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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there