Happy new year, and happy going through several hundred Ones To Watch for 2016 lists. We thought most of the acts mentioned (or barely mentioned) fell into four distinct categories this year. All of them should be on a festival line-up near you in 2016, and all come highly recommended by us.
Why haven’t more people mentioned…?
These first few have ended up surprisingly under the radar of most other Ones To Watch 2016 lists - don’t make the same mistake if you spot them taking one of the earlier slots on your festival schedule.
An early frontrunner for the ‘band most likely to play a post-festival slot campsite gig’ award, this energetic North London five-piece are intent on (kind of) reviving the guerrilla gig through their ‘Haus Parties’ in secret locations. Their compulsive, hook-filled live sets are giving mathy indie a youthful shot in the arm - fans of Foals and Bloc Party need to investigate sharpish.
The Pearl Harts
Kirsty Lowrey and Sara Leigh-Shaw had better get used to being called “the new Royal Blood”, as, following a TFI Friday appearance and a Stereophonics support slot, 2016 should be the year the duo really make waves on the festival circuit. They have a similar combination of driving riffs and sense of arena-readiness that RB had when they first showed up, but with a Dead Weather/QOTSA-style bluesy edge.
We’re pretty sure that most Brit School alumni don’t end up getting signed to 4AD, but then Hannah Rodgers, aka Pixx, doesn’t seem to be like most Brit School graduates. Her debut EP, ‘Fall In’, was released last summer, full of intricate, affecting and fascinatingly bitter songs delivered in an unconventionally conversational voice, which instantly neutralises any eye-rolling about her former place of education.
2015 saw Sheffield’s Alfie Connor graduate from Goldsmiths and play the BBC Introducing tent at Glastonbury, His ‘Love & Affection’ EP’s irresistible title track alone is enough to suggest 2016 should be even better for him – with a soulful croon and a melody that sounds like Nile Rodgers having a studio party with Hot Chip, that Glasto appearance is unlikely to be a one-off.
Until recently alongside Novelist (more on him in a sec) in Lewisham grime crew The Square, Elf always seemed to be next in line, and new solo release ‘Golden Boy’ has seen this 18-year-old MC rightly grab some attention in his own right, showcasing his rapid-fire flow over chopped up beats. We can’t help but feel he has a Dizzee/Wiley/Skepta-style crossover hit up his sleeve ready to blow up.
5 more to explore: Blaenavon, Barns Courtney, Leif Erikson, Issac Gracie, Miamigo
Tipped a bit last year, but this is their year
Just because they’ve been tipped previously, doesn’t mean you should count them out. No-one’s really mentioned these five previously raved-about acts, who should all deliver debut albums this year:
Anyone who made it to Silver Hayes after The Who’s Sunday night Glasto headline set would have have seen how this MC/producer knows how to make even the tiredest of festival crowds get lively. Updating Channel U’s grimy glory days for the Youtube generation, he made the Sound Of list last year after strong work with Mumdance and The Square, but is now fully focused on his solo work after an acclaimed spot on Chase & Status’ London Bars series.
When you make such striking, confessional music as Lapsley does, it’s unsurprising that people would jump the gun a little – this time last year, she had barely put out her first EP, but had already made the BBC Sound Of 2015 list. With the stark “Hurt Me” emerging in October this year, Lapsley seems intent on releasing one high-quality heartbreaker after another. Be prepared to hang off her every word come festival season.
There were more than a few shouts early in 2015 for this Brighton post-hardcore outfit, and a run of incendiary singles (“Crooks”, “Glass Built Castles” and “Saviour”), daytime Radio 1 play and a Reading & Leeds debut proved their early supporters correct. Now, the way is clear for the five-piece’s debut album ‘Statues’, which will be released in April, and a huge 2016. Are they Muse’s successors?
A brotherly duo putting DFA’s imperial phase – The Rapture, LCD, lots of cowbell - through a South London lens, they impressed with some sweaty, communal live shows last year, and, like Black Peaks, they’ve been busy refining things for their debut album, which should arrive in 2016. The promise of funky, anthemic singles like “Back Then” and “Young Ones” suggests the wait will have been worth it.
Primarily based around the beguiling, counterpoint harmonies of Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlett, Nimmo have featured in tipsheets for the last four years, and now their songs hit that perfect spot in between arty cool and Daytime A-list catchiness. Recent reviews have pegged them as “La Roux singing for Foals” amid comparisons to New Order and Depeche Mode, but there’s something way more original going on here.
5 more to explore: Misty Miller, Shura, Hinds, Hippo Campus, Lion Babe
Their time is now
Seemingly emerging fully-formed, everything just seems perfectly placed for these five to do huge things in 2016:
The Big Moon
A four-piece that make being in a band look like the most fun thing ever, their fuzzy, fun sound won them scores of new supporters during their recent support slots with The Vaccines and Vant, with many speculating that they could well be this year’s Wolf Alice. The gigantic “Sucker” suggests they could be much bigger than that. If you were worrying the UK indie scene was getting a bit too blokey, the antidote is here.
Blessed with a stunning baritone, Rationale appears to have the keys to the soundtrack to the greatest 80’s teen movie never released, but with lyrics that aren’t scared to take on the big themes. The ‘Fuel To The Fire’ EP compiled all of the tracks he released last year, revealing a master of light and shade, incorporating indie, electronica and R’n’B to powerful and stirring effect.
Loyle Carner’s raps seem laid-back on the surface, there’s a lot going on within. Autobiographical and vulnerable songs touch on his family life and, in the case of recent single ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ the weird position he and his fellow twentysomethings find themselves in (“We kinda miss our student loan”). His live shows are wide-eyed, emotional occasions – make a note to attend one soon.
Heart-stopping, delicate folk with a songwriting maturity that belies her years, Billie Marten finished her GCSEs last year before stunning the Introducing Stage at Reading & Leeds and heading off on tour with Lucy Rose. It’s her and Laura Marling that she’ll most likely be compared to, but she has the potential to eventually eclipse them both.
Clean Cut Kid
Epic without being overwrought or bombastic, this smiley Liverpool quartet mix sweeping Fleetwood Mac-isms, Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire, The Maccabees and the occasional foray into My Morning Jacket-esque country rock to make sighing soon-to-be-singalongs. Plus points for singer Mike’s impressive facial hair too.
5 more to explore: Tink, Youth Man, Honne, Inheaven, Blossoms
Yeah, We Know…
Pretty much every list includes these five, and most of them have had some sort of success already. Is it fait accompli for them or is the pressure on?
Two years’ worth of festival appearances behind him, a sold out Brixton Academy date in April, the Brits Critics’ Choice award…it’s a no-brainer having Jack Garratt at the top of your ‘Ones To Watch 2016’ list. His unbelievably dextrous one-man live show is a sight to behold, the highlight being ‘Worry’, a compulsive slice of beat-driven soul that will surely be a single ahead of the debut album that should seal world domination for him.
Coming off like the Snapchat version of Jamie T (or perhaps a badman Alex Turner), Jordan Cardy sings of the world he sees around him. Tales of boredom, being broke, crap jobs and even crappier phones abound over sample-strewn indie-punk, ska, and glitchy hip-hop beats, and it’s struck a chord for sure – expect a second summer of moshing, stage-invading crowds, on an even bigger scale this time. .
An underground hit that went overground in late autumn, “In2” sounded like a summer smash, but as it hit the Top 5 in November, it means they’ll have to wait ‘til this summer to grab some festival love. A few other songs suggest a West London version of Drake or The Weeknd, albeit with the odd whiff of boyband, but when you have the catchiest song of the year, you have a hell of a platform to build on.
Disclosure/HudMo/James Blake fans, meet your new hero: 19-year-old producer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Alex Crossan, aka Mura Masa. His layered, R’n’B and 2-step-informed laptop pop should be taking over the airwaves shortly. With ‘Firefly’, featuring Nao, and ‘Love For That’, with Shura, two of the songs of last year, it’s a wonder it hasn’t already.
The stand-out performer on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury last year, it’s no surprise that NAO is on every ‘Ones To Watch 2016’ list going. Collaborations with Disclosure and Mura Masa have raised her profile, but it’s her unique voice and her innovative solo songs that will see her stake her claim to own this year.
5 more to explore: Vant, The Japanese House, Frances, Aurora (don’t let the John Lewis advert put you off), Pretty Vicious.