In our latest issue, Island Records UK Chairman Louis Bloom explains why he thinks the Universal label has now laid “a hugely successful foundation” for the future.
Indeed, Island is on a hot streak in terms of discovering new talent right now. Ever since Bloom – who celebrated 20 years on Island in 2021 – took over from the highly respected Darcus Beese as president in 2018, the label has been busy smashing numbers not just in one genre, but in several. “It’s important to me that we have the most exciting roster, and that means genre leaders,” Bloom explained.
Time for a quick recap: Island has recently achieved hits and critical acclaim with Dermot Kennedy, ArrDee, Unknown T, Yard Act, Easy Life, The Lathums, M Huncho, Sports Team, Sigrid and nominee BRIT Rising Star Lola Young. As for Afrobeats, Island/YBNL Nation/Empire were behind Fireboy DML’s massive single, Ed Sheeran-assisted Peru, the platinum track giving the genre its biggest hit in the UK. nowadays. All this with a slew of recent signings such as FLO, Dylan, Nia Archives and Sam Tompkins still in the works (“Sam is at one point of being very big and has, of all people, Justin Bieber as a mentor,” Bloom says).
Not to stress this too much, in his Music Week interview, we asked the president of Island if he felt his label had gotten the respect it deserves as an A&R powerhouse.
“No,” Bloom offered. “I did the statistics here. ArrDee is the biggest breakthrough artist of the last 12 months. It’s not just in rap – it’s the biggest breakthrough. We have one of the best selling singles with Fireboy DML. Along with Yard Act – and this is an opinion – I think they’re the most exciting band to emerge this year in terms of articulation and spirit, and in terms of live performance. So it’s across genres.
Bloom also praised Dermot Kennedy, whose 2019 debut Fearless reached No. 1 and had sales of 276,337. His successor, Sonder, is due to arrive via Island on September 23.
“I’m looking at Dermot Kennedy, who’s about to release a second album, and it’s one of the biggest breakthroughs for a UK-signed artist on their debut album,” Bloom said. “He does 10,000 selection shows in Germany and Red Rocks in the United States. We did three Ally Pallys at the end of last year, and we’re going to do two O2s next year. In Ireland, it’s a fucking phenomenon: 27 weeks at No. 1 [in the albums chart] is up there with Ed Sheeran and Adele. This guy is about to be a huge global breakthrough.
While Island has scored wins across multiple genres, it’s worth noting the success they’ve had with something many other labels have failed of late: bands. In recent memory, Island took The Lathums to No.1 and Yard Act, Easy Life and Sports Team to No.2.
You can easily imagine bands like those signing to an independent label, but they’ve found a home on Island instead. Does that make it a major label different from its competitors in this respect?
“I feel comfortable saying we’re a leader in the alternative genre, as a major label,” Bloom said. “It’s a passion of mine that goes back maybe to Britpop. I still think of Island as indie in his mind, but we’re part of this amazing organization, which is Universal. It doesn’t have to be a group specifically. Nia Archives is an alternative artist, Easy Life wouldn’t see themselves as a band, they would see themselves as a collective – it’s just that all of these bands are doing it on their own terms, and they’re building fanbases.
I feel comfortable saying that we are a leader in the alternative genre as a major label, it’s one of my passions
In his interview, Bloom reflects on everything from his first steps in the music business, his insight into A&R, why his team is “the best in the business” and much more. Bloom also shared his thoughts on how to succeed on the charts with bands when they don’t necessarily have the TikTok virality that many consider essential now…
“It takes time, it takes patience,” he said. “I think we’re going back to a time when it took two or three albums to come out. And it was like that in the 70s and 80s. It takes a while. It’s about wanting to win, but winning the right way. To me, that’s why the live ticket is so important, because it means people look up from their phones for a while, and they’re like, ‘Oh shit, I gotta get out of the house, I gotta buy a ticket, get on a train and wait in line. I’ll take one of these fans on heaps of clicks. One click is easy. It’s finding those fans who are invested. I always consult the database of these artists. That’s where I look at success, it’s not something that’s on the charts. The artist’s database is his pension. That’s the measure of success for us because then they’re invested in the urge to buy some merchandise, it’s a matter of experience and lifestyle. I want artists to have their own playlists, rather than sitting on a playlist someone else created. I want people to say, ‘I’m going to listen to Easy Life today’, or Sports Team or The Lathums.
As for plans for the rest of the year, Bloom highlighted a number of exciting acts, in addition to Dermot Kennedy’s aforementioned return.
“Look at what we’re doing across all genres,” Bloom said. “There’s Lola Young, plus Easy Life and Sports Team are coming back with new records, Nia Archives is bringing a diverse and inclusive crowd to the jungle, and then there’s what can we do with FLO! I’m obsessed with them.
Island will also release Marcus Mumford’s next solo release, which Bloom says will be “breathtakingly” good.
“I’ve never heard her voice like that before,” he revealed. “It’s a deeply personal album and a bold statement.”
Bloom ended with a prediction of where all this blurring of activity will leave Island in 2022 and beyond.
“I think in the next five years we will hopefully enter another golden era for Island,” he said. “I think that’s where we’re headed. What we do across all genres is produce the next generation of festival headliners, which I think is important for the industry. I hope people will start noticing what we are doing.
Subscribers can read the full Louis Bloom Music Week interview here.