Whenever annual lists of the most powerful and important people in music are published they always have one thing in common: a distinct lack of rock.
Guitar music is invariably ignored. Probably for good reason; rock labels and stars often seem secondary compared to the giants at Universal and the Simon Cowell’s of this world.
This might be perfectly justifiable in a pop publication, but here at Guitar Planet we’ve decided it’s time to put the focus back on the guitar and uncover: just who are the most important people in rock today.
Andy Copping may have become a laughing stock online but since the departure of booking partner Stuart Galbraith he has become the brains behind Britain’s leading metal festival.
Donnington is hallowed ground in Metal circles having played host to the legendary Monster’s Of Rock Festival in the 80s and 90s.
Copping is the keeper of that legacy and for all his flops (My Chemical Romance in 2007, Def Leppard headlining twice in two years) he has had some major successes including securing the UK return of System Of A Down, giving Slipknot their first headlining opportunity, foreseeing the classic rock boom and getting the elusive AC/DC to play an ultra-rare festival date.
In Short Copping and Download festival are metal and hard rock's present day and historic trendsetters.
Brendan O’Brien has come a long, long way. When he was fourteen he was playing guitar in a hokey cover band, today he’s one of rock’s superstar producers. In the 1990s O’Brien was the sound mixer responsible for the brazen dynamics of era defining albums like Soundgarden’s Superunkown, Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other and Korn’s Follow The Leader, while also producing a string of classic LPs by Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam.
Today O’Brien is far from a spent force taking control of AC/DC’s world conquering (or should that be re-conquering) Black Ice, Mastadon’s brilliant boundary altering opus Crack The Skye, and Bruce Springsteen’s late career renaissance Magic.
In Short Whether you’re a rock legend in need of rejuvenation like Pearl Jam or a modern star looking for that big time sound like Billy Talent and Brandon Flowers, Brenden O’Brien is still the first port of call.
Arcade Fire are a curious case, while other bands made it to arena headline status on the back of hugely successful singles and continuous radio play, Arcade Fire achieved commercial dominance the old fashioned way. Releasing a series of fantastically creative, cinematic LPs that connected with their audience on a deeply personal level while the band simultaneously perfected an awe inspiring live show.
The Montreal eight-piece are now the commercial face of the artistic vanguard, pioneering creative innovations and new mediums on the grandest possible stage. They’ve experimented with interactive audio-visual music videos on Wilderness Down Town, they directed their own movie entitled Scenes From The Suburbs, which added a new level of resonance to their already evocative soundscapes, while also using their exposure to introduce Beirut, Owen Pallet and Devandra Banhart to mainstream audiences.
In Short Arcade Fire are single handedly redefining what it is to be global superstars.
Twitter’s power is unquestionable; it’s purpose, completely unclear. There is no one way in which Twitter influences the music industry, it’s simply too disparate. For some it’s a medium for communication, an instant forum for discussing albums, video streams, and hot topics. For other’s it’s entirely professional; a PR hub to spread news promote new singles, and to frantically obsess over what’s trending and what’s not.
Its greatest exponents are currently pop and rap stars. Lily Allen, Lady Gaga and Kanye West have all cultivated mammoth fan bases by letting fans get to know the real them. That’s not a PR buzz phrase; it’s real time interaction between fan(s) and star(s). In it’s own way it’s an emancipation: freeing artist and fan from corporate middlemen, and creating some of the biggest and most fervent consumer bases in the process.
In ShortTwitter is all things to all people, it doesn’t sell per se, it cultivates.
Not only has Brett Gurewitz played on, and penned, some of Punk’s greatest anthems as a member of Bad Religion, he’s also proven himself to be one of the genre’s great impresarios.
Simply put, he never stops working; in recent years he’s produced vital records by Bad Religion, Parkway Drive and Rancid, while simultaneously owning and operating Epitaph records.
The label is responsible for the contracts of Weezer, Social Distortion and Pennywise among others, and the Brett seal of approval is crucial in deciding which punk and post-hardcore bands break the US and which don’t.
In Short Brett Gurewitz is US Punk’s king pin: on record, in the studio, and in the boardroom.
With the help of Twitter, Bandcamp and Soundcloud are revolutionising the way we listen to and promote music. Myspace? Yesterday’s news, Bandcamp is smoother, more streamlined, and frankly, cooler: a perfect platform for finding new bands, downloading their music, and buying products.
Soundcloud is the useful medium, less clunky than an imbedded YouTube player, it comes with the added bonus of allowing fans to post their thoughts directly onto a hot new track. When the two platforms combine, as they often do, you have the 21st Century home of D-I-Y innovation and up and coming bands.
In Short Who needs a record label? Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Twitter are cutting out the middlemen and giving struggling up and comers new hope.
How could we pick just one? The reunion craze may be played out (and that’s putting it lightly) but major returns are still big business. 2012 will be ruled by one of, or all three of these bands, as System, Soundgarden and Van Halen look set to return to Europe for some of the most lucrative tour dates in recent memory.
SOAD have already headlined Rock Am Ring, Download and a host of other festivals, but a full arena tour would be a huge money-spinner. Van Halen have kept away from Europe for so long that their return will be greeted with open arms, while Soundgarden would have their pick of festival dates should they finally cross the Atlantic.
In Short Reunions tours are still big money, and these three have kept us waiting long enough.
Indie music exploded into life in the 21st Century and no-one has had their finger on the pulse quite like Domino Records. When Indie was preparing to conquer the dancefloor they had Franz Ferdinand under lock and key. When Arctic Monkeys were looking for a major label home, they turned down all the big offers and went with Domino. Why? Because Domino are famed for allowing artists to expand their horizons, and be themselves, basically, they get it.
Far from one trick ponies Domino possess a varied and stylish roster from veterans (Bonnie Prince Billy, Pavement, The Fall) and rising stars (Anna Calvi, Austra, Cass McCombs) to avante garde innovators (Animal Collective, Owen Pallet, Four Tet) and it’s own digital radio station. Domino Records has it all, provided it’s cool.
In Short Cutting edge and stylish, Domino is the label bands want to be on.
It’s been a rough year for rock’s most disparaged magazines. Both of the trend-hunting mags have undergone major changes editorially, but both remain industry stalwarts despite massive sales dips.
Kerrang has managed to retain its readership relatively well, while NME have expanded online, becoming a crucial news hub, as well as venturing into live promotions and club nights with great success.
Sales may sag, but being on the cover of NME or Kerrang remains a crucial step for all bands with big time aspirations.
In ShortThey might not be the gatekeepers they once were, but they still remain pivotal voices in the buzz building industry.
The modern day king makers, despite incurring thousands of pounds in costs, bands are still desperate to be nominated for Britain’s most prestigious prize. A mere nomination can double your sales, a victory can pluck you from obscurity to superstardom.
It doesn’t always work, Speech Debelle and Gomez never quite caught on, but Elbow, The xx and Dizzee Rascal rode Mercury Prize victories to incredible heights. Elbow are the prize’s greatest success story, going from awkward outsiders to headlining arenas and playing to a jampacked 70,000 people at Glastonbury Festival.
In Short From obscurity to superstardom, The Mecury Music Prize takes bands to heights natural talent, alone, rarely reaches.
It’s been a crazy ride for Wisconsin’s Justin Vernon. Who could have predicted in 2008, when he released the beautifully bleak and insular break up album For Emma, Forever Ago, that just three years later his self titled follow up would fly into the charts at number four and he’d be collaborating with Jay-z and Kanye West.
Bon Iver has penned what many have already declared the album of year, he’s set to headline Pitchfork’s first festival in Europe, and he’s been warping his voice and expanding his sonic pallet with Kanye West. Vernon is a pioneer and an incredible talent, and as the most exciting artist in the world right now, he deserves his place on this list.
In Short A truly remarkable talent unafraid to experiment and collaborate, Bon Iver continues to soar to heights previously unfathomable.
So, do you want to conquer the world, reinvigorate your sound, gain some authenticity, or do you just want to be on the cutting edge?
Whatever your response, Ethan Johns can make it happen, whether your roots, rock, folk or errm…Tom Jones, Johns has the sound for you.
Before being kicked to the curb in 2008, Johns was responsible for aiding Kings Of Leon’s transition from Southern Strokes to festival headlining stars, helping to forge the brilliant album’s Because Of The Times and Aha Shake Heartbreak.
He’s also played a major role in Laura Marling’s development producing her commercial breakthrough I Speak Because I Can, while finding time to help Ray Lamontagne rediscover form and, improbably, restoring Tom Jones’ credibility on Praise And Blame.
In Short Toeing the line between Roots and Rock, Ethan Johns is fast becoming this generation’s super producer.
Despite saying goodbye to inspirational guitarist John Frusciante, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are still one of the most in demand bands in rock today. Last year, despite having no record to promote festival organisers were desperately reaching out for the Chillis to return and headline.
In 2011, their new album is just weeks away, and they’ve already sold out three nights at London’s O2 Arena, and they did it in seconds. There is no two ways about it; the Chillis will be 2012’s hot property as every festival struggles to secure their signature.
In Short Bigger but not necessary better, Red Hot Chilli Peppers will soar to the top of the charts and begin a rabid bidding war between promoters.
T-Bone Burnett is the most important man in roots music that most music fans have never heard of. Listing all of Burnett’s accomplishments would be an impossibility, but in recent years he’s become one of the world’s most in demand producers and writers.
The ball really started rolling for Burnett in 2002 when he won a Grammy for his soundtrack to O’Brother Where Art Thou. From then on in, everyone wanted a piece of Burnett and he soon picked up an Oscar nomination in 2004 for his song “Scarlet Tide” from Cold Mountain. Not one to lose out, Burnett was back in 2010 with Elvis Costello where he finally won Best Original Song for “The Weary Kind” from the sensational Crazy Heart.
As a producer, T-Bone remains the go to guy for that authentic downtrodden rootsy sound, and everyone from Steve Earle and Greg Allman to Elton John and BB King has, at one point or another, come a calling.
In Short T-Bone Burnett: Oscar winner and king of Americana.
At a glance it might appear to be a disastrous year for Festival Republic bigwig Melvin Benn. It took Latitude Festival right up until the day of the festival to finally sell out, while his flagship alternative rock festivals Reading and Leeds have struggled to sell units, despite enjoying instant sell outs in the four previous years.
Nonetheless Benn remains crucial in shaping the tastes of a nation. Famed for risk taking and innovative booking decisions Reading and Leeds have elevated a whole host of bands to headline status. Last year Arcade Fire got the treatment, this year My Chemical Romance are being given a second chance at superstardom.
Benn has continued to expand his influence in recent years taking over stewardship of Wembley Stadium, helping with Glastonbury at an operational level, and nurturing Big Chill Festival from minnow to major.
In Short Benn is one of the festival industries’ biggest players, controlling flagship Rock, Indie and Alternative events.
Brian Eno revolutionised production in the 70s and 80s practically becoming an extra member of both U2 and the Talking Heads. With Talking Heads he pioneered deconstruction; separating and expanding the bands’ core sound, creating glorious glistening textures in the process. With U2 he gave the band their stadium filling sound and avante garde edge.
During that period Eno worked with Daniel Lanois the king of sonics, a producer who can fill space with terrifying and enthralling noise, and their then understudy Flood.
Today Flood is the superstar producer transforming 30 Seconds To Mars and The Killers into serious stadium bands, and creating the magnificent Let England Shake with PJ Harvey. While Lanois and Eno reserve their talents for bigger productions; rejuvenating Neil Young’s career and giving Coldplay’s “Vida La Vida” an incredibly vivid, vibrant and crisp sound.
In Short The bigwig producers who pick and choose their projects; the consummate professionals who never fail to innovate and surprise.
The class of 2007: together these bands represent the last significant collection of bands to successfully make the leap to headline status. The three bands have all taken turns headlining Glastonbury, Reading and V, and their popularity has endured.
No longer the hot new thing, they are now Indie’s established leading lights, and rock’s place in popular culture will continue to rest on their shoulders until the next wave of bands arrive.
Alex Turner, the lead singer of Arctic Monkeys, said this week that he felt it was his duty to keep guitar music alive, and until someone bigger and better comes along, that’s exactly what these three bands must do.
In Short Three bands, three very different routes to the top, but together they will be instrumental in maintaining rock’s pop culture relevance.
Mark Cooper is responsible for BBC’s generally excellent music programming and has been key in the corporation’s decision to take music, and music history seriously; leading to key retrospectives into Prog, Rock, metal and Folk music.
Along with Allison Howe, who has shown an incredible commitment to unearthing new and unusual music, the two are the masterminds behind Later With Jool’s Holland. The one music show that proves impervious to trends, it has been crucial in giving great guitar music a live television platform that it would not be afforded elsewhere. Everyone from Seasick Steve to Band Of Horses have benefited from the exposure Cooper and Howe have offered them.
In Short Keeping music television credible, creative, and, most of all, intelligent, when others have been happy to dumb it down.
How do you quantify the power of Last.fm. They sell only indirectly, they don’t let you play the tracks you want to hear, and it’s a fundamentally passive site, and yet it’s not. Last.fm is hub for all things music.
Want to know who your friends are listening to? Go on Last.fm. Want to have some cool new bands recommended for you? Go on Last.fm. Want to know when and where all your favourite bands will be playing near you, without sifting through tons of bands you hate? Go on Last.fm. Want to read intelligent profiles about every band in the world from the biggest to the most obscure? Go on Last.fm.
That’s just a taste of what Last.fm does. It’s a facilitator, it’s the oil that keeps the music industry moving; music, information, social interaction, buying records, buying tickets, discovering new music, Last.fm opens Pandora’s box.
In Short Last.fm is everything and nothing to the music industry.
Geoff Travis may have sold up, and Rough Trade might not be an Independent label in the truest sense of the word, but in spite of it all, decades after Geoff Travis defined and shaped the post-punk explosion, Rough Trade remains the coolest set of record shops in the world and continues to be one Europe’s most influential record labels.
In the early 2000s Rough Trade facilitated Indie’s commercial revival guiding The Strokes and The Libertines to game changing success. Today the label continues to support great art and emerging trends. Rough Trade is a musical melting pot that marries artistic expression to commercial ambition while cultivating a genuine community (independent) spirit.
In Short No longer truly independent but no less relevant, Rough Trade is still taking risk and embracing modernity.
Criteria: Fear not, this will not be a list of anonymous suits and record executives. Instead the list will reflect creativity, innovation, and who or what is dictating today’s trends, and who is really making an impact.
The big hitters will still make an appearance, and we will discuss the crucial decision makers, but we won’t ignore the artists and producers shaping the sound of guitar music from the ground up.
For entries 20-1, click here.
Hampered by ill health, but never ones to retire shyly, The Who continue celebrating their 50th anniversary as they contemplate retirement.
Guitar Planet grades the creative comebacks from three iconic artists who are attempting to give 2015 a much-needed injection of impetus.
Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.
The music industry’s glamorous state of the union address was delivered this weekend, but what did the Grammys have to say about guitar music?
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.