In another scout around the globe this week, the first stop is the UK, where congratulations go out to The xx on winning the annual Mercury Music Prize. While it did seem they were on the short list of favorites, the trio beat out some more storied competition including the Modfather himself, Paul Weller, as well as Corrine Bailey Rae and Biffy Clyro (soon to be playing locally in LA at the Bootleg Theatre). The band, who already had solid sales in the UK, benefited from the usual Mercury winning bump, and rocketed to #3 in the charts, with their (now prize-winning) album having now sold over 212,000 copies in the market. Add that to the massive number in the USA (and elsewhere) and it is a bona fide success story for the band and their label, XL Recordings.
Of course success in a band’s home territory is not an instant guarantee of worldwide sales, with a recent sampling in Australia making obvious how long and deep the list of very successful Aussie acts who can barely get arrested in North America is. Angus & Julia Stone may have a top selling album that has perched in the higher echelons of the Australian charts since release, but despite support from local tastemakers such as KCRW, their notoreity in this country is nothing close to that level. The massive venues the band play in their home country being replaced by the El Rey in Los Angeles – a modest sized venue in comparison. The dichotomy may be even more glaring with Birds of Tokyo, whose latest self-titled album has gone Gold down under, but they’ve yet to play beyond a tiny Viper Room gig in 2009. Tame Impala have done better than others, receiving the support of Pitchfork, yet they still havent reached comparable sales here (even in a larger marketplace). Meanwhile new Warner Australia act The Versus would elicit a “who?” from most American consumers (and most likely be confused with re-formed indie rockers Versus, who just released a new album on Merge). Ivy League Records may have a solid local roster of Australian acts like Cloud Cult, but none are achieving anything close to the success the company had with Jet and The Vines internationally. Of course the most extreme case is the band Powderfinger, who are massive in their home country of Australia – positively U2-like proportions. A bit of research gives the impression that their last Los Angeles headlining show was at the El Rey in 2002, and the U.S. doesnt even seem to warrant a stop for the band on their string of farewell shows this year. Whereas if you travel down into the southern hemisphere, you may just spy a jet airliner from the local Jetstar fleet with a Powderfinger logo emblazoned in giant letters along the side. Now that is what I call a big fish in a small pond.
- Cool Hand Luke