BBC RADIO 1 FUTURE FESTIVAL, Maida Vale Studios – Evening Standard, 14 Jan 2015

The class of 2015 gathered in the BBC’s venerable Maida Vale Studios to present the hit songs of the next 12 months, in an annual exercise broadcast live by Radio 1 that invariably proves prescient. After performing here this time last year, Sam Smith, George Ezra and Royal Blood all made number one albums, so it was worth 120 ballot winners paying attention to the latest anointed ones.

As at school, the new children seem younger every year. Years & Years, winners of the BBC’s influential Sound of 2015 poll, looked particularly bud-like as they opened proceedings. Olly Alexander’s high, honeyed voice, and the band’s summery synths and carnival beats, had clear mainstream appeal, especially on their new single King.

The structure of the evening was likened by DJ Annie Mac to musical speed dating: three songs each from five acts, with a sixth, James Bay, performing four songs last, perhaps in recognition of his already swollen status. The Hitchin singer-songwriter has followed Adele and Emeli Sande to win the BRITs Critics’ Choice award and has two nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire already booked. His old-fashioned fare, a lightly toasted voice sounding heartbroken over plucked guitar, was the least inventive but the emotion on display was overpowering.

Those looking to pinpoint a sonic trend for the year ahead will have been thwarted, though perhaps Ed Sheeran has sparked a rise in one-man bands. Both Shura and Jack Garratt worked marvels with lone button pushing, the former sounding uniformly pretty while the latter roamed all over the place – one minute a gruff bluesman, the next a light-fingered electronica wizz.

Also were in the mix were Coasts, an indie band with dance tendencies and a couple of gigantic choruses ready for mass participation, and finally Stormzy. The Croydon rapper has the hopes of the entire grime scene on his broad shoulders and has won a Mobo Award before winning a record deal. He rhymed with gripping aggression and also showed surprising sensitivity on Stay With Me. Like the others here, he was worth watching not only this evening but for the rest of 2015.

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