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Florence And The Machine And The Desperation Of The Annual Tipster Orgy
Luke Turner , January 9th, 2009 04:28

Florence And The Machine? A tip for 2009? Luke Turner has a tip for the A&R department: don't get off a moving bus.

The Quietus will not be furnishing you with our tips for 2009. We do not believe that good new music only appears in January, like tax return-induced rage and Burns Night. Instead, we will be bringing you the best new sounds as they naturally float out of the ether not, as the ‘official’ new band lists seem to do, at this convenient moment in the calendar when the PR machine's pre-Christmas labours happily dovetail with a time of year when not many albums are coming out.

What's more pertinent, though, is just how long many of the artists currently being given the 2009 buzz shove have spent being preened and buffed by the A&R machine. (Here's how A&R works. suit A talks to Suit B in the pub, who then tells Suit C, who then tells Suit A without crediting Suit B as his source, the rest of the alphabet then jumps to catch up.)

Let's take Florence And The Machine as a case in point. Here's why: Two years ago I was involved in putting on a fringe event at Brighton's Great Escape Festival. These New Puritans had kindly agreed to headline, Florence And The Machine were to support. It being a late-night event after the main programme had finished, the bands were running in reverse order, with the 'Puritans on at midnight and Florence following.

It would be tedious to go into the specifics of what transpired. Suffice it to say that Florence and her entourage were adamant that she should go on first. Myself and the stern-faced Puritans were equally insistent that the tired and emotional singer would wait her turn.

We prevailed, and the puritanical Southenders duly delivered a stunning show to a packed room. It was now late and, all local pubs being closed, the geed-up crowd was keen to stay on for further entertainment. Instead the thirsty youth of Brighton were to suffer.

Within two songs of Florence and her Machine taking to the stage, falling over, and starting to shriek about boys over some hammy blues licks, the room had cleared. Some of the things I heard said about the young lady as she bantered inanely with her mate (and manager) from the Queens of Noize in the front row (or "the row") are frankly not suitable for publication in a family websheet such as this.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, at some horrible moment in late '08, bibulous Flo suddenly became the darling of both music press and radio. I presumed she must have progressed a great deal since that night in Brighton, and gave her a fresh listen. I was to regret this magnanimity.

Discovering your sound is all very well, but Flo's makeover smacked of clinical strategic thinking and contrivance. The ramshackle shrieking blues had been replaced by a sound so clean and shiny and eager to capture the zeitgeist it might as well be a chrome timepiece in bright American Apparel tights.

Perhaps Florence had matured into an artist who had something to say, I wondered doubtfully? No such luck. The BBC reported a lot of her incoherent mumbling and somehow concluded that she was an otherworldly creature "possessed by rock's most restless demons" and "unbridled, expressive and wonderfully weird".

All articles about Florence And The Machine ever can be boiled down into this: "She's a bit mad and posh and frightfully boho". When an artist profile's main pull quote is "I spent my 16th birthday jumping out of a tree. It felt amazing hitting the ground", you've got to wonder what gems are in store should you choose to read the rest of the piece.

Even the Daily Star has been quick to give Florence some tabloid juice, serving up a revelatory 'young musician in epic thirst shocker' news story: "FLORENCE Welch has confessed to playing her early gigs while blootered." Gracious!

I would love it if Florence And The Machine matched up the claims that are made for her. Lord knows we need more eccentric and opinionated artists around. But Flo is more problem than solution.

These days, as I wrote in a review of the redoubtable Grace Jones last year, women in music are forced to play strictly defined roles. It might not be Bjork's fault, but since she broke into the mainstream there have been a procession of lesser artistes who've adopted an overbearing kookiness in order to get noticed.

In the same way that the male singer songwriter must have an easy hook for the press to write about (Bon Iver and his garden shed being last year's example), women must scream their eccentricity from the rooftops and reductively ensure that they have the intensity of Sylvia Plath, the madness of Miss Havisham's apprentice, and the outré wardrobe of Quentin Crisp. This plays into the hands of frauds such as Florence and the Machine.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to escape this annual orgy of consensus journalism fuelled entirely by the PR beast? After all, it serves no-one in the long term. As is de rigeur to say in these situations: anyone remember Terris?

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