MICHEL ATTIA is considered “one of the experts on music and the scene,” (Rainer Krispel, The Gap 057). He is Head of Booking & Events at Radio FM4 and was one of the very first editors of The Gap. For the last print issue of this year, he has compiled the most promising Austrian acts of 2022 in his opinion.
But first, a quick recap of 2021! What happened with last year’s Top 3?
Florence Arman (#1), OSKA (#2) and Sharktank (#3) performed at the Reeperbahn Festival 2021. Florence Arman and OSKA were even nominated for the Anchor – Reeperbahn Festival International Music Award. This means that two out of six nominated international acts were from Austria. Who would have thought that possible just a few years ago?!
In addition, all three acts were nominated for the Amadeus Austrian Music Awards in the categories Alternative (OSKA, Sharktank), FM4 (Florence Arman, OSKA) and Songwriting (Florence Arman) respectively; OSKA and Sharktank also had an appearance in the – in terms of viewer numbers – unfortunately rather flopped award show.
Other highlights were the entry of Sharktank’s debut album “Get It Done” at #10 in the Austria Top 40, OSKA´s strong streaming growth in Holland, Germany and the UK, and Florence Arman’s “Out of the Blue” reaching #1 in the FM4 charts for the first time, plus, winning the XA – Export Award at the Waves Festival.
The 2022 top 10 NEwcomers
In my immodest opinion, the ten acts in this list are currently among the most exciting must-watch talents from Austria. Essentially, there was only one criterion to be considered a newcomer: no album has been released yet. Everything else is a matter of feeling.
But what exactly is Michel’s Sound of Music 2022 all about? Based on the legendary BBC shortlist (“Sound of …”), it’s primarily about showing potential – creative and artistic, professional and exportable. I venture a best-of position from two sides: music and business, which have been intertwining more and more for quite some time. It’s about the music itself, of course, but also about its commercial utility.
It is notably striking this year: how young most of the musicians in this list are (all well under 30, two even well under 20), how high the proportion of female musicians has reached (six out of ten), how important the German language has become in pop (seven out of ten), how the Austrian rap underground is merging more and more with the German rap underground scene (including Bibiza, Eli Preiss, Boloboys from Berlin – whose second main residence now feels like Vienna), and how naturally and effortlessly the various hip-hop genres are mixed – this new wave also determines this year’s best list. It’s really nice to witness how new music from Austria and the set-up around it have become international. This top ten list should add to that and make you want to listen to it – no matter if you are a music lover or a music professional…
Franz Bibiza aka Bibiza just didn’t make it into the top ten last year, but was already mentioned by name as a hot candidate for the future. Meanwhile, I am sure: There will be no hotter newcomer from Austria in 2022. After 16 singles – including “Quarantäne Song” and “So bei mir” at the top of the FM4 charts – and three mixtapes, an indie album (“Lebe wie ein Hippie”) will be released in December, and the first regular album is to follow just a few months later. That says a lot about the 22-year-old Viennese’s fast, flexible approach and musical range. If you think Yung Hurn (including his Love Hotel Band) is diverse, you should definitely take a closer look at Bibiza. His music is not only more sustainable, it is also simply much more casual. He juggles various styles of hip-hop, moving somewhere between old school, trap and grime, served with an indie rock icing on top. His lyrics are authentic and his flow, seemingly effortless. He recently signed a fat deal with Columbia Germany – without any management at all, by the way, until today.
#2 Esther Graf
If it has to be German-language mainstream pop, then please do it exactly the way Esther Graf does it. The 23-year-old Carinthian has been living in Berlin for a year, she models, she presents a radio show (at Radio Fritz), but, above all, she sings and writes songs – for herself and together with well-known acts like Bausa or Katja Krasavice. Her German pop has a strong R&B and hip-hop vibe and is definitely light fare – yet the sound has a very unique charm. I don’t know when I last heard such outrageously naive bubblegum pop as “Bum Bum Eis” from Austria, but the 80s synths immediately put you in a good mood and even the saxophone at the end is fun. She is signed to RCA in Germany and already has strong supporters at her side with featured artists like Alligatoah (“Mit dir schlafen”) or Olexesh (“Weck mich auf”). Esther Graf’s biggest success so far is probably her contribution to Apple’s current international Christmas campaign, an exclusive cover version of the Shakin’ Stevens classic “Merry Christmas Everyone”. Unfortunately, she has hardly been noticed in Austria so far, but that will definitely change next year.
#3 Eli Preiss
No. 1 and No. 2 may go to Sony Music Germany (and Columbia and RCA, respectively) this year, but Universal Music Austria isn’t letting up and has big plans for 22-year-old Elisabeth Preiss, aka Eli Preiss. And she is indeed making quite an impression in the R&B and hip-hop game: empowering and emotional, undisguised and originally likeable. In the beginning she sang in English, but over time the German language has caught on with her. The artistic exchange with various artists from the rap underground scene in Austria (and more and more in Germany) is important to her – what connects them is not the hood, but the mood. Even her mother is supported – in “Danke Mami” in which she thanks her “for the dimples, my curls and the body / Thanks to you I’m not a dummy” and proudly shows off her very first fan in the accompanying video. In any case, the upcoming singles are musically even stronger and lyrically even more polished. Eli Preiss jumps from level to next level to next-next level, and I am already very curious how the debut album will strike next year. Because it will strike at any Preiss.
16-year-old Lower Austrian Vanessa Dulhofer aka Ness “only” made third place in the last season of Austria’s biggest casting show “Starmania”, but at the latest, since the outstanding success of the runner-up from the first season (Christina Stürmer), we know that this doesn’t necessarily mean too much. The streaming platforms (especially Spotify) supported the crowd favorite from the start with strong editorial placements, and Radio Ö3 also played her first two soulful German pop singles “Deine Richtung” (now totaling more than one million streams) and “Isso”. In general, Ness already has a considerable fanbase – not only on socials, but also in the LGBTIQ+ community. This has also been noticed by the majors, who are courting her accordingly. The new single “Schuhe” will be released soon and the debut album is planned for the fall 2022. With her distinctive voice, talent and clear attitude, Ness – along with “Starmania” runner-up Fred Owusu – is clearly the most interesting act from this year’s TV show.
#5 Oskar Haag
Carinthian Oskar Haag recently turned 16, making him the youngest act in this top ten (closely followed by Ness). Supposedly, he only started playing guitar, writing songs and then recording them on his computer in his childhood bedroom – and uploading them to Soundcloud – in the first Corona lockdown. That’s relatively hard to believe when you listen to the thoughtful indie songs. He probably inherited the talent from his father, Oliver Welter – singer and frontman of the indie heroes Naked Lunch. Sounds cliché, of course, but it’s the only possible explanation. The singer-songwriter gave his first concert at the Vienna Popfest, and everyone who saw him live knew immediately that there was a young pop wonder sitting in front of them with a guitar and a laptop. He does the label himself, Sony Music Austria does the distribution, he is still looking for management, but there are already some queues. His debut single “Stargazing” will unfortunately be released shortly after this Top Ten, and the album will come next year. He will stay with us for a long time, that’s for sure.
The songs of the 24-year-old Viennese Verena, aka Verifiziert, sound like she is: young, heartbroken and on the run. Her descriptive observations of everyday life are as simple as they are charming and allow you to participate directly in her life. She finds the right balance somewhere between driving and melancholic and thus distinguishes herself from many others in this genre with her independent cloud pop. Releases are distributed via Columbia Germany and her biggest hit to date, “Rotkäppchen” – a collaboration with Florida Juicy and Longus Mongus – recently cracked 1.5 million streams on Spotify. Her second-to-last single “Tschick” was her first (but certainly not her last) appearance on the FM4 charts. After her first EP “Sonntag 17:00”, the new tape “40100” was released, and her debut album is already planned for next year. Wouldn’t be surprised if I’m soon annoyed that I didn’t place Verifiziert even higher in the best list.
#7 Sophia Blenda
Sophie Löw, aka Sophia Blenda, not only did the artwork for the upcoming debut album of #10 in this list, but, most importantly, she already made a name for herself as frontwoman of Culk over the last years. Musically, the multi-instrumentalist presents her solo act in a bit more reduced and gloomy manner, but her beguiling voice remains the same. While listening to the album I often had to think of two wonderful musicians from Austria: Gustav (language, poetic lyrics, social criticism) and Soap & Skin (piano, synthesizer, creaky beats). Very special and exciting what the 26-year-old Lower Austrian is doing. By the way, so exciting that PIAS Germany – run by Stefan Strüver, who was the first to comment when I shared the best list on Facebook last year (“Those without a deal, please send along to me ;)”) – took notice and will release her album next year. Her debut single “Wie laut es war” will be released shortly after publishing this top ten, so unfortunately there’s nothing to listen to yet. For the second single “Wo bleib ich” there will be the first concerts in spring. And Sophia Blenda will also make a dazzling impression on stage.
With Nenda Neururer aka Nenda, perhaps the musically strongest act is in eighth place, although she is actually my personal number one. The 26-year-old Tyrolean who lives in London is just unbelievably cool: The way she comes up with songs just like that, combines the English language with German (or Tyrolean) and addresses socio-political issues in her funky hip-hop tracks, fascinates me every time. And the impressive video for the debut single “Mixed Feelings” is a must-see anyway. All of this definitely has international potential. Unfortunately, the multi-talent is currently concentrating on her promising acting career – next year, for example, she can be seen in a leading role in the series “The Rising” on Sky. Of course, this is just as extraordinary, but it doesn’t play a big role here (hence the eighth place). She has her own label, no management and has never performed live (hopefully that will change in 2022). There are only two singles so far and I can’t wait for another new number from Nenda to finally appear early next year.
#9 Apollo Sissi
The 23-year-old Upper Austrian Christoph, aka Apollo Sissi, will attract attention with his sound next year. The left-field rapper works mostly with producer Alex The Flipper (working with Mavi Phoenix among others) and you can hear that: independent and edgy, but maybe not very trendy at the moment. Thus he dances a little out of line – which I find quite likeable. After a fluffy debut single like “Partner in Crime” he has to dare to follow it up with a somewhat dramatic song like “Augen Rot”. His album “Shady & schön” will be released in May next year, but until then, there will be five more singles coming out (up next: “Maradona”), and the live debut is also scheduled for 2022. His indie label Vienna Hollywood is distributed by A Million, so the best-known partner in the distribution-crime is none other than Apache 207. What he thinks about Apollo Sissi, I could unfortunately not find out, but the conditions for a good start are nevertheless clear: Bilderbuch‘s management is taking care of him in the meantime.
If you look overseas, the kind of folk music that Clemens Bäre aka Doppelfinger makes is currently quite popular and it’s probably only a matter of time until the trend spills over to us. Acts like Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief and Bon Iver (with or without Taylor Swift) are among his musical influences. Especially among musicians, the 24-year-old Upper Austrian is praised for his songwriting and harmonica playing and Sophie Lindinger (My Ugly Clementine, Leyya) fell in love with his music so much that she will do the mixing for his album. He also plays in OSKA‘s live band (ranked #2 on this list last year), who in turn does backing vocals from time to time. He’s already on rotation at FM4 and Radio Eins, while the debut album is expected to be released by Ink Music in the second quarter of next year, and I dare to bet that of all ten acts he’ll be the one playing live the most in 2022. Even though the name Doppelfinger might not be the ideal choice to conquer the world, his music is absolutely timeless and has international appeal.