NEW YORK (Billboard) - Sick of the music scene in New York
or London? It may be time to savor the delights of five
unlikely cities spawning exciting new sounds.
Population: 14 million
Main Language: Mandarin Chinese
Shanghai may have become China's business heart, but
Beijing remains its political and cultural capital -- and home
to a burgeoning modern music scene eager to reach audiences
outside the People's Republic.
In the past, domestically successful rock bands like Tang
Dynasty, Spring Autumn and AK-47 have emerged from Beijing, as
did the "godfather" of Chinese rock, Cui Jian. Now a new
generation of alternative acts is appearing.
"Beijing has solidified its place as the locus of modern
music on the mainland," says Shen Lihui, CEO of leading Beijing
independent label Modern Sky.
The healthy live scene is also starting to attract
international acts such as U.S.-based banjo star Bela Fleck and
U.K. alt-rockers Maximo Park.
"At the moment it's uncharted territory," says Maximo Park
manager Colin Schaverien. "But in five years it will be a
natural routing point stop-off on the way to, or back from,
The current crop of home-grown Beijing talent includes
Modern Sky's goth-influenced "post-rock" act the Retros, who
will appear at the South by Southwest confab in Austin, while
ambient/electronic rock duo FM3 -- which has been picked up
internationally after it was championed by Brian Eno -- has
scheduled 30 European dates for 2007.
Population: 3.5 million
Main Language: German
Berlin's central role in the international dance music
scene has been well-known since the Berlin Wall came down in
1989. But now the relocated likes of electro artist Peaches;
her fellow Canadian, techno pioneer Richie Hawtin (a.k.a.
Plastikman); and U.S. DJ/producers Jay Haze and Stewart Walker
are rubbing up against a burgeoning rock and pop scene as well.
Metal act Rammstein blazed the trail, selling 10 million
albums worldwide. Now, with support from a network of 16 local
radio stations, a new generation of local acts is following in
Rammstein's footsteps. Berlin boy band Tokio Hotel is the
latest Pan-European pop sensation, with global sales of more
than 2.4 million albums.
Alt-rock act Virginia Jetzt has sold 20,000 copies of its
debut album, while rock bands El*ke and Superleutnaant and pop
outfit Naomi are all hot 2007 tips.
"If you live in Berlin," Universal Music Germany CEO Frank
Briegmann says, "you are at the very heart of modern music."
Population: 1 million
Main Language: English
In a U.K. music scene perennially dominated by London and
Manchester, England's "second city" has struggled, musically,
in recent years.
Yet Birmingham and the surrounding West Midlands region has
produced acts ranging from rock monsters Led Zeppelin and Black
Sabbath to Duran Duran. Now, the city -- long derided as an
industrial wasteland -- has undergone hefty redevelopment and
its music scene seems similarly re-energized. Locals say the
success of the Birmingham-based Editors, whose 2005 debut album
"The Back Room" is BPI-certified platinum (300,000 units),
helped shift labels' talent-scouting focus to the city's
Birmingham alt-rock act the Twang just signed a label deal
with B-Unique, the Polydor imprint that's home to the Kaiser
Chiefs. Unsigned acts that could be next in line include the
Weezer-influenced Murdoch and punky trio the Untitled Musical
Project, plus the Enemy (from nearby Coventry) and Ripchord
Population: 2 million
Main Language: English
The eastern city of Brisbane has launched successful bands
before -- from the Bee Gees in the '60s to Savage Garden in the
'90s -- but now it has hit such a rich vein of talent that it's
threatening Melbourne's traditional role as Australia's main
The city has spawned both of Australia's current biggest
home-grown rock and pop groups: Powderfinger (1 million career
sales) and the Veronicas (350,000 units), as well as solo
sensation Pete Murray (600,000). Major label execs are now
regulars in town, looking to do battle with local imprints.
"Brisbane's always a city I keep my eye on," says Michael
Parisi, Melbourne-based president of A&R (artists and
repertoire) at Warner Music, who helped put the city on the map
when he signed art rock act Regurgitator in the mid-'90s.
Parisi's new hip-hop signing Butterfingers heads the pack
of new, young Brisbane bands looking to break out in 2007; it
is followed by heavy-rock band the Butterfly Effect and
singer/songwriters Andrew Morris, Katie Miller-Heidke and Kate
The live scene, based around the city's famous Fortitude
Valley nightclub district, is also booming.
Population: 1.2 million
Main Language: French
This bustling Mediterranean port is France's second city in
terms of population, behind Paris -- and it's growing, at more
than 100,000 people per year.
A large population of North African origin, along with the
native French and a substantial community from sub-Saharan
Africa, make this soccer-mad city an ethno-musical melting pot,
where cheerleaders at Stade Velodrome -- home to leading team
Olympique Marseille -- use decks and soundsystems.
More and more, French promoters describe Marseille's
10,000-capacity main venue Le Dome as "a must" for visiting
urban talent -- Snoop Dogg and the Roots played there recently,
with Beyonce booked for 2007.
Following established local rap and reggae acts like IAM
and Massilia Sound System, politicized female rapper Keny
Arkana has sold 50,000 copies of her debut album "Entre Ciment
et Belles Etoiles" despite a refusal to do mainstream
Other names to watch include quirky rock/hip-hop duo Oai
Star, eclectic reggae/Cajun trio Moussu Te Lei Jovents and