A common criticism of contemporary music is that the anything-goes nature of Spotify playlists have killed the concept of genre. In our post-Beyonce world, it’s not enough for an artist to pick up a guitar and play four-chord riffs: your average major-label album must reference everything from Gregorian chant to musique concrete. We have never been in a more experimental time for music, in part because our established notions of what is popular (and what constitutes music itself) have never been more blurry. What does genre even mean anymore, when SOPHIE collaborates with Madonna, Frank Ocean with Calvin Harris? Is it even possible to create new sounding music, or is everything just a vague, late capitalist mishmash of all styles? When we look back on the musical landscape of 2018, what will we remember?
Genre purists, do not fear. My money is on that red-eyed, reverby lo-fi that you’re likely to hear at your nearest thrift shop floor. Music that is best consumed at 3am with torn Rizla packets on the floor. Just in the last 2 years Cosmo Pyke, Babeheaven, Jerkcurb, Jamie Isaac, Rex Orange County, Yellow Days and Gus Dapperton have emerged out of their South London dungeon with a 6 string, a chorus pedal and a fondness for J Dilla. It is reductive to suggest these artists are all sonically identical but they undeniably ape after the same romantic, bedroom eyes atmosphere. It is something to be celebrated that in 2018, we have seen the emergence of a legitimately new style, a style which could never have developed were it not for the Internet’s democratising force.
I am christening this genre sidebar soul, considering said Youtube suggested column is where many of these artists get their hype (or potentially BRIT-pop, as most of the English members of this cult were borne from said Croydon academy). Mac Demarco’s shadow looms large over these artists, with his generous use of the chorus pedal and his sunny slacker psychedelia, as does that of King Krule, who has pioneered urban sensuality for the night bus generation. And neatly fitting into this niche is tonight’s performer, Puma Blue.
Puma Blue, real-name Jacob Allen, makes effortlessly beautiful guitar-soul, not unlike an old slow dance record left to melt in the late day sun. His voice is a remarkable thing, somewhere in between Jeff Buckley and Billie Holliday, easily gliding from a yearning falsetto to a breathy tenor without that irritating indie posturing you can get with artists of this variety. His soundscapes are equally sumptuous, with yearning saxophone flourishes adding a noirish drama to the proceedings. With just one EP released (and one due for release in November), he has already garnered an impressive following: tonight’s gig at The Louisiana was sold out.
And boy could you tell. With 200 people in one room, there was little room for personal space. This fact was made infuriatingly apparent, as half the room incessantly talked throughout, showing a flagrant disrespect for both the band and anyone within a 5 metre radius (which happened to be everyone, given the minute capacity of The Louisiana). The lack of etiquette displayed was staggering: the night culminated in a delicate closing guitar number from Allen, during which a man faked-coughed and guffawed throughout like he was in fucking primary school. I felt embarrassed and baffled: embarrassed for Allen, who gave a spirited performance in spite of things, baffled that people would pay a tenner for a gig of atmospheric mood music only to spend the whole time ignoring it. Abysmal.
When you phased out the noxious idiots around you, there was plenty to enjoy. With 4 other bandmates, Allen played an economical, hour-long set leaning on newer material, with his ‘hits’ woven in. On record, sometimes Allen’s horny lyrics can verge on being both patronising and creepy, but his performance was pleasantly tongue-in-cheek, and at times showed the flashes of nuance that comes from an artist defining their sound.
Opener Want Me was spectral and darkly sexual, with its dejected chorus contrasting with Allen’s subtly confident vocals. The guitar riff of She’s Just A Phase had a glorious levity, like it was soundtracking the best BBQ you’ve never had. A heartstopping cover of Radiohead’s All I Need was unexpected but glorious, with toothsome sheets of noise adding to the otherworldly atmosphere (and also pointed to Radiohead as the spiritual forefathers to our era of introspective bedroom pop). Soft Porn sounded like a Burial song with all the bass replaced with negative space, a paean to depression booty calls you will regret in the morning. New song As-Is wove a tale of a fluid, unknowable relationship, ending with the significant other troublingly ‘buried under the mattress’. It’s these darker lyrical flourishes laying beneath the loverman schtick that I hope to see more of when he releases his new EP in November.
And he’s going to need a bit of luck. Tonight was a good performance but it is undeniable this hype wave is close to crashing. At its best, this kind of music can be genuinely affecting, but at its worst, it can be smugly self-satisfied as to its own cleverness and criminally underwritten (I’m looking at you Cosmo Pyke: ‘I’m feeling opposite/Like red does blue’ is a travesty of a lyric). There’s a difference between aping the relaxed stylings of C86 jangle-pop and indulging in facile Bandcamp wankery. We are chronically oversaturated with music of this ilk, and I hope that Puma Blue will be able to ride the hype wave and become the artist I know he has in him. As long as people shut up and listen, he’s already well on his way.