Campus bands prepare to do battle

Musical oddities abounded at the heats, says Stephen Mitchell, but are we providing them with a big enough platform? He joins the crowds at campus’ only music event to assess the competition and ask what York is doing to cultivate aspiring musical talent.

Battle of the Bands is many things to many different people: for some, it is the opportunity to swap the chill of a February night for the humidity and over-enthusiastic smoke machine of Goodricke dining hall. For others, it is simply a chance to cheer on their housemates whilst getting in a few drinks at McQ’s bar. Most importantly, however, it is the premier showcase of the myriad of talents that compose the University of York’s music scene.

A trip to one of the heats displays the variety of aural oddities being written and performed behind the breezeblock walls of the University. I attended Heat 4, which had everything a music fan could expect, with an abundance of theatrics and eccentricity. Participants blurred the lines between catchy, alternative and, in some cases, profoundly strange. From the ‘Progressive Dressing Gown’ of Juliet Bravo to the pop-punk of Playing for Keeps, the audience experienced live drum ’n’ bass, blues, a ‘reggae-rock’ rendition of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and the spectacle of the Ten Whistling Boys’ oversized cardboard masks, with an added accordion.

Yet the evening left me wondering what Battle of the Bands provides as part of a music scene divided between infrequent live college events and individual perseverance. Dom Shaw, of competing quartet Juliet Bravo, stressed that it is “important that students turn out for events like this, as the opportunities for bands in York are quite limited”. Whilst there are occasions where students can air their developing sounds, such as termly Halifax Xtra and YUSU live events, the noticeable lack of a central campus entertainment venue suggests that the University music scene will continue to remain sadly sporadic. Groups with limited social followings will continue to compete at events such as Battle of the Bands, but the potential for these occasions to raise the profile of bands will be lost unless they are part of a thriving campus culture.

It is clear that there is no shortage of talent, but campus musical troops who have found success seem to have done so through their own talent and industry. OK Brandy, comprising several members of the University Folk Club, supported award-winning singer Rachel Unthank at the National Centre for Early Music earlier this term. Equally, others are taking it upon themselves to organise underground collectives; semi-finalists Tigernaut have performed at events as part of the University’s Burn the Jukebox group at venues such as the City Screen basement bar and Judges Lodgings. Yet, these remain limited and isolated; too often, awareness and support is reliant on hear’say and peeling paper flyers rather than as part of a regular scene.

Meanwhile, the musical melee of 2007 reaches its final stages this week and the remaining bands will all be hoping to repeat the successes of last year’s winners, Conceptual Misfire. I will certainly be in attendance, exploring the sonic crossways that could someday place York on the musical map. It is only by supporting these occasions that the University can begin to aid and develop the neglected musical talents that are present in every corner of campus. Heading to the semi-finals this week is a good place to start.

Meet the bands

We pick the hottest bands that made it to the semi-finals and get the verdict on them from Mike Errico, musician and editor of top music US mag Blender (www.errico.co.uk)

Clip the Apex
“Anti-indie ambient angst”

What they say: “We only really came together to make some noise at Battle of the Bands and scare some of the indie kids.”

What we say: “Reminiscent of a more sedated My Bloody Valentine and, Clip the Apex provide a valiant attempt at emulating their pin-up Explosions in the Sky. Unfortunately, they lack the innovation and intensity of the former, which leaves their slow-brewing harmonies more a cacophonic jumble than a seamlessly fused instrumental progression.”

What Blender says: “Clip the Apex swoop and dive like a British Deftones – not as brutal, but maybe as ambitious.”

Playing for Keeps
“Playful pop with promising talent”

What they say: “We play happy, catchy pop-punk with a dash of ska. We’re not worried about the competition; all the other bands give great cuddles.”

What we say: “Unpretentious giddiness grounded by musical consistency and melodic substance. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’ll keep you bopping along merrily.”

What Blender says: “Low cost recording software lends itself to lo-fi musical styles, but when applied to traditional genres, its weaknesses are exposed. The competent playing and structured songwriting here would benefit greatly from equally convincing production.”

Santa Caesura
“Great name, dubious sound”

What they say: “We’ve been together a couple of months, researching how inebriated we can get, yet still be able to play semi-competently.”

What we say: “Commercial potential is certainly there, but the catchy hooks are obscured by vocal and instrumental dissonance. The vocals are pleasant enough if they don’t waver above an alto and they should do quite well if they remember to sound-check.”

What Blender says: “Heavy guitar-based bands with a charismatic female lead vocalist will invite comparison to Evanescence, and the angular vocal harmonies in their radio-ready choruses seem fine with that. It’s time to book a session in the studio.”

Vudu Guru
“Ali barbar swinging a glow stick at a desert rave”
What they say: “We make music that is fun to dance to whilst trying to look as bizarre as possible!”

What we say: “Bedouin drum ‘n’ bass with Krishna-gone-electric. You have to give them props for creativity, but the manic jungle trumpeting borders on sounding like a strangled maccaw.”

What Blender says: “Vudu Guru’s penchant for Eastern harmonies, guitar synths, ska horns and drum ‘n’ bass beats mix uneasily at first, but if this catches your ear, they will be the only game in town. At the end of the day, originality is a definition of success in itself.”

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