Blonde: The YouTube Generation

A recent criticism of the internet is that it gives everyone a voice, for better or for worse. For music producers, this means that it’s not only much more accessible to find and hear music, it’s also much easier to get your music out there to willing listeners, with many artists on the come up these days bypassing the traditional routes to stardom.

One central hub of music lovers is YouTube, sites like UKF, Majestic and Boiler Room have captured the platform in such a way that they have incredible followings and are often responsible for breaking artists faster than that of the radio.

One of these YouTube channels is Eton Messy, who have turned their daily posting of songs they liked into headlining gigs – all because their audience trusted their taste. Bicep did exactly the same thing with their Blogspot years ago, and last year they close out Warehouse Project after Julio Bashmore. It’s an interesting turn of events and it’s only going to continue.

Blonde are a product of this generation, comprised of Eton Messy co-founder Adam Englefield and Jacob Manson, they’ve used the platform to their advantage to promote their tracks and having had championing support in the process from Radio 1 DJs  MistaJam, Annie Mac, Pete Tong and B Traits.

We caught up with the Bristolian duo to find out more.

Tell us how you met, and when?

Jake: Adam runs Eton Messy, which had been going for about a year or so when we started to work together. I’d just been producing music on my own in Leeds and my friend suggested that I sent one of my tracks in to a YouTube channel. I wasn’t really that familiar with what YouTube channels were at that point, but I sent the track over to Adam which thankfully he was into and it went onto the first Eton Messy compilation. We got talking on Facebook and I found out that Adam produced as well and he had a track that I really liked. He posted some stems asking if anyone could remix it and I was really keen, so I did a remix of the track and it went down really well. We were both really happy with how it sounded so we decided that we should collaborate on a project together.

At first it was just going to be the one track, but after we posted it online the response was so great that we decided to keep going. We still hadn’t met at this point but it transpired that bizarrely, Adam was living pretty close to my family home in Bristol. We got a house there together once I graduated and lived there for a year before moving to London.

So you guys make house music, are there any other genres that you’d ever like to dabble in or just love to listen to?

Adam: We’ve got a real cross-section of taste between us, we like anything and everything pretty much. We quite regularly make things that don’t quite fit with the Blonde project, and we’re quite keen to work on stuff for other people. So as long as it’s good vibes, we’re there.

What do you do when you’ve made something that doesn’t quite fit with Blonde?

Adam: At the moment they’re just sat in a little pile, because our focus right now is getting the Blonde album ready, but when the time is right we’ll probably show some of the songs to singers and see if they like them and want them for their projects, that would be fantastic.

Jake: Or just form a secret alias and start bringing out all this crazy diverse music. It has become more common these days for a singer to be produced by one act all the way through their project, so that could be a really interesting for these surplus little ideas.

Adam: We’ve worked with quite a few other artists already but obviously those tracks are going towards our own album.

How close are you to finishing that?

Jake: We’ve got the songs, but we just want to make it as good as possible, so we’re developing and refining it now. We’ve got a lot of house stuff on there but there’s a lot that’s a bit different as well.

Adam: We didn’t want to be straight down the line with the album, it’s great to have a whole album of House tracks if that’s what you want to do but we wanted to be a bit more diverse.

Jake: As much as we love House music it’s not what we listen to all the time, so the album also reflects more of our own, broader tastes.

Are there any new producers that have really caught your attention this year?

Jake: There’s a guy called Courage who’s releasing on Jakwob’s new label who seems really promising.

Adam: There’s quite a few upcoming vocalists that we’ve been working with on the album that have blown us away; Ryan Ashley is great, and there’s a guy called Kaleem Taylor who has an amazing vocal. It’s massively been a year for vocalists. There has been a period where we’ve had a lot of acts that – dare I say it – are a little bit similar vocally dominating the charts, but now there are so many coming through, like Kaleem for instance, who have such a unique vocal. They are really standing out.

What would you say has been the biggest success of this year in terms of artists and particular tracks or albums?

Jake: It’s quite interesting seeing the Walking with Elephants play out on Radio 1 because it doesn’t have a vocal and it’s such a unique and interesting track. I think it’s been quite a good year for breakout oddity dance music, like Tiga doing Bugatti and seeing massive success; nobody would have predicted it when they first heard that track because it’s really quite left-field, but it’s been absolutely everywhere. They must obviously be very universally relatable tracks, transcending the conventional boundaries of their respective genres. I remember hearing Walking with Elephants being used as the backing music for a lot of the highlights footage from the World Cup. After that it just exploded, and now Ten Walls has just done an Essential Mix.

Any albums?

Adam: Jungle’s debut, the FKA Twigs album is cool too

Jake: I’m still listening to the latest Drake album a lot. It is just really, really good.

We’re in an era where music is more accessible than ever, new artists pop up all the time, what do you think helped you guys connect?

Jake: I guess we’ve always been focused on getting out there and doing as many shows as we possibly can. It’s been really great getting to meet a lot of the people who connect with our music and we’ve always placed an emphasis on staying as approachable, genuine and upfront as possible well.

You gig a lot, don’t you?

Adam: Exactly, since the very beginning of the project. I think that’s important because it’s an interface between you and your audience. Unless you’re seen playing your tracks and tracks from people inside your scene the whole time then it can be easy to get lost in all the noise.

Jake: We’ve always been keen to support other artists that have been coming to prominence through the Eton Messy platform as well. They’re breaking a lot of new artists at the moment and we’ve had access to their music for our DJ sets which is really good.

What do you both think are the advantages of sharing music on YouTube, and not something like Soundcloud?

Adam: Soundcloud is perfect for when an artist has a profile and they want to promote their music, it’s important for that but then YouTube is more about tastemakers and other people promoting your music for you. People go to YouTube and don’t know what they’re looking for and stumble upon your stuff, whereas with Soundcloud you tend to know what you’re looking for when you go there; you’ll search for an artist and find their back-catalogue. With YouTube people will know what type of music platforms like Majestic or Eton Messy put out, so they’ll go to those channels to find new stuff.

Jake: Soundcloud works better with blog integration, which is vital given the importance of Hype Machine for upcoming artists. For music discovery, YouTube is still the better of the two.

To people that berate Soundcloud, Spotify and other platforms that give little to no financial return to the artist, what would you say to the naysayers? How can something that initially shows no benefit actually benefit financially long term to artists like you guys?

Adam: It’s quite easy to get stuck in the mud on stuff like that and say ‘that’s not right’ but you have to move with the times. Today technology dictates the way people listen to music and if people are going to be able to stream stuff you’d rather it be in a legitimate way. You just have to find different ways to monetise it.

Jake: It’s a platform for self-promotion, you can still make money if you are willing to work hard and play a lot of shows. People are paying more and more to go to shows and festivals and more money is being spent on the production to make electronic music events into more of an experience rather than just a DJ playing records in a room. As long as you’re willing to work hard in other areas, those platforms provide you with an excellent way of collating and interacting with your audience and giving back to them.

Where do you think online streaming will go from here? Do you think it benefits artists in the long run?

Adam: I think it’s only going to get more and more prevalent, but as we said before it can be maneuvered in a way where it can become more immediately beneficial. Then it’ll only be when people get stuck in the past and try fighting against it that it becomes an issue. One thing I would say is a lot of platforms are now changing how they work internally, so for instance I read somewhere that YouTube is going to start integrating content which is currently shown on their channels, into their own service which will allow them, essentially, to cut out the middle man and pay royalties straight to the artists.

Jake: I remember reading somewhere a while ago that the French government determined that something along the lines of 60% of the country’s web traffic was for the purpose of illegally downloading films and music. I think that they were considering taxing ISP’s, so that when you signed up for your web service, even if you weren’t downloading illegally, you’d pay a certain tax and then that would go into a fund, designated for the reimbursement of the most illegally downloaded artists. So they’d keep track of who was the most downloaded and pay royalties to those artists. It’s a really interesting approach and if equitable, could provide somewhat of a solution.

Adam: It’s such a hot topic I guess because nothing has properly been resolved yet, the industry is in a middle-ground where they’re still desperately trying to make the old model work and we haven’t had that ground-breaking step to a new system yet.

What’s next for Blonde? Tell us about your new release and upcoming tour.

Jake: We’ve got a whole load of singles and bootlegs that we’ll be releasing soon. There’s the Eton Messy tour which we’re residents for so that will be awesome, very exciting, we get to go on the road with a lot of artists we love and who we’re friends with. We’ve just launched Highlights, our new mixtape series. The idea was to compose a podcast which we could use to give exposure to other artists that we want to support. It will also allow people to hear a lot more of our musical tastes because the sets that we play are quite diverse. The mix would give us the ability to showcase the music that we’re really feeling that month; it’ll be the highlights of what we’re into. We’re also finishing off the album and working with a lot of different vocalists in the studio.

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