Azealia is a sure thing, and she might be the real thing
The industry's list of breakthrough acts is no revelation. Yet this galaxy of polished-up stars will dazzle fans and the bean-counters alike
Sunday 01 January 2012
As the pop landscape of 2012 lies before us, it is a matter of temperament – optimist or pessimist, naïve or cynical – as to whether one chooses to view it as an enticingly blank canvas or, to borrow Eliot's phrase, a patient etherised upon a table.
Is it a space in which the spontaneous and the unexpected can happen, or is the dread, dead hand of the music industry inviting us to take a scalpel to its already-cold corpse? This writer sees foregone conclusions and fait accomplis wherever he looks.
The BBC's Sound of 2012 Poll – nominees chosen by industry insiders are A$AP Rocky, Azealia Banks, Dot Rotten, Dry The River, Flux Pavilion, Frank Ocean, Friends, Jamie N Commons, Lianne La Havas, Michael Kiwanuka, Niki & The Dove, Ren Harvieu, Skrillex, Spector and StooShe – is due to be announced this Friday, and the winner of the Critics' Choice Award at the Brits next month will almost certainly be drawn from that longlist. On previous evidence, it's a ready reckoner of acts lined up to be foisted on us in the coming months. There's a reason for that: in order to look prescient, voters go for the acts they believe will be big, not the ones they think should be.
It's a strange selection. Florida dubstep dude Skrillex is already big enough to sell out the Academy venue circuit, and singer-rapper Frank Ocean of Los Angeles' Odd Future/OFWGKTA collective only qualifies on the premise that his acclaimed album Nostalgia, ULTRA is technically a mixtape, therefore his debut has yet to happen.
The most exciting name on that list, Azealia Banks, is no newcomer either: her first single arrived as long ago as 2009. However, it was this year's potty-mouthed, electro-rap romp "212" that grabbed the attention of hipsters (and the fact that she covered Interpol's "Slow Hands").
The biggest and most obvious Sure Thing of 2012 is, at least, worthy of the hype. With her bruised Dusty Springfield/Karen Carpenter voice, Hollywood sadcore heroine Lana Del Rey will surely be an enormous star this year. Her only challenge will be matching the quality of "Video Games", one of the singles of the century so far.
Beyond the festival circuit, which in 2012 excludes Glastonbury, the biggest outdoor events currently on the radar involve Bruce Springsteen, who's playing a stadium tour in June, and Stockholm dance trio Swedish House Mafia, making an audacious grab for megastar status by announcing a one-off spectacular at Milton Keynes Bowl on 14 July. The following month Underworld, in collaboration with Danny Boyle, will be providing the music for the Olympic Games opening ceremony, of the although one can't help thinking that simply blasting "Born Slippy" would be an unimprovable overture to an event taking place on the edge of Essex.
The financial power of nostalgia is as strong as ever. Bafflingly venerated Mancunian jangle merchants The Stone Roses broke records for ticket sales when they announced three shows in Manchester for July. Anyone who saw their notoriously shambolic final show, at the Reading Festival in 1996, will hope that they put in enough rehearsal this time.
It's hard not to have mixed feelings about the news that Brian Wilson, reinvigorated in recent years, will be rejoining The Beach Boys, now little more than a cheesy cabaret turn. However, anyone fearing that this marks a backward step for the gentle giant will be partly reassured by the news that members of his backing band are involved.
A less heralded but, for lovers of the new wave/post-punk period, far more thrilling bit of news is that Bow Wow Wow will make a very rare UK tour. However, for connoisseurs of quality Nineties rock, the greatest news of all was that Greg Dulli will be reactivating his Sub Pop grunge-soul heroes The Afghan Whigs to headline the final night of the All Tomorrow's Parties shows at London's Alexandra Palace in May.
Lastly, if there's any truth in the Mayan prophecy about the world ending in 2012, then the reformed Black Sabbath, headlining Download in July, will provide the perfect soundtrack. An asteroid colliding with Earth as "Sweet Leaf" thunders out across the Donington fields? What a way to go.
Watch out for...
With a look that makes heads turn (a tall quiff of ginger curls) and a soul voice which has earned him guest spots on Gorillaz' "Doncamatic" single and the Wretch 32 album, Daley, above, is a 23-year-old Mancunian whose mixtape "Those Who Wait" (available free at http://daley.tv) suggests he's more than just the hipster's Hucknall.
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