Norman Cook has hit the charts under more aliases than anyone else (he shares the record with Midge Ure), and is the only person to have had a No 1 under three difference auspices: as bassist in the Housemartins, with Beats International, and Freakpower. Now working out of Brighton as Fat Boy Slim, he is a mixer- and-matcher of serene skill, a creator of big-beat funk which always has the hook of a thumping toon. The new album, On the Floor at the Boutique (Skint Records), named after the club in Brighton he runs with his flatmate, comes out this month: summer won't be complete until, as they say, the fat boy sings.
The name comes from a sex aid (which apparently shores up an ailing erection), so it was somehow appropriate when the band's debut single, "The First Big Weekend" was snapped up for that men-think-about-sex-every-six-seconds Guinness ad. Their second album, Philophobia - fear of falling in lurve - is released this month on Chemikal Underground, and has all their trademark miserablism, with lyrics like "I can just see the post-fuck flush across your chest". Frontman Aidan Moffat mumbles sex-and-drugs stories over lingering guitars and languid drums: it's a great, bitter combination, somewhere between Joy Division and Primal Scream. Having contributed a track to Irvine Welsh's film version of The Acid House, the maudlin Falkirk group are guaranteed to be big.
Ultra (her real name) is the ultimate dance diva, and her "Free" ("... to do what you want to do") single was an anthem which sold across the globe, being cut into every club-mix going. Her new album, Situation: Critical (AM:PM; out this month), is a little different: her first one produced in collaboration with the likes of D-Influence, Mood II Swing and Masters at Work. There are a lot of soulful Motown sounds in here, so it should suit the strangely jumpy Jamiroquai vibe that everyone seems to love, especially when spliced to Ultra Nate's Gloria Gaynor liberationist strut.
Keigo Oyamada calls himself Cornelius after the simian hero in Planet of the Apes, and if anyone from Japan is going to make it over here, he will be the one. His "Free Fall" single will be followed by Fantasma (Matador), an album, in June. The album tastes very Japanese: kitsch pop, sampling western words into his own lyrics. And there are some great guitar riffs, cut up by the old scratchy-scratchy, twinkly tunes bumping into drum-and-bass. Bizarre and brazenly electric, Cornelius might just put Jap-hop on the map.
16B - real name Omid Nourizadeh - does maximalist blasts of textured house which have already caught quite a few ears - not least those of Sasha and Robert Smith of The Cure (who he's remixed). The single, "Black Hole", was out earlier this year, and the album, Sounds From Another Room (Eye Q), recorded in his Putney home studio, comes out at the end of this month. Full of Latinate percussion, stop-start beats and a boogie bassline, it cuts in the perfect quantity of meandering melody. And the hypnotic violin of Everton Jardim makes 16B even more avant-garde.
The name comes from a fictitious but evidently significant pub: "quite a rough sort of place but with a nice carvery on Sunday lunchtimes", apparently. Your Majesty We Are Here, their album, was released in 1996, rumbling and rippling through enough of the country to guarantee huge pulling power at all the festivals last summer. They release a single, "Universal Plan", and another album, Tonight You are the Special One (Island) next month, to coincide with their national tour. The Brutes secured their reputation as a lively live act at the NME Brat awards in January: the sound is thrash with lippy socio-vocals, like early Blur with a testosterone injection.
An former pizza-delivery man from Minnesota complete with moustache, Freddy Fresh is the king of backbeat - his squeaky interruptions will pull you, puppet-like, in all sorts of directions. Since his "Essential Mix" for Radio One, he has gained notoriety. The owner of 10,000 12-inchers, he used to work at Xanadu records in the Bronx before recording 150 of his own singles: his next three-track CD, "Down for the Count" (Eye Q), comes out at the end of this month. As hands- on as any DJ comes, he's jumpy and jerky. If big beats are back, none come fresher than Freddy.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Good old-fashioned songsmiths from Glasgow, Belle and Sebastian are the thinking man's band, complete with lyrics like "How you love, and a halo surrounds you/ Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie/ In the autumn cool/ Say cheerio to school ..." Anyone who's been near a radio in the last few months can't have failed to hear the plaintive "Lazy Line-Painter Jane"; their last album, 3..6..9 Seconds of Light (Jeepster), practised a spot of creative writing on its sleeve. With their close harmonies and malingering guitar- strums, their sound is somewhere between Crowded House and Velvet Underground.
Another Scottish band, Mogwai made their name supporting the thrashing noise of Pavement, who touted them as "the band of the 21st century". Their Mogwai Young Team album (Chemikal Underground) - their average age is 21 - of last year received ecstatic reviews, and though former Teenage Fanclub drummer Brendan O'Hare has recently quit, there's still the same sound: almost exclusively instrumental, with gentle harmonies building inexorably to a manic, dissonant mash. Miles away from the verse- chorus-verse of pulp- pop, their massive, futuristic "aggro-ambient" soundscapes invite obvious comparisons with Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.
Known for their first album, Ceefax, and the "Anglepoised" single, Fridge are definitely more than lo-fi (as they're often labelled): "We're using tape loops, found sounds, theremins, 808 drum machines, everything under the sun,"says Kieran Hebden. They go for a lot of sharp, abrupt sounds and staccato loops, and their second album, Semaphore (Output), which came out in March, veers from C&W twang to trancey trip hop. !