Local sounds, global impact

Photo of four band members standing in a busy street in China

Ladytron in China © Mark McNulty

Global record industry and mass media activities have an impact on local musical sounds, but local sounds can in turn achieve global impact.

Many music-makers - whether musicians, songwriters, producers or music entrepreneurs - have become internationally known because the recordings they worked on achieved chart success in different parts of the world. The 16th edition of British Hit Singles (2003, Guinness World Records) awarded Liverpool the title 'World Capital of Pop' because the city had produced more number 1 hit singles than any other city in the world. However, whilst many Liverpool and Merseyside musicians have hit the top of the UK pop and rock charts, there are also those who have hit the top of the charts in other countries whilst remaining relatively unknown in Liverpool and the UK.

In 1977, for example, the pop band Buster from the Wirral sold out Tokyo's Budokan venue twice on Christmas Day - a venue made famous by the Beatles 10 years earlier. The band's arrival in Japan made the 10 O'Clock News. Their five albums were huge successes in Japan (as well as Germany, Australia and the Philippines, where Imelda Marcos invited them to perform). With their live album going gold and several hit singles in five years they were top of the charts ('Liverpool Daily Post', 30 January 2008). Yet the 1970s is commonly described as a time when nothing much happened in terms of Merseyside music.

This shows how international success can be selective and often unpredictable. Record releases can be "hits in one location and failures in others" (Connell and Gibson, 2003: 67). In Zimbabwe, for example, country songs have been composed and recorded in at least five local languages and more people listen to Dolly Parton than Zimbabwe's own Thomas Mapfumo (ibid).

Many musicians have not produced hit records but they have nevertheless found other ways to attract an enthusiastic international following. Ladytron are just one example. The band formed in Liverpool in 2000 as a synth pop band with a modern twist. They released two albums over the following two years - '604' and 'Light Music'. Their third album, 'Witching Hour', received great reviews in the indie, electronic and mainstream music press. Nevertheless the band's members complained that their record label was doing little to support them so they started touring. Sales of their album slowly started to grow as they performed in the UK, Europe and North America but also in Russia, Mexico and Colombia.

At Ladytron's 2006 gig in the Colombian capital Bogotá many of the 5,000 fans wore homemade Ladytron masks and others had sprayed fan graffiti around the city. 'Witching Hour' had never been available there, but YouTube clips reveal a band drowned out by fans knowing every word of their record. One of the band members explains that this was due to the promotion of the band on the internet: "The internet liberated us - putting us as people directly in touch with our fans, wherever they were".

outdoor music festival with thousands of people watching a large stage

Creamfields 2006 © Creamfields

However this kind of international appeal is not the same as global impact. Cream is a Liverpool-based company but also a global brand. The dance club was founded in Liverpool at the height of the dance music scene in 1992. It soon became one of Britian's so-called superclubs, diversifying its business interests to cover related bars, merchandise, record production, radio and television broadcasting, and an agency representing top international DJ-artists. The company also promoted regular Cream nights in clubs across the world, including those in Ibiza, Ireland, Latin America, North America, the Far East and mainland Europe. In 1996 Cream launched Creamfields, an outdoor dance festival run on an annual basis in Liverpool but also staged in other countries. By 2007 Cream was co-promoting European festivals in Poland, Portugal, Spain and the Czech Republic and there were other Creamfields events in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

The Beatles are another example of Liverpool music-makers who achieved global impact. Find out more in Global appeal.