We’ve all heard that “rock music is dead,” or “guitar bands are on the way out”. But forget that. Rock music is enjoying a resurgence. Switch on Radio 1 and you’ll find it teeming with not just rock acts who have made it to arenas over the past few years (Biffy Clyro, Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club), but also a horde of rising bands. Not only are they young, loud and a refreshing antidote to the predictable EDM (electronic dance music) that has dominated the charts this past year, but they’re from the UK. Superfood, Royal Blood, Marmozets, Darlia, Circa Waves, Wolf Alice and Drenge are all names you’ll be hearing a lot more of over the coming months.
It’s true that we last heard the term “rock revival” bandied about in 2010, when The Vaccines arrived, but what’s prompting such bold exclamations now is mainstream radio’s embracing of the genre. Without that support, bands have little chance of mainstream success. Rock trio Darlia, from Blackpool, managed by Oasis’s manager Marcus Russell, have been all over Radio 1 with their two debut singles, “Queen of Hearts” and “Candyman”. Late last year, the station’s playlist boss Nigel Harding declared them “the most exciting new guitar band in the UK”.
Not that their 20-year-old frontman Nathan Day thinks that rock is any more popular now than it has been in recent years. “I think if there is a revival, the people who call the shots in the industry are calling it a revival.”
But the live agent who’s been booking their shows disagrees. “There definitely seems to be a resurgence at the moment and a will for it to come back into the mainstream,” states Matt Bates of Primary Talent. “You definitely see a lot more new British guitar bands which are starting to get mainstream attention now. If you look at the bands that Radio 1 are starting to support – the likes of Darlia, Royal Blood, Circa Waves and Wolf Alice – they’re all British.” In the last 12 months Bates has taken on double the number of guitar bands he would normally, “because there’s a lot more interest in them, there’s a lot of willingness from record labels to sign and develop them, and there’s definitely more future for them.”
It’s a similar story for Marmozets, a teenage quintet of two sets of siblings from Bingley, West Yorkshire, playing a frenzied blend of hardcore, post-punk and math-rock, who have been laden with support from Zane Lowe and Huw Stephens of Radio 1, and XFM. It was a recent session on XFM which prompted praise from Morrissey for their cover of “Irish Blood, English Heart”.
But it’s not just on radio that the resurgence can be seen. These bands are selling out tours around the country. “The heyday of a little band selling out a tour had disappeared, but over the last 12 months ticket sales have improved dramatically,” says Bates. “A guitar band like The 1975 selling out three Brixton Academy dates – that’s 15,000 tickets in London – before they’ve even released an album is mind-boggling. That would never have happened five or six years ago. Then you’ve got bands like Wolf Alice selling out 1,000 tickets at the Scala on their first major tour when the album is not out for six months.
“You know people are desperately trying to get into it. There’s definitely a trend where teenagers are back into guitar music and going out in force.” Where bands such as Circa Waves and Darlia are travelling around the country selling out 300- and 400-capacity venues today, bands at that level a few years ago who had only released a couple of singles would be playing tiny shows to 20 or 30 people. “Kids weren’t going to gigs. People certainly weren’t buying tickets on the ‘toilet hole’ tours; they were waiting until bands were more established, but bands weren’t getting established because they weren’t being supported.”
The cover of next week’s Kerrang! is devoted to the “New Wave of British Rock”. Their editor James McMahon says: “It feels really exciting that there are these bands coming round again but who also want to take over the world; they want to be the new Metallicas and the new Queens and make a mark and that’s healthy for the genre. Rock hasn’t gone anywhere but it does feel that people want to push it to the forefront again.”
And it’s not just the small rock bands that are enjoying success. Look at the burgeoning success of indie-rock bands such as Two Door Cinema Club, selling out the O2 Arena and headlining this year’s Latitude festival, to see how in demand guitar bands are. And if you look at current listings for the O2 Arena, where over the past few years guitar bands have been largely excluded, now they represent 20 per cent of shows.
Thousands of tickets for The Libertines’ reunion show at British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park on 5 July were sold on the first day, considerably more than their 2002 heyday. It’s not just nostalgia-seeking fans who want to revisit their university years, but younger fans who never got to see them the first time round, and who discovered them since because the bands that they’re into or are playing in now are influenced by those successes from 10 years ago.
Then there is the day devoted to heavy rock at the British Summer Time festival, featuring British bands such as Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Gallows and rising act The First. An event of this size, aimed at a mainstream audience with huge corporate sponsors behind it, points to the growth of British rock.
Still, don’t expect No 1 singles from rising rock bands. Even when bands such as Mercury-winning Alt-J, Two Door Cinema Club and The Vaccines have platinum-selling or No 1 albums, sell out arenas and make Radio 1 A-lists, Top 40 singles still elude them. But perhaps that’s set to change, with this being just the beginning.
“I think 2015 will be the year we really see guitar bands having a proper resurgence,” Bates says. “This year we’re going to see the foundation laid, and then hopefully a few champions will come through and lead the way for 2015.”
Marmozets play Download on 14 June and single ‘Captivate You’ is out 7 July. Darlia play The Great Escape in Brighton this weekend and release single ‘Dear Diary’ on 7 July. Superfood release single ‘Right on Satellite’ on 7 July