Making people feel something with words, music and nothing else: the UK scene of independent female artists
For many decades now British music has been at the forefront of popular culture around the world. In the sixties, the “British Invasion” led by The Beatles managed to conquer US charts and make the British music industry reach record sales across the whole world. Ever since, the UK. has continuously been able to produce bands and singers that have taken turns to be named the world’s biggest music act, including names such as The Rolling Stones, Elton John or Queen, to name a few.
However, until not long ago, this success had been mostly centered on male artists. A phenomena which has been challenged by the “Third British Invasion” of the late 2000’s that saw female artists such as Adele and Amy Winehouse shake up the whole world, and most recently by the rise of artists such as Dua Lipa, Charlie XCX as well as Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill” becoming the most played track of the summer of 2022. As more female artists from the UK. continue to top the world’s charts, it’s almost inevitable to wonder what is the context back home that is allowing for these superstars to rise. As expected, the UK’s history as a music industry hub plays an important role in it. But we can also assign much of it to the thriving scene of upcoming independent artists that nurture the artistic communities in which these amazing superstars develop their first steps.
This leads us to the following list of independent songwriters coming from the UK: a wide array of artists that go from bedroom pop and club bangers, all the way to nu-jazz and classic RnB, in which the common thread is that lyrics do matter. A group of songs in which beyond any fireworks or flashy production values the primary message that comes across through the music is that a cornerstone of the UK sound behind these potential superstars is the ability to make people feel something with words and nothing else.
“I think the UK is great at producing storytellers, artists who don’t need fireworks coming out of their tits on stage [...] You look at Adele, Emeli Sande, Sam Smith, The Beatles, The Carpenters, Oasis - there is a history of acts who make people feel something with their words and nothing else. I think Ed Sheeran is really great example of this; that man sells out stadiums with nothing but him and a guitar. That’s something I’ve always strived for - to be a quintessentially British songwriter and have my words be the main focus to capture an audience who relate to me.” Grace Davies
Although she had released her first EP ‘My Kingdom’ in 2015, it was through the 2017 edition of the music talent TV Show The X Factor that Grace Davies began to get widely noticed. Making it to the finals, Grace conquered the audience thanks to her incredibly touching voice. But the Blackburn native is just more than a vocal powerhouse, she’s also a great writer and a talented pianist, as much at ease on soft pop tracks like "roots" as on more energetic electronica tinged tracks like "toothbrush", two singles gathered in her EP "i wonder if you wonder" released in 2021. She started exploring this electronica-infused pop with her 2020 singles “Just a Girl” and “Addicted To Blue”, while remaining faithful to her love for piano ballads, as can be heard on "Amsterdam", released the same year. Now a fully independent artist, Grace Davies has also recently become a producer, as she has entirely produced her latest single, “Already gone”, a melancholic ballad where her deeply moving voice is highlighted by a haunting strings and piano melody
“It’s a crazy feeling to think that the little melody I hummed along to on my guitar in my bedroom, has made it onto thousands of peoples radios!” - Chloe Adams
Having started her career by releasing acoustic covers on YouTube from her bedroom that Chloe Adams calls herself a "bedroom-pop" artist. The fact is that even today, the 24-year-old singer still spends a lot of time composing and producing her songs from her bedroom, as evidenced by her activity on social media. Over the past 10 years, her style has evolved from acoustic pop to pop-punk (including this unforgettable cover of Drake's “Hotline Bling” that obviously reminds us of Avril Lavigne), and if acoustic pop remains her favorite style, as she brilliantly demonstrated with "She Used To Be Mine" in 2021, Chloe Adams, who was until recently in a wedding band, is also experimenting with more electronic sounds, as we can hear on her most recent singles “Dead to Me” and “Seasons”. In 2021, her song “Dirty Thoughs” went viral on TikTok and quickly racked up 10 million streams on Spotify. TikTok did not make a mistake by including her in SoundOn, its new artist development program.
Lava La Rue
“Historically, a lot of songs that are considered queer anthems weren’t necessarily made by queer people…but it’s something where it’s like, ‘This speaks to me and gives me a sense of pride in who I am’,” La Rue says. “A lot of queer people had to reclaim songs that people would be like, ‘Well that’s a straight narrative’, but they reclaimed it for themselves.” - Lava La Rue
There is something very British about Lava La Rue's music, in the way they have created something unique by assimilating their multiple influences: originally from West London, Lava grew up listening to punk and britpop, was raised by a Jamaican grandmother who was a fan of soul and gospel, their parents were soaked in the rave culture... As a teenager, Lava started to freestyle and produce sounds with a group of friends that would become the Nine8 collective. In 2018, Lava released “Widdit”, a first official track with deep neo-soul and R'n'B influences. Since then, Lava hasn't stopped. The artist released their debut album “Stiches” in 2019, where they rapped and sang over productions mixing trap, house and neo-soul and tackled topics like systemic racism and being queer. In 2021, they did it again with the EP “'Butter-Fly” and its incredible single “Magpie”, which oscillates between hip-hop beats, pop melody and soulful vocals. Lava kicked off 2022 with “Vest & Boxer”, by their own admission a "queer indie-pop anthem" and released “Hi-Fidelity” during the summer. Inspired by funk, brit-pop and even post-punk, this new EP is critically acclaimed. Incredibly prolific, Lava also recently directed the video for "Ur mum" by indie-rock band Wet Legs.
Laurel's career started in 2013, when she released the demos of "Blue Blood" and "Next Time" on Soundcloud, two indie-pop tracks that were quickly spotted by music bloggers who were as enthusiastic about her voice as they were about the depth of her tracks produced in her home studio. In 2014, Laurel created her own label, Next Time, and released the same year a first official single "Fire Breather", then two EPs “To The Hills” and “Holy Water”, keeping this indie-pop spirit but with more electronica sounds, brought in large part by synth drums.After her EP "Park" released in 2016 where she explored more folk and folk-rock sounds, she produced, composed and mixed her debut album "DogViolet" on her own. Released in 2018, the album has a rockier orientation than her previous work. A sound that will radically change thanks to her meeting with American producer Chrome Sparks and her move to Los Angeles. Released in 2020, "Scream Drive Faster" is the first single from their collaboration, and Laurel makes a 180° turn towards synthpop and electronica. A new artistic direction which was confirmed in 2021 by the maxi "LIMBO CHERRY" (still produced by Chrome Sparks) and by "Obsessed", Laurel's most recent single, whose instrumentation would not have displeased the big names of the British synthpop like Human League or Pet Shop Boys.
“I love that no two of my singles are sounding the same in this era” “The last thing I want to be is predictable. I feel like genre isn’t really a thing anymore and when I remind myself of that I feel like I can express myself creatively and have the freedom to make whatever music I want.” - Abbie Ozard
Originally from a small town in Cheshire, Abbie Ozard started her path into music by listening to the CD’s in her dad’s car and honing her voice in a local choir. Once she started to write her own music she quickly started to build acclaim with her 2019 debut EP titled "Growing Pains EP". This was a set of joyful indie rock tracks that worked as a soundtrack to many lyrics that talked about the anxieties and liberation of coming of age in your early 20s. After signing with London based independent label House Anxiety, her sound has continued to evolve, adding a slightly more electronic / post-punk feel to her beats that has given her music a much stronger and unapologetic energy. This is greatly expressed in her 2022 seven track EP titled "Water Based Lullabies" which is led by the single "Rose Tinted". Combining her great songwriting skills, the slightly harder electronic beats, cleverly written spoken verses and powerful sunny choruses, the result is a very interesting mix of sounds that reminds us of both of French band The Teenagers’ “Homecoming” alternative indie vibe and Katy Perry’s “California” pop sound.
A Canadian native, Cate Canning moved to the UK in early 2020, a few months after releasing her debut single "Sad Song"... and just before the COVID pandemic shut down the country, leaving her with just enough time to settle in London's famous Camden district. But even the lockdown didn't dull Cate's good mood and communicative energy, and she took the opportunity to finalize the production of her first EP with her roommates. “Love, the Madness” is the artist's calling card and a concentrate of sweet pop hits, whose lyrics reflect Cate's daily reality and address topics such as coming of age, thwarted relationships or being away from home. Very active on social networks, where she shares her music and slices of her daily life with her circle of friends (including British pop sensation Maisie Peters), she has created a community of fans who identify with her fun and positive personality, traits that she plays on in her last single, the bitter-sweet pop song “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”.
Although she only officially released her debut single “Naked” in 2020, the singer and songwriter Hayla was already well known to dance music aficionados. It all started in 2016, when the Liverpool native laid down her vocals on German producer DJ Katch's hit "Lights Out (Too Drunk)." But it was her appearance on the hip-house banger "Show Me How To Love" by English rapper Example that got her really noticed in the scene. Since then, she continued to collaborate with the big names in the industry like Wilkinson for the track “I Need" or the duo PBH & Jack on the track “Waiting All My Life” (2019). In 2021, she released “Colours”, a second solo single that received an excellent reception from the public and was in several dance playlists of specialized radio and streaming platforms.2022 has clearly been a milestone year for Hayla: in addition to having performed on major stages such as the Brixton Academy with Deadmau5 or the EDC Las Vegas festival, she co-wrote and sang the hit “Escape” by superstars Deadmau5 and Kaskade (35 million streams to date), and released “Treading Water”, a new single with a strong house inspiration that heralds a new EP scheduled for early 2023.
“I’ve never had any training on this stuff, no singing lessons, no vocal coaching – so when I sing, I just sing! I dunno maybe that’s what people like, the honesty of it all.” - Yazmin Lacey
Yazmin Lacey’s take on “I’ll never stop loving you”, perhaps her most iconic track, is an eye-opening experience. In this song, she is able to take in the classic Blue Note jazz sound and throw it back to the world through the aesthetics of that kind of new jazz sounds that artists such as Kamasi Washington, Tom Misch or Kendrick Lamar have been pushing into mainstream in the past years. This is not a one off case, as her complete discography is full of tracks such as “90 Degrees” ot “Morning Matters” that are some of the freshest jazz and RnB blend that you can find out there. What is surprising about Yazmin is that although her musical sensibility is unavoidable, having a music career wasn’t initially on her mind. Instead, this started to happen almost by chance once she was invited to perform at an acoustic night after being overheard while singing for some of her friends. This first gig was the spark that eventually led her to be selected to the Future Bubblers program of Gilles Peterson’ Brownswood Recordings, a program that let her jumpstart her successful music career. After a way too long hiatus, Yazmin Lacey gifted the world “Pieces”, a smokey and jazzy-infused R’n’B single that neo-soul lovers will definitely play on repeat.
“I have loved making covers of my favourite songs and putting my own spin on them but I’ve always felt I had more to say as an artist. I grew up obsessed with music and art so to have had the chance to create these songs and the world around them has been a dream. It’s a totally different level of nerves and care when all these songs have come from such a personal place and I can’t wait to get them out there.” - Grace Grundy
Grace Grundy is a singer and songwriter who became first known for her cover versions of popular hit songs such as “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” by Mike Posner or “Scared To Be Lonely” by Martin Garrix & Dua Lipa. By giving these dance anthems a stripped down - piano centered - approach she was able to unfold to amazing detail all of the emotion hidden in these tracks. Thus, turning them into the type of tracks that you would expect to shake down the whole auditorium in a casting for the TV show “The Voice”, only that way cooler. With that success and great deal of experience under her arm, Grace was able to move on into composing and recording her own music while still studying a degree in Illustration. Several millions of plays and 5 years later since those early covers, she has managed to perfect her trademark stripped sound by making use of the stripped down emotional piano stabs while coloring her voice with subtle voice processing effects that feel like a homage to PC Music in the vein of Charlie XCX and Hyper pop lyrics aesthetics. This is clearly audible in her single “Boys On Posters”,the lead track of her new EP “With You In Mind”. An ode to sabotaging early love, which despite her unintended efforts did evolve into a long term relationship.