According to certain sections of the media, guitar music is coming back into the UK mainstream. Radio 1’s head of music George Ergatoudis (pictured) has already predicted that guitar bands are set for a resurgence and Andy Roberts of Kiss FM agreed with him. Matching the mood of these important media playmakers, the first print copy of NME in 2013 (Meet the Stars of 2013) introduces 11 acts in its main features, 9 of which are guitar bands and 1 is Joey Bada$$’s rap collective Beast Coast ( the other is Jagwar Ma). To be fair to the NME, indie guitar music has been its staple diet for years, so we’d be very surprised if they had suddenly switched allegiances and stated that laptop electronica was the new punk and ditched their coverage of indie guitar bands (despite the magazines ever decreasing circulation figures). Mind you with its d-i-y ideals much laptop bedroom producer stuff is arguably closer to punk’s ethos than indie guitar music these days, but that’s another discussion to be had.
Yet guitar music hasn’t ever really gone away has it?
The Vaccines are playing the 20,000 capacity 02 Arena in London and The XX, Alt-J and Django Django (who all use guitars in interesting and idea crammed ways) have had critical and commercial success in 2012. Likewise at mid-level venues there are plenty of guitar bands playing to big crowds.
What we think Ergatoudis was alluding to was that at the moment the charts aren’t stuffed full of guitar music. Plus the station he works for, as well as other important players like Capital Radio, aren’t featuring lots of guitar bands during the daytime mainstream shows (this week approximately 33% of Radio 1’s A-listed records are guitar acts whilst virtually none of Capital’s playlist are). These radio stations daytime shows still have a huge influence on the purchasing and consuming public (outside of X-Factor type telly which we can’t envisage suddenly featuring lots of indie or rock guitar groups) and therefore it seems to us that effectively Ergatoudis is suggesting that Radio 1’s music content is likely to shift toward playing more guitar orientated acts in 2013.(Capital, as a commercially based station is less likely to shift until they see a drop in audience figures or more guitar music in the charts - so arguably the effect of Radio 1 is most important).
As head of music Ergatoudis can of course have major influence in making the station play more guitar music during the daytime, but if Radio 1 does this, it could find that guitar music is its enemy. Here’s why….
New Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper is under pressure to make the station appeal to a younger demographic via the BBC Trust. As we predicted in March, Chris Moyles has probably been the most high profile casualty of Cooper’s mission. But could this objective of reducing the age of Radio 1’s listeners be at odds with what Ergatoudis is suggesting? For example let’s take a band like Savages. They’ve made the BBC Sound of 2013 longlist, The Blog Sound of 2013 longlist, they are one of NME’s Meet the Stars of 2013 featured artists and we featured them on our own Ones to Watch 2013 back in November. There’s a consensus that Savages are one of the more ferociously exciting new bands out there. Yet when Breaking More Waves recently went to see them play in Brighton their audience was largely made up of men and women over 30 (with a significant portion over 40). Maybe this was a one-off. But there’s some evidence here to suggest that if Savages got played on daytime Radio 1 its audience age demographic may increase, not decrease.
Let’s look at some of the other bands the NME are tipping. Haim – they have lots of ‘classic’ influences from Fleetwood Mac to classic rock that could easily find a comfortable place with mums and dads. It is essentially music of past tradition just given a modern shine. Peace – stylistically they look a bit like Suede and The Manic Street Preachers and musically they’re not that dissimilar to many early Brit Pop peers. Temples – have a bit of a Byrds and Beatles psychedelic vibe about them. All stuff that people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s will be entirely familiar with.
So if Radio 1 wants to decrease its age of listenership, playing more guitar music (which in general is now an art form that has reached middle age, being firmly rooted in its traditions of the past) may not help their objective. In fact they may find their audience demographic gets older. And an older audience means an unhappy BBC Trust. And who knows what may then happen? Of course the people in charge have other factors to play with (the format the show is delivered on, the choice of DJ’s and what they talk about for example) but there’s a possible conflict and danger here for Radio 1.
It will be interesting as 2013 pans out to see what happens. Will Ergatoudis be right / get his way? What will it mean for Radio 1 if he is / does? We'll be keeping an eye out on their playlist this year for sure, and no doubt the BBC Trust will be keeping an eye on the listening age demographic.