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  • Dan Caddigan

The Modern UK Music Scene

As an American, when I think of British music, names like David Bowie, Elton John, The Police, Ed Sheeran, Oasis, The Smiths, Amy Winehouse, The Beatles, Adele, and the Rolling Stones quickly come to mind. That is to say, for over the past half century, the internationally iconic sonic identity associated with the UK has been formed through prototypically pop-centric artists and bands. The Beatles set the world on fire in the 60's; bringing their archetypal brand of music stateside during the "British Invasion" of American airwaves and inspired countless future bands/artists to emulate their sound over the next few decades. The Rolling Stones followed suit by dominating the 70's, The Smiths erupted in the 80's, and so on – a continued trend of British pop-rock domination throughout the turn of the century. In more recent years, however, there has been felt a distinct shift in musical identity associated with the United Kingdom. While British pop is still as strong as ever, an influx of newer genres coming out of the UK have flooded the international soundscape and gained the attention of fans the world over. These days, I find myself listening to more and more afro pop, wave, drill, grime, and garage music coming out of the UK – leaving me to wonder, just how did the British sound seemingly evolve from its roots in traditional pop into this wildly exciting new blend of sounds and styles? Luckily for me, I have a dear friend and colleague in the music industry who is entrenched in the UK scene and who was available to enlighten an uninformed yank such as myself as to just how British music grew into its current state. Everyone, please meet my good friend – Joey Yeboah, aka ItsJoeBoy.


British Artist ItsJoeBoy

JoeBoy is a Peterborough-based DJ and host of the hit radio show JoeBoy's Jams on Stationhead. He has a residency at the biggest club in Peterborough and maintains his status as a staple of the Southern UK creative community by routinely DJing art shows and pop ups in his area. As a radio host, JB is continuously connecting with new artists and DSPs (music streaming sites) – using his platform to bring exposure to some of the country's most slept on talents by interviewing them live on air. His goal is to push artists streaming numbers and shine light on quality music that has caught his ear and found itself queued up in his sets. Safe to say, this man is fully plugged into what's hot in modern British music and was the exact person I needed to chat with in order to better understand what's happening sonically across the pond.

DC: First off, what was the music scene like growing up in the UK?

JB: Well, I was born in Hackney, East London, and lived there until about the age of 12 or 13 when we eventually moved to Peterborough. During this time, Grime was huge in the UK, and I would watch MTV Based and Channel U to learn about what was going on in the underground scene. I grew up in a home with an older brother who was into music and wanted to rap, and a mom who played all different genres throughout the house – like Afrikanse, Shania Twain, and Marvin Gaye. This led to me taking an interest in all different styles of music and artists – like Oasis, Skepta, Devlin, Lady Sovereign, and The Streets. The music scene here eventually became stagnant after Grime died out, but because of the huge Carribean community in London, newer genres like Afro Swing were introduced and were able to fill that void.

DC: It sounds like there has been a shift, stylistically, in terms of the newer wave of music coming out of the UK – what factors do think have led to this change?

JB: The UK is so mixed, it's a melting pot of different curated styles and sounds. The creative output here in London is maxed, similar to how New York City is in the US, so our music industry is always on the go and moving forward. Artists here will take older styles and mesh them with different and diverse genres to create a new sound. London, in particular, has so many different cultures meshing that it has inevitably led to new styles of music. For example, if a Ghanian kid in the UK grows up listening to their parent's music from home and then shows it to a friend, it introduces that friend to a new sound they were previously unfamiliar with and broadens their understanding of music. The UK simply can't be defined by one sound because it's a mixture and it's ever evolving with all the new music constantly coming out. It's a bit oversaturated at the moment, similar to how the US is, but there's no doubt it's one of the world's great musical hubs.

DC: Can you give me a couple of current artists/genres really impacting today's sound?

JB: Artists like Dave, Potter Payper, D-Block Europe (DBE), and Giggs (aka "The Landlord") have all played a large part in influencing the sounds you hear today. They call Giggs "The Landlord" because all US artists have to come pay their respects when they come to the UK, that's how big of an influence he's had. Genres like House and Afro Swing have also both really impacted the music scene and inspired some of the newer sounds you hear today.

DC: Outside of music, what's something that's really resonated culturally with British audiences?

JB: Fashion has always played an equally large part in the current culture shift, just as much as music has. Beyond that, there is a film called Kidulthood that was iconic when it came out because it tapped into the culture by using real music and real streets in London. It really resonated with British audiences when it was first released, especially in London.

DC: I've always been a huge fan of rap. When I think of UK rap, I think Drill and Grime, are they still big these days?

JB: Drill is dying. Artists these days realize it's not commercially viable because brands don't want to associate with someone talking about cheffing (American translation: stabbing) people. Grime isn't nearly as popular as it used to be, but it definitely had a huge impact on UK rap. Artists like Skepta, Kano (fans of the show Top Boy may recognize him as the polarizing character, Sully), and Wiley (aka The Godfather of Grime) are icons when it comes to the history of grime. Skepta, especially, has done so much for the scene – his influence was huge.

DC: For a while it felt like UK artists were trying to keep pace with US artists, especially in terms of hip hop – do you think they've broken from that trend?

JB: Yes. At first UK rappers were trying to sound like American rappers, but then realized they didn't want to sound like someone else. The best way for British artists to flourish was to find their own lane, which is what they did, and it's the reason why you hear so many new styles of music coming out of London today.

DC: Who are some artists being slept on right now? Who is next to blow/take off?

JB: Jordie is an artist being slept on right now and I can't figure out why. His sound is a mix of new generation and old generation, and you can hear influences like Drake in his projects. I really appreciate how his albums tell stories and I'd highly recommend checking out his latest EP, SNM. I definitely think Jordie will eventually blow up on an international scale, it just might take a little time. Artists like Gladie, Clavish, Little Sims ("she's dope"), Khleo Soul, and Nemz are all being slept on right now but are certainly next up. Most of these artists are coming out of London, which is a testament to just how big of a musical hotbed the city is. Blowing up now means getting big on TikTok, so a lot of depends on how their music reaches fans through social media.

I find the United Kingdom to be utterly fascinating when it comes to the quality of genre-redefining music they are routinely putting out to the international masses. I remember the days when UK rappers were clowned for their attempts at emulating Chicago drill, and when UKG (UK Garage) was viewed in the states as a cheap knockoff of Detroit House, which further perpetuated the narrative that Brits should stick to what they know best – pop music and classic rock. Well, simply put, those days are dead and gone. London has proven itself to be one of the true musical epicenters of the world (oxymoronic, I know) and continues to produce some of the most exciting international talents we have today. Our cousins to the East have taken a page out of the US playbook by embracing foreign heritages (yes, I am well aware of my stereotypical American egotism), via their own domestic subcultures, and utilizing their musical influences to create some truly electrifying new styles of instrumentation. Thanks to speaking with my friend JoeBoy, I was able to learn about the various factors that led to the current musical gentrification seen in the UK today; namely, The Wind Rush Generation – which saw thousands of Caribbean immigrants migrate to Great Britain, bringing with them a multitude of foreign musical influences that would ultimately alter the musical soundscape of their new home. History has shown the UK to be an international force when it comes to rock n' roll and pop. With that being said, the times have surely changed – Wave, Afro Pop, and others now dominate the musical airwaves of GB – thanks in part to the country's vast diversification and melting pot nature. Only time will tell what new styles and sounds will come out of the UK, but music fans all over the world should be excited for what's to come next.

Big shoutout to my man ItsJoeBoy, this piece could not have been completed without his profound insight. Please please please go check out his music on Soundcloud, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Linktree, and tap into his show JoeBoy's Jams on Stationhead to stay up to date on the latest talent coming out of London!

Written By Dan Caddigan

*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.


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