Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Electric dreams for pop in 2009

Sound of 2009 acts, clockwise from left: Little Boots, Empire of the Sun, Lady GaGa, Master Shortie, Dan Black, Florence and the Machine

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Guitar bands and singer-strummer-songwriters have long been the staple of the British musical diet.

Maybe not in 2009, though.

The soundtrack to the next 12 months will be electronic - at least judging by the new acts picked by tastemakers for the BBC's Sound of 2009.

The list is dominated by artists who have ditched guitars in favour of synthesisers, whose tunes are rooted in the 1980s but with a strong vision of the future.

Ten of the longlist of 15 rising stars primarily use electronic instruments rather than guitars.

They range from shiny electro-pop princesses (Lady GaGa, La Roux, Little Boots) to fantasy synth heroes (Empire of the Sun) to beatific beat boys (Dan Black, Frankmusik) to arty experimentalists (Passion Pit, The Big Pink) and hip-hop hopefuls (Kid Cudi and Master Shortie).

130+ UK music tastemakers named favourite three new acts
Responses counted and compiled into a list of the best new stars
Longlist of 15 published in December, the top 10 and winner to be named from 5 January

Last year's Sound of 2008 list was led by Adele and Duffy. But the common or garden singer-songwriter is nowhere to be seen this time.

Instead, there are acts like VV Brown, a straight soul singer transformed into an offbeat pop character, and Florence and the Machine, in a world of her own with a wild voice, unbridled stage presence, unconventional song structures and startling storytelling.

Many of the above acts take their inspiration from eccentric '80s pop icons like Madonna, Kate Bush, Prince and David Bowie.

They could loosely be grouped into the "wonky pop" genre - a term coined and owned by Mika's manager to cover anyone playing quirky, catchy and credible pop.

Perfect for Top of the Pops, when it returns.

The final three acts on the longlist are more conventional bands - the gloriously gloomy White Lies, epic Aussies The Temper Trap and folkies Mumford and Sons (who actually only have one guitar as well as one banjo and a double bass).

Is it a coincidence that so many hot new acts prefer lush beats or warm synths to rock riffs and acoustic chords?

Dan Black started as a singer with indie band The Servant (big in Europe, apparently) but the video for his first solo single Yours begins with him jettisoning his guitar.

The Big Pink
Dan Black
VV Brown
Empire of the Sun
Florence and the Machine
Kid Cudi
La Roux
Lady GaGa
Little Boots
Master Shortie
Mumford & Sons
Passion Pit
The Temper Trap
White Lies

Empire of the Sun are led by Luke Steele, who has put his rock outfit The Sleepy Jackson on hold to recreate the audacious electro-pop of his childhood.

La Roux started as an acoustic guitar duo, but decided they were fed up of that sound and instead set off on a quest to bring back the 1980s.

In other words, they were bored of guitars and wanted to do something different.

Musical trends move on when artists get sick of the status quo and give music a nudge in a new direction.

But will the electro sound really catch on?

The polished robopop of stars like Madonna, Kylie, Britney and Girls Aloud has enjoyed phenomenal success among young fans who shape the charts.

Those acts have been moulded by the commercial pop machine, with all the meticulous songwriting and styling that involves.

But - unlike in the 1980s - newer, cooler electronic acts often struggle for major success.

And what does the future hold for guitar music?

Bands like Kings of Leon, Coldplay, Oasis, The Killers and Elbow all enjoyed a phenomenal year in 2008.

But others suffered disappointing returns. The Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, The Kooks, Keane, The Fratellis and The Pigeon Detectives all failed to make it into the top 40 albums of the year.

U2's new album is one of the most anticipated releases of 2009

The guitar bands that fared well from last year's Sound of 2008 list were those that did something original - Glasvegas with their brooding take on vintage pop, Vampire Weekend with their clever mix of world influences, and MGMT with their euphoric space-rock.

And then there was Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong. They were feted early on and had good songs, but detractors heard an unadventurous, formulaic, tried-and-tested brand of indie.

The reality did not live up to the hype - the nickname Razorlite was a bit too apt - and their debut album failed to materialise.

This year, there is no shortage of new guitar bands on the scene, if not on the Sound of 2009 list.

The leading contenders are The Airborne Toxic Event, armed with majestic rock anthems-in-waiting, MC Rut - or Middle Class Rut - with pounding tales of suburban suffocation, and The Virgins, who have funky riffs and radio-friendly hooks. They all happen to be American.

Among the major bands returning in 2009, U2, Franz Ferdinand and Green Day will prove that rock still has its place.

Established bands who come up with the goods and newcomers with great tunes and a fresh outlook will never struggle.

Guitar music is not dead. But we may be witnessing the death of the English indie scene that rose out of the embers of Britpop, and has now become tired and cliched.

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