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Sweet 16 could be looking at their big T Break

There are always lots of numbers floating around when it comes to T Break, the unsigned band stage at T in the Park - almost 1000 bands and musicians entering three songs each for a competition that's been supported by Tennent's Lager for 19 years and this year was judged by 14 industry insiders.

But in the end, the only number that really matters is 16 -the final number of acts chosen to play the T Break Stage at the festival this July.

So who are the sweet 16 who made the grade for 2014?

In alphabetical order, that would be Atom Tree, Birdhead, Blood Relatives, Deathcats, Fat Goth, Medicine Men, Model Aeroplanes, The Moon Kids, NAKED, Scary People, Secret Motorbikes, TeenCanteen, Tisoki, Tuff Love, Vladimir and We Came From Wolves.

Some of those names won't be familiar to anyone other than hardened gig-goers in the Central Belt. Others - Model Aeroplanes, Tuff Love and Fat Goth among them - are considered buzz bands of the moment.

But that's the glory of T Break: sometimes it catches a band at the very point they're poised to move on to bigger things, and other times it catapults a genuine unknown into the spotlight.

I've been one of the judges for six years now, lending my ears and argumentative voice to sessions with fellow music journalists, broadcasters, bookers, promoters, managers and lecturers. Nothing is decided in advance; it's all fought out, often quite passionately, over several nights of heavy ensemble listening then finely honed down across days of individual reflection.

Needless to say, there are certain bands among this year's 16 that I'm genuinely delighted to see on the list, others who made it (and a few missing names that I know fell at the very last hurdle) that make me despair about the cloth ears of my fellow judges. But that's the nature of the game: to get a bunch of people who can combine subjective taste with objective experience and come up with an exciting and diverse list of unsigned talent.

Over the years, certain enduring traits have been discernible: bands following a hardcore path blazed by Biffy Clyro, those applying an indie-folk formula patented by Frightened Rabbit, those stuck in an Oasis rut, those cutting angles into their pop in the manner of Franz Ferdinand.

In the past two years, however, I reckon this has broadened out so that identifiable influences come from further-flung sources. And I can hear that in the T Break school of 2014.

So although there's not space here to praise all of the victors, I am going to pick out a few personal favourites.

I'm glad Atom Tree made the cut, flying the flag for Scottish electronica, with a sound that fits Ryuichi Sakamoto's melodic precision to the driving force of an Errors backing. I also haven't been able to get TeenCanteen's single Honey out of my head for months now, so their twee-Scot-pop take on 60s girl-band harmonies is another welcome diversion from a preponderance of indie guitar bands.

Tuff Love's retro trick of applying a Breeders/Shop Assistants style to their tunes, burying female vocals beneath jangly, buzzy guitars, takes me back to a fond period in the late 1980s, while Birdhead's aural onslaught reminds me a bit of Public Service Broadcasting in a very good way.

I also love the dreaminess NAKED bring to the fuzzed-up textures of their song Lie Follows Lie and the sheer catchy pop exuberance of Duck by Blood Relatives.

Each of the 16 has been offered a massive opportunity to take things forward. And they don't have to look far this year to see where success can take them. Biffy Clyro: T Break band in 1999, Main Stage headliner in 2014.

"It was probably one of the biggest moments of our lives," says Biffy Clyro's Simon Neil of that T Break performance many years ago. "Even now looking back, that first time you feel like a real band is phenomenal. That was literally the break. T gave us the break."

T in the Park is at Balado, near Kinross, from July 11-13, www.tinthepark.com. For more on T Break and this year's line-up, go to www.tennents.com/tbreak

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