Best of 2014: Lorde, SBTRKT and curation in 2014

DIY looks to soundtracks and events in seeing big artists give platforms to smaller names.

Curation shows up in many exciting forms, none more so than in 2014, where split releases seemed more prominent than ever, the same for unique events, mini-festivals and big releases.

Whether it’s a slight leg up or an outright endorsement, new artists have been given backing by celebrated names through several curious means, this year.

The most obvious form comes in inviting a slew of special guests to bring a record to life. Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT is arguably the most prominent figure in doing exactly this. He says it’s out of necessity, the fact that unlike a peer such as Hudson Mohawke, he needs a collaborator to take certain songs to another level. Second album ‘Wonder Where We Land’ is proof of that. He invites teen Raury into the spotlight (even bringing the Atlantan on the record’s first tour), providing Denai Moore with her biggest moment to date with the melancholy of ‘The Light’. Most notably, he sticks with Sampha, whose voice practically defines the SBTRKT sound by this point. In between a self-titled debut in 2011 and today, his vocals become more iconic, lending itself to Drake’s ‘Too Much’, the Londoner’s first full-length still in waiting.

‘Wonder Where We Land’’s significance comes in how Jerome’s stuck to his guns, at the risk of running into a double-edged sword. A big jump might be required to ever produce without Sampha in the mix, but for the time being he’s maintained the distinctive character of his early work, while offering a hand to interesting new faces too. SBTRKT attempts to put these names into different situations. Raury provides a fresh slant to his rapping delivery, Chairlift’s Caroline Polacheck bends vocals into strange places, and Ezra Koenig becomes an unlikely dance star with ‘NEW DORP. NEW YORK’. Admittedly, Sampha, Koenig, Polachek and Koreless all stem from the same family: the labels XL and Young Turks. But contacts being contacts, it remains a record that brings something new, not just in characters but also in delivery. The same applies to that breakthrough debut, putting Jessie Ware and Little Dragon on the map.

Lorde, SBTRKT and curation in 2014

Aaron Jerome’s stuck to his guns, at the risk of running into a double-edged sword.

In 2013, Disclosure played a similar card. Debut ‘Settle’ surprisingly missed out on last year’s Mercury Prize - it would have been a simple choice, given its bright cast of new British talent. Sam Smith cropped up before global stardom, London Grammar appearing just before they took off. It even acted as a boost for familiar names Eliza Doolittle and Jamie Woon, the latter emerging from obscurity before promptly diving back into the fog. There’s no doubt that this running thread of guest spots acts as an A&R’s wet dream, but it’ll be interesting to see whether, like SBTRKT, the feat’s repeated. Disclosure are a far bigger deal, their worldwide success outweighing the need to back British talent to the skies for a second time. Touring to the limit, their only 2014 output’s been a Pharrell ft. Jay-Z rework and an executive production role on Mary J. Blige’s ‘London Sessions’ - they’ve hit the big time, and there’s every chance that brothers Lawrence could turn their back on the curation role that defined their debut.

The term “curator” has been banded about more prominently than usual in the past couple of months. That’s been down to Lorde, and her role in ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’’s soundtrack. Despite just the lead song, the New Zealander’s own ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’, being included in the actual film, page space has been afforded to the tracklist like few other releases this year. A good part of this is down to Ella Yelich-O’Connor herself, an 18-year-old whose 2014 has been defined by superstardom (and the not to be-forgotten role of fronting Nirvana). Everything Lorde touches turns to gold, and with that she’s used this role to avoid the predictable. Eleven of the fourteen songs on ‘Mockingjay…’ feature female vocalists. In one incidence, Charli XCX claims that her collaboration with Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon was insisted upon by the curator, her vision being paramount. Again, Raury crops up as a previous unknown, with Bat For Lashes covering one of Lorde’s personal favourites, Son Lux, and complete newcomer XOV contributing a track. The idea of cramming countless names into big soundtracks is nothing new, but it’s rare - if not unheard of - to see this platform used to create something genuinely significant.

Lorde, SBTRKT and curation in 2014

Lorde has brilliantly avoided the obvious, sticking wholeheartedly to her beliefs.

Photo via Zimbio.

And in the live arena, Lorde’s ability to curate cropped up in more subtle ways. She invited cult concern Majical Cloudz to join her most high-profile North American tour to date, Devon Welsh’s brutally emotional performance pop being beamed to thousands every night. His documentation of the tour remains fascinating, showing an awareness that a risk’s been taken to invite him on the road. “How did this happen?” he asked in November. “We were never booed or heckled (although if we had been I would have understood).” Most interestingly, Welsh puts the responses down to the “the curiosity and open-mindedness of Lorde’s audiences”. With her huge platform, O’Connor has brilliantly avoided the obvious, sticking wholeheartedly to her beliefs.

Allowing lesser-known names to ride the coattails of success is nothing new, but it’s rare that artists this high-profile will use their prominence to such devastating - and positive - effect. Kanye West’s production list always reads like a who’s who of exciting producers, a private club of names for the future. But that’s traditionally a niche concern, fans geeking out over the minds behind some of the most talked-about songs. In 2014, Lorde put these people into the actual spotlight, standing side by side.

SBTRKT and Lorde feature in The List, DIY’s year in music. Follow the top 100 here.

Get your copy of the latest issue

More like this