Welcome to Tap Don't Talk, a conversational feature which pits 405 writers Rob Wilson and Mike Clark against each other to shoot the shit about current affairs in the world of music. This is more casual, personal and comprehensive than a typical in-depth feature, firing up ideas about a certain topic that might not all fit into a normal article but are still worth discussing. This is by no means a conversation limited to just us, though; feel free to add your two cents in the comments section below or call us names on Twitter if you want - Rob is @robinamicrowave, Mike is @Pixleh and, of course, there's @The405. Enjoy!

Mike: The NME clearly needs some money and publicity. Their sales have recently hit rock bottom, so, to remedy the situation, they've released a big list full of bold declarations to get people talking about them again. And, like the sheep we are, we're obviously going to give them what they want. As stated, a couple of weeks ago, they published a list of the 100 most influential artists, and it's actually quite surprising in a way. Radiohead won, which was kind of obvious, but the NME is often incredibly parochial, blindly insisting that British 'guitar music' is still thriving while contradicting itself by so often devoting itself to the tattered remnants of the past like Oasis and The Smiths. But this list is actually quite progressive for them (which, granted, isn't saying all that much). I agree with their premise that the established canon -- The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd etc. -- isn't that important when it comes to directly influencing a good number of today's emerging artists. Like, I doubt kids making music today would necessarily be influenced by, say, Bruce Springsteen, but rather Arcade Fire or The War on Drugs, the bands who were influenced by Springsteen and went on to do their own thing. Because, you know, music is a huge, fluid, amorphous clusterfuck. So, beyond any concerns about the list's content, we should at least acknowledge how refreshing it is to see the NME attempting to be so non-canonical. Especially when they're so regularly mocked for insisting on a select group of old white dudes with guitars.

Rob: This is a good place to start because I'd like to get something off my chest about this list. You see, I dedicate at least 5 minutes of every day to expressing my unwavering disdain of this magazine. I'm bored of their incessant plugging of bands who don't need it anymore (Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg) and I infuriate myself by falling for their perpetual ignorance of anything that isn't, as you say, white dudes with a Fender. So, when I found out about this list, I assumed it'd be back to front with The Strokes, The Smiths, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines, Kasabian - you know the type. But I assumed wrong. To leave the links of The Beatles out isn't necessarily a bold statement as much as it is a publicity stunt, but saying you're influenced by The Beatles nowadays is like saying you like going to the ordering pizza on a Friday or going to the cinema. It means nothing. So I'm glad the NME has largely accepted that and based their premise for this list around that. Not only that, they've also included a whole heap of artists who I feared wouldn't touch the magazine's pages at all. I've got to hand it to them, their sales may be plummeting and I may find it difficult to stomach what they stand for nowadays, but fuck, this list is sort of okay.

Mike: I know, right? 'Sort of okay' is about as good as the NME is going to get these days, so it's nice to see that they pulled their A-game for this. But, let's face it, we're still dealing with the NME here, so the list is still heavily populated by white guys with guitars. Different white guys with guitars than the sort usually gush about, but guitary white dudes all the same. Of course, some are inescapable - Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Nirvana - because, well, they're so influential and pervasive and important. But when you get further down the list and see bands like Black Lips or The Triffids there, it's just a bit... iffy, you know? Especially considering that the likes of MF Doom, J Dilla, and Madlib have all been ignored. They've all done more for hip-hop than '94th Most Influential Artist' Richard Hawley has for rock. Actually, if you want to debate white people, then I should mention that Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joni Mitchell and XTC somehow weren't included. And there are plenty more. But I guess there's a problem in how the NME defines influence, because their aim of finding the "bands and artists that the current raft of new musicians listened to before penning their own 21st-century classics" is incredibly broad. So is this really a matter of exposing who's influenced their small, insular pool of emerging artists, like Fat White Family, Palma Violets and Peace? Like influencing Peace is some great achievement.

Rob: I think you've gone and answered your own question there, unfortunately. I think it's fair to say that a lot of the artists included in the list are there because they've influenced some of the NME's favourite bands. Not to take anything away from Aaliyah, Gun Club and the like, but would Aaliyah be there if Alex Turner hadn't said she was a huge influence on the last Arctic Monkeys album? And would Gun Club be there if Jake Bugg's 'Lightning Bolt' didn't have an uncanny resemblance to 'She's Like Heroin to Me'?

Mike: Well, I think Aaliyah would be there anyway because, basically, she's a huge deal in terms of how R&B sounds today. We've both bought the issue, and Arctic Monkeys aren't mentioned at all in Aaliyah's entry in the list. So I don't think you can attribute her appearance in the list to Arctic Monkeys. And, really, I wanted to see more artists like Aaliyah in there: the ones that don't play the guitar all the time; the ones with the audacity to be hugely influential in spite of their gender, their ethnicity and where they're from. Because, you know, music exists beyond heterosexual, cis white men with guitars from either the UK or US. And, fair enough, there are some examples of those artists on the list, it's nice to see Kate Bush, DJ Rashad and The Knife included, but I still think there's a disproportionate amount of white guitar music. Maybe I'm expecting too much from the NME, but when compiling a list that's desperately trying to be modern, you have to be mindful that music exists out of your narrow axis of taste and the best artists tend to be influenced by a huge array of music from different cultures and eras.

Rob: (Just as an aside, I think you're right about Aaliyah. But, given NME's track record, I think I can be forgiven for assuming that her placing on the list was slightly more political than meets the eye). As for the list's equal representation problems, I think their roots belong in the industry they've taken it from more than anything. Rock music especially has been dominated by white men and guitars for decades, largely shunning other genders in the process. And although NME have removed the usual canonised contenders from the nomination process, and although I appreciate that there are also exceptions to the rule (some of which are mentioned in the list), I'd wager that a large percentage of popular artists are white and male.

Mike: Oh yeah. I agree completely that the music industry is similarly unbalanced, but influence can work autonomously from the industry. Can, for example, weren't exactly huge at the time, but they've proven to be incredibly influential over time. So, given that this list consciously omits the usual canonised white guys, you'd be forgiven for thinking it would be more diverse. So it's a damn shame it isn't. Like, are you telling me that The Gun Club are more influential than Beyonce, who wasn't even included on the list? That Country Teasers have done more for modern music than Fela Kuti or Miles Davis? I'm not buying it.

Rob: See, Beyonce was a huge omission from the list that really stood out for me. Not only because of the huge influence she's had on artists who feature in the list, but because the NME have really tried to emphasise her importance on the 21st century in the past. They gave 'Crazy In Love' the accolade of being the best pop song of the 21st century and they gave her last album a solid score (8/10). My reaction to realising she wasn't included in the list was more genuine surprise than annoyance.

Mike: Yeah, I felt the same way about Beyonce. It reflects badly on the NME that they've basically ignored one of the most powerful people in contemporary music, whose influence can be felt all around modern pop and R&B. And it's even worse when they've they've also neglected to include any women of colour on the list beyond Aaliyah, as if the likes of Erykah Badu, Nina Simone and Jennifer Lopez have had less of an influence than The xx. Again, I know it's the NME and I should expect this, but it's frustrating when they publish such a loaded list list that doesn't actually reflect the actual make-up of musicians and the people who listen to music.

Rob: I wouldn't say they've intentionally ignored these women, which is a relief in of itself, despite the problems it poses. I can't expand on what you've said, other than to say that Beyonce has not only influenced artists in the 21st century, but has also carved a massive space for her own music. She's largely dominated an incredibly saturated market with single after single for more than a decade, demonstrating power through her music, her ideology and her confidence. She's gone beyond simply being a singer in Destiny's Child by becoming a performer and a widely recognised feminist icon. She's a goddess to millions, it's just a shame NME didn't really think so.

Mike: Oh, I don't think it's intentional at all, but that may be worse. It feels slightly insidious, you know? As I said, when compiling a list full of such bold assertions, you need to be aware that influence is a massive thing that extends through all music and all cultures and everything. I know we were praising the premise of this list earlier, but it's still disheartening to see the list is ultimately rather limited in scope and parochial. Especially when they had the opportunity to introduce their readership to a diverse range of musicians. It's no wonder why so many people see the NME as completely irrelevant.

Rob: See, I think you've touched on how I feel about this list slightly missing the point of influence, or at least misconstruing it. Just to mention to those who've not bought the issue: each artist in the list has their very own "roots" and "acts we think they influenced" sections to justify their position in the countdown. And, while I can only speak from my personal experience, the roots of an artist aren't that clear cut. I make my own music, and you could say its "roots" come from bands like Wire, Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Magazine - that kind of post-punk/new-wave crossover stuff. But what got me writing the music I do was listening to Perfect Pussy's album not so long ago. If my music was to ever appear in a list like this the four bands I mentioned would be my "roots", and not Perfect Pussy, who were my influence to start writing the short, noisy songs I do. What I set out to do and what it eventually became are now totally different things, this list misunderstands that.

Mike: That's a very good point. The list also doesn't seem to account for how influences change over time. I'm writing a big piece on Flying Lotus at the moment, so I'll use what I've learned from that as an example. For one, Flying Lotus is in the list, which is something of a miracle and well deserved, and his roots are listed as "J Dilla, John and Alice Coltrane and Dr. Dre." That's fine, those artists undoubtedly had a big impact on his creative process. But, as I said, the best artists have a broad palates and are influenced by many things. They're also not static. They consume as much as they create. Thus, Flying Lotus' last album, Until the Quiet Comes was influenced by him listening to the likes of Can and Gentle Giant as much as those listed artists. And that prog influence apparently manifests itself even more overtly in his latest album You're Dead! To your point as well, as an emerging artist, people wrote of Flying Lotus as indebted to Dilla and Madlib because they sounded kinda similar, but he was just as heavily influenced by Aphex Twin, Vangelis and Radiohead. Influence doesn't just mean sounding like another artist, like, Big Boi's favourite artist is Kate Bush, and her influence can be found in how he reaches deep into himself to make weird stuff. They sound nothing alike, but her influence is there. To be fair, the NME list does kind of acknowledge that infrequently, but it's that infrequency that makes the list seen more confused when Dirty Projectors are included in the list because Vampire Weekend sort of sound like them.

Rob: And to segue oh so subtly, you mention the winners of this NME prize: Radiohead. The most influential band of all time - above The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and all those other artists they left out of the list. Agree? Disagree?

Mike: I mean, you can't really argue with it, but I don't really know what I can say that hasn't already been said. Like, it's fucking Radiohead. They're one of the biggest bands in the world who do whatever they want. Their approach is just as influential as their sound, and appeals to the geeky outcasts who end up making the sort of music NME covets. So of course they'd top the list. I'm hardly being massively insightful here, but, yeah, it's Radiohead. What more can I say? It's of obvious, you know? Which, I guess, actually goes against the whole ethos of the list.

Rob: Well, I said at the start of this conversation that if a band comes along and cites The Beatles as an influence they might as well tell us they're into ordering pizza on a Friday and going to the cinema. I think the same applies to Radiohead now. If a band has emerged in the 21st century at one point or another, it's likely that Radiohead is in their roots or influences somewhere, whether they're part of the NME club or not. But I'm starting to have a problem with lists like this. Music fans, and journalists especially, have a problem: they have a tendency to immediately force links and patterns to music of the past, when instead they should be trying to think about where the music they're hearing could take everybody else. Listening to Flying Lotus doesn't make me think, "Well, he's just treading a path formed by J Dilla here", because it sounds like he's making music from 30 years in the fucking future. I'm already thinking about who or what could be influenced by his work in later years.

Mike: I don't know, finding links to the past is a perfectly valid thing to do. It's just as important investigating where music came from as it is imagining where it's going. The two are inextricably linked, really. The most forward-thinking artists like Flying Lotus can crib things from all sorts of disparate sounds throughout history to create something totally new. And, on a more basic level, there's the basic joy of discovery. Like, I doubt I'd know about Can if Radiohead weren't into them. I doubt I'd be into Gil Soctt-Heron if Jamie XX hadn't remixed his last album. I doubt I would have listened to King Crimson if The Flaming Lips hadn't cited them as an influence.

Rob: I think I've come at this from the wrong angle. I have no problem with music fans likening modern music to that of past artists because comparisons are healthy and natural. Take Tame Impala for example: saying that Lonerism sounds like Piper at the Gates of Dawn hitting Rubber Soul in a head on collision is a little over the top but perfectly acceptable. What I have a problem with is the obsession with immediate comparisons that don't give Tame Impala chance to step on new ground. No matter what changes, because of Lonerism's modernised perspective on psychedelic pop, they will always be compared to the same names as if they're walking down an identical path when they're probably trying to push themselves and the genres they fall into in new directions.

Mike: I suppose that's a problem with criticism in general. Even though I try to abstain from it as much as possible, I'm as guilty of it as anybody else: comparing an artist to another is just a very easy shorthand. It takes away a lot of the work and paints a simple picture in the mind of a reader. Like "Oh cool, X sounds like Y, I like Y so I'll listen to X!" Or, "I hate Y, so X can get to fuck."

Rob: You know, despite my reservations, I do think comparisons are natural and healthy in the main. I suppose it's just the human mind doing what it likes to do: forming patterns. And to be honest, without that pattern forming we'd be basing classic albums on nothing other than sales, and this list never would have been made. That alone is justification for the comparisons, even if exaggerated and rigid matches rub me up the wrong way sometimes. We've questioned the importance of lists before, but it really is just a case of the human mind stacking things in order on a shelf. If it keeps us writing, I can live with that.