By Epigram Music Writers, curated by Jake Paterson, Music Editor
After The Last Dinner Party were crowned the BBC's band to watch for 2024, interviewed by Epigram last year before their stratospheric rise, we have taken up the task of finding the most exciting bands on the verge of a breakthrough this year. Grab a cuppa and put your headphones on as we take you through the names to watch in the alt scene this year.
By Jake Paterson, Music Editor
Formed in 2020, the Matador signed, London-based three piece were shrouded with mystery upon their first releases. No names, photos, or background information could be found about them anywhere until last spring when they released two full-length projects, Tracey Denim and The Twits. You can’t help get excited when you have to rely on mere speculation and going to live shows to pick out what makes a band so irreverent.
Guitar music nowadays is instantly nostalgic; listening to bar italia reminds you of Sleater Kinney and Altered Images at the same time as it does English Teacher and Heartworms. They sit on a train moving endlessly forwards whilst looking out the window at all the things just passing you by. Luckily, though, they avoid the pastiche by being genuinely the most dynamic sounding band I’ve heard this side of the pandemic. You could waste hours listing genres that they touch on: shoegaze, a twinge of Britpop, folk-rock, and of course post-punk and goth. Each of the three members trade vocal duties with ease, keeping you rooted to your seat.
2024 will see them take their fuzzy off-kilter energy on the road in the US and Europe, before most likely touching down in the UK before the year closes off. Definitely catch them if you can.
By Sean Lawrenson, Second Year English
Now, usually, when someone discovers an artist, there is often the element of surprise involved, which is usually why discovering them feels so amazing. Whether that be skipping a song on your discover weekly only to land on the most perfect song, so perfect in fact that you simply had to go and search up the artists spotify page to see what else they had done. Or, as is the case for me with Etta Marcus, seeing them live.
When I saw Marcus live last March in Bristol, I wasn’t exactly going to see her. She was supporting Joesef on his tour of the UK, and having not listened to any of her music before that evening, I was stunned at just how good her half hour set was. I mentioned it in my review at the time, but a fan just shouted out ‘what’s your name’ and proceeded to get her spotify up half way through the gig and follow her. That’s just how good she was. It’s difficult to define her as an artist, but the closest thing that comes to mind, and this might be a tad premature, but she feels a lot like the UK’s answer to Lana Del Rey (Marcus played at Lana Del Rey’s day show at Hyde Park this past summer).
By Alice James, Second Year History and French
It’s undeniable that 2024 will be a big year for Courting: their second album, New Last Name, is set to be released on the 26thof January, followed by a UK and (for the first time) EU tour. Not only is this their biggest tour yet, but New Last Name is their biggest project yet.
Since forming in 2018, Courting have released an EP (Grand National) and debut album (Guitar Music), growing to become a fairly significant name in the post-punk scene. However, their music can’t be defined by one genre; with Guitar Music they stretched into more diverse genres such as hyperpop and art punk, moving out from the shadow of genre-dominating band Sports Team by creating a more individual sound. Their previous album was all about defining who they were as a band and ending comparisons to other artists, and New Last Name seems to be another step forward in this journey of self discovery.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this album is that Courting refuse to call it an album at all, insisting that it’s a ‘theatrical play’. Tracks are consistently referred to as ‘acts’and frontman Sean Murphy-O’Niell also mentions that there are ‘characters’ and ‘stage directions’ throughout the album.He goes on to say that the point of all this is that they want to create something that the listeners ‘can get lost in’.
Ultimately, this is simply an astounding display of committing to a bit. Their Spotify bio admits that while it does have characters and a narrative thread, it ‘isn’t really a play’. This comment is attributed to Christian Name - Sean Murphy-O’Niell’s character in the album. This not only shows their constant devotion to the bit but also why they do it: its fun. . This ‘play’ is not at all down to pretention but simply Courting experimenting, seeing what they can create and having fun with it through all sorts of absurd acts, whether it’s a dreadful pun in a character’s name or setting up and playing a gig as a supposedly rival band of ‘doppelgangers’ TheThrowbecks.
However, this album is about more than just messing around. Exploring narratives and characters is something they’ve touched upon in the past and done incredibly well at, such as in one of their best performing tracks, Tennis. A narrative thread really can be seen from the track list alone; The Wedding is followed by Happy Endings, for example, not to mention the title of the album itself. This is particularly promising as this cohesiveness is exactly what their previous album lacked - the inclusion of the old track Crass and (in the band’s words) ‘outlier’ Jumper made it seem awkward and hastily thrown together. In contrast, Murphy-O’Niell promises that New Last Name is ‘more focused and detail oriented than anything [they’ve] done before’, and so far, it is living up to this promise.
Beyond simply creating a cohesive body of work, one of the band’s most significant aims with this album is experimentation. Murphy-O’Niell often focuses on their desire to create something completely new and believes that New Last Name is a ‘chaotic and unrestrained’ collection of their ‘weirdest experiments’. While their music isn’t groundbreaking or genre-defying, chaotic is certainly a fitting word. Their sound is urgent and bold, with lyrics that are at somehow both confusing and incredibly vivid. Again, a lot of what they do is about having fun, and when making their music, Courting don’t shy away from anything – they don’t seem to have any formula or a plan that they want to fit – and this happy chaos is what makes their music great. It seems that in New Last Name they’re embracing this more than ever, and if they want listeners to get lost this is certainly the way to do it.
Guitar Music barely reached the charts, but it’s clear that New Last Name deserves more success than its predecessor. There are already promising signs – its singles have been met with positive reviews and extra dates have already been added to their tour. However, for a band that pride themselves on an experimental sound, signed to a fairly small record label, chart success isn’t promised. Regardless of this, through this new release Courting are continuing on an upward trajectory, exploring their image and their music. Crucially, they are doing their own thing, and doing it well; they have grown far from a band that used to be dismissed as simply similar to Sports Team.
By Megan Foulk, Second Year English
It's the new year and we're headed into line-up announcement season, so who can we expect to crawl from the small print up to the shining lights of the headline podium for the festival circuit 2024? Set to support age-old indie favourites, The Vaccines, on their UK tour this February, the Nottingham four-piece Divorce are in with a fighting chance. Jump on the bandwagon now, and you might just be early enough to claim some bragging rights.
Mixing sounds of indie, folk, pop and punk, Divorce refuse to be categorised, with 'a patchwork of sound that folds in The Beatles, The Carpenters and Fiona Apple' according to The Independent. Routinely rinsed by Radio 6, and with Grammy-nominated producer Catherine Marks (think Foals, The Killers and Wolf Alice) on their side, they certainly seem to be well-equipped for success.
Signed to Gravity Records in 2023, Divorce’s second EP ‘Heady Metal’, released in November, demonstrates how much the band have achieved since their debut ‘Get Mean’ hit the scene twelve months prior. The first single ‘Birds’, delivered alongside an old-school music video that will have ornithophobes reeling, is a discussion of ‘both chaos and hope’, best evidenced in the tongue-twisting line ‘four steps threewards, step nine back’. Lyrically bitter at its opening before transitioning into an uplifting and convincing chorus, co-vocalist and guitarist Felix Mackenzie-Barrow said of the track ‘I was carrying a lot of insecurity that felt like it was piling in on me from all angles, but this song was an attempt to reshape those feelings into something positive. I wanted to remind myself and all of us in the band how much belief we have in each other and in the truth of what we’re doing together’ (DIY Magazine).
Fronted by co-vocalists Felix Mackenzie-Barrow and Tiger Cohen-Towell and supported by lead guitarist Adam Peter-Smith and drummer Kasper Sandstrom, Divorce have a depth to their music that can often be hard to come across. Expertly produced, their vocals maintain a rawness that lends to the honesty of their lyrics and ironically, despite the hostility associated with their name ‘Divorce’, the sharing of vocals between Felix and Tiger never risks sounding competitive. Compatible in harmony and tone, it seems there’s no chance of the pair severing ties and being forced to co-parent any time soon.
Described by their lead guitarist Adam as ‘like dressing up to the nines, feeling like a million dollars – and then rolling down a big grassy hill’, Divorce have ‘something very wonky about them’that makes them hugely likeable (The Independent). Theatrical and extravagant whilst also recognising the hilarity of themselves, it’s their avoidance of taking themselves too seriously that is so compelling. Both sharing a background in musical theatre training, Cohen-Towell and Mackenzie-Barrow note that ‘there’s always been a theatrical nature to our songwriting. It’s nice to remove yourself from a song and really try and focus on something else. It often becomes a metaphor for something personal, but it can translate as really far away from yourself’(The Line of Best Fit).
Evident in the familiar British sarcasm cushioned by crunching power chords, their debut ‘Services’ for example, opens ‘we can fetch your suitcase, your mother’ll throw it in with mine, she can scream her throat raw, you’ll get immune to it with time’, exploring ‘the liminal space between the excess of late adolescence (with that desire to go and ‘scale the country regardless of your mother’s screams) and the burgeoning responsibilities of early adulthood’ (The Line of Best Fit). Finding freedom in the yellow-brick-road motorways out of hometownsand possibility in the dreary starch-filled service stations that make up the journey, despite the mundanity of its subject matter, the song beautifully encapsulates a longing for independence that many relate to.
Sure to be thrown fully into the indie-alt ring following their UK tour with The Vaccines, no doubt Divorce will be the soundtrack to many of our summers, as we debate whether to queue for the portaloos or over-priced bar first, in a field that’s currently recovering from last year’s antics. If you’re a fan of Big Thief, Mistki, Wet Leg or the new Brit’s Rising Star Award winners and fellow 2024 underdogs, The Last Dinner Party, you might want to add Divorce to your music rotation as you battle through January and count down the number of days until we reach beer garden season once again.
Featured Image: Matador, Polydor, EMI, Prescription PR
Which band are you watching in 2024?