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The Guide: JESS GLYNNE: DUKE DUMONT: SECONDCITY: GORGON CITY: MNEK: SINEAD HARNETT: THE NEW FACE OFUK POP: PHOTOGRAPHY: SARAH LEE FOR THE GUARDIAN: WITH FIVE NO 1 HITS BETWEEN THEM, THIS SAVVY BUNCH OF YOUNG BRITISH SINGERS AND PRODUCERS HAVE RIDDEN THE HOUSE REVIVAL ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP OF THE CHARTS. SAM WOLFSON SALUTES A CHANGING OF THE GUARD

June 14, 2014



Right guys. Guys? Hello? Hi? If we could just get all the artists sitting over there? Guys?" I am standing on a chair in the middle of the Guardian canteen, shouting like an idiot, and being ignored. Today feels more like organising a school trip than conducting interviews with seven of the brightest stars in UK house: singers Jess Glynne and Sinead Harnett, producers Duke Dumont, Gorgon City and Secondcity, and one-stop songwriting/singer/production shop MNEK. This group of people have not only created a string of insanely huge chart-topping records, but they've also opened the door for others to do the same. The boring, manufactured pop orthodoxy has been knocked off its perch by a bunch of British kids.

But they don't want to talk about that right now. Actually, they don't want to talk to me at all. They're busy planning which of their Ibiza dates overlap and telling each other which of their tracks they "pump at the gym". Jess and Sinead quickly fall back to their shared north London upbringings and spend some considerable time impersonating suburban rudeboys. "Muswell Hill is an 'ard area," jokes Jess, her impression accompanied by sarcastic gun fingers.

Turns out this lot are already thick as thieves. MNEK has sung on tracks for Duke Dumont and

Gorgon City; Gorgon City produced the new single

by Jess Glynne; Jess Glynne is lifelong best mates with Sinead Harnett. And Sinead Harnett duetted

on Rudimental's Baby with - congratulations if you're still following - MNEK.

"How did we become mates? First and foremost, we've all partied with each other," explains Matt from Gorgon City. "I partied with MNEK before we worked together. Oh, and Sinead. And Jess, actually. The party always comes first."

"I was with Gorgon City in Ibiza last year," recalls Jess. "It was. . . an eye-opener. Very intense. I just remember getting to the airport on the last day and thinking: 'Kill me!'"

They all hoot with laughter. "It's important for that to happen, though," says Matt. "Because when you do get in the studio together there's no awkwardness,

you can feel comfortable straight away."

Sinead agrees: "I know it sounds like we're

being mad cheesy but everyone's just so safe. It's

not like we get to a festival and someone's like, 'Eugh, can't believe she's here.' Everyone wants everyone to do well."

It might seem as if these young guns are constantly on the lash, but the upheaval they've wreaked in the British charts over the past year should not be underestimated. With so many micro-scenes and hyperbole-flanked new bands coming through, it's easy to miss such a massive shift in popular music. Two years ago, the UK singles chart was made up mostly of big American stars and European globe-straddling DJs: Rihanna and Flo Rida, David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia. Of the top 10 best-selling singles of 2012, only two were by UK artists: Impossible by X Factor winner James Arthur (a cover of a US R&B track) and Jessie J's Domino, a song that desperately aped American pop. It felt as though the days of dynamic British pop songwriting were behind us.

Then in 2013, something unexpected happened. Duke Dumont, a long-serving DJ-producer, well-liked in clubbing circles but with little crossover appeal, got in the studio with MNEK, a teenage songwriter for hire. The song they wrote together with vocalist A*M*E, Need U (100%), was a spectacular house track bristling with energy, fizzy attraction and copious handclaps. It went straight to No 1.

Need U's success was followed by albums from Rudimental and Disclosure, artists who blurred the roles of producer and live band while allowing for a constant carousel of guest vocalists. For the first time, pop had the equivalent of an apprenticeship programme, a space for young singers to learn on

the job, without the risk and investment of a full-blown solo career.

While all this was going on, technology was finally infiltrating the vinyl-reliant world of underground dance music. YouTube music channels such as Majestic Casual and Eton Messy were amassing thousands of young followers with an insatiable desire for new house tracks. The immediacy of the download meant that rather than a song building up gradual interest over the summer in Ibiza, club hits were going from SoundCloud to Scott Mills in a matter of days. House music, which had been enjoying a resurgence in the underground, started to cross over into the charts. An old track by Storm Queen, an alias of niche US producer Morgan Geist, had a sudden surge in popularity after it was remixed by house great MK, peaking at No 1 in November. "And the other thing," adds Duke Dumont, "is that kids were going out again. I DJed through the recession and things got really quiet; I'd play to empty rooms. Now every night is sold out."

This perfect storm of stylistic evolution, new opportunities and technological grease meant that

by spring 2014, the majority of the songs in the top 5

on any given week were club-influenced tracks by previously unfamiliar producers and vocalists. Duke Dumont racked up a second No 1. MNEK and Gorgon City reached No 4. Jess Glynne had two mammoth No 1s with Clean Bandit and Route 94.

What's so unusual about this new pop guard is that no one really knows who they are. Jess Glynne has now sold well over 1m singles, making her easily the biggest-selling British artist of the year. Yet she can walk down the street completely unrecognised by the people who buy her music. "It's so weird,

I'm completely hidden away," she says. "But I like the fact that I can come into my own without people knowing who I am; I can reinvent myself when I

do my own stuff."

With the help of our photographer and a gaggle of different publicists, we manage to herd everyone into the photostudio. Watching them pose together, their anonymity is striking. Here are the dominating artists of the moment: young, good-looking, cool. Yet for many of them, this is one of their first proper photoshoots. The combination of being both novices and mates means keeping a straight face for the camera isn't easy. Sinead keeps making Jess laugh so hard that she cries, which ruins her makeup.

It's in one of these breaks that I speak to Secondcity. He's the newest member of the club, scoring a No 1 just two weeks ago, though he's not totally convinced he's part of the gang. "Look, don't make me sound too much like I'm part of all this," he pleads. "I want people to know that

I'm still an underground artist."

Secondcity is another example of how much things have changed in the charts over the last six months. A student producer and DJ, he was making tunes to play out in clubs around Bristol when his track I Wanna Feel was picked up by Ministry Of Sound and became a huge radio hit. "I only meant for it to be a club track but after this I'm going back to underground stuff, a tech-house EP on Defected is next. I won't try to replicate this; I have to write records that I'd play in my sets rather than something that I think will do well." So he's not about to start producing for Rita Ora? "Ha, that's a difficult one. I definitely wouldn't do it under my own name."

Secondcity touches on some of the frictions that are emerging from this new structure. For the majority of these artists, making pop-house music is a sideline. Jess and Sinead are working on solo records that have more of a soul and R&B sound; MNEK writes and produces for other pop stars including Kylie and Little Mix, and is readying his own album of quirky electro-funk for release later in the year; Gorgon City have been working on an album "that's timeless, not just a 2014 house record"; and Duke Dumont still spends most of his time DJing underground house.

We're all sitting round a table now, and there's a hint of anxiety at what's in store.

"It's not always that easy for an artist," says Jess. "My album that I'm creating hasn't got a housey vibe." She says she feels there's no guarantee that people who've liked her collaborations will be interested in her solo material. Other artists are

also concerned about forging a consistent identity: "I'm constantly debating about whether I'm a cool dance kid or whether I'm just MNEK," says the singer-producer, on his multiple musical roles. There are other issues, too, with their respective labels vying for top billing on these collaborative singles. That, suggest Gorgon City, is the one thing they

need to be careful of - label politics getting in the way of making music.

"You get a lot of pressure, all anyone's asking me now is what's

the next hit. I'm like pffff. . . fuck knows," says Secondcity.

"Everyone round this table has

that same pressure, they don't want to be known as just a pop-house act," adds Kai of Gorgon City.

But it's Duke Dumont, who has had slightly longer to deal with this unexpected success than the rest, who seems most at ease with what's happening. "Success gives you freedom. If you stand by your convictions you can just do things on a bigger and better platform. The thing that gets overlooked is that everyone here today has written a great song. A bad house track doesn't get radio play. To have a top 40 song is hard. To have a No 1, Jesus Christ. I think everyone here needs to take a step back and appreciate it."

There's a certain egalitarian nature to what's going on, in that artists can find huge success without a lot of label money and a team of stylists behind them. All they need is a song that connects. For the first time in a generation, the top of the charts is dominated by young inventive artists: not a reflection of talent shows and celebrity, but a law unto themselves. Whether it's this particular bunch

of artists who continue to set the agenda, or whether there's a constant rotation of new talent, UK pop may never be the same again.

"I'll be honest," says Duke, "if Disclosure hadn't come along, I wouldn't have been able to have my hit. If I hadn't come along, maybe Route 94 couldn't have had his hit with Jess. Culture shouldn't stay still for a five-year period. We've set things changing now, and though it's scary, I'd be happy if it all changed again." *

Gorgon City's Here For You is out on Mon

=

BRITISH HOUSE MAFIA: WHO'S NEXT?

* BLONDE

YouTube channel Eton Messy's house band: stripped-back, squelchy house no doubt coming to a Corona-catered garden party near you this summer.

* NO ARTIFICIAL COLOURS

South London duo following in Disclosure's footsteps by signing to PMR. They're more than copycats, though; new single Reach For Me

is lifted by a booming old-school rave vocal.

* BECKY HILL

A former Voice contestant whose striking vocal on new Oliver Heldens banger Gecko confirms her transformation into a trendy house vocalist.

Captions:

SIX STEPS TO UK HOUSE'S CHART TAKEOVER

DISCLOSURE FEAT ALUNAGEORGE

WHITE NOISE

NO 2, FEB 2013

DUKE DUMONT FEAT A*M*E

NEED U (100%)

NO 1, MAR 2013

GORGON CITY FEAT MNEK

READY FOR YOUR LOVE

NO 4, JAN 2014

ROUTE 94 FEAT JESS GLYNNE

MY LOVE

NO 1, MAR 2014

SHIFT K3Y

TOUCH

NO 3, APR 2014

SECONDCITY

I WANNA FEEL

NO 1, JUN 2014


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Source: Guardian (UK)


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