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Guest web_norah

Future sound of NYC (Guardian UK)

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Guest web_norah


Every once in a while, New York changes the kind of music we listen to. Now, with the city reinventing itself musically once again, Alexis Petridis scours the clubs, streets and studios for the next big thing in rock & pop

New York's finest: The Velvet Underground (top) and The Boggs

It's 10pm, a Wednesday night, and the Raven on New York's Avenue A is virtually deserted. Perhaps this is because of the freezing rain lashing against the venue's front window. The less charitable observer, however, might suggest that the place is empty because of the music. The Raven is playing host to something known as an anti-folk open mic night. Anti-folk, a DIY acoustic punk movement based on the Lower East Side, has been hotly tipped by the British music press ever since the Strokes chose its leading lights, the Moldy Peaches, as support on their first UK tour. Tonight the Moldy Peaches are nowhere to be seen.

Instead, the small audience is being wowed by something the MC describes as "the a capella stylings of Nelly". Nelly is a startled-looking woman in a business suit who nervously takes the microphone and begins scatting. Then she starts swearing. After some time, it becomes apparent that this is her entire act: she is Cleo Laine with Tourette's. "Sho-be-do, sho-be-do-be-do-be-do," she sings. " Fuck off! Don't fucking patronise me! Do-be-do-do-do, sho-be-do-do-do." With no end to her performance in sight, the freezing rain begins to look inviting. I head glumly for the door.

This is not the best start to my musical mystery tour of New York. I have come here to search for new bands and scenes, and to work out why the world finds the music generated here so appealing. After a decade of being musically eclipsed - by Seattle, London, even Paris - New York has moved back into the international spotlight, resuming its rightful position as the place where bands break new ground and genres are born that change the face of music for ever.

Whatever the rest of America is listening to, New York traditionally comes up with the exact opposite. If it hasn't set the agenda, it doesn't seem terribly interested: the legendary cocky New York attitude in musical form. In the late 1960s, when San Francisco was lying back and enjoying the beatific strains of psychedelia, New York threw up the Velvet Underground, whom no one was ever going to mistake for hippies: black-clad, amphetamine-driven, dissonant, arty, fond of songs about sado-masochism and smack. When DJs were still human jukeboxes, Manhattan's gay clubs produced Francis Grasso, Nicky Siano and Larry Levan, who refused to take requests, mixed records together, developed their own personality cults and invented the notion of the modern DJ.

In the mid-1970s, America cosseted itself in the acoustic guitars and homespun philosophising of singer-songwriters or celebrated hard rock's strutting, soloing machismo. New York, however, was about to give birth to punk and disco - wildly different forms that shared an opposition to every prevalent trend. By the time the rest of America had caught up, New York had moved on again, to hip-hop, forged in the housing projects of the Bronx.

Now reliable sources contend that things are again stirring in New York, that the city's rehearsal rooms are quivering with innovative spirit. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' spidery garage rock has sparked a record-company bidding war. So have the Rapture, who offer a curious hybrid of punk, funk and house music. Thus far, however, I have discovered only the a capella stylings of Nelly.

Evidently, I am looking in the wrong place. Craig Marks, editor of New York-based rock magazine Blender, suggests I try Brooklyn. "Music scenes in New York tend to coalesce around certain neighbourhoods because of rents or location to subways or whatever," he says, pointing out that a lot of musicians have moved out of Manhattan in search of cheap apartments and rehearsal spaces.

The next day, I take the L-train to Williamsburg, currently Brooklyn's hippest musical spot, and a meeting with songwriter, musician and promoter Larry Tee. "I don't think the new music scene is really about New York - it's about Brooklyn," he says in the vast loft that serves as his home and the headquarters of his record label, Mogul Electro. "New bands like the Liars, the Rapture, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs all live around here. Artists have moved here from Manhattan because they have space to be able to practise. There's a community here that supports each other. They go out to loft parties. There are so many good scenes."

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