Unsigned but not unloved

It's tougher than ever for new bands to get noticed amid the maelstrom of online music – but a host of new initiatives may be about to make things a little bit easier, says Elisa Bray
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The Independent Culture

Last month I was asked to be one of four judges on a panel to decide the line-up for a new stage at Wychwood Festival. It's a funny concept judging bands. A lot of it rests on personal taste, and with four different tastemakers each whittling 70 bands down to a 28-band line-up, I did wonder if we would end up with a Lib Dem/Conservative-style compromise situation.

The stage – the newly branded BBC Introducing in Gloucestershire – will be the platform for 28 bands from local areas. For those 70 bands, who had been selected from Gloucestershire, Bristol, Oxfordshire, Hereford and Worcester, Coventry and Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Wales. It presented a chance to be heard by professionals in the industry, including BBC6 Music's Tom Robinson and Radio 1's Bethan Elfyn. For the lucky 28 chosen, it means a platform on the BBC Introducing stage at Wychwood next month, and sharing the bill with The Happy Mondays, The Lightning Seeds, Dreadzone, The Leisure Society, Toumani Diabate and Seth Lakeman. Not only are they provided with the equipment to stage a live show, but also their performances will be broadcast via a video embedded on The Independent's website streaming the stage throughout the festival weekend. Because of a free download from each band also being offered via our website, the local bands are able to reach not just the ears of those passing by at the festival, but music fans worldwide.

At the moment there are more opportunities than ever for local bands to get their music heard by a wide audience, be it through live gigs, or on the radio. As well as Later... with Jools Holland championing new acts alongside established names, and live sessions with new bands on radio stations, BBC Introducing, which provides a showcase for new and emerging talent, has been growing since its launch in 2007. With a stage at many of the major festivals – including Glastonbury and the BBC's own Radio 1's Big Weekend – it has become known by music fans as a place to go to discover new acts. A festival is the ultimate place to attract new fans because festival-goers are constantly wandering around, looking for something to catch their attention. BBC Introducing allows new bands to send in their demos and be heard by DJs around the country; more than 20,000 acts have now sent their songs in to be stored on the database. Some of these hopefuls are no doubt aware that acts such as Florence and the Machine, Chipmunk and The Ting Tings gained their earliest exposure via the programme.

It's an exciting time for unsigned acts. I was impressed by the quality and breadth of styles of the 70 artists I listened to. Of all the acts, there were a handful that really stood out for me and who will now join my crowded music collection. There was Mechanical Owl, and two Oxford bands called Fixers and Ute, all of whom were chosen unanimously by all four judges. Mechanical Owl, from north Wales, began as a solo project, with Mike Payne at his laptop, and has grown into a four-piece pop band influenced by Why? and the ambient spectral sound of Sigur Ros. They have been busy building a local fanbase in Wales. Fixers, a refreshingly different-sounding five-piece psychedelic-pop band, inspired by the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd, have the experimental whiff of the Beta Band about them. They were chuffed to be picked for the bill. "It's amazing," says their 24-year-old vocalist and keyboardist Jack Goldstein. "I was called on the morning of my birthday. It's just so much exposure – and the fact that people are interested in what you're doing means a lot. I'm really into avant-garde music like classical American minimalism. We want to challenge the way people perceive pop music, which is often seen as completely one-dimensional." Having only performed three gigs to date in their home town of Oxford – "we want to build a reputation before we branch out to London" – it's an opportunity to take their band to a new level. And that can only be a good thing – for them, and for the listeners.

Also high up on the judges' list was Ute, another Oxford band succeeding in their efforts to do something a bit different. The ambitious trio take a new slant on folk, incorporating hand clapping into their intricate rhythms and overlapping harmonies, and the effect is mesmeric. On the solo singer-songwriter side, Bristol singer-songwriter Daisy Chapman's haunting, atmospheric and piano-driven "The Green Eyed" was instantly captivating, its dramatic dynamics and her intense, effortless vocals sounding more the accomplished artist than a newcomer on the scene.

There are also all kinds of new competitions recently launched to give bands the opportunity to gain exposure at high-profile gigs and festivals, all thanks to the internet, which enables anyone "judging" to access the music so much quicker. (We judges listened to the 70 bands on the invaluable site Sound Cloud, where bands can share their music.) Green Man Festival have launched their competition to find one new band to play the opening slot at this year's festival on 20 August. Green Poll invites unsigned acts to be judged by a panel including Mojo editor Phil Alexander, Moshi Moshi record label boss Stephen Bass and Cocteau Twin and Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde. The winning band will share the bill with Doves, The Flaming Lips, and Joanna Newsom.

Meanwhile, even Bon Jovi is on the search for five unsigned rock bands to perform a 30-minute opening set for his concerts during his June residency at the O2 Arena. Bands should take up the chance to be heard.

Reader Offer

The Independent is offering readers a free twenty-eight track download album, featuring all of the winning artists from the Wychwood and BBC Introducing partnership. All of the artists featured on this download album will be performing on the BBC Introducing...in Gloucestershire stage at this year's Wychwood festival. To download this album, go to Independent.co.uk/wychwood

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