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THE YEAR OF RIVER COTTAGE POP - My 2012 In British Pop Music

Dog, appalled.
2012. The year of River Cottage British pop. Another beardy year like the last, but if anything our beardiest since the mid-1500s. Of course, modern British folkpopsters (who ironically could actually afford to have their faces depilated regularly by expensively-hired Harley Street bumfluff-skivvies) need their beards  to hide their bruised chins, the living livid testament to the abrasive scaliness of Satan’s scrotum (mumfmumfmumf) and even I’ll admit it’s impossible, maybe even undesirable, to keep such poshos out of pop. Pop’s always relied on its MIX of people, classes, ages, genders, sexualities, races. But right now, there’s no mix, just an endlessly marching onward army of grinning braying dishabille pricks-with-acoustics & gap-year-tans, bullying the life and non-punchability out of British pop music. A rewritten map of modern Britain to the scale of pop-dominance would see the South East grotesquely inflated, the rest of the country shrivelled to the point of non-existence, less a witch on a pig than a shard of melted cape on a bloated back-trotter. Private school educated people should never be allowed to dominate music and  I should fkn know, I WENT to private school (Henry VIII, Coventry, fellow alumni - Phillip Larkin, Jerry Dammers). So like Phil & Jerry, I know these chortling fucks, the gaseousness of their ‘tolerance’, the sub-cellular nature of their conservatism.  Like their spiritual forefathers & Abingdon-old boys Radiohead, (and their pervy Virginia-Water wanker-uncles Coldplay) today’s current crop of corduroy choirboys and floral-print warblers would doubtless play down the significance of their backgrounds, after all, the appropriation of working-class art by the middle-classes is nothing new – indeed it could be argued that the British folk revival of the 60s precisely depended on such bucolic reactionary yearnings by an educated urban elite. What’s been so uniquely dispiriting about this in 2012 has been the lazily superficial nature of this reappropriation (Sandy Denny would open  her mouth and flame throw these fuckers), and the way it’s been lubricated by the similarly  narrowing class base of the press & PR industries that boost this be-mandolined bollocks into the nations hearts. Tiny twats with tiny minds so locked in on their tiny backslap world they can’t see out beyond their confines or comprehend a British music that might actually have something to fucking say.

Not a problem for the rest of us. Out here, we can listen to the TRUE folk music of modern Britain. Out here, we got other problems to worry about, and so we listen to people we’d actually let in our home, cos their homes are as broke and permanently on the emergency credit as ours. Folk like Kal Seriousz, whose ‘Leftovers’ EP on Bandcamp was my first highlight of the year, a sneaky peak at what ended up on the cutting-room floor before his soon-come debut album drops. Heavy, bassy, agitated, doomy, dark music, suffused with an unplaceable but unmistakeable air of dread and danger that's impossible to fake. Highlight had to be the rampaging 'Bishop & Cable' featuring Cappo riding the kind of hard-as-fuck agit-funk I haven't heard delivered this hard since the golden age of Gunshot and Black Radical MK II. Fierce. Keep an eye on this wise guy.

Similarly, keep em peeled on Reks whose “Passports” on Gracie Productions tore me a 3rd 4th and 5th eye back in summer, Numonics playing a blinder on the production, finding not only a fantastically pugilistic beat but then augmenting low-end tom-hits to accentuate the impact, letting horns and keys drone into deranged new spaces whilst all the time Reks keeps hitting you up with revolutionary rhetoric that suggested the album 'REBELutionary' was gonna be beyond essential (and it was). On the flip 'Gepeto (Reality Is)' ramped up the tension with some startling anti-cop lyrics and unsettling nu-skool menace. Superb, angry, timely shit.

Of course, the narrative now for those NOT a part of the chortling academy-status 6th-form centre that is modern British pop is that “common” people’s ambition can only be to go on X-factor, and eventually, if they’re lucky, get to sing the songs rich people write, those rich people from the same five schools, the same big fat thousands-of-squid a term hothouses of mediocrity and mendacity currently clogging the charts and radio with so much ad-ready yodelling and smackable glockenspiel-led fragility. At a time when music education across the comprehensives is being slashed to the point of non-existence,  our current generation of schmindie faux-folk wankers are an especially hateful breed, emblematic of how in Cameron & Gove’s future, music will be the sole preserve of the moneyed-up elite. Just wait and see, when the cuts really start to bite exactly how much of a ‘luxury’ the Coalition consider music & arts, how funding for working-class kids to learn about music and get to play it will be jettisoned as something ‘we’ can do without. Already one in four councils making music teachers redundant. Spending down to about a quid a kid. In an environment so hostile to music from the bottom it’s a miracle that astonishing shit like Edward Scissortongue’s  “Spastic Max” on High Focus even gets made. No surprise it doesn’t get heard anywhere. A disturbingly real transmission from a man in a room in a tall building, the music's finger-twitching minimalism suiting the tense, grainy vibe of the lyrics perfectly, summing up the frustrations and fuck-ups and fall of a man we've all seen around, sometimes out for the count on the corner, sometimes apoplectic in the phone booth, most often staring dead ahead at us from the mirror. A true snapshot of reality, but full of compassion and depth as well. Hip-hop doing what it does best — telling us what the fuck is going on, unsparingly, from an album ‘Better Luck Next Life’ that I still haven’t crawled out from the bottom of. 

An equally engrossing voice in British music this year was M9, amazing to hear him making the leap from mixtapes this year (although you should still check out the amazing bandcamp track ‘Organized Democracy’ cos of its incredibly thought-provoking lyricism, including the kind of Movement Ex reference guaranteed to get this ol' b-boy clapping his hands in auld-fart glee and its beautifully brooding undertow of aquatic bass and dubbed-out jazz menace). “White Russian” was the first single from his debut LP 'Magna Carta', a slow-burning groove over which RM draped some engrossing rhymes, crepuscular keys and smoky cymbals riding the groove deep into your cortex. Don't sleep, never sleep on M9.

His continuing marginalisation wouldn’t matter if you could be confident that those working class kids who do still see music as something to explore (and let’s face it, who needs the acquiescence of a fkn teacher in making that happen?) would at least have a chance to get heard in wider circles than their own little undergrounds. Not gonna happen when Jocinta and Jocasta and Gawain and Rupert have the whole fkn shebang nailed from press to PR to playlist, confident that their pals in the papers and in plugging will ensure Britain can be carpet-bombed with this pleasant pissantry until the next 5 years of Conservative rule are assured. 

So at a time when pop’s vital function of providing a genuinely alternative view, of suggesting the orthodoxy might be wrong, is more needed than ever what are we hearing? Tacit approval of the status quo, terror of pop reaching any level of import beyond the pleasantry of background wallpaper, lifestyle augmentation/affirmation. Hey, I was going batshit about this back in February.
All the time trying to press fantastic plastic like Task Force’s “My Last Trip” into the unconsciousness of everyone I know. 'My Last Trip' breaks Task Force’s long hiatus with perhaps some of the weirdest music they've ever made, Farma G stretching out some astonishing doom-drone replete with scarifying Goblin-style vocals, the whole coming across like Sabbath/Amon Duul at their trippy best. Hadn't heard hip-hop get this fucked up and psychedelic since the golden age of New Kingdom - Chester P matching Farma's far out freakitude with some mind-bending DMT'd-verbals. Astonishing. 'Music From The Corner 5' is out early 2013 and hell I'm getting scared already. OFWGKTA seem awful polite next to these loons.

In 2012 perhaps more than ever before the British music media’s increasing South-Eastern myopia really started to rankle, and started seeming awfully dickheaded when you were hearing the fantastic racket being made by Bristol’s Split Prophets fam this year. Res & DatKid “Comparisons” was a prime example, two of SP’s finest acolytes with a bristling, spitting slab of aggravation marshalled into funky frabjous phat waves by producer Bad Habitz — early in 2013, Split P's are gonna drop something massive in your ear and put Bristol back on Britain's musical map once and for all. And what various dicks in NW1 think will simply not matter for shit.

Of course if it was purely musical, the metropolitan elite’s adaptation of the trappings of peasantry to flog the values of stoutness and sturdiness and ‘heart’ to the heartless would be annoying but at least easily ignored. What’s made it so tough in 2012 to be sanguine or resigned is that perhaps for the first time in my life, pop is purely and absolutely regurgitating the clichés and lies of government, happily promulgating the notion of music as neutered & essentially harmless soundtrack to the big society. And so government and press can keep up the talk of ‘fairness’, can keep victimising the poor and disabled, can keep the immigration-rhetoric at a constant pitch of ‘toughness’ all utterly unchallenged by anyone in music. When I was 17 I had Public Enemy to ask the questions, answer some, take your anger and show what it could be turned into. Right now, if I was 17 it’s quite conceivable that I’d have nothing musically doing that for me, and it’d be no surprise if that anger started getting sucked up, my past present & future explained, by someone with a more ferocious sense of ideology, perhaps even religious, a danger that’s evermore likely the longer pop opts out of the battle and merely seeks its precarious foothold in commerce.

 If I was lucky, before I started acting in my own movies, stepping on to the odd bus with the odd pipe bomb, someone woulda directed me towards  Phoenix Da Icefire’s “Cinematic” a wide-screen steadicam prowl across PDI's rampaging imagination, the music laced together with hypnotic guile by Croydon boy Strange Neighbour. (Go dl the debut album 'The Quantum Leap' toot-sweet if you give anything approaching two fucks about the most vital UK music being made right now and be proud).

If  I was lucky, someone woulda pushed Joker Starr’s “Too Many Not Enough” on  Flukebeat at me with a shove and a snarl. "Not enough producers, too many rappers becoming like actors” - pertinent, incisive verbals from JS and a great sunkissed minimal production from Appa Tight sealing one of the highlights from Starr's debut LP 'Blood Ren', Appa propelling the vocals into a multi-tapped delay firestorm in all the right places.

Or someone woulda slipped me Piff Gang’s “Tanqueray And Piff” - produced by Sumgii outta LDZ so you know what kind of delicious derangement you're letting yourself in for here — a beautifully strung-out, almost levitating track, genuinely summing up that feel of being so high and fucked up that you're living on a plateau of blissed-out autopilot unsteadiness you have absolutely no desire to leave any time soon. Oozing bass, shimmering ghostly keys, roach-croaked vocals, utterly brilliant, the best UK dub-hop this side of Trellion & Sniff.

Yeah, fuck, Trellion & Sniff, not seen them mentioned fucking ANYWHERE but without a doubt their ‘North Luna’ EP was one of the most stupendous moments of the year-  slo-mo spooked out genius from Sheffield's finest sustained ‘til you start falling apart, the ultra-minimal, maximally-unsettling feel of an old-skool Underdog production for Output Records, peppered by T&S's typically twisted ("bullet to your mullet") poesy. Fantastic fucked-up uniqueness. 

And if you reeeeally need a British album of the year, alongside T&S check out the awesome Kingdom Of Fear ‘s s/t debut on the ever-mighty YNR. Was wondering when Edan-style psyche-hop was really gonna start belching forth from the heads & harddrives of this fair isle and then here came Jehst, and Kashmere & Jazz T and a cast of fellow YNR psychonauts with one of the most stunning, startling, brainjangling releases of 2012, inspired by Hunter S.Thompson and just as far out, freaky, fearless and compelling as auld King Gonzo himself.

Drugs key see. Druggy year. Fuck all else to do. Ears open, you’d have  heard plenty of British music this year that actually seemed to speak about a reality you could understand, and the unreality of that reality, with music that uncannily and eerily matched the groggy fog of narcosis and despair that was most of our lot in 2012, that’s increasingly becoming our autopilot fug of choice through these desperate hours and dreadful final days for  the capitalist dialectic.  None of it has made any of the end of year lists, none of it has spiritually accepted the pistoning tumescenses of Osborne & Cameron plunging into its collective anus nuts-deep. But it’s out there, and it doesn’t give a fuck about the prevailing bourgeoisie impulses of curatorship and regression strangling the life out of the rest of British pop. Rarely on a label, for many of these artists and us listeners Bandcamp’s been a fkn godsend this year. Eeeh Gee if you ain’t heard Sonnyjim & Wizard “The Executive Branch”,  a staggering 10-tracker from the hardest working lunatic in rap with typically brilliant Brummagem rhyming from Sonny and  great production throughout from Wizard, drop a few dimes and snap this shit up sheeple.


Likewise if you didn’t hear The Natural Curriculum EP0003/0004. Go get pronto. From Manc-genii Dayse & Aver (if you ain't checked out their 'EP0001' yet do so ghost-haste) — this keeps up the tension, stealth and stunning sonics they've made their own, great rhymes from D & A as well as Chalk & Sykes, unsettling future-fuckery on the decks from Omas & 13. Stunning, superb music from one of the UK's most unjustly unheralded names. Like I said, get on it.

In a sea of Britpop mediocrity and collaborative palliness across the stage-school masseev lovely to hear, in total contrast,  Spida Lee (whose “Carriacou Jack” EP was one of the summers other highlights)  spit something like “You Can’t Rap Pt. II”, the ever-dependable Beat Butcha hooking a monstrous beat to some simmering Hermann-esque strings, & heavy-assed doom-funk bass, like some of Marley Marl's darkest '90s productions touched by the hand of RZA.

Alongside Beat Butcha, my fave producer of 2012 had to be Leaf Dog -  Verb-T’s mighty” Said And Done” on the always-engrossing High Focus  a peach perfect example of his work, atmosphere and vibe piped in from Muscle Shoals circa 1966, that perfect Stax blend of grittiness, straight up testifying grit and off-kilter weirdness.

And no look at 2012 would be complete without mention of the mighty Mystro, whose “That Rush” channelled the twin spirits of John Carpenter and Sergei Rachmaninov but ended up spinning on a brilliant ruckus-starting beat peppered with some ace one-string Eastern European/North African thrumming guitar, Mystro's rhymes a typically compelling, deep-yet-delirious rush of adrenaline straight to the synapse. Ace video too.

Already a billion names I’ve no space to mention come to mind. Follow the links, the trails, the shout-outs, the other names. See what spins you. In 2012 and into 2013, I commend and command your attention towards these oddbods. The true sound of the UK, the true folk music of our time. Not a fuckin’ Alt-J fan among them and none of them are gonna end up running a fkn dairy-farm or metaphorically rolling organic meatballs across a plate with their noses towards Sam Cameron. Music that doesn't prefer to ignore politics and thus through sheer cowardly silence wave through the seeping notion that the hard-working poor must hate the workless poor, music with compassion for ALL of our twisted apprehensions of the slide into doom, music that at the very least apprehends that doom and responds to it with a ferocious escape, or equally ferocious anger. 

Our finest 'creatives', Alt-J or 4 Walter Softies
If we’ve been made more and more aware this year of how the disproportionate influence of posh cunts in politics is ruining all our lives we have no reason to accept the same skewiff slant of influence in pop, our pop, the pop we no longer have to depend on fucking majors to give us or the mainstream press to tell us about. Under the guise of ‘organic’ creativity privileged youth will continue to preside over what officially passes for British culture in 2013, carefully mentoring our ‘progression’ back to the same imperial class structures and strictures of the Victorian era, and then, their fans will form bands and the hierarchy and inheritance will simply be reified permanently. A grim future only if you allow yourself to give a fuck, accept those difficult-to-shake cultural habits that push you towards consensus and the illusion of zeitgeist. In the face of saturation, of SO MUCH music, the natural filter becomes WHO you know, who you’re pals with – and we shouldn’t be surprised that British Music, as delivered to us by the majors and media multinationals is coming from an increasingly narrowing pack of pricks whose dads all shop at the same boutique deli-counter. In 2013 let’s reject that entirely, let’s spotlight and condemn that nepotism wherever it occurs and focus on that British music that is truly, desperately, anguishedly, disturbingly, derangedly, deliriously British in the most glorious, fucked up, diverse way possible. No other attitude will be up to the job, or up to the fantastic music that will be created in the UK in 2013. I declare 2012, in many ways a shitty year for life and a great great year for music, OVER. See you on the other side. 


  1. Seeking out more by M9 now. Thank you!

  2. Nice article. As ever you brilliantly deconstruct the cesspool that is crappy establishment-endorsed pop music. But - also as ever - you recommend new music which is supposed to be the "real stuff" but just sounds underwhelming to my ears. I mean speaking as a massive hip hop fan, that Reks and Verb T stuff is just average and the Mystro track is horrible..I suppose that's just a taste thing.




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