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BBC Sound of 2012's lack of Welsh voices

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James McLaren James McLaren | 08:45 UK time, Monday, 5 December 2011

The BBC Sound of 2012 shortlist of 12 nominees has been announced, and as usual there are no Welsh nominees (Marina And The Diamonds being the last in 2010).

It's a thought I have every year when this list, celebrating some of the up-and-coming artists making waves in the industry, is published. Is there anything that makes Welsh acts unappealing to the "180 influential UK tastemakers who were asked to name their favourite new acts"?



The list:

  • A$AP Rocky
  • Azealia Banks
  • Dot Rotten
  • Dry The River
  • Flux Pavilion
  • Frank Ocean
  • Friends
  • Jamie N Commons
  • Lianne La Havas
  • Michael Kiwanuka
  • Niki & The Dove
  • Ren Harvieu
  • Skrillex
  • Spector
  • Stooshe

I am not diminishing those choices (even though I have, by own admission of having only heard of two of the nominees, earned the slight disapproval of one of Wales' tastemaker generals John Rostron, of Sŵn Festival and the Welsh Music Prize). I am, however, wondering if there any factors that characterise music in Wales that mean that our new acts either aren't good enough, or don't make themselves known to those "influential tastemakers".

Certainly once upon a time the Rivers Severn and Dee were psychological as well as physical boundaries between Wales and the music industry. Massive strides have been made in the last 15 or so years to counter that. A&R departments became aware that Wales was but a couple of hours from their London lairs by train. The explosion of successful Welsh bands in the late-1990s and the early 21st century - largely born of fan power, not hype - assisted, as did the tireless work of individuals and organisations.

Small steps they may have been, but incrementally they achieved a definite shift in attitudes. But if I was to characterise the acts who were in those waves of success, they were guitar bands; rock acts, plugging into the worldwide surge in popularity of rock and metal of the time.

This type of music has never been 'cool'. And by extension, Wales has rarely been 'cool'. Wales is (a little like the West Midlands which I also know well) a hotbed of rock fandom. This is a country in which LA Guns could fill big venues in the depths of the valleys a few years back, when they'd struggle to elicit a raise eyebrow in London. This is the country which embraced The Darkness in a non-ironic way. This is the country of The Alarm.

In broad brush strokes, there are not a lot of factors about Wales which appeals to "influential tastemakers", but that's because influential tastemakers worth their salt aren't necessarily looking for nailed-on sales, they're looking for the indefinable ingredient that crassness labels 'the X factor'. For some, that's sales, but for others it's ingenuity, attitude, passion, politics or simple oddness. And Wales has lots to offer in all those areas.

They're not necessarily brand new, but I'll throw a few Welsh names out there 'for your consideration' as the film studios touting for Oscars votes say: Kitty Cowell, Akira The Don, Gallops, Los Campesinos!, Islet, Y Niwl, Bastions and Exit International.

All interesting in their own ways, and all off the top of my head. John Rostron suggests CRST, H Hawkline, Jodie Marie and Ifan Dafydd, while Adam Walton suggests Shy And The Fight, Cut Ribbons, Georgia Ruth and drmcnt among others (no doubt he'll be blogging some more 2012 tips in the coming weeks).

I don't think anyone has an answer as to how more Welsh acts could get into these kind of lists (and tap into the marketing juice this delivers), or even if there is a problem. John's take on it is simple: "I'd imagine some Welsh bands were in the mix - I'm sure Islet would have been in several. It's a tough list to get into - only seven spots from the UK this time around, and all of those from England."

What would be your suggestions for Welsh acts for the shortlist? Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Just to clarify, my suggestions weren't names I think should have been on the Sound of 2012 list. I think the list is (mostly) a gauge of what is potentially going to move from Radio 1's specialist shows to the daytime playlist over the next 12 months. That doesn't hold any interest for me, in all honesty. Certainly not personally. And neither should it; I haven't been part of Radio 1's demographic for a good few years now.

    My main observation is that this is still an industry dominated list. Most of these artists have the weight of a major behind them - that still counts for something when it comes to getting press / radio momentum behind an artist. Especially, I think, with the likes of Radio 1.

    I'm reluctant to criticise the thinking behind the list because I feel that anything that draws people towards interesting artists is a good thing. However it strikes me that, as a concept, it's rather self satisfied and makes the BBC vulnerable to accusations of nepotism. Given that this is a BBC touted list, how much influence is this going to have on Radio 1's playlists, who they choose for sessions and who they choose to support at the summer festivals? There's a danger that this list turns into a self fulfilling prophecy - i.e. the listed artists get more attention simply because they're on the list, not necessarily because they're the best / most interesting artists that will produce music in 2012.

    The fact that there are no Welsh artists on the list is neither here nor there, really. How many 'tastemakers' within Wales got to contribute towards the list? How many Welsh record labels have got the financial clout to pay pluggers to constantly remind those who do contribute towards the list about their artists?

    I'm not really sure who (other than the media who are currently recycling this story) pays attention to the Sound Of... list. It'd be interesting (but nigh on impossible) to audit that. If it's the BBC who are most influenced by the shortlist then I'd say that questions about its impartiality would have to be asked, given that there is a disproportionate amount of major label artists on the list at a time when more 'interesting' music than ever before is being made independently, frequently without the support of any label at all.

  • Comment number 2.

    One other point: it's interesting that James mentions Islet. Without a doubt, one of the most interesting bands in the UK at the moment. But also a band who've been carefully rationed as far as the press / media are concerned. I think it has been a wise strategy, allowing word of mouth from their incredible live performances to spread their name. But perhaps in this instance (and it's not necessarily a bad thing) the fact that they haven't been gladhanding every blogger / radio show / journalist for the last 12 months (or had a plugger doing that for them) has counted against them.

    Similarly, they weren't in my shortlist of recommendations because I haven't been sent any promos off the forthcoming album. I just plain forgot about them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Woah, what do you mean "This type of music has never been 'cool'"?!

  • Comment number 4.

    i haven't heard of any of these acts, being slightly aged. However just looking at the names ( i know, what's in a name), they seem frighteningly similar to previous BBC Sound of... acts. I have a feeling the concept is creating its own homogenized form of music. Perhaps an X Factor for original music

  • Comment number 5.

    Fairly standard guitar-based rock music has never been cool. Honest.

  • Comment number 6.

    Pretty sure that whatever the gauge for cool has been over the years that have been few cooler than: Gruff / Cerys / Huw Pooh / Nicky Wire / Andrea Darling Bud / Mike Cole / High Contrast / Benjii Skindred / Steve Strange / underworld...

    I shan't use that vile vile phrase that still lights up my occasional nightmares... you know... the Cool Cy... nah, can't do it. Yuk.

  • Comment number 7.

    That Skrillex pic is hilarious. In fact, the only rational response is to swear loudly, and we can't do that here.


  • Comment number 8.

    That Skrillex pic is hilarious. In fact, the only rational response is to swear loudly, and we can't do that here.

    Somewhere there's a student's union without it's ents officer. Possibly in 1992 judging by that haircut.


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