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, Japan.”
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 independent/alt-rock sector.
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 (from Wolverhampton).
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 music city.
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 Bradley.
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 promotion.
Other names to watch include quirky rock/hip-hop duo Oai Star, eclectic reggae/Cajun trio Moussu Te Lei Jovents and Aliman Staff.