There’s a famous old saying that goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” This phrase appears to have turned into a mantra for quite a few emerging artists who, rather than carving out their own sound, seem content in taking popular sounds and repeating them. Sometimes this works, as is the case with Two Door Cinema Club’s adaption of the indie sound previously brandished by The Drums and Vampire Weekend. Other times, the results are abysmal and generic – as is the case with most artists in the folk scene for the past five years.
2011 was a big year for folk. At the peak of the ‘beige era’ (where Ed Sheeran‘s +, Adele‘s 21 and everything by Mumford and Sons bored listeners into submission), there seemed to be a renewed interest in what had long been a neglected and overlooked genre. Mumford and Sons brought waistcoats and fleas back to the spotlight, while an army of plaid-clad hipsters sipped coffee and nodded wisely to Keaton Henson. It wasn’t long before lilting guitars, husky vocals and excessive fiddling (not exclusive to music) were all the rage.
Unfortunately, this opened the floodgates to an epidemic that is still – inexplicably – spreading across the musical world. Upon the first musky whiff of folk-pop success, a generation of budding musicians traded in their electric guitars for electro-acoustics and their echo pedals for waistcoats and pointy shoes. And unlike many of the copycat movements that have come previously, this is rife with some of the most uninspired songwriting of the twenty-first century. At best, we happen upon artists such as Jeremy Tuplin that do not advance the genre in any significant way.
This is indicative of a much larger problem for music, however. One of the key factors in advancing a genre is artistic expression, which should lead musicians to push the boundaries of what they’re familiar with and broaden their musical horizons. If artists are presented with the blueprint of a sound for success, many will seize the opportunity and understandably so. This is why the folk explosion has posed such a problem: it simply does not reward experimentation or creativity. Why would a band struggle for years to carve a distinct sound and earn their way to co-headlining an academy venue, when they could instead secure a slot at Wembley by being ‘Dadford and Daughters’?
The future of music cannot be realised unless artists stop being lazy and reliant on lilting guitars as a way of generically boring people into accepting them. Fortunately, there are signs that this is changing. Since Mumford and Sons’ recent EP didn’t prove as successful as previous ventures and the latest album by queen Adele has failed to become staple radio fodder, the beige age may have truly come to an end. That is, unless more folk phonies crawl out of the woodwork to inexplicable applause.
For the love of music and the spark of experimental creativity that Saint Bowie died representing, folk-pop must not follow us into 2017.