Sounds of the summer: Our pick of the season's most exciting new talent
With so many festivals now on the pop calendar, how do you choose which acts to see? Our experts lend a helping hand...
Pop by Simon Price
Lianne La Havas
It'll be pretty tough not to see Lianne La Havas this summer. That's no hardship. The 22-year-old soul-jazz chanteuse, a Streatham girl of Greek and Jamaican heritage, entered an already crowded marketplace at the start of the year, but this one has enough of a subtly distinctive flavour to justify her place among all the other post-Adele, post-Amy vintage-styled songbirds. Nurtured for two years by Warners, given a personal audience with Rick Rubin, and a former backing singer with Paloma Faith, La Havas has been carefully groomed for success. Following three EPs, an appearance on Later... and a sell-out show at London's Scala, come September, she'll have played no fewer than 11 festivals – and somewhere in the middle of all that, in July, she'll be releasing her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?.
Playing: Live at Leeds, The Great Escape, Hay, The Apple Cart, Hop Farm, Latitude, Camp Bestival, Wilderness, Cornbury, Summer Sundae, Bestival
Grimes is the alter-ego of Vancouver-born one-woman band Claire Boucher. The waif-like 24-year-old has been making music since 2010, with two albums on local label Arbutus, but it's Visions, her third long-player and her first for 4AD, which has brought Grimes to wider attention. It's a work of idyllic, sun-kissed electronic dreampop whose strangeness is amplified by the fact that if you can't always work out whether Boucher is singing in Canadian-English or Quebecois-French, it's because you're hearing neither: on current single "Genesis", for example, a handful of half-phrases are repeated, mantra-like, until they become merely ecstatic sounds. If the music doesn't work out, Boucher has other options: she's a film-maker and recently launched a bizarre range of jewellery consisting of moulded resin rings inspired by the shape of the vulva.
Playing: Simple Things, The Great Escape, Bestival, Field Day, Reading, Leeds
Folk/country by Simmy Richman
It is impossible to know which Deer Tick will show up this summer. Since forming in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2004, the band's only mainstay has been John Joseph McCauley III, and McCauley – a singer as gifted as he is guttural – is a man of various guises. On US TV last year, he showed up clean-shaven, short-haired and wearing a bow-tie. A few months later, at London's Garage, he was long-haired, goatee-bearded and opening beer bottles with his teeth. So it is with Deer Tick's output: one minute they'll break a "Goodbye, Dear Friend", the next they'll make radio-friendly pop such as "20 Miles", then they'll release an album – last year's Divine Providence – on which, as Pitchfork noted, McCauley had "belched loudly and called everyone a douchebag within the first 10 minutes". Live, Deer Tick offer genuine rock'n'roll excitement. And there aren't too many bands you can say that about these days.
Playing: Summer Sundae Weekender, End of the Road
To counter any Deer Tick debauchery, seek out the soothing balm of this trio of sisters from Watford. Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor are all in their early twenties, play a footloose folk that owes as much to Harry Smith as it does Cecil Sharp, and (no easy feat, this) they sound as good as they look. Since their EP "Mexico" attracted attention last year, the Staves have sung backing vocals for Tom Jones and toured with Bon Iver, Michael Kiwanuka and the Civil Wars. Recent EP "The Motherlode" once again showcased the glorious spell that is cast when their three voices dart and dive into each other. So if you're looking for an act to provide the backing for a moment of sit-on-the-grass festival stillness, the Staves are that band. Anyone wishing to pay closer attention, however, will quickly tune in to their music's more timeless, mystical elements.
Playing: Cambridge Folk Festival, Green Man
Pop by Hugh Montgomery
The all-time festival moment will come with a reformed Girls Aloud's "Life Got Cold"/"Wonderwall" mash-up at an all-conquering Glastonbury appearance. But until that hallowed day, this similarly sly, savvy girl band will do just fine. StooShe are Karis, Kourtney and Alex, a trio of potty-mouthed but honey-voiced south Londoners, two of whom were discovered in a queue for Topshop. Yet they're anything but off-the-peg, their punky-bubblegum R&B evoking a Tabasco-strength Spice Girls or scuzzy Sugababes. Their lyrics, too, employ darker materials than your average chart fare: last year's "Betty Woz Gone" served up the story of a young mother battling crack addiction and social services, while tracks from their upcoming debut album include "Inbred City" and "Drunken Detour". And should their set flag at all, their kitsch, Technicolor, maximalist style should provide ample distraction.
Playing: OsFest, Isle of Wight, T in the Park, Cornbury, Wireless, Camp Bestival, V
When the new year began with the now-usual flurry of commentary proclaiming the death of guitar music, it didn't take long for these east London art-rockers to smash the specious epitaphs. Released at the end of January, their self-titled debut received the kind of universal praise that neurotic critics rarely afford first albums. And right they were about a band so brilliantly, effortlessly, er, well, what exactly? Psychedelia, funk, post-punk, Americana; swooshy, retro electronics and enraptured, ethereal harmonies: they threw all these elements into the musical stew and emerged, miraculously, with consommé-clear, seriously groovy tunes. With supremely angular riffs and endlessly propulsive rhythms, tracks such as cosmic hoedown "Firewater" are the stuff that dancing like a mime artist while being inadvertently frottaged by a man dressed as a granny was made of.
Playing: Field Day, The Apple Cart, Parklife Weekender, Latitude
Jazz by Phil Johnson
Like the Cinematic Orchestra and Portico Quartet, Edinburgh's Hidden Orchestra are an eclectic instrumental ensemble who draw extensively from jazz (plus folk, soundtracks, minimalism and just about everything else) without sacrificing themselves on the jazz altar of authenticity and solo "chops". Led by bandleader Joe Acheson, an acclaimed radio documentary-maker as well as a composer and musician, they're a heavily percussive, two-drummer, samples-and-strings set-up signed to Brighton's hip Tru Thoughts label. Though the band is of modest size, usually a quintet, their USP is big filmic atmospherics, layering electro-acoustic sounds against intelligent-techno beats and thrumming double bass or cello to produce a sense of unfolding drama and mystery that is very effective. The 2010 debut album, Night Walks, was intended to suggest "the brooding reflections of a solitary walk through the still, restless night".
Playing: Hay, Sunrise
Bill Wells & Aidan Moffatt
Although as individuals they're hardly ingénues, the new duo formed by these gnarly old veterans of the Scots indie scene made one of the best debut recordings of recent memory with 2011's Everything's Getting Older, where vocalist/lyricist Moffatt's noxious musings on sex, death and eroticism were set to exquisitely tender music by pianist and arranger Wells. The appeal is partly that of the odd couple: Moffat is a former singer with cult band Arab Strap and he comes across as a knackered old roué, reinventing the serial infidelities of La Ronde for the rustbelt of industrial west Scotland. Wells, on the other hand, is a self-taught, "outsider art" version of Gil Evans or Burt Bacharach. His relationship with the straight jazz scene is evidently strained and he has formed another group, the National Jazz Trio of Scotland, as a deliberate provocation.
Playing: ATP, Long Division, The Apple Cart, Doune the Rabbit Hole
Pop by Holly Williams
Beth Jeans Houghton
The 22-year-old released her debut album earlier this year, with her band the Hooves of Destiny. She was one of a gaggle of precocious, young folk stars that were on all sorts of Ones to Watch lists circa 2009, but that new album – the quirkily titled Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, packed with inventive, high-octane freaky folk-pop – justifies her return to such lists for summer 2012. She's really doing the rounds, too, with five festivals on the schedule. In interviews she comes across as surly, but live, she is boundingly good fun, jokey with both band and audience, and fond of the sort of bonkers outfits that people seem to don at such occasions (animal suits, silly hats, eye-shaped bras). Her operatic vocals and electric guitar are giddied along by her band's galloping military beats, sprightly strings and harmonies that will float nicely on a summer breeze... or brighten a soggy Sunday.
Playing: No Direction Home, Apple Cart, Green Man, End of the Road, Deer Shed
She takes her time, does Liz Green: she won Glastonbury's Emerging Talent competition in 2007, but her album O, Devotion! emerged only last year. Another hard-to-pigeonhole young lady with a guitar, Green is in possession of both a vivid imagination and a gorgeous, unusual voice, a rounded sound as if she's warbling from the very back of her throat. Her accompanying artwork and films are as bewitching as her music, and she has a tendency to wear woolly bird masks or use shadow puppetry to tell tales. Her songs have a dry wit but are often dark, and matched sonically with Weimar-esque waltzes, bluesy jazz rhythms and traditional folk balladry. The backing oom-pah brass give the whole thing a slightly macabre air. Yet she is a gentle performer – the last time I saw her live, in a barn, her singing was so sweet that even the nesting swallows joined in.
Playing: Latitude, Bestival, No Direction Home
Dance by Laurence Phelan
The prodigiously talented 22-year-old Chilean-American musician and label boss was voted the best live act of last year by the members of the online dance-music community Resident Advisor – an impressive feat for an artist whose music, at least on record, is plaintive, sparse and too slow to dance to. His debut album, Space is Only Noise, is an alluring bricolage of found sounds, a bit like the soundtrack to a confusing yet wonderful dream that Erik Satie once had about the distant future. His urge to forge new ground carries through to his label's latest compilation, available only on a format of his own devising: an aluminium cube with a headphone socket that is part-music player, part-sculptural object and incompatible with any other format. Similarly, his live show, which typically involves piano and guitar as well as laptop beats, involves a high degree of improvisation and one-off happenstance.
Playing: Bloc Weekend
This Belfast-born, London-based DJ and producer only gave up his day job in 2010 – following a PhD in computational biology, he'd been researching genetics at UCL – but has already amassed an impressive catalogue of melodic techno and electronica releases and remixes. Much has been made of his background, probably because his breakthrough releases were named after mathematical theories and he is collaborating with iPad software engineers Liine on a music-performance and generation tool inspired by his work in systems biology. But there's nothing dryly theoretical about his music, which is characterised by organic structures and lush harmonic textures; grandiose, swirling breakdowns that are about that same sense of awe of the infinite that you get from star-gazing. His show is often accompanied by digital animations – but at festival gigs, you'll get to gaze at the firmament itself.
Playing: The Great Escape, Bestival
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