New Bands: The audacity of hype

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Hot Leg

Justin Hawkins (second from left) knows the perils of hype

Camilla Pia and Mark Robertson look at the dangers of hype and ask if we are setting new artists up for a fall

It’s not a shock to see a write-up for a new band, barely a handful of singles old, lauded as the best new band this century. But for every Arctic Monkeys there’s scores of Menswears, Towers of Londons and Mumm-Ras. Bands are expected to show up fully formed with little opportunity to make mistakes before being cast aside.

While The List has nothing against whipping punters into a frenzy about genuinely deserving new music, the phenomenon of building ‘em up to knock ‘em down is becoming increasingly tiresome, and it is precisely at this time of year, bombarded by a plethora of musical tips for the year, that we feel it most.

Sure, these endless lists make for entertaining reading, but take them as gospel and you will be sorely disappointed. This year we are implored to put our faith in Florence and the Machine, White Lies and Little Boots (LB makes her Scottish debut this issue, see page 31), as artists who might just blow our minds in 2009. That may be the case but they’re far from ‘new discoveries’; more likely, they are pretty much dead certs who have been in development at record companies for some time with massive marketing budgets and strategies in place waiting to kick in once the ‘underground buzz’ has subsided. Hype in contagious and, by its very nature, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hyperbole starts based on reputation rather than actual evidence.

Little Boots comes to us this month a truly fascinating spectre, gracing covers without a release to her name, a clutch of tunes floating around the internet, a few choice mix tapes and handful of live shows under her belt. She might be the saviour of music in 2009 but we really don’t have the material to judge yet.

Take a look back at 2007, when we were told to watch out for The Twang, or last year when Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong were supposedly set to change the face of music. Both stuttered, stopped, then scurried back to the drawing board for a re-think.

Justin Hawkins (previously of The Darkness and now Hot Leg frontman) knows all about this whole prcoess. His old outfit were heavily praised for debut Permission to Land but by the time its follow-up One Way Ticket to Hell … and Back was released two years on, the knives were out. ‘You can tell that you are becoming a press phenomenon when people ask you the same question over and over again’, Hawkins chortles, ‘and we started off being excited about the hype. Now I realise that you can’t please everyone all the time.’

Rebecca Nicholson, scribe for The Guardian and The Lipster’s co-editor, believes that something has got to give. ‘There’s excitement and then there’s mania. Pop culture is so accelerated at the moment that bands are being called the best thing in twenty years after just one single. How can they possibly live up to that?’ So who is to blame? ‘I think, as writers, we need to be careful to keep things in perspective. We could be heading for a state of affairs similar to the Oscars, where all the good films are timed to come out for the Oscar buzz. What about that band that released their first single in March? Is it over for them because they didn’t make the Sound of 2009 list?’

These are fast, furious and fickle times indeed, so keep your head, and remember it’s fans who ultimately make or break musicians. ‘The only way to tackle hype is to simply listen to the music and see what you think yourself,’ agrees Leonie Cooper (The Guardian and NME). ‘Hype gets someone in the public eye, but whether or not you choose to listen to them and go to their gigs is still your call.’

Hot Leg play Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, Thu 5 Mar.

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