Advertisement

Brit Beat: Jungle Gets a Boost at BRIT Awards, With Plans for International Expansion

This year’s BRIT Awards was an unusual affair.

Billed as the U.K. music industry’s biggest night, it was bookended by superstars, kicking off with a fierce Dua Lipa performance and ending with a joyous Kylie Minogue greatest hits medley to celebrate her Global Icon award. But, in between, the night was dominated by lesser-known names who rarely get to pick up awards, let alone command prime-time Saturday night TV slots.

More from Variety

Raye was the most obvious beneficiary, picking up a record-breaking six awards (albeit from a much-expanded lineup of categories). But while she dominated many of the headlines coming out of the ceremony, electronic act Jungle also made waves in their own way.

The band, founded by Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland in 2013, picked up its first-ever BRIT, for Group of the Year, and also performed its viral TikTok hit, “Back on 74”, on the ITV1 live broadcast.

“When they got the nod, it was a brilliant feeling,” enthuses the band’s manager, Sam Denniston, founder of Verdigris Management. “It felt like we were being recognized for a decade’s work, just doing our own thing in the background. Finally, we’re getting the mainstream recognition that the band deserves.”

Denniston says the band has seen a streaming BRITs bounce from the awards, which had an average of 2.5 million live viewers, down around 800,000 on last year’s ceremony.

Denniston tells Variety that Jungle’s performance, which has been viewed over 800,000 times on YouTube, came about after intense negotiations with BRITs organizers by himself and the band’s TV plugger, Karen Williams of Big Sister Promotions.

“They’re not the obvious choice,” he admits. “But it was a really good decision to give a band like Jungle the chance to go on mainstream television and prove that they can hold themselves amongst the Dua Lipas and the Calvin Harrises. Their performance was different to everyone else’s, but of equal quality; it was a bold move from the BRITs, but I’m really glad they took a bit of a punt and we delivered a fantastic performance.”

In fact, the band has a strong track record of drawing TV audiences to its Glastonbury Festival gigs, but Denniston and Williams are now targeting mainstream chat shows for future TV slots as the campaign continues for the band’s fourth album, “Volcano,” which hit No.3 in the U.K. when released via AWAL in August 2023.

Denniston praises AWAL for backing the band’s ambitious campaign (“There’s a high cost involved in doing the BRITs, but it was a five-minute conversation with the MD who said, ‘Tell us what you need and we’ll get it done’”). The group got another boost with the use of “Back on 74” in a major Gap advert starring Tyla and directed by Lloyd-Watson and Charlie Di Placido, who helm the band’s eye-catching, expertly choreographed, one-take videos. Earlier in the campaign, the band partnered with WeTransfer on the album’s accompanying visuals.

“Getting the call [from Gap] was a surprise and it wasn’t a surprise if that makes sense,” laughs Denniston. “It’s an amazing thing that’s come about, but they’ve always thought that their music videos would fit so well in the brand world.”

The band also has an extensive touring schedule, with a first-ever headline slot at London’s O2 Arena booked for September 12. “That wasn’t initially planned, but the demand we’re seeing gave us the confidence to push the band up to that level,” says Denniston. Beyond that, Jungle has a slot at this year’s Coachella festival, with further U.S. touring to be announced.

Denniston is also contemplating a cautious expansion of his Verdigris Management setup, which also looks after the likes of Hot Chip and Priya Ragu, but says he would “rather do less and do it incredibly well, than take on tons of clients and not be able to deliver to the level that we are with Jungle, Hot Chip and the rest of the artists on the roster”.

His ambitions for Jungle, however, are sky-high.

“The BRITs are definitely a step on the ladder to them becoming a Glastonbury headliner and a proper household name,” he declares. “When we come back on the fifth record, I’d like them to be an established festival headliner and one of the top touring artists in the world. And I really don’t think that we’re that far off it.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

At the BRITs, Raye called for a debate around songwriters being given points on master recordings—and now one of her fellow singer-songwriters has answered the call.

Scottish star Nina Nesbitt, who has enjoyed three Top 40 albums in the U.K. with indie label Cooking Vinyl, has partnered with her longtime manager Vicky Dowdall of VDM Music to launch a joint-venture label, Apple Tree Records, for Nesbitt’s future releases.

And Nesbitt, who also hopes to sign new artists to the label, says songwriters will be offered masters points on all Apple Tree releases.

“For the past year, I’ve been writing for other people and it feels like such an unsustainable career at the moment unless you’re having a huge hit,” Nesbitt tells Variety. “Giving points is just the beginning, but it’s the fair thing to do.”

Nesbitt points out the anomaly where labels will “pay a stylist, a make-up artist, a mixer, a producer and a master engineer” while songwriters have to cover their own expenses for sessions, and only stand to get paid if a song is actually released and becomes successful.

“You hear so many [labels] saying, ‘Oh, the song’s the most important thing’,” she says. “So why is the songwriter forgotten about then?”

Writers will receive their points from the label side on Apple Tree releases, meaning artists don’t miss out, and Nesbitt says it’s indicative of how taking control of her own career allows her and Dowdall to make bold decisions.

“I had a really positive experience with Cooking Vinyl, but the music industry has changed a lot in the past few years,” Nesbitt says. “I was weighing up options and thinking, what could a record label really bring to the table for us in 2024? Vicky and I have worked together for so long, we’ve seen what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, and we just felt this would be the best and most exciting option.”

The move will mean them spending even more time together but, as Dowdall notes, the pair have formed an unbreakable alliance ever since Nesbitt moved in with her manager when the artist was still a teenager (“Nina couldn’t cook or do her washing, but we bonded really quickly,” laughs Dowdall).

“What the label does and what the manager does is all entangled now anyway,” Dowdall tells Variety. “You have to be so proactive now. This cements our relationship, we really are in this together. It gives us so much motivation to know it’s our label, it’s both of our babies. We’re going to make it as successful as we can, and be properly compensated for it; it’s a win-win.”

Nesbitt has just dropped two new tracks, “Pages” and “On the Run”, which showcase a return to her early folk roots (the label name is a nod to her folky 2012 release, “The Apple Tree EP”).

The as-yet-untitled album, distributed worldwide by FUGA, will follow in late summer, with Nesbitt citing Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” album as an influence (Swift endorsed Nesbitt’s music back in 2019), “but there’s definitely another side to it that people won’t expect”.

Nesbitt has earned a cult following in America, and Dowdall says the singer will be spending plenty of time Stateside in the coming year in order “to grow her audience globally”. Nesbitt also enjoyed viral success on TikTok during the pandemic with a succession of hilarious videos, but says she will be spending less time on the platform during this campaign. “TikTok is such a different place to how it was in lockdown,” Nesbitt says. “Then, it was all just funny videos making people have a laugh. But now I actually seriously care about this album, so the jingles have had their moment. It was fun during lockdown, but I’m taking a different direction.

“The most important thing for any artist is having a fanbase that cares, because viral songs come and go and it doesn’t always connect you to the artist,” she adds. “What’s going to give you longevity is having that fanbase and community of people that care—that’s my top priority.”

Dowdall, who also manages Cody Frost and Olivia Sebastianelli and co-manages Ella Henderson alongside Crown Talent, is optimistic that the new setup can help Nesbitt eclipse her previous achievements.

“We’re so ambitious and I love Nina’s drive, we’re like two peas in a pod when it comes to that,” says Dowdall. “We want it to be bigger than ever before.”

+++++++++++++

One independent U.K. company that’s going places is NQ, a record label, music publisher and management powerhouse based in Manchester, in the north of England.

Last month, NQ signed a partnership deal with Columbia Records U.K., while NQ’s recorded music roster will now be distributed and supported globally by Sony’s The Orchard (it was previously partnered with Universal’s Virgin).

NQ founder/CEO Michael Adex tells Variety that his company remains “100% independent” after the deal, which developed after Sony U.K. Chairman/CEO Jason Iley initially approached renowned talent-spotter Adex to consult for the major.

“There’s a big difference between working with a major corporation like Sony, and working for [them],” Adex says. “Columbia and The Orchard have different remits, so it’s an open conversation in respect of who we’re signing, when we’re signing them and who we’re signing them through. They’re all Sony-owned businesses which makes things easier and there’s an understanding from the higher-ups as to how we want to do certain things, and we have the autonomy to do it.”

Adex says NQ is already “gaining a lot of insight” from working with Sony and believes the partnership will help the indie company “get to the next level”.

“Being able to have more resources will help us really make a stamp not just nationally, but also further afield as well, which has always been part of our plans,” he says. “It will help us break some artists internationally as well.”

Case in point: NQ’s biggest star, BRIT Award-winning rapper Aitch, who has scored nine U.K. Top 10 singles and three Top 10 albums thus far, but has yet to make a major breakthrough Stateside. He was most recently released through Capitol U.K., but has now signed an exclusive recording partnership with NQ, powered by The Orchard. Adex expects the star to release new music later this year.

“He’s seen himself what we’re able to do from an independent standpoint, but with the [new] partnership we have it’s independent, but major at the same time,” says Adex. “Having broken it down and given him the options, everyone could see that this is the best thing for him at the stage he’s at.”

In the meantime, Adex says NQ will help Columbia, led by President Dipesh Parmar and MD Amy Wheatley, tap into the vast reserves of talent found outside London, but too often missed by the mainstream music industry.

“Because we’re on the ground and we have a lot of artist relationships, we’re able to give [Columbia] an ‘in’ where otherwise they might not have one,” says Adex. “There’s a lot more people that are coming up north for events and discovering talent; it’s always been there but now people are being a lot more proactive.”

Indeed, EMI Records recently set up an offshoot label EMI North in Leeds, while Geffen Records launched dance music label Disorder Records, which has partnered with Manchester’s The Warehouse Project on WHP Records. But Adex says he’s not bothered by the majors suddenly waking up to northern potential.

“I’m not worried at all,” he laughs. “I’m muscling in on their turf as well, so it’s all good! Our number-one mission is to be one of the biggest UK companies from an entertainment perspective.”

+++++++++++++++

Finally, some good news for the U.K.’s beleaguered live scene: The O2 Academy Brixton will finally re-open in April.

The storied South London venue has been shut since December 2022, following a fatal crush at a gig by Afrobeats star Asake. Two people died in the tragic incident.

The Academy was eventually cleared to re-open in September last year, as long as 77 “extensive and robust new conditions” were met, and will now make its first steps back in April with two low-key tribute band shows; Nirvana U.K. and The Smyths on April 19, and Definitely Mightbe and U.K. Foo Fighters on April 26.

More conventional Brixton headliners Editors and The Black Keys are also booked in for shows at the 5,000-capacity venue in May, with Variety sources suggesting plenty of other big names are penciled in for later in the year.

The plan was welcomed by Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill, who hailed it as “a significant moment not only for the venue itself but for the entire live music industry.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.