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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.

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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?

Alex Denney
Jan 9, 2009 11:57am

that pull quote is magnificent.

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Pair O Sickles
Jan 9, 2009 12:04pm

I agree wholeheartedly. What a crock of shite. It amazes me that year after year that the same predictable tired old crap is peddled. It's like musical foie gras and we're the friggin geese!

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Alex Narkiewicz
Jan 9, 2009 12:27pm

Those Bon Iver songs SOUND like they was written in a shed.

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Johnny Boomchugger
Jan 9, 2009 2:06pm

I'm currently reading a biography of Kurt Cobain. God, he was a tosser.

Seeing as someone has be a big shiny angst ridden popstar (well they do, don't they ?), I'm tempted to give these people all the rope they need to tie round their necks and a branch, then have the "amazing" experience of jumping out of a tree and NOT hitting the ground.

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Fred Zeppelin
Jan 9, 2009 5:04pm

A brilliant assessment Mr Turner and one that sits well with the White Lies review. The trouble with these Ones To Watch lists is that they're based, like the Brits and so many other bullshit awards, on commerce and commercial potential as opposed to aesthetics.

Now, let's not fool ourselves that any band/artist/whatever can function without money but it's high time that some effort went into appreciating artistic/cultural worth. Moreover, lot of the so-called under-the-radar stuff would be quite palatable to the listening public if they simply had easy access to it. By definition, we're obsessives otherwise we'd be off doing something else instead of hanging around a music website buy these kind of polls underestimate the general public's capacity for absorbing and appreciating something new.

Instead, the music biz at large is still viewing music as something that's an ephemeral rite-of-passage aimed a particular demographic and age group instead of realising that music is still an important part of people's lives across the age ranges.

At the end of the day, Lady GaGa, Little Boots etc etc will be a footnote in the same way that 5Star or Sonia are.

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Laurence Davison
Jan 10, 2009 12:38am

In reply to Fred Zeppelin:

I'm not under any illusions that the music business is anything other than totally cynical, but I have to ask what it is that you want it to do for you. For instance, when you say a "lot of the so-called under-the-radar stuff would be quite palatable to the listening public if they simply had easy access to it", do you mean that there are unknown bands playing accessible stuff that could, if given the right exposure, be very popular? Or do you mean that the general public could find it in their hearts to love challenging, difficult music?

If the former, well really you have to ask, so what? I always thought VHS or Beta had the songs to make them a potential Killers-type outfit - great catchy tunes plus histrionics, a perfect sound for the rock/electro crossover market and so forth. They never did, maybe because of the music business or maybe some other reason, I don't know. But does it matter? If VHS or Beta and The Killers swapped places tomorrow, would the world be any different? Unlikely.

As for the second possibility, well there isn't much evidence that there are millions of potential Grey Daturas fans listening to Radio 2 just waiting to be converted. I guess it's possible. To be honest I suspect that the kind of people who love music enough to like the more challenging stuff probably find it easier now than ever. My progression from Faith No More aged 13 through early Britpop and Ninja Tune to The Smiths, hip hop and ever onwards came about, as I'm sure it did for most people, through a haphazard route of recorded cassettes, mates' recommendations, magazines, gigs and being talked down to in record shops. If MySpace had been about at the time it would have been a lot easier I suspect.

At no point did the machinations of the music industry really mean much other than making it easier to find records by Portishead than Eric B & Rakim. Meanwhile, at various points along that road most people run out of interest - it could be as early as Radio 1 or they might make it as far as the NME or even Rough Trade; the fact is for any commercial operation you have to scale your activities.

Of course the record industry is going to take on and promote acts it thinks it can sell; how can it do anything differently? We all care enough to look elsewhere when the mainstream (or mainstream alternative) doesn't appeal, and I'm sure "the kids" will carry on doing the same. It's not like there's anything that can stop them.

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Megan O'Doherty
Jan 11, 2009 11:01pm

With little time to fully express so, I would just like say how little thought must go in to the logistics of working in promoting music, not just simply criticising it. Whether or not Florence Welch's music is unique and original, or as commercialised and coorporately polished as Girl's Aloud, what she delivers in a recorded track and even more so in a live performance is incredible, and deserves to be celebrated. From where I'm sitting, your comments are ridiculously hypocritical. You're asking for the media and record companies to recognise and distribute music because (to simplify) it 'sounds good'. So what are you doing? Judging music because of where it comes from is exactly what you're arguing against, and yet is the entire force of your journalistic diatribe against 'Flo'. Are you seriously suggesting that acts are not allowed to investigate their creativity and expression through "ramshackle shrieking blues"? Because if you are, and people listen to that, the music industry will suffer for it. D'you think Hendrix picked up a guitar for the first time and it sounded amazing? Of course not. Let artists express themselves.

And when that expression turns to genius to you expect the artist to sit 'underground' expecting people to be able to hear it? No. And they shouldn't. So the media have to get involved, and sometimes there has to be a bit of PR and so on, but be intelligent and read between the lines. Not every record ever put out into the world is going to be fantastic, and that's what drives the arts forward. The need to find a form which truely expresses thoughts, ideas and emotions.

So get of your high-horse and ENJOY music for being music. Not every artist that exists will take your fancy, but listen to the music for what it is, not where it came from, wherever you think that may be.

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Megan O'Doherty
Jan 11, 2009 11:03pm

Appologies, that first line should read "...how little thought you seem to think must go into the logistics of promoting..."

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steve mitchell
Jan 12, 2009 1:11pm

The fact that Johnny Borrell has written some of her tunes in warning enough for me...

http://www.gigwise.com/news/48309/Razorlights-Johnny-Borrell-Im-Florence-And-The-Machines-Songwriter

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white hotel
Jan 12, 2009 6:24pm

Mr Turner, I concur. The music industry should not be populated by perpetual 6th-former.

As for Lady Gaga, fuck that. She looks like Cicciolina and sounds like Anastacia.

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Matt Milton
Jan 22, 2009 1:32pm

In reply to white hotel:

The whole concept of applying anything as arbitrary as the Christian Calendar to prescribe or what anyone should or should not be listening to has always struck me as plain bizarre.

I'd like them to be a bit more precise in their diktats. In which season of the year should I be experiencing Flo and Her Machine? Is Little Boots autumnal produce? When does Lady Gaga go off?

I listened to Florence and the Machine having read a GoshGollyWowAmazing piece in the Guardian Guide that gave me the impression her music, described repeatedly as "avant garde" and "experimental", would be some art-school riot on the boulevards conjoining Nurse With Wound and Roxy music. Needless to say I was a tad disappointed to hear some Kate Bush B-sides.

I listened to some S.C.U.M., having read a GoshGollyWowAmazing piece in the Observer Music Monthly that gave me the impression their music, repeatedly described as... etc etc

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Stuart Brown
Mar 22, 2010 7:17am

Some artist have the capacity to make ones skin go all goose pimply.
Florence just make me yak,
its like
Madonna without the Voecoder,
Shuwaddy-waddy without the brothel creepers,
Milly-Vanilly without the Himbo's.

If this is what the record companies think is commercially viable then personally I Congratulaate them And would like to thank them for bringing thier (record companies) own end so much closer.

Do not think less of the record companies, for they have taught us to be independant, and to do without them all together.

Talk about Turkeys voting for Christmas !

The Machine behind flow have my sympathy at least they have some musical value and a good view of the crowd bottling her of the stage.

oh and she dance's like she sings

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Jan 5, 2012 4:01am

I think she's incredible. I think there has been a lot of animosity towards her because she is considered "hipster" and sings in a high, piercing voice but to be frank, I think because of the fact that she has a singing style that sounds unlike most artists, she incorporates mythological and poetic conotations into her songs and music videos, and uses vivid outfits for preformances and videos, she is labeled so. Florence is extremely creative, using harp, electric piano, and even using walls as instruments. She combines blues, gospel, punk rock, and alternative into her music in the most amazing way, and I don't think she can be compared to Lady Gaga solely because she enjoys dressing up in (amazing) crazy preformance outfits. I'll also remind you of the fact that she's only 25. Back in 2009 she was only 23 years, still university age, of course she's going to go out and get drunk and do silly things. I think you're being very critical and rude about this, but of course you're allowed to have your own opinion, and I doubt she'll mind with her millions of pounds and thousands of fans. Just putting my two cents in.

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Jan 5, 2012 6:13am

http://www.visa2tour.com/2011/10/28/florence-welch-and-the-machine-are-getting-edgy/ She admits to drinking here in an interview. I wouldn't say she doesn't talk about it.

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