At the start of every year a selection of acts are tipped as breakthrough artists but as history has shown us few will go on to realise their initial potential. As the current crop prepare to release debut albums or are busy creating interest around their already released debuts, the five acts most likely to succeed are James Blake, Jamie Woon, Liam Bailey, Clare Maguire and Funeral Party. In an industry that is forever searching for the next big thing, each artist has built a particular fan base through music listens, video views, web exposure and social media attention and are recognised as being the new sound of a generation, whilst maintaining a certain uniqueness. Each artist has created their own sound and drawn on influences within the music industry and from their own background and upbringing in efforts to breakthrough and gain success.
Although individual in their own right, each artist has taken sounds from a specific genre or genres and created a sound that is stylistic and somewhat unique. Funeral Party, who have emerged from Los Angeles’ raucous party scene, have taken a progressive rock approach to their music. Described as buzzing bass, punky guitars and declamatory singing, their sound transcends obvious influences without denying them. “It’s all been done before, it’ll all be done again” lead singer Chad Elliott roars on track ‘New York City moves to the sound of L.A’, suggesting that although unique, theirs is a sound that has been done before. Funeral Party’s sound is disco-punk, done differently. Its intoxicating shout-a-long choruses, spikey-strutting guitars and radio-friendly formula has primed them for success on a commercial level. Funeral Party are poised to be Los Angeles’ best contribution to the indie/dance-punk scene since Moving Units. Their sound is similar and akin to LCD Soundsystem, however it’s more raw and less regimented, which can be attributed to the band’s youthful energy and genuine unpredictability.
Like Funeral Party, Clare Maguire has taken existing sounds from specific genres and put her own mark on that particular style of music. Her sound is based solely on her voice, a voice that is powerful and at times epic. She sounds windswept and permanently anguished. She sings as if cosseted in crushed velvet and bubbles with gothic fire and brimstone. Described as pop, her sound draws comparisons with 80’s icons such as Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks, but it’s her voice that sets her sound apart from what has come before her. It’s the powerhouse voice that gives her extraordinary talent. It’s raw and bluesy and hints of husky hidden mysteries, a voice that will make her as well known as Adele, Florence and the Machine and Amy Winehouse by the end of 2011.
Ever since the emergence of Amy Winehouse in 2006, the British music industry has been searching for its male equivalent, and in Liam Bailey they may have found it. A sound that has been described as rhythmic and soulful, he is tipped to be Britain’s new bona fide male R&B sensation. Like Clare Maguire it’s his voice that is so encapsulating, it stands out a genuine, un-trainable and unruly weapon, a soul soaked calling. It’s a voice that is husky with rasping tones, which is very Marley-esque. There’s an assumption that vocally he’s well beyond his years, old before his time and weary from experience, which makes him unique, authentic and quietly charismatic. His vocals have a traditional soul tone, which at times sound velvety smooth, and his songs display heartfelt, emotional storytelling through the raw tenderness of his unique vocals.
Unlike Liam Bailey and Clare Maguire, whose emphasis is on their vocals, James Blake has taken a different approach to his music and sound. Originally a DJ and Producer, he has created a sound that is individual and experimental. A sound that draws influences from sampling and electronics, his music has an elusive quality. Described as both dub-step and post-dub-step, James Blake is unique simply because there is not a sound quite like his. He takes elements of dub-step, R&B and auto-tune, combining them in new ways. His startling, soulful take on electronica and his interweaving of his powerful voice through spare piano chords, glowing electronics and multi-layered vocals, is at times haunting and mesmerizing. Given his feel for minimalist, sonic subtleties and his ability to hint at emotions lurking just beneath the surface, he has already drawn favourable comparisons, dub-step’s answer to the XX, but James Blake is his own man. He sings in a flat, unflashy style, with gospel vocals, a sound that is under-pinned with heavy bass, emotionally resonant keys and haunting, heavily treated vocals. This is the man behind a masterful fusion of experimental and occasionally dazzling beat and vocal based music, all of which ultimately makes him impossibly talented.
Jamie Woon, like James Blake, is combining conventionally strong soulful vocals with dub-step’s eerie spaciousness and resonant production techniques. Whereas James Blake represents dub-step moving towards “the song”, Jamie Woon is first and foremost a singer-songwriter, influenced by soul and music and has now shifted towards dub-step. A sound described as soul-infected vocals backed by samplers and programming, his voice can sometimes be over-powering and at times you want the music to be left alone. His voice is husky, soulful and his use of multi-track looping is the realization of ‘21st century blues’. Jamie Woon is a special talent who will carve his blues ‘n bass infused pop songs into your brain and leave them there forever. His music is dark, sweet and seductive, an irresistibly understated combination of uniquely supple vocals and compulsive beats, with an atmospheric result. His sound is neo-soul meets dub-step, fusing underground sounds of dub-step, spooked sonics and groaning bass with yearning. For some people music is just soaked in to their bones and Jamie Woon is one of these people.