Thursday, July 28, 2011

WU LYF And Marketing A Band The Hip(ster) Way

Aspiring indie musicians, take note. If there was ever a sign that the Internet was integral to pushing your band, to promoting yourself and your music online, look no further then WU LYF to see a shining example of how it can be done. You see, WU LYF isn’t just a band, they’re a “brand”. And they’ve marketed their brand very, very well. How did they do it? “And how good can they really be,” you might ask, “since I have never heard of them?” It’s that unknown quantity, that mystery, that is integral to their success so far.

WU LYF, or World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation, are a British indie/experimental rock group who describe themselves as a “heavy pop” band with a quasi-radical/anarchistic aesthetic. That’s about as much as we can gather from our detective work. But, it’s that mystery, that mistique that is what brings the band their most attention. They’ve been around since at least 2010, letting songs trickle out every couple of months. With a historical aversion to shows and the rock press, the band notably “didn’t really do” live performances up until this year as they tour around the UK in support of their debut record Go Tell Fire To The Mountain which came out in mid-June to pretty positive reviews.

So what’s so special about a bunch of young hipsters that know their way around photoshop, have destructive youthful idealism and an anti-social attitude? All of that, actually, and they’re marketed well. Their manager, previously known only as “war god” was eventually revealed to be Warren Bramley, founder and manager of ad agency four23. The agency is known for unique, artistically-inclined campaigns for high profile clients like Oakley, Reebok and Virgin, as well as projects involving “[creating] visual identites”. Creepy. But they must be good at their job. Despite only maintaining a web presence and offering only one piece of merch”a £50 copy of their demo recordings”the group had already racked up write ups in major publications like The Guardian and NME. In fact, the most notable thing about the group, up until their record came out, was the fact that they get so much press coverage. It’s all very ironic, reflexive and meta and people have gobbled it up.

Band marketing has had a long, rich history in rock and roll. Though the purist rock fan will always cry foul over the manufactured and the ingenuine, image has always been a major factor in one’s appeal, “real” or not. In fact, the way many famous acts in rock and roll have gotten their starts as less than organic creations. Rock group Supertramp was originally assembled by the acquaintance/patron of a Dutch millionaire benefactor and The Monkees were assembled for the TV program of the same name in the 1960s. But a better example of a group with such a meticulously constructed image comes from the punk era late ’70s.

The Sex Pistols are regarded today as one of the most important punk bands in the history of rock music. However, the band didn’t truly get their start as a group until they came under the wing of local business owner Malcolm McLaren. The proprietor of local clothing shop SEX, McLaren had some experience in the punk scene already, having previously met the New York Dolls. So the group, soon after meeting McLaren, added another member to their ranks: Johnny Lydon. The man who would soon front the band and be rechristened Johnny Rotten was picked not because of his musical ability. Lydon first came to the attention of McLaren when he was spotted walking in Manchester sporting green hair and wearing a Pink Floyd shirt”a shirt which had the words “I Hate” added to the top and featured a face on the from which had the eyes crossed out. Another future member added to the band, John Simon Richie aka Sid Vicious, was also recruited due to his look and punk presence. McLaren himself later stated that had he met Vicious before Johnny Rotten, it would be Vicious fronting the band.

So let’s look at the similarities. The Sex Pistols were a London, UK-based rock group, which began as an underground sensation with a heavy following in the art/avant-garde community, and were groomed by a close business associate into becoming a group that everyone talked about and proved to be one of the most enduring acts of their era thanks in large part to their image and approach to being a band. WU LYF is a Manchester-based rock group made up of an enigmatic set of members which started out as an underground (as underground as a blog following can be these days) with a heavy following in the art/avant-grade community, which have been groomed by a close business associate, and have thus far generated a lot of buzz. Am I saying that WU LYF is the next Sex Pistols? Absolutely not. But they have as good a shot as any other act out these days.

Many groups espouse this kind of self-promotion these days; keep your online fan base satisfied but guessing with your output, maintain an intentionally mysterious and unknowable image and let the press promote you themselves with think pieces on what your group “really means” in terms of the big picture. Now, does this hype correspond to record sales? Well, not exactly. The band’s debut cracked the Top 100 in their first week’s sales – in the UK, mind you – and that’s been about it. They’re just starting out in their careers.

In terms of making a name for yourself, the old approach of tirelessly working and putting yourself out across as many types of social media still reaps the biggest rewards. But at least to generate buzz among a certain audience, WU LYF is doing a pretty good job of it.