It all started with a little bit of understated feedback. The little noise that you hear before the riff kicks in on ‘Bblood‘ (now rechristened as ‘Bloodshake‘) was the perfect precursor to the cacaphonic eruption of noise that would follow, both on the song, and in a grander sense. Peace had landed, and while everyone from Bournemouth to Berwick-upon-Tweed might have just assumed that Birmingham’s latest exports were just another bunch of scruffy (soon to change), short-haired (even sooner to change) indie boys with a ‘last gang in town’-mentality, there was something a lot bigger, better, and Brummie-er in the works.
From its humble beginnings at various midland club nights FACE, Snobs, or the late Zombie Prom (the final night featured members of various B-town bands crowd-surfing to their own songs, of course), onto where it stands today – Peace have just released their debut album to unanimous praise, while fellow stalwarts Swim Deep are readying the release of their own debut, and JAWs have a sure-to-sell-out EP, entitled ‘Milkshake‘, released very soon indeed (no word on whether any boys will be brought to the yard or not, as of yet) – the influence of the ‘West Madlands’ has erupted out of its own postcode and gone national, taking everybody’s local venues by storm, peppering them with confetti, and spray-painting their logos over the front door on the way out.
But alas, 3 bands that don’t actually sound very similar does not a good scene make. In fact, 3 bands that sounded pretty similar wouldn’t create a particularly interesting movement, either. No, it’s the rest of the B-town bunch, the one’s still propping up the bar at The Sunflower Lounge and The Hare & Hounds, that are really carrying the scene on their shoulders. Sure, industry buzz and incredible hype has been placed upon these young, newly-formed acts with maybe only one or two songs to their names, but in an age where fads are short-lived, and scenes are often ill-fated, the fact that we’re all still talking about it after a good year or so is enough of a sign that there may well be plenty of substance to go with the style. So without further ado, here’s some more bands from B-town that you should know about (note: it doesn’t actually seem to refer to Birmingham anymore, but more just ‘North of Gloucestershire, South of Cheshire’, so don’t harp on at me at how ‘THESE AREN’T B-TOWN BECAUSE THE BASSIST IS FROM DUDLEY’):
Troumaca: Big, tropical sounds with dub and psychedelic influences. Namechecked regularly by ‘The Big 3′, proof that male-sung electronic music doesn’t have to be as brooding as Hurts or annoying as Bastille. Actually used to headline gigs in Birmingham with Peace and Swim Deep on the support bill, but are now finally starting to catch up with the rest of the pack, with their recent ‘Virgin Island EP” (available on iTunes) garnering praise from Gilles Peterson (and us), plus a packed out show at The Old Blue Last back in February. Check out: ‘Lady Colour‘
Superfood: Loud, anthemic, hyped as fuck, and yet not a brash, arrogant lad-rock band like you’d think. Uncompromising choruses, sweet harmonies and classic melodies, aided by some no-nonsense instrumental work, to boot. THIS is the ‘gritpop’ that Viva Brother WISHED they were capable of, and as fan, that’s absolutely a compliment to Superfood (and just like Viva Brother, Superfood have undergone many a name change too – though none as part of a shambolic lawsuit). Support slots for Tribes (also called Superfood at one point), Peace (bassist Emily crowdsurfs almost as tradition during hometown gigs), and the aforementioned Troumaca OBL gig have seen them garner fans all over, and they still hadn’t even put out a song until early April. Check out: ‘Superfood‘
Wide Eyed: Driving, hypnotic, psychedelic, loud, brash, krautrock, shoegazing, distorted, noisy, entrancing, and really great hair; just a small selection of ways to describe hotly-tipped Wide Eyed. The band are the only common denominator between the two big events to occur lately in the Birmingham music scene; they played at the Christmas gig that also featured Peace, Swim Deep, Jaws, Heavy Waves and Superfood (then under the name of Junnk), and also played at the almost legendary house party the other day, ‘headlining’ the night, ahead of some names you’ll read below. Check out: ‘Bleak‘
Heavy Waves: Awesome, scuzztastic tunes that fall somewhere inbetween Nirvana, Toy, Yuck and even Joy Division. Also played at that Christmas gig at The Rainbow (Birminghamstock, as I call it), and have played to packed out venues ever since. Sure to be making a lot of noise (in addition to what they already make) very soon indeed. Check out: ‘Edward‘
Laced: They went on first at that house party, curated by local DJ Jacky P, and apparently, they blew everyone away. Combining ambient noise with an almost baggy-sounding backbone, singers Andy and Gracie (The band’s Facebook only lists first names, so I’m assuming that they’re all like Madonna and Cher, and simply do not have surnames) juxtapose his Ian Brown-like vocals (when he wasn’t as much of a tuneless knob and more a messianic hero) over her angelic, more ethereal sounding harmonies to create a heavenly sound of their own. Check out: ‘Jade Vine
God Damn: Without a doubt, the most threatening, dangerous, visceral and downright worrisome bands to come out of Birmingham since Judas Priest. Or maybe The Twang. Regardless, these guys would have been the kids at school that your parents warned you about. Now, I’m warning you about them. Guitars as heavy as the universe, and vocals that could probably reach the end it too, there’s no room for restraint or restrictions here, with an unhealthy dosage of grunge, punk, rock, pop, metal and even prog, making God Damn one fucking exciting prospect. Check out: ‘I’m a Lazer, You’re a Radar‘
Dumb: Risen from the ashes of sub-standard indie kids The Carpels, Dumb are more assertive in ambition and progressive in performance, engaging in a much more appealing kind of euphoric noise-pop that can get hearts racing and feet pacing all over. This music is good for you. Check out: ‘Dive‘
Cold Fields: With the most Brummie-sounding vocals since one Mike Skinner, this four-piece combine a kind of relaxed dubstep with melancholic indie; indeed, lyrical references to Morrissey combined with wailing guitars make a surprisingly good match for the underlying electronic tones within, a kind accompaniment to Troumaca on a scene that is mostly ‘rock’ bands. 2012 was kind to them, with shows getting bigger and an EP release, so this year is set to be even better. Check out: ‘Egg Shells‘
Friday Club: Perhaps the most stereotypically ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ bunch out of the lot, with one foot firmly placed in 1996 and another jammed in the doorway of 2004, you might think there aren’t enough feet left to step into 2013 and beyond. But there’s an instant, timeless catchiness to their sound, and at no point do the four-piece sound forced or crass. Hopefully they’ll avoid getting pinned down with the rest of the sub-Libertines wave of indie rock and mod revival bands, and just establish their own identity as a fucking great rock ‘n’ roll band. Check out: ‘Fall Down Kids‘
Hoopla Blue: Not even Hoopla Blue seem sure of what they should sound like. Eschewing from freaked-out psychedelia to grooved-out shoegaze rock, they’re another band propping up support bills all over, and simply say about themselves, ‘We are inspired a lot by the very peculiar cacophony of life on Earth.’ Check out: ‘//Holy Ghost\\‘
Foes: Another survivor of name changes and identity crises, Foes are so face-meltingly heavy and in-your-face that within 20 seconds of listening to them, they will have inhabited your entire being and subsequently drag your soul down to the underworld, where they will sacrifice you to Satan himself, to the sound of Pearl Jam B-sides and a thousand naked ladies pleasuring a thousand more. Or something like that. Check out: ‘Ima Creep‘
Bad Moon: Shrouded in haze and dripping with my beautiful psychedelia, this fab foursome combine the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, and Ride, and we suspect that their live experience is one more suited to amphitheaters than living rooms. A lot of noise, a lot of reverb, and a lot of promise. Check out: ‘Quinton Expressway‘
The Artois: Looking significantly less cool than the rest of the names and faces here (perhaps cool in itself?), The Artois may win over any po-faced cynics or even ladrock fantasists (The band have supported McFly, Eliza Doolittle, Dodgy, and, um, Deaf Havana), but with incredibly undeniable feel good vibes in abundance and a shockingly great ear for melody, harmony, guitar lines and relatable lyrics, these could easily become the first ‘pop rock’ band in years to actually be any good. And if they ever resurrect The Inbetweeners, this lot could soundtrack the whole thing. Here’s hoping. Check out: ‘Tame Me‘
Found: Big ’90s house influences seem to vibrate through this trio, who create a mysterious, art-house type of electronica, neither dance nor ambient, techno nor post-punk, more just an evocative experience that one might assume would feel rather good under the influence of something a bit more illegal than the Diet Coke I’m currently overdosing on. Sure to get people listening very quickly indeed. Check out: ‘This Town‘
Laranja: Of course, you shouldn’t always listen to hype, but when a band have 9,000 subscribers on Soundcloud off the back of one song, and aren’t the type that also follow about 9,000 people, nor spam every social network site going with said song, then there’s obviously something going on. Laranja combine unapologetic funk with psychedelic vocals, and irritatingly catchy synth lines finish off the whole package nicely, and it seems that the buzz is rather justified in this case. And they have good hair. Check out: ‘Tinto‘
CAVES: Stunning, shimmering guitars glisten throughout the music of CAVES, insistently mournful of an era when guitars could jangle and fringes could wiggle around without any preconceived notion or ideals. There’s influences from fields as far as shoegaze, new wave, Britpop, indie rock and much, much more, and the band create what they describe as ‘Bedroom Pop’, but there aren’t many bedrooms big enough to contain a force like this for much longer. Check out: ‘Sleep‘
The Grafham Water Sailing Club: Getting tipped all over Birmingham and beyond is impressive (even though they’re actually from just outside of Birmingham, their native Bedworth), especially when you consider the demonic, almost frightful nature of TGWSC’s music. Breeding post-punk with freaked-out pyschedelic noise creates a dangerous combination that can be heard throughout their output, with equally dangerous names (‘The Butcher Of Barcelona‘ and ‘Kappa Kappa‘ sounding more like Mighty Boosh characters than anything). Check out: ‘Kappa Kappa‘
These Kings: “INDIE CHILL AMBIENT PROG ART MATH EVERYTHING GUITAR NOSES” – so say These Kings of their sound, and there aren’t really more adjectives (or capital letters) that I can hurl at this bunch, who have gigged with fellow townsmen Dumb, Bad Moon, Heavy Waves and Laced in recent times. Mentions in national press have also been complimentary, following an EP release late last year. Check out: ‘Home‘
Symfonyah: Brimming with melody and classic chord structures, there’s a refined element to Symfonyah that isn’t seen elsewhere in Birmingham. The polished guitar work, the golden harmonies and the beautiful melodic nuances that are showered all over their music really show an encouraging, alternative side to the city’s loud, overdriven side. Having only been around for a few months, there’s promise a-plenty for the band, with ear-catching choruses sure to come in abundance very soon. Check out: ‘Frostbite‘
Prayers: Sweeping, atmospheric sounds dominate this post-punk outfit’s sound, with comparisons to White Lies and Editors not misplaced, nor unflattering. The potential to fill enormodomes around the globe is certainly a realistic one for the four-piece, with echoing vocals overlapping with screaming guitar wails and thundering rhythms. Begging to sung along to. Check out: ‘Bloodstains‘
So there you have it. The definitive list of bands from the West Midlands that are gonna be doing some exciting stuff this year. Sure to be appearing on a few festival lineups and support bills, make sure you do your best to see them soon.
Special thanks for this article goes to our writer Jess Goodman, whose knowledge of the Birmingham music scene is only matched by her ability to seemingly go to every gig, ever.