debut. Eyre, who was instantly drawn to Rudimental for “their music’s carnival aspect,” grew up listening to a mixed bag of sounds: reggae, soul and Basement Jaxx. She even performs covers of “Good Luck” at her shows. “I’ve been influenced by sounds from London’s underground, but I’ve also always loved pop music, like S Club 7,” Eyre tells me on the eve of her 20th birthday, capping off a whirlwind year. “I’m a big fan of lyrics and melodies and being able to connect with what someone is feeling.”
So if the aim of these dance-literate musicians is to hook you in, bring you to your feet and set your heart aflutter—as all great music should—I reckon this U.K. love affair will reach fever pitch as the mercury rises. See you on the festival circuit? ■