Everybody knows about both British Invasions – for those who don’t remember, the first took place in the ’60s and involved primarily the Beatles, and the second took place in the ’80s and involved primarily new wave one-hit-wonders.
But there is another British scene lesser known on this side of the pond, and that is the Shoegaze umbrella, which also encompasses Dreampop, Paisley, and Britpop. Few over here are familiar with artists like Boo Radleys, Lucy Show, Ride, Blueboy, Chameleons UK, Charlatans UK, Catherine Wheel, Mission UK, Gene, Mylo, and the Pastels, and it influenced American acts like Game Theory.
The UK has a kick-ass world music scene (known as “world fusion”) happening as well. This genre highlights an exploratory multicultural flair, blending diverse influences into a combo quite seamless despite its unlikelihood.
In short, it just plain rocks. Transglobal Underground’s “Temple Head” gained minor hit status on American alternative radio, and Banco De Gaia received some exposure on the syndicated weekly Musical Starstreams world/electronic/New Age music program, but that’s not all this genre has to offer. Loop Guru, Ott, Joi, Badmarsh & Shri, Suns of Arqua, Eat Static, James Asher, and Sounds From the Ground deserve highly honorable mention.
We have our own such scene here in the US, too, but precious few (read: none) radio stations want to acknowledge it. The downtempo ambient dub here is every bit as fantastic. Believe me not, find out for yourself. Check out artists like Makyo, Thievery Corporation, Bill Laswell, Tetsu Inoue, and Govinda.
Australia/New Zealand, the UK’s outlaw stepbrother, puts a similar outlaw spin on its music; it’s crafted with the same quality as British music, but adds a bit of a raw, edgy, rustic attitude not found in prudish self-proclaimed “civilized” Europe. We’re all familiar with some of the artists like INXS, who have brought us many good hits over the years, but we’re only readily aware of one The Church song (the dreamy anthem “Under the Milky Way”), but the truth is, that isn’t The Church’s only song, nor is it even its best. A couple of Hoodoo Gurus songs received brief airplay during the abrupt frenzy of pre-alternative rock that unfortunately vanished as quickly as it had erupted, but our exposure didn’t get nearly the depth or emphasis it deserved. We only know of one Midnight Oil song, but there were also many more of those that didn’t get any attention. Boom Crash Opera, Angel City, and Hunters & Collectors rock, although Hoodoo Gurus remains a favorite.
Our underrated neighbor to the north has plenty to offer, if we would only listen. Sure, Sarah McLachlan, Crash Test Dummies, Alanis Morissette, and (finally) the Barenaked Ladies crossed over into our mainstream airwaves (during an atrocious era of cloned The Point chain radio stations that introduced–but then ended up bastardizing–coverage of this music).
And there is so much more that went unnoticed completely. Amazing talent includes, but isn’t limited to: Moxy Fruvous, 13 Engines, Mae Moore, Tea Party, Grapes of Wrath, Great Big Sea, Matthew Good Band, Tragically Hip, 54-40, and Blue Rodeo. Be sure not to overlook hilarious comedy acts like 3 Dead Trolls in a Baggie or Arrogant Worms.
Returning to the homefront, there’s a domestic scene very worth mentioning. Largely ignored (thankfully) by the polished, corporate Nashville mainstream country in-crowd and left in its own to grow like stubborn, sturdy sprouts of Bermuda grass in barren, unforgiving, mineral-deprived clay, these artists rightfully insert themselves into various dots on the map of America’s heartland and adopt the umbrella term “Americana”.
The music is as diverse and enigmatic as its label sounds, encompassing country, rockabilly, bluegrass, folk, singer-songwriter (whatever that is), and a lot more. Highlighted by some of the artists that achieved various levels of notoriety in the Nashville mainstream and then left (voluntarily or not), such as John Anderson, Alison Krauss, Pinmonkey, Charlie Daniels, and Dwight Yoakum, there are also some gems that truly deserve special mention, like Slaid Cleaves, Kieran Kane, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, James McMurtry, Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, Reckless Kelly, Brian Burns, Derailers, Mark David Manders, Gourds, Lonesome Bob, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tom Russell, and Cory Morrow, just to name the tip of the iceberg.
And then there’s a very sweet scene that knows no national boundaries, that of contemporary lounge music. Considered part of the downtempo genre, it fuses elements of hip-hop, dub, drum ‘n bass, and historic lounge music into layers of simplicity featuring intricate basslines but uncomplicated melodies. Topping the list are artists like Bent, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Bonobo, Tosca, Belladonna, Massive Attack, Tripswitch, Lemongrass, Honeyroot, Gabin, Alex Cortiz, Kinobe, Lemon Jelly, Nouvelle Vague, Nightmares On Wax, Ohm Guru, Zeb, Smolik, Trilok Gurtu, and Zero 7.
A more recent passion of mine includes rock of all kinds from Latin America, which is as diverse as our American counterpart. Subgroups include Rock En Español from the ’80s and ’90s like Caifanes, their metamorphosis Jaguares, El Ultimo de la Fila, Heroes del Silencio, Soda Stereo, and Mana. Or, the artsy Latin Alternative vibe which includes acts like Los Aterciopelados and Cafe Tacuba, or the reggae dub-ish classic icon Manu Chao. There is quality pop like Julieta Venegas and the Corrs-esque Belanova, or the hip-hop/rap-styled Mexican Institute of Sound or Calle 13. They have the same post-punk that we do, evidenced by groups like Jumbo and Babasonicos. I’m shocked that we know as little as we do about this genre, given the evolving demographics of our country, but then with American radio being what it is (a disturbing trend that perhaps extends even beyond our borders), I’ve learned to set my sights low such that I don’t end up too disappointed. Hopefully, thanks to alternatives such as the supply of previously-owned CDs on Amazon, websites like Slacker and Pandora, and of course those P2P programs that none of us readily admit to using, we can change all that.