UK gaga for electro-pop, guitar bands fight back

LONDON Tue Jan 27, 2009 7:59am EST

LONDON Jan 27 (Reuters) - Britain appears to have gone gaga for female electro-pop acts, with pundits touting synthesizer-savvy, quirky young artists as the Next Big Thing in music this year and beyond.

That, they add, may be at the expense of skinny-jeaned, male guitar bands who have enjoyed so much chart success over the last decade in the world's third biggest music market.

"2009 will not just belong to the fairer sex, but she will probably be wearing kinky boots, long tresses and, in all likelihood, playing a synth," said Neil McCormick, music critic for the Daily Telegraph, echoing other experts' predictions.

Rock bands are hitting back, scoring in the early 2009 album chart and reminding listeners that the Beatles were once famously rejected because "guitar groups are on the way out".

There are signs, however, that the soundtrack of the year will be electronic.

The BBC's "Sound of 2009" survey of 130 music experts put Little Boots, aka Victoria Hesketh, on top, and 10 of the longlist of 15 rising stars were using electronic instruments rather than guitars.

A video clip of Hesketh shows her demonstrating not her strumming skills, but a Tenori-on, a Japanese computerised sequencer that layers sounds on top of each other.

The British singles chart has been dominated this year by Lady GaGa, described as an "electro-pop princess" from New York, whose catchy "Just Dance" has been at No. 1 for three weeks.

The inspirations for acts like Little Boots and La Roux, a synthesizer duo who also featured in the "Sound of 2009" poll, include 1980s pop acts like the Eurythmics, Madonna and Prince.

Jaimie Hodgson, new music editor at NME magazine, said the popularity of electro-pop may be a reaction to indie rock last year, when big acts including Razorlight failed to sell as many records as expected.

"The fact that people, according to the sales last year, were tiring of the same kind of meat-and-potatoes indie rock and roll, I think that should give new hope to artists doing something a little bit different," he said.

Commentators argue that the rise of electro-pop is partly the result of young people's ability to craft songs using digital home recording programmes and upload them on to the Internet themselves.

They also say that an economic recession may encourage people to look for light musical relief.

As for the prominence of female artists, it is a trend that was underlined in 2008 when Welsh singer Duffy, a relative unknown at the start of the year, had Britain's biggest selling album with "Rockferry" ahead of Take That and Coldplay.

But indie guitar bands insist they are not dead yet.

White Lies, a London rock group, topped the album chart on Sunday with "To Lose My Life".

Franz Ferdinand release their third album this week confident that their genre of rock was alive and well, even if "Tonight" has been described as more dancy and synthesized than their previous two records.

"People were saying guitar groups were over in 1963, and they weren't, and they're not now," lead singer Alex Kapranos told Reuters, referring to the Beatles being turned down by one record company nearly 50 years ago.

"Of course you're going to get some opinionated taste maker saying 'Gosh, I heard a girl with a synthesizer the other day. That means there's never going to be another guitar group.'

"People love guitars. What's going to survive is good music, good tunes. If a song is good it will turn you on."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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