TELL PEOPLE you've been to the Brats, and, assuming they have the faintest idea what you're talking about, they'll ask you what the next trend in pop music is going to be. For the Brats, now laden with the less catchy title of the NME Miller Genuine Draft London Shows, is a week of showcase gigs that takes place at the Astoria every January (just too late to help those of us who have to write bands-to-watch-next- year articles, damn it), with a reasonably big-name supported by two or three up-and-coming bands every night. Any prediction of the way pop is going depends on which night you attend.

If you went on Monday, say, when Stereolab and Jimi Tenor were doing their stuff, you might expect the music of the future to be avant-garde easy-listening. If you went last Sunday, to see Bentley Rhythm Ace, you'd have 1998 down as the year of eclectic dance-rock crossovers, a year of guitars battling with keyboards and samples, of drummers with the easiest job in the world: to let the taped beats do the work and add a couple of dramatic cymbal crashes when required.

Two exponents of this genre are Headrillaz and the much-touted Lo-Fidelity All-Stars. Both bands could be stars with the help of one breakthrough single, but in the meantime, their live sound consists of perfectly acceptable techno marred by a redundant singer - or rather, a redundant shouter in Headrillaz's case, and a redundant monotone sneerer in that of the All- Stars'. And he should try not to act so much like Liam Gallagher if he doesn't want his band to be nicknamed the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars-in- Their-Eyes.

Sheffield's Earl Brutus, who also played on Monday, are never going to be stars. But their set is a great piece of conceptual art, combining glam-metal-techno-punk; a volcano of fireworks; Jamie Fry, brother of ABC's Martin, standing with his back to the audience; and one member whose sole contribution is to yell obscenities in Japanese.

If Earl Brutus were about a decade younger, they would have just about fitted in on Tuesday night, when the music of 1998 promised to be noisy, aggressive, tattooed, of questionable personable hygiene, and favouring a vocal style of such throat-ripping ferocity that the resultant phlegm- expulsions nearly short-circuited the microphone. First up were Edinburgh's Idlewild, who have definite New Wave college-rock potential, but for the moment won't do much for anyone old enough to remember the Sex Pistols, or the Pixies, or the Smashing Pumpkins, or whichever neo-punk nerds thought they were the first people to play this loudly and messily at last year's Brats.

Next came the surprise guest appearance of Therapy? (yes, their name includes the question mark). They've expanded to a four-piece, but they're still as hard as a knuckleduster and tight as a fist, with drumming like hailstones on a corrugated iron roof. Good old-fashioned rock'n'roll merriment - not that I would ever actually choose to listen to, let alone buy, any of their records.

I couldn't say I'd recommend the Deftones' chest-beating skate-grunge either, although if you're keen on Rage Against the Machine or Henry Rollins, you might be interested to know that the tectonic 'Tones are the heaviest live band I've ever seen. And I'm not just referring to the fact that their guitarist looks like Giant Haystacks. Also, any artist who has been contracted to paint Hell's torments on a Venetian cathedral wall could do worse than to sit in the balcony at the Astoria and sketch the overheated mass of bodies squirming below.

The best band of the night? Well, actually it wasn't a band at all; it was the troop of security men who faced the audience. As a breed, they are infamous for their stony-faced sadism, so it was a genuine joy to see how these bouncers clapped along lustily to the music, cooled the sizzling throng with water pistols, and incited some gleeful crowd-surfing with their come-and-have-a-go gestures and grins. More fun, more tough and more rock'n'roll than all of the evening's musicians put together.

If you went to Thursday's Brat show and saw the three bands supporting Super Furry Animals, you'd predict the return of shoegazing indie guitar bands: lovers of building-site couture, haters of any showmanlike communication with the audience, bearers of the kind of terrible names that only an indie band would go near.

Worst name of the evening, and indeed of all time, was Campag Velocet, this year's Stone Roses revivalists. They've got the funky drumbeat and the endless, albeit pleasant, guitar meanderings. What they don't have are the pop melodies, possibly because their singer opts for a Keith- from-the Prodigy manner of declamation. However, this style only really works if your head is adorned with spikes of hair and metal: a red sweatshirt and a centre parting are no substitute.

My favourites of the week's less-established acts were two Scottish bands on the Chemikal Underground label, Arab Strap and Mogwai. At first glance, neither sounds tempting: Mogwai are the indie Shadows, and Arab Strap's show centres on a young man sitting on a stool and mumbling sombre stories through his beard. However, Aidan Moffat's fag-ash-grey reminiscences of love, loss and hangovers in Falkirk are vividly Irvine Welsh-like (if only they could have been heard over the audience's chattering), and the band's flowing accompaniment tugs the heartstrings. Maybe I'm biased, though, as I've already proclaimed Arab Strap to be the next big thing. At the start of 1997. Can't win 'em all. Finally, Mogwai are tidal, atmospheric, hypnotic, unpretentious and entirely instrumental. And given how many of the bands above were let down by their singers, who can blame them?

New trends for '98? Well, having tabulated my observations of the 11 newish bands I saw this week, I can safely say that pop music over the next 12 months will be very loud, and will have no women in it whatsoever.