Hot Chip, The XX, Plan B, and seven other acts that make London's music scene so great
London is the best city for music on the planet. And here's the hard evidence – the acts who define London's present musical greatness. We've picked out ten bands, producers and solo artists, including established groups and emerging talents. All of these musicians are capable of putting on scintillating live shows or releasing game-changing records and they demand your attention. Now.
Watch videos of London's best music acts
For the best part of two decades R&B has been mired in come-hither lyrics, delivered with silk-sheet smoothness, atop a bed of regurgitated grooves. Let’s be thankful, then, for Aluna Francis and George Reid, two London upstarts adding a fresh twist to the genre. Their sound draws strands from R&B, but fuses them with glitch, two-step and singer Aluna’s feminine pop panache. The results are as catchy as hell. Poster boys from across the Atlantic like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd might have helped bring nu-R&B into vogue, but this super-cool duo are also bang on the money, making the airwaves tremble with style and substance.
‘We’re not a band who have to play loud,’ FF’s Dom Butler once said. ‘But volume does bring a saturation on the listener.’ If by saturation he means total ear-bleeding meltdown, he’s about right. This electronic noise trio have slowly developed into a thrillingly intense live proposition over the past year. They’ve become less obviously industrial, instead emerging as super-cool and compellingly modern exponents of death disco-cum-minimal techno. In short, Factory Floor can get quite a rave on – albeit one that suggests a party in an abandoned nuclear power plant in Siberia. Brilliant and exhausting stuff.
In 2004 a collection of London-based synth fanatics released a great record. It was ‘Coming On Strong’, Hot Chip’s debut album. Then they did it again. And again. Over and over in fact, through parenthood, side projects and the fame that comes with being hugely likeable disco-tinged dance producers. Thankfully, after five albums they’ve not lost interest in being weird, which eccentricity still makes them the coolest electro-pop band in the city. The spell of repetition truly is on us.
The musical alias of 28-year-old Hackney-dweller Adam Bainbridge, Kindness is a sophisticated bridge between underground cool and the wider world of pop. His debut album ‘World, You Need a Change of Heart’, released in March this year (and adored by Time Out’s Music section), takes in everything from new jack swing to deep disco, and reveals a fondness for chanking guitars that would make James Brown squeal with joy. He’s enormous fun live too – prone to peppering his sets with anything from Anita Baker’s ‘Sweet Love’ to
‘I Got 5 on It’ by ’90s rappers Luniz, and dancing like the craziest kid in the corner of the school disco. Funk, it seems, is no longer a four-letter word.
Want to make yourself an essential fixture of London’s music scene by the age of 25? Let Mica Levi show you how. Start as a grime producer/DJ. Put out some excellent mixtapes with fellow London producer Kwes. Then work with big names including Hot Chip, Toddla T and Metronomy and release two critically lauded experimental pop albums with your band – in this case, The Shapes. Done all that? Good. Now to finish compose a piece for the London Sinfonietta and grab an artist-in-residence position at the Southbank Centre. Congrats, you’re now someone who every serious London music fan should be listening to.
Plan B is a like a Cadbury Eclair – hard (rapper) outside, gooey (soul singer) inside. And he’s especially adept at switching between the two states. Born Ben Drew 28 years ago on a poor Forest Gate estate, Plan B found huge success with conceptual second album ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’, which exposed his softer side. But his grime rapper toughness remained intact. In fact, along with his feature film directorial debut, ‘Ill Manors’, Plan B continues to perceptively portray those London lives we’re so rarely exposed to, no matter how far from that world his fame may take him.
It’s still early days for this all-gal quartet, but the idiosyncratic brilliance of their music is undeniable. ‘Flying to Berlin’ and ‘Husbands’ are the two tracks to check out and both are direct, urgent and darkly clamorous, in a Slits/Siouxsie And The Banshees manner. Those songs comprise their debut seven-inch single, recently released on Pop Noire, the label set up by singer Jehnny Beth in laudably DIY fashion.
Not, as the name might suggest, a sludge metal band, but rather 21-year-old Will Archer, a Finsbury Park-based bedroom music-maker. Archer’s two largely instrumental EPs to date capture a sense of dislocation and ruminative melancholy. His songs veer from soft pastoral voyages overlaid with eerie field recordings, to hypnotic, sax-inflected soul numbers that manage to sound simultaneously expansive, intimate and altogether original. It’s beautiful, and as soon as Slime makes the move from bedroom to stage, we’ll be down at the front.
The best of the bands currently working within London’s vibrant jazz scene? We’d say so. This formidable trio comprises Chris Montague on guitar, Joshua Blackmore on drums and Kit Downes on keys. Their technique is rooted in jazz, but their music is a heady combination of electronica, jazz-rock, funk and contemporary fusion that evades all genre pegs quite wonderfully. Their recent album, ‘Moxxy’, is a compelling and cutting-edge listen, but to really experience Troyka you need to get to one of their explosive live gigs.
Why play more when you can play less? It should be The XX’s motto. The trio display all the blankness and insouciance of a particularly gloomy Joy Division covers band, but somehow manage to convey more emotional intensity than any R&B diva can belt out. It’s a trick that won them the Mercury Award for their self-titled 2009 debut album, and one they’ve repeated on ‘Angels’ – the first track to emerge from their soon to be released second album, ‘Coexist’. This is London music through and through: hard-edged but also thrillingly profound. And the deeper you go, the better it gets.