Gigwise blogger looks at the future...
Robert Leedham

17:47 29th April 2010

More about:

On 20th July, in an article for The Independent On Sunday, Tim Walker coined the term ‘indie landfill’. In his widely disseminated article, Walker hypothesised that widespread popularity of the indie genre symbolized in a series of British breakout acts such as The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys had lead to a rash of identikit bands willing to cater for those who found ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ a bit too saucy.  As symbolized with the purported split of The Fratellis last week however, that much-saturated bubble has burst. The same though, cannot be said for fans of homegrown hip-hop.

Rap music in the UK has always had a much more fragile foundation than that of indie. Its first real ‘coming of age moment’ came in 2003 when Dizzee Rascal picked up the Mercury Music Prize for his debut album ‘Boy in da Corner’. Immediately Dizzee became the focal point through which all British hip-hop became filtered. Fresh exposure was granted to the East London Grime scene in which a young Dylan Mills cut his teeth and together with the altogether more laddish Mike Skinner it seemed as though the pair could carve out a permanent place for hip-hop at the UK music high table.

Yet despite flashes of brilliance from Grime’s founding father Wiley, the tide success seemed to be ebbing away from the harsh garage indebted sound of British urban music. Sales for Dizzee’s third album ‘Maths + English’ were middling and with his tentative shift to more dance floor friendly tracks such as ‘Flex’ came the typically toxic cries of ‘sell-out’ from genre purists. Stuck in between a rock of being yesterday’s critical darling and the hard place of public indifference, Rascal made a sudden gambit for mainstream success with the Calvin Harris produced ‘Dance Wiv Me’.

The legacy of that track has proved not only to be a lifeline for Dizzee’s career but a template from which almost every subsequent British hip-hop hit has based itself on. For a quick example of exactly how prolific the ‘Dance Wiv Me’ model of success, one need only take a brief glance at last week's Top 40 singles chart.

Occupying the number one spot are the pioneering Grime collective Roll Deep with their relentlessly derivative club-banger ‘Good Times’. To fully grasp this group’s fall from grace one needs to understand that this was the brotherhood which Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Wiley all inhabited before they became household names. Wiley remains, but the trademark razor sharp sound evidenced on last year’s ‘Street Anthems’ compilation is long gone. For them to sell out to this extent is the genre equivalent of Morrissey throwing in the towel with The Smiths to go front Mötley Crüe.

Cast your eyes further down the chart and the depressingly similar pattern continues from Mike Skinner’s former The Beats label prodigy Professor Green to N-Dubz, a group where artistic credibility ranks below woollen head gear and mephedrone consumption in a list of Dappy’s of priorities.

All this dross would of course be acceptable if British hip-hop had a rallying counterforce against the Dizzee endorsed route to prominence. Unfortunately no-one has heard sight nor sound from Speech Debelle since she was booed off the stage after attempting to rap to their 1993 hit ‘Pray’ at a Take That event last November to promote their SingStar game. Similarly M.I.A. has now taken the admittedly wise step to remove herself from the UK altogether in order to crack the altogether more affectionate American market. Some hope has been justifiably been placed in the Peckham con-turned-rapper Giggs but the real proving point will rest upon the release of his sophomore album ‘Let Em Ave It’ which lands on 21st June.  

Indie landfill? That lot had it easy.

More about: