This article first appeared in The Cherwell on 27 May 2016.
Inform – Educate – Entertain. This was the title of London-based archive-funk duo Public Service Broadcasting’s debut album, and it also serves as a kind of mission statement.
The band’s main gimmick is the use of archive clips and famous quotations to form the lyrical content of their pieces, along with live instruments to create a kind of anachronistic EDM/funk sound. It’s a listening experience best equated to simultaneously listening to both Radio 4 and 6 Music, while watching a history documentary. It’s the sort of thing which ought to suffer from the classic problem of being more interesting to read about than to listen to, but the band make it work through the sheer cleverness and skill of their compositions.
But these indie darlings also embody a number of recent trends in the mainstream pop scene, and shows where they might lead – as they put it themselves, they bring “the lessons of the past through the music of the future.” Public Service Broadcasting dispense with singers entirely, instead sampling their songs’ entire vocal content. Singers are by no means gone from the mainstream pop space, but producers are gaining serious ground as stars in their own right. Hell, even for traditional ‘pop stars’ the producer is increasingly visible and important – Justin Bieber’s recent comeback owed far more to Skrillex than it did to Bieber himself. Vocals are becoming just one production aspect among many, and PSB present a pure expression of that sentiment. In the age of streaming and singles, album sales are at an all-time low. The Long Playing record is history. So why not take advantage of that? PSB are not exactly a pop act – number 21 on the album charts is the closest they’ve got – but they represent the best instincts of pop music as it stands today, and for that they deserve to stick to stick around.