Why the laptop has replaced the acoustic guitar as the entry-level instrument for pop hopefuls and songwriters

From Brooklyn to Glasgow, a new wave of musicians are choosing laptops over guitars as their instruments of choice, says Andy Gill

If there were any doubt that the laptop had replaced the acoustic guitar as the entry-level instrument for pop hopefuls and songwriters, a new wave of synthesiser and computer-toting young electropop acts that has come along in the wake of Hot Chip confirms the ascendancy of a new electronic age.

And unlike many previous waves that have changed the pop landscape, this one is not limited by geographical constraints. It's not a local scene, but a global one: just as the computer technology that has made it possible to record tracks in your bedroom has also made it easy to hook up with like-minded spirits across the world and instantly and cheaply distribute your new music online to potentially millions of listeners. It doesn't matter if you're Miaoux Miaoux in Glasgow, Metric in Canada, Visions of Trees in London's East End, Lemonade in Brooklyn, or Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs in north London, your sound can catch the ear wherever wi-fi can carry it.

"Not only is the laptop the entry-level music-making device, YouTube deejaying off of a laptop is also the go-to medium for providing music at parties," claim pop trio Lemonade, who, hailing from Brooklyn, are in a better position than most to comment on the cutting edge. "The thought of someone pulling out an acoustic guitar at an intimate house party and playing a song that everyone knows feels terribly dated. When we began making music on our laptop to eventually play along with, it felt really novel. I assume this is pretty commonplace today – though not as common as the infinite amount of artists, many really exciting ones at that, that make music on their laptops and share it via soundcloud – most of it never leaving laptops."

"There's so much you can do with a laptop now, or even with a phone," Sara Atalar and Joni Juden, aka Visions of Trees, say, though they acknowledge there are some things you just can't do with a laptop. "It's missing the physical side that you get from strumming a guitar or banging a drum kit: but these days I guess pretty much every kid has got a computer in their home, whereas having instruments is probably getting to be more rare."

In previous electropop eras, there tended to be battle lines drawn between genres. Rock eschewed synths in favour of guitars and tended to be strident and overtly emotional, while electropop acts favoured keyboards and a somewhat cooler, more considered manner. But nowadays, those fences are dissolving. Juden believes there's an element of rawness to the music on VOT's eponymous debut that's traceable to his taste for post-punk and metal, while Julian Corrie, whose album as Miaoux Miaoux, Light of the North, has just been released on Chemikal Underground, thinks the barriers have completely come down. 

"Musicians are appropriating influences from loads of different sources these days, both acoustic and electronic," he says. "I don't think people bat an eyelid these days if they hear a rock band using lots of synths, or an electronic musician using a guitar."

But while both Miaoux Miaoux and Visions of Trees are open to all styles and instruments, Lemonade, whose Diver album favours an iridescent, floating form of pop in which the tone of an old M1 synth furnishes an accidentally nostalgic Eighties vibe, still find some worth in the old distinctions.

"Rock is like The Black Keys, right?" they say. "That music is preservationist. We're not saying it's bad in any way, but it's supposed to sound like someone unearthed a time capsule filled with warped old records."

But they do acknowledge a gradual miscegenation of other forms with roughly similar influences and priorities: "There is so much music being made, though, that purposefully blurs barriers. Rap and R&B and dance and other synth music are starting to meet even more than before over their shared similarities."

And certainly, thanks to the innovative efforts of such as The Neptunes and Kanye West in America, and the whole grime/dubstep confluence in the UK, it's increasingly hard to differentiate hip-hop from house and techno, genres whose constituencies rarely used to meet as recently as a decade ago.  

Orlando Higginbottom, grey eminence behind the papier mâché dinosaur masks of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, fundamentally disputes the dichotomy between rock and pop.

"I would disagree with those descriptions – it's just a different way of doing it," he says. "I don't think musicians use one or the other nowadays, they just use whatever sound source that works. "

When he was a teenager, Higginbottom got hooked on break beats and jungle music, attracted to the mystery that surrounded the scene. "It was all on vinyl, very underground, and there were no websites, stuff like that," he recalls. "So in my own music, I always try to capture the way that made me feel; though obviously, I can't make music like that anymore, because that's been done, it's a closed book, really. In dance music, there's always a drive to create the next new thing, which is impossible. 

"The broader an idea you have about music, and the longer you've been listening, the smaller the differences seem between different types of electronic music. But people do get obsessive about those small differences. It's incredibly easy to make a passable dance track if you get the right bits of kit together, but some kids make music to fit certain fashionable rules, and if they fulfill these rules of something that's been hot for six months, they feel that they've completed the goal, in terms of writing a track. Sometimes all you need is a particular hi-hat and sub to get the requisite sound, the elements that give you some satisfaction of thinking you've made a passable track. Which is why you get these really anal sub-genres turning up."

Corrie, of Miaoux Miaoux, agrees that computers have made music creation more accessible. 

"Laptops and iPads have definitely opened up a huge section of people to music-making and creativity," he says. "The difference here, between guitars and computers, is that the possibilities of a computer are almost limitless. But software isn't a replacement for talent – it's just made things more accessible for people who are talented. People will still make terrible music, there'll just be more of it. But there'll also be lots more good stuff, too."

'Trouble' by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs is out now on Polydor; 'Diver' by Lemonade is out on True Panther Sounds; 'Visions of Trees' by Visions of Trees is out on Something in Construction; 'Light of the North' by Miaoux Miaoux is out on Chemikal Underground

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'