These are heady...Bulls Heady in fact...ahem...times for the Birmingham music scene. In fact in 25 years or so of gig going in the second city I can’t recall a time when there was as much good shit going on than right here, right now. We’ve got the bands, the venues and, as tonight underlines, the publications (online and ‘real’) in the shape of Brum Notes (an honourable mention must go the marvellous Counteract Magazine too who’ve also pimped this show).
‘Scenes’, for want of a better word, can be tricky blighters of course, icy cool one second then ultra naff the next (see exhibit A, Brit Pop...RIP). Given this the whole ‘B-Town’ thing needs to be approached with a little caution. Unlike most other ‘scenes’ the only thing B-Town bands have in common is geography, musically they’re often radically different, as anyone who’s seen both Troumaca and God Damn for instance will testify. On the positive side it’s undoubtedly changing the opinion of many outsiders that Birmingham’s a drab industrial wasteland inhabited by thick knuckle draggers who can’t talk proper loike and who live off pot noodles, faggots and lard. Although to be fair they often seem to be the only people that get on TV. How the whole thing pans out remains to be seen...or scene in fact...but for now, hell, screw it, let’s just enjoy the ride.
First up, and clearly enjoying the ride themselves, These Kings, who neatly combine pleasant ambiently atmospheric noodly bits with full on...grrrrrr...rock outs. Pleasingly their lead vocalist has a deep, ominous tone that’s vaguely reminiscent of that dude from Sisters of Mercy (Andrew Eldritch you mean – Goth Ed) and there’s just a little cool indie 80s feel to some of their stuff. Pick of the set was one where Mr Deep Voice repeated some simple lyrics over and over, mantra stylee (no idea what it was called...these bands are box fresh, maybe it didn’t even have a title) and another called Y Means Yes, which is probably some clever Math rock / sexual politics reference. Woody - “It’s about Whales and shit” informed Mr Deep Voice (I’m assuming it’s about the mammal and not the country...) also hit the spot, with its gently lulling intro building up, wave like, to a pounding crescendo.
Next up...IT’S A GIRL! IN A BAND! BLIMEY. Yep, sadly the appearance of a female in any band is still a cause for celebration given the distinct lack of ‘em. No idea why that’s the case, perhaps it’s just teenage boys that like locking themselves in their bedrooms and cracking off a few. Chords that is. Anyway, Laced is the band, and with 3 guitarists, a bassist (the GIRL! IT’S A GIRL etc etc) and a drummer they produced a darn fine set of grungegaze (part shoegaze, part grunge...oh you got that already...okay). Again song titles are a little sketchy but there was one, possibly called Everything Is Fine, which was pretty EPIC, great sludgy slabs of grunge mutating off into a vaguely spacerock direction.
The Grafham Water Sailing Club’s menacing new single Kappa Kappa is the sound of an escaped mental patient whispering in your ear...just before he eats it. It’s a bloody good way to start their set too.
With a more unusual setup – dark stage, a variety of electronic gizmos on a tabletop at the front illuminated by a big white ball and drums and guitar shoved at the back – GWSC look, as well as sound, a little different and this goes down particularly well with the crowd of hip young things. As Kappa Kappa burns itself out, the slowing drums at the end echoing some of Stephen Morris’ most hauntingly atmospheric work with Joy Division (several tracks are inhabited by the ghosts of Curtis and chums in fact), the band goes on to spin off in all sorts of different directions, sounding like Fujiya & Miyagi jamming with Being Boiled era Human League on one track then going all cowbell-tastic on a House Of Jealous Lovers-ish (it’s a track by The Rapture...that’s bound to be worth a point at a pop quiz one day...you’re welcome) number. Ominous, brooding set closer The Butcher Of Barcelona gothed it up nicely and, on the day that Goths were named an endangered species (or something like that), it would make a pretty awesome anthem for them. Krautrock, goth, electronica... GWSC are pleasingly impossible to pigeonhole though. Definitely ones to watch.
At times Heavy Waves’ scuzzed up lo fi garage sounds more like it sprang from the streets of Noo Yoik than Brum, buzzing with the same kind of gum chewing cool that made The Strokes such a big deal back in the day. Listen to the online demo of their track Edward to hear what I mean.
See? Cool. If there’s one common thread (albeit a loose one) linking all of tonight’s bands it’s a touch of the old math rock and Heavy Waves inject it with a rawer energy than most. Of all tonight’s bands theirs is the simplest set up, the unholy trinity of bass, drums and guitar, so perhaps that’s not a surprise. Instrumental track Tits, cue the inevitable heckle “Release the tits!”, is a fine example of this but you’ll have to go and see them to hear it as, also in common with most of tonight’s bands, there’s very little of this stuff online at the moment. That’s what’s so ball tinglingly exciting about any new ‘scene’...the early days, before the bitchin’, drugs and addiction to Lush Bath Bombs kicks in. And, on the strengths of tonight’s showing, any one of these bands has the potential to be plucked, PEACE-like from the backstreets. Another A+ effort from B-Town.