Alternative Pop Playlist: From the Fringe to the Mainstream, the Many Flavours of 2022’s Alt Pop
Having the new album by Sylvan Esso on rotation all summer, and more recently the new Hot Chip one too, has given us a taste for off-beam pop.
And thankfully there’s a lot of it about.
LISTEN TO OUR ALT-POP PLAYLIST
Not that this is a new thing, of course. Hot Chip has, after all, been honing their dance-indie-pop for 18 years now.
They were part of a huge wave of acts from the 2000s that rewired the indie rock band format without reliance on guitars – looking to Daft Punk as much as to The Strokes, and also had no qualms about aiming for the most memorable pop hooks.
It was the era of LCD Soundsystem, CSS, Cut Copy, Django Django, Friendly Fires, Metronomy: many of whom are in one form or another still going to this day – and who between them set the tone for a huge chunk of 21st century pop culture.
Hot Chip, Photo: Pooneh Ghana
Soon after that, in the early 2010s, another set of influences started eroding barriers between previously distinct genres.
Notably a particular British kind of odd, moody electronica that took its cues both from the early days of dubstep and grime, and from Radiohead and Bjork, started making an improbable amount of waves.
Even as crass and garish EDM was dominating, the sonic aesthetics of Burial, James Blake, FKA twigs snuck into the consciousness of American rap and R&B and thence into the charts via Drake, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and even Beyoncé.
FKA twigs, Photo: Andreas Meixensperger/Wikimedia Commons
Almost simultaneously into the mix came hyperpop. Starting again in the UK with the PC Music collective and the late Scottish producer SOPHIE, garish, narcotic and relentlessly melodic electronics smashed through every barrier in their way – and again hit the global mainstream with artistes like Charli XCX and 100 Gecs.
And lately there are other weird little twists on the fringes of pop: the bittersweet, feminine takes on drum’n’bass of Pink Pantheress, Piri & Tommy and Shygirl, and some new acts like Wet Leg and Working Men’s Club who’ve managed the impossible and refreshed the “spiky” post-punk or new wave template.
Shygirl, Photo: Because
So, to try and make sense of how this all fits together in 2022, we’ve made a playlist.
Three hours, fifty tracks, all of the above sounds blurring into one another and more. There’s a hefty dose of electropop retrofuturism, there’s alternative R&B gloom, there’s post-punk sass, there’s hyperpop psychedelic brain scorching, brand new artistes and veterans, rap, noise and techno – sometimes many of those together in one song, in fact.
But above all else it’s still pop.
These are songs we’ve been humming to ourselves, and you won’t be able to forget. This is the state of the pop art in the 2020s, blast this one loud!
Cover Credit: A Paper Creative
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Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.