The appetite for guitar music is as strong as it’s been in years
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
How the tide is turning for bands in the mainstream following the recent success of The Lathums, The Snuts and Fontaines D.C.
As Liam Gallagher belted out early Oasis classics ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘Hello’ and ‘Morning Glory’ at the start of his headline slot at Glasgow’s TRSNMT Festival, one thing quickly became noticeable about the crowd. Instead of the audience being full of old-timers reliving their 90s youth, the television pictures revealed a sea of boisterous teenagers and folk in their early twenties going apesh*t to the sounds of our kid’s ferocious performance.
They jumped up and down in unison, moshed and sang their hearts out word for word with the infamous Manchester singer and the legendary anthems of his now-defunct Britpop band. Growing tired of hearing how young people were no longer interested in guitar music, it pleasantly revealed the existence of an appetite for raw, rock ‘n’ roll within that age group…even if it was from their parents’ generation!
To the naked eye, some might say (pun truly intended…) that such nostalgic love for the mid-90s guitar scene in the UK is due to a dearth of new guitar bands coming through. This, of course, plays into the bleak and cynical media-driven narrative that rock ‘n’ roll is dead and that kids only want to listen to pop, grime and hip hop.
For so long we've been told how far removed guitar music is from regaining its place in the mainstream. In March, following Adam Levine’s comments that bands were a “dying breed”, I produced a study of the last 25 years of popular music by looking at the top 100 songs in 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2020 to analyse the chart performance of songs by bands. Begrudgingly, I had to admit that the Maroon 5 frontman had a point when it came to the music mainstream today. The article confirmed my worst fears about the state of popular music compared with the recent past, but it was hardly a surprise.
Depressingly, there were only two songs by bands in the top 100 songs of the year in 2020 (Maroon 5 and The Killers), compared with 14 in 1995, 9 in 2000 and 18 in 2005. I was forced to summarise that just over a decade ago there had been a sudden decline in bands in the mainstream, refusing to pick up in the years since. Of course, there were a few exceptions to the rule. Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 single ‘Do I Wanna Know’ has since amassed more than 1 billion streams on Spotify alone, for example. But generally, it's now harder than ever for guitar bands to break on through to the other side of the alternative scene.
Hold on a second though. This sorry state of affairs has been given a glimmer of hope of late through the emergence of young bands carrying the torch for indie rock in the mainstream.
On 1 October 2021, jangle-pop, Marr-inspired poets The Lathums hit the number 1 spot in the UK Official Albums Chart with their debut album How Beautiful Life Can Be. And their story is quite extraordinary. To go from playing local Wigan bars in 2019 to finding national success within two years is a remarkable feat, especially for a band so young.
As humble as ever, the band recognised their achievement in a statement on the day of their chart success.
“It’s a very special day. We are at Number One and that’s an achievement that’s going to be there, for everyone to see, forever. It’s overwhelming, but our journey has only just begun and for us and you, our fans, it’s a journey that we’re going on together. This is for our families who believed in us all the way from the start, for all our friends who have supported us along the way, and most importantly everyone who bought and listened to the album, without you our lifelong dream wouldn’t be possible. Guitar music is back where it belongs.”
Let's read that last line one more time. "Guitar music is back where it belongs". I like the cut of their jibe.
Had you told the lads that, when they first started playing gigs in 2019, they’d be knocking Drake off the top of the charts within a couple of years, they’d probably have laughed in your face and questioned what drug you had consumed. Yet 2021 has allowed for such an underdog story to come true. Amazingly, they weren't the first.
Back in April, The Snuts were another young band who rode the wave of indie-cult hype into the mainstream. They became the first Scottish artist since The View in 2007 to see their debut album head straight into number 1 on the UK Official Albums Chart. It was another success story of a band who'd slaved away at grassroots level, gradually building a fanbase and a word of mouth hype which was eventually picked up by the likes of Radio 1 and NME.
On the eve of the release of W.L., lead singer Jack Cochrane, speaking on Annie Mac’s Future Sound Radio 1 show, described the band as becoming “lost Scottish boys in the big bad world” following an overwhelming hype and now cult-like following that surrounds them in the indie rock world.
The two bands chart success illuminated light on a growing and thriving indie rock scene across the UK and that young people were engaging with guitar music and new bands on a level we perhaps hadn’t seen in a number of years.
Earlier in 2021, Dublin post-punks Fontaines D.C. received a nomination for Best Rock Album at the 2021 Grammy Awards and also a nomination for International Group at the 2021 Brit Awards for their excellent and dreary second album A Hero’s Death. Again, it was another young guitar band finding success and acclaim on a level unthinkable only a few years prior.
Their latest record, and 2019's Dogrel, both possess a certain rawness that feels juxtaposed to today's popular music, yet they've found themselves given constant plays on daytime Radio 1 and hyped as one of the best young artists around. Fellow Dublin band Inhaler also became the first Irish act to top the chart with their debut since The Script's self-titled debut in 2008.
To many of us, none of this is a surprise. The success of bands like The Lathums and The Snuts, with their debut albums, revealed that an appetite for new guitar bands still exists and you only have to attend one of their live gigs to see the exuberant following they both now possess.
This year, number 1 album chart success was also marked by more established guitar bands like Royal Blood (with Typhoons), and Glaswegian post-rock band Mogwai, (with As The Love Continues) who gained their first number 1 album 25 years into their career. That it’s their first in a quarter of a century can’t just be a coincidence, surely?! Similarly, in September, Manic Street Preachers also scored their first UK number one album in 23 years with The Ultra Vivid Lament.
Add to that the acclaim held today for recent releases by the likes of Sam Fender, Shame, Wolf Alice and IDLES and there's plenty to get excited about with the current crop of indie rock stars.
So, whilst the mainstream airwaves may be dominated by DJs, pop singers and rappers, the sudden success of bands like The Snuts and The Lathums show it’s not all doom and gloom. Young bands can still make it nationally and their success should provide hope to any aspiring rock star.
The youngsters on that summer’s evening in Glasgow Green saw a hero in Liam Gallagher and his brand of iconic and anthemic rock ‘n’ roll. And Liam's enduring popularity was proved again as he sold out two nights in June 2022 at Knebworth, with 160,000 tickets sold at the location made iconic by Oasis in 1996.
The challenge now is to force the attention of these fans to new, up and coming bands of a similar vein and help new guitar bands find the acclaim usually only reserved for the likes of Oasis, The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys.
Whilst we have a long way to go to match the scenes of the mid-90s, or the early to mid-00s, dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the guitar rock scene is as healthy as it has been in years. More young people are enjoying it than are given credit and that's definitely worthy of celebration in itself. The tide is turning, I can feel it.