NFTs present a new method for artists to build a community around their music — all while potentially earning more than they would through traditional record sales. GRAMMY.com unpacks the potentialities and pitfalls behind NFT record labels.
NFTs have taken the internet by storm and becoming increasingly mainstream: A recent report.) found that there were over $86 million worth of NFT sales made in 2021, and trading skyrocketed to over $17 billion the same year. As the market for and creation of NFTs continue to boom, both independent and signed artists are flocking to the medium.
NFTs present a new method for artists to syndicate, sell and build a community around their music, all while potentially earning more than they would through traditional record sales. Electronic music DJ and producer 3LAU sold $18 million of NFTs, while deadmau5 racked up $2.7 million in NFT sales, and raised a seed round for his web3 music metaverse platform Pixelynx. As tokens, NFTs allow artists to have complete ownership over their music, often bypassing the common means of distribution and rights associated with traditional record labels.
During this digital revolution, entrepreneurs and many established musicians are flocking to the space and creating NFT record labels to capitalize on this proclaimed gold rush of opportunity. With this comes the question — are these NFT labels viable, or just another way that brands and entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on the NFT craze?
What Is An NFT?
An NFT, or non-fungible token, represents a unique asset on a blockchain. An NFT has a distinctive identifying code that is documented on a distributed ledger, allowing anyone to see this public information from the point of creation to the most recent sale price. The Recording Academy recently got into the NFT ring, hiring three prominent artists to commemorate The 64th GRAMMY Awards with unique NFT content.
Fans can buy and sell their NFTs, and may own specific pieces of content without having physical copies. This means that an artist's copy is not one they possess physically; instead, it exists solely on the blockchain where anyone with access can see it at any time. NFTs are one aspect of Web3 — the next version of the internet, which will be built on decentralized blockchain technology.
Are NFT Record Labels Actually Viable?
"I think NFT record labels are the future of music," says Wellington Lora, founder of music library The Cueniverse, which works with NFTs. "Can you imagine an artist releasing music directly to their fanbase, with no middlemen and all proceeds going directly to the artist? This is especially exciting for indie artists in helping to crowdfund their music career."
The NFT space is still being explored and interpreted by developers and users. But as more people become involved in creating NFTs for music-based purposes, there’s potential for this business model to quickly gain popularity.
"The NFT record label industry is still in its infancy," says Josh Neuman, President of metaverse development studio MELON. "When Snoop Dogg bought Death Row Records earlier this year, he said he plans to make it into the first NFT major record label, which would enable fans to buy and sell ownership of recordings, artwork and other digital assets from their favorite artists signed to Death Row. There’s also MoonwalkerFM, an NFT record label for the lo-fi genre."
Their sentiments were echoed by David Beiner and Jay Stolar of Hume, a metaverse record label. The two believe that the viability of web3 record labels will be dictated by how they use NFTs to engage with fans. "It’s not about the NFTs, it’s about building new fan relationships," Beiner and Stolar told GRAMMY.com via email.
"The best way to think of music NFTs is as a new form of media. With 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs, people asked how these new formats would change the dynamics of the music industry for fans," Beiner and Stolar say. "As a fan, you could now play music in your car and your music was more portable. A fan’s relationship with music became even more tied to their lifestyle and became something they could easily bring with them wherever they went. MP3s streamed across the internet were the next evolution of this."
This next evolution has major companies — from Facebook to Spotify — as well as labels and indie artists all vying for their slice of the metaverse pie.
"Music NFTs will similarly change how fans interact with music and how music integrates into our lives," continue Beiner and Stolar. "Labels can create new relationships where fans either have financial upside and/or creative input into the creation of music [by] their favorite artists."
As with any new format or culture shift, it’s difficult to say how they will change things, if at all, but NFTs could be primed to be the next big progression in music.
What Does Signing With An NFT Record Label Look Like?
It’s still uncharted territory, but many artists are already rolling the dice and signing with these futuristic metaverse labels. The number of NFT record labels currently in existence has yet to be reported.
"Blockchain/NFT record labels are not only viable, but will play a major role in flipping the music industry on its head in the coming years," says Thomas Pipolo, artist and Founder of Cotton Candy Records, who recently sold $20,000 worth of his music in a matter of hours as NFTs. Cotton Candy Records offers 80 percent of revenue to the artist, keeping 20 percent for itself.
"What artist, songwriter, producer wouldn't want to keep 80 percent of the pie? In today's music industry, labels and streaming platforms are the modern music industry's funding mechanisms," Pipolo tells GRAMMY.com. "Record labels ask artists for 70–80 percent of the pie, while major streaming platforms pay artists .004 cents a stream. Both are not viable."
Web3 platforms like NFT record labels are more viable and encourage a "work as play" mindset for fan communities, says Obie Fernandez, CEO of RCRDSHP, a digital collectibles platform built by and for the electronic music industry.
"The prime motivation for participants is fun, but they can band together to form entities that look and behave kind of like record labels in that they take on A&R and marketing roles," he continues. "These entities may or may not eventually challenge the supremacy of traditional labels, but should certainly pull them in the direction of encouraging additional, authentic engagement between artists and their fan base."
Traditional record labels are already making the jump into the metaverse. In August, Sony backed NFT marketplace MakersPlace in a $30 million Series A round.
"As a music label, our number one goal is to support our artists — both in their artistic growth as well as new business opportunities. To that end, we are constantly aiming to stay ahead of the curve and support our artists in new ways of cross-collaborating between music, art and tech. NFTs are one example in this space," says Mahsa Salarvand, VP Head of the Global Business Office at Sony Music.
Head For The Future, But Tread Cautiously
Though a potentially great way for artists to prosper, the metaverse and NFTs are ripe with scams and companies attempting to take advantage of artists.
Before committing to an NFT record label, artists should do their research to see if the firm has market traction, vet the leadership behind the project and verify any claims that certain artists have purchased their NFTs and are involved in the project. NFTs can be sent to anyone’s wallet address — just because an artist has an NFT in their wallet does not mean they are involved in the project.
As with any new technology, it's up to content creators and consumers to determine the viability of NFTs. The more artists and labels engage with NFTs, the more they evolve and become valuable. The more they evolve and become valuable, the more artists and labels will entice others to use them.
"I do think there are some interesting issues that arise from the concept of NFT labels, governance being one of them," continues MELON'S Nueman. "It’s so interesting to consider the potential implications of a large group of owners voting on things like marketing and promotion spends. There are some incredibly interesting companies providing new ways to connect artists with their fanbases, while incorporating all the components of the music ecosystem. As the adoption of digital wallets becomes more mainstream, all of this is going to be a very exciting space to watch."
The metaverse is a replication of our current habits without the constraints of physics. Within this interactive virtual space, Beiner and Stolar believe fans will have "the opportunity to enjoy music experiences in an entirely new way." They envision flying through a virtual concert or listening to the music in a variety of surreal environments; the possibilities seem endless.
"On the interaction side, mechanics like holding four of the artist’s music NFTs may allow you to choose the next song being played. When you go to play a game, maybe you’ll be able to set the music of the game based on music NFTs you own. You may also collect concert tickets, but the tickets will be digital and stored in your digital wallet as memorabilia. Perhaps having a certain number of digital concert tickets will unlock unreleased songs," they continue. "The level of fan interaction will go deeper, and the way in which we move about spaces will look much different; but at the end of the day, we’ll still be going to concerts and listening to music."
Certain things won’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, change. After all, who doesn’t want to experience live music? While the future of the metaverse is unknown and exciting, it’s also clear that not all artists see it as something that will hit mainstream adoption.
"I think that there will be a big opportunity for artists to get placements in these different metaverses and play some virtual concerts, but I think the metaverse is so far away from being something that is mainstream," continues Pipolo. "I could be wrong, but it's not my thing."
Can NFTs Help Labels Stay Ahead Of The Curve?
"The market is down," says rapper, actor and entrepreneur Ja Rule, who recently put his focus into the metaverse. In March 2021, Rule sold a $122,000 NFT of a painting of the logo for his disastrous Fyre Festival. "I [first] heard about NFTs maybe like, a couple of weeks ago," he told Forbes at the time. "I wasn't too educated on them, and I’m still learning a lot about it…I think people got a little bit tired of the regular stocks-and-bonds way of investing."
In any business, stagnation will see you left behind and out of the game. This has been true throughout the history of the music industry, but is doubly so in its current climate — particularly for artists. Artists and labels that don’t continue evolving, pushing their creativity and embrace of technology, risk falling by the wayside.
As the landscape of music changes, so do its practices. NFTs may be the next big change the music industry and its artists have been waiting for. When asked if record labels in the metaverse were viable, Ja Rule reminds us that "anything is possible in the metaverse."
We're Probably On An Irreversible Course Into The Metaverse. What Role Will Music Play In It?
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
Photo: (L-R) Frank Hoensch/Redferns, David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo Sanchez/Redferns, Michael Tullberg/Getty Images, Joseph Okpako/WireImage, David Wolff-Patrick/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo/Redferns, Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV
Dance music was resurgent in 2022, bringing an explosion of energy from underground names and top-line stars alike.
The dance/electronic genre runs wide and deep, encompassing a myriad of subgenres, artists, labels and fan cultures. By any definition, 2022 was a landmark year for the genre, as clubs and festivals returned more energized than ever and a wide spectrum of artists embraced dance music's spirit of collective release.
This year, Beyoncé and Drake turned to house music to inspire their respective albums, spotlighting several dance-music stars like Honey Dijon, Black Coffee, &ME and Rampa as collaborators. There was also a dizzying array of new music within the genre, including years-in-the-making albums from the likes of Flume and Bonobo and innumerable DJ sets loaded with unreleased tracks (or IDs, to EDM-heads).
The genre also thrived in the live sphere, with several dance festivals returning to their pre-pandemic status quo and many stars hitting the road for headline tours, including ODESZA and RÜFÜS DU SOL. In a genre that defies easy categorization, the outpouring of creativity was undeniable. Below, find eight trends that bubbled up in dance/electronic this year, setting the tone for 2023.
In a moment of cosmic alignment, two of music's biggest names found their 2022 muse in dance music. Beyoncé went all-in on house, disco and ballroom on her long awaited seventh studio album, which paid thrilling homage to dance music's Black and queer roots. In an all-star cast of collaborators, the singer found a kindred spirit in Chicago house veteran Honey Dijon, who brought her jacking energy to album cuts "Alien Superstar" and "Cozy."
Meanwhile, Drake's Honestly, Nevermind coasted breezy house and Baltimore club beats, with input from the likes of South African superstar Black Coffee, Keinemusik linchpins Rampa and &ME, and Gordo, the artist previously known as Carnage. Summer saw Drake take his own house pilgrimage, turning up at Black Coffee's Ibiza residency and a Keinemusik party in Saint-Tropez.
As the fog lifted on two years of pandemic life, the back-to-back albums — which both debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart — pushed house music back into mainstream discourse, and put a shine on lesser-known artists doing the work.
While the work is far from done, this year saw dance music more consciously acknowledge its Black and queer foundations. After exploring the theme with Beyoncé, Honey Dijon delivered Black Girl Magic, a joyous house album that celebrates Black queer identity.
It was also a big year for forward-thinking Black artists in the UK, who foregrounded their lived experiences on some of the year's standout releases. Shygirl's Nymph and TSHA's Capricorn Sun were both supremely confident debut albums, while jungle DJ Nia Archives and pop-dance producer PinkPantheress also enjoyed breakout years; the former via electrifying DJ sets and her Forbidden Feelingz EP, and PinkPantheress with a string of releases including "Where you are," featuring Willow.
Accepting the first-ever award for Best Electronic/Dance Act at London's MOBOs Awards, which honor "music of black origin," Nia Archives spoke to dance music's essence: "Jungle is music of Black origin and I'm proud to be flying the flag for my community and my scene."
Like other dance subgenres, techno remained predominantly white and male in 2022. To redress this imbalance, some in the industry are pushing for top DJs to insist on an inclusion or diversity clause in their contracts, stipulating that promoters book a diverse lineup.
Despite this reality, a cohort of women made a strong claim to techno stages in 2022. Belgian talent Amelie Lens had a triumphant year as a producer, label boss and hard-hitting DJ, while Italy's Anfisa Letyago was a breakout performer at festivals like Movement, Sónar and EXIT and French DJ Anetha took her Mama Told Ya label to new heights.
Following a star-making Boiler Room set in 2018, Palestinian DJ Sama' Abdulhadi made her Coachella debut this April. Three months later, bona-fide techno superstar Charlotte de Witte became the first woman and techno artist to close the Tomorrowland mainstage in her native Belgium. Meanwhile, at Berlin's techno temple Berghain, new residents Nene H and Sedef Adasï pushed against techno's strictures in long, wide-ranging sets.
UK club music is always firing, but 2022 took it up a level with new iterations on UK bass music. In a year that electronic maestro Four Tet won his streaming royalty dispute with Domino Records, several of the producer's peers dropped consequential releases.
In April, Welsh duo Overmono distilled their fast-paced take on techno, house, breaks and UK garage on the five-track Cash Romantic EP, including the summer anthem "Gunk." The EP slotted neatly into Four Tet's orbit alongside fast-paced UK-centric club music from the likes of Brainfeeder recruit Ross From Friends and Vienna-born, Manchester-based salute. And up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, festival headlining duo Bicep perfected their own genre-blurring sound.
Within this world — and arguably in dance music at large — no one blew up this year quite like Fred again… Respected as a producer for artists as diverse as Headie One and Ed Sheeran, Fred made his name as a solo artist during the pandemic with the first two volumes of his Actual Life album series, which set the template for his intimate night-stalking sound.
In 2022, the producer's Boiler Room London set went viral — 11 million views on YouTube and counting — with its loved-up rollercoaster of Fred again.. originals and bootlegs spanning house, drum & bass, trance and pop. With Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022) now out, Fred again.. is riding into 2023 as the UK producer to beat.
When Australian producer Fisher released "Losing It" in 2018, he had no idea what a phenomenon it would spark. Originally a secret weapon in the DJ's sets, "Losing It" became Beatport's top-selling track that year and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Recording. It also cemented the tech-house subgenre — which evolved from its UK-centric roots in the 1990s to become a dominant club sound across Europe — as a mainstream force in a post-EDM world.
That trend continued in 2022, powered in part by Fisher's still-growing popularity and breakout hits like James Hype and Miggy Dela Rosa's "Ferrari," released on Universal's Island Records.
After an ascendant 2021, Chicago-born DJ-producer John Summit dominated the year in tech-house, thanks to his prolific output and savvy use of social media. Together with friends like Chris Lake and Dom Dolla, Summit has muscled onto festival mainstages with a bumping, vocal-laced tech-house sound typified by his 2022 releases "La Danza," "In Chicago" and "Show Me." With a 2023 headline show locked at Colorado's famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre – a strived-for badge of honor for dance artists in the US – Summit is proving the big-ticket appeal of tech-house.
A decade on from the explosion of EDM in the U.S., a few of that era's key players made notable returns in 2022.
Back in 2012, big room house hitmakers Swedish House Mafia shocked fans with the announcement of a farewell tour that kicked off just after they delivered their compilation album Until Now, featuring anthems like "Don't You Worry Child" and "Save The World." But 10 years later, the trio of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello made their return with 2022's Paradise Again, which saw the trio evolve into a darker pop sound while still honoring past glories in their comeback shows.
EDM nostalgia also fueled the 2022 team-up from deadmau5 and Kaskade as kx5, whose debut single, "Escape," could've been the biggest progressive house hit of 2012. In a full-circle moment, the duo capped off the year with a headline show for 46,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the former home of EDM massive Electric Daisy Carnival. According to Billboard Boxscore, the concert was the biggest ticketed global dance event of 2022 for a headline artist.
Reaching further back, French electro-house trailblazers Justice marked the 15-year anniversary of their debut album, †, by sharing a previously unreleased demo version of its timeless single, "D.A.N.C.E." In dance music, even the recent past is ripe for reviving.
Just as TikTok helped to make and sustain pop hits in 2022, the addictive video-sharing app also played its part in dance music. While DJs flocked to TikTok to share tips, tricks, mash-ups, and videos from the booth, some of the genre's biggest successes were driven by the TikTok community.
Released in late 2021, Acraze's "Do It To It" became the definitive TikTok dance/electronic hit of the year. A chunky tech-house rework of girl group Cherish's 2006 single of the same name, the track went viral as a TikTok dance, featuring in over 3 million videos. Oliver Tree and Robin Schulz's aggressively catchy "Miss You" also blew up on the platform, powered by Tree's all-in persona. Meanwhile, Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal's garage-tinged house banger "B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)" hit No. 1 in the UK after going viral on TikTok, turning two club-focused producers into overnight stars.
Dance music is forever mining the past to inform the present, and this year was no different. Throughout 2022, a wide swathe of DJs and producers reached back to the sounds of '90s and early 2000s rave, Eurodance and hard dance to give their sets a jolt.
The trend was particularly notable in techno, which in recent years has become more open to trance and breakbeat influences. Proponents of this throwback sound include the German artists DJ Heartstring and Marlon Hoffstadt, while Dutch DJ KI/KI powers her sets with decades-old hard dance for a new generation.
At the more commercial end of the genre, DJ/producers David Guetta and MORTEN have reached back to the past to inform a sound they call "future rave," complete with the October launch of a dedicated Future Rave label.
Whether looking to the past or striving for the next big sound, the dance/electronic genre was undeniable in 2022, with more highs to come.
Catching Up With The Chainsmokers: Their Hopes For Another "Golden Age" Of Dance Music, A Latin Collab And Yes, Going To Space
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC
Photo: Steven Sebring
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing… [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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