Since its founding in 1991, the BRIT School has quickly become London’s answer to Juilliard (it’s also the kind of public-private partnership I wish we had more of in the United States, but I’ll leave that to other blogs). The BRIT School has schooled a Who’s Who of UK pop stars, including Adele, Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap, and Leona Lewis. Two more alumni are poised for big things, thanks to symbiotic relationships with electronic music producers.
Fans of UK funky and dubstep are already familiar with Katy B. The 21-year-old chanteuse has appeared on tracks by Geeneus (“As I”) and Magnetic Man (“Perfect Stranger,” “Crossover”). Her hook singing has given a soulful edge to genres known more for their beats than their songwriting. Case in point: she flipped Benga‘s surging “Man on a Mission” into “Katy on a Mission,” a grooving dubstep sing-along. (The Roska remix gets funky, as he is wont to do).
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On a Mission, her debut album, will be released on April 4 on Rinse and Columbia Records. Avoiding the mistakes of artists before her, the album is loaded with her early hits: just because the blogosphere and the club have heard these songs for a year doesn’t mean the public at large has. Lead single “Lights On” features Ms. Dynamite and is pure UK funky. “Broken Record” is the most mainstream dance track Katy B has released (although her British pronunciation of “record” could prevent this one from breaking through).
While the UK has no shortage of female singer-songwriters (Katy B included), the last decade has also produced a handful of male soul singers, like Jamie Lidell and Jay Sean. To confuse matters, the next in that lineage is another Jamie.
Musical success runs deep in Jamie Woon‘s pedigree. He comes from a long line of professional musicians which includes his mother, Celtic folk singer Mae McKenna. But even with his family and his school, his greatest marker for success might be his connection to dubstep pioneer Burial.
Woon’s 2007 single “Wayfaring Stranger” was practically a cappella, with a minimalism that would make James Blake blush. On the remix, Burial added his signature clacking percussion and submersed bass. The pairing of Woon’s soulful vocals and Burial’s downtempo grooves was a natural fit and led to their next team-up, last year’s break-out single “Night Air.”
The next single off Woon’s debut album Mirrorwriting (out a week after Katy B’s offering, on April 11) is pure rhythm and bass, recalling Babyface productions as much as Timbaland ones. “Blue Truth” takes that formula and inflects it with dubstep. The song isn’t on the album, but Woon offered it as a free download.
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Not all graduates of the BRIT School strike gold, regardless of talent. Usually it takes an equally talented producer to put them over the edge: every Winehouse needs her Ronson. Luckily, Katy B and Jamie Woon both have superb patrons behind the boards.