As I wandered between one San Sebastian pintxos bar and the next, only to notice a strange dampness down one side of my trousers despite, for the first time in many years, maintaining complete control of my bladder for the duration of a night out, I began to wonder just how sophisticated indie publicity campaigns were having to get in 2021. Since I – currently ranked the 312,437th most influential person under 60 by Forbes, but top five in Ridiculously Busy Bastards magazine – had scrolled straight past all the PR emails about the Isle Of Wight’s art-indie duo Wet Leg, ignored the monsoon of social media posts extolling their brilliance and stuck my fingers in my ears going ‘la-la-la’ every time any of my friends or colleagues mentioned them to me, had their label actually sent someone to Spain’s Basque region to stalk me on holiday with a concealed hose system and give me an actual wet leg? Subliminal marketing at its most sinister?
Turns out Wet Leg are brilliant, shaming me further than I should always try to Be More Elton. “I’m always on the lookout for new things,” he told NME for last week’s Big Read. “I’ve never lost the desire to hear new music.” His new album ‘The Lockdown Sessions’ finds him collaborating with the likes of Lil Nas X, Rina Sawayama and Young Thug, while his favourite band of the hour, he claimed, are Yard Act. “He [singer James Smith] mixes hip-hop and talking with electronic music, and it’s a different ballgame…I can’t do it but I love it and I wonder how they do it.”
Elt puts his exposure to new sounds down to his Beats 1 radio show Rocket Hour introducing him “to a whole ballgame of new artists – music that I wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have heard because Apple send me a lot of stuff… I also scan the websites of the NME and places like that to find records that I wouldn’t have heard.” Even back in the ‘90s Elton was famed for his dedication to new music, the sequin-trousered Steve Lamacq.
Each week, he’d reportedly have two copies of every CD released delivered to him, to distribute between homes. It’s a selfless practice that throws up the brilliant certainty that Elton John once sat through hours upon hours of Sunn O))) records designed to make him shit his Louis XVI breeches, but one which no doubt didn’t survive ‘Permission To Land’ by The Darkness.
In the current landscape of music releasing – akin to standing in a ceaseless torrent of raw sewage from a water company’s outflow pipe, trying to catch a glass of clean drinking water – such comprehensive consumption would be impossible for Elton to maintain of course. Having put it on on release day, for instance, ‘DONDA’ would only now be finishing. But that, at 74, Reg is still steadfastly determined to hunt out new music and shout it from the digital rooftops should be inspiration to us all to defy the algorithmic flow once in a while, click on a random name and go off-piste, swim up-stream a way. That’s where you find the stuff no-one’s marketing very hard at you, the things that will help you mould individual tastes: your Drug Store Romeos, Billy Nomates, Yard Acts and Wet Legs. Any of which might quite possibly turn out to be your new favourite band.
If only more A-listers followed Elton’s lead. Hip-hop operates a loosely defined mentor system, whereby it’s customary to pack your album with verses from upcoming names and rising hopefuls – a bit like a work experience placement where you spend all week re-organising the gunshot noises before they let you have a crack at the actual job in question. In rock and pop, however, you’re more likely to find your major stars backslapping with their peers and heroes to maximise dwindling sales, wrangling with ex-bandmates on Twitter, voting to reduce new bands’ abilities to tour Europe or wanging on about vaccine passports rather than supporting publicity-starved grassroots talent. Pay it forward? These guys are too busy squirrelling it offshore.
Like David Bowie, then – famed fan of and collaborator with cutting edge avant garde artistes, new romantics, disco gods, drum’n’bass lynchpins, Pixies and Placebo, in his time – Elton is a rare treasure, living proof that the fires of fresh sonic discovery need not go out. That the slide into trad tedium isn’t inevitable. That you can rock, punk, grime and – if the mood takes you – shantywave against the dying of the light. From here on I for one, each time that familiar sogginess sinks into my shoes, will remind myself to open the email, click on the link, Be More Elton…