2012 has been an amazing year for Nottingham as far as its music scene is concerned. Here, Drowned In Sound's man in the East Midlands looks back at this year's highlights, new releases just in time for Christmas and focuses on some of the artists expected to break through over the twelve months ahead.
If someone had said at the start of this year that a Nottingham artist would score a number one with their debut album and go on to become one of 2012's biggest sellers, it's fair to say the men in white coats would have been on standby. If not to take away the individual responsible for such an absurd suggestion then at least to deal with those capitulating in fits of uncontrollably hysterical laughter. Nevertheless, the emergence of Jake Bugg is just one of many success stories to emanate from music's forgotten city over the course of the year.
Having signed to Atlantic Records around this time last year, Dog Is Dead finally got around to recording and releasing their long-awaited debut All Our Favourite Stories in October. A record exceeding all expectation and mature beyond its years, Drowned In Nottingham celebrates its album of the year later in the column. Indeed, impressive releases from the likes of Injured Birds, Origamibiro, Kappa Gamma - also interviewed later on - Natalie Duncan, We Show Up On Radar and Ronika to name just a few have helped create a wave of interest in a city much-maligned in the past for its musical exports.
The success of Branch Out last month coupled with the more established Dot To Dot and Splendour ensured Nottingham held its place as a prominent fixture on the festival circuit. Add other East Midlands based ventures such as Indietracks, Out The Box and Nottingham Waterfront Festival and it's clear to see why this part of the world finds itself taken seriously after years of striving for recognition.
What's more, if 2012 was a revelation, then 2013 has the potential to be even better, and with the likes of NUSIC, Left Lion, Confetti, DHP and even the local council all pulling together, a sense of unity at last appears to have found its way into Nottingham's long-suffering music community.
Here's to new beginnings and a seemingly ultra bright future!
With the pre-Christmas rush upon us, there are several new releases to tell you about. First up is One Hundred Breakfasts, a seven-track collection of demos from noisy art punks Grey Hairs recorded late last year. What's more, it's free to download off their bandcamp page and should be followed in the new year by an album of brand new material. Here's a sample of what to expect:-
Fellow purveyors of rock Baby Godzilla have a new video for the excellent 'Power Boat Disaster'. Taken from their mini-album Oche released earlier this year, it's the mother of all wake up calls. Nottingham Rocks indeed...
Quirky pop duo OneGirlOneBoy release their brand new single 'Is This Love' this week (Monday 3rd December), also for free. Although still technically a new project, we're expecting big things from this pair in 2013. Here's the video...
Atmospheric combo Blind Caves have been quietly inactive for a while. However, having recently returned to the live circuit, singer Jonathan Millett has been busy in the studio. Here's the haunting 'Starting Gun' as a taster.
One of Nottingham's most loved makers of spittle induced riot girl raucousness The Smears launched their latest video 'Handcuffs And Powderpuffs' with a live screening followed by a typically chaotic performance at the city's Chameleon venue. Next year mark's the band's tenth anniversary with the promise of some extra special surprises. In the meantime, here's the aforementioned video.
Gory psychobilly outfit Dick Venom & The Terrortones have been causing a stir around Nottingham for a couple of years now. Think first album Eighties Matchbox, Demented Are Go or a slightly more chaotic Cramps. New single 'Planet Of The Honey Fuzz'/'Doodlebug Blitz' should be with us in the early part of 2013. Meanwhile, here's the video for their last 45, 'Sticky Pants Trance'.
Finally, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of acts expected to take the city by storm next year. Sinner's Highway are a five-piece traversing the boundaries of classic rock and metal. Having steadily gained a reputation these past few months as one of the finest live outfits on the local circuit, bigger things are predicted over the coming months. Download their recent self-titled EP here. Also, jazz fusion/hip hop collective The Afterdark Movement have been creating a stir this year. Their blend of urban rhythms and gritty lyrics having already gone down a storm at Wireless Festival last summer, 2013 promises to be even bigger and bigger for the Nottingham-based six-piece. Here's the excellent 'Made In Britain' from the Since I've Been Here EP, released earlier this year.
Drowned In Nottingham's Album of 2012:
Dog Is Dead All Our Favourite Stories (Atlantic)
When Dog Is Dead's Rob Milton told us late last year that they'd scrapped most of the original recording sessions for their album and were going back into the studio to start from scratch, things sounded ominous to say the least. With the industry not exactly in its healthiest state and established bands falling by the wayside at an alarming rate, it wasn't just the doubting Thomases that feared the worst. Thankfully as it turned out, and with hindsight being such a wonderful thing, returning to the drawing board was possibly the best thing that could have happened to Dog Is Dead.
Because now, some twelve months later, they've delivered one of 2012's finest debuts. All Our Favourite Stories represents a band whose development and progression hasn't wavered while those around them crumble and ultimately disappear. Assured from the first strains of opener 'Get Low' to the final bars of 'Any Movement' that close the record, it's a distinguished document that draws a line under the band's first chapter while offering several insights into where they may be heading next.
Indeed, when comparing 'Glockenspiel Song' - their earliest song and first single re-recorded for All Our Favourite Stories - with the likes of newer compositions 'Do The Right Thing' and 'Talk Through The Night' it could even be a different band entirely. Which is not to say 'Glockenspiel Song' doesn't possess an infectious youthful vigour; it does, but when placed alongside its more mature counterparts there's a healthy feeling it's merely just the tip of a huge iceberg in terms of what this band is capable of accomplishing.
The album's title, taken from a lyric in the opening verse of former single 'Two Devils' casts a reflective shadow over the record's contents. From the self-affirming 'Talk Through The Night' through to end-of-the-relationship blues 'Do The Right Thing' and the effluent 'Teenage Daughter' which reinterprets Smashing Pumpkins 'Today' for the iPhone generation, All Our Favourite Stories resonates with a tenacity sadly lacking in many of today's career-obsessed artists.
Guy Elderfield's production has helped the band transcend their live performance - which is currently as tight and proficient as any other UK act doing the rounds at this moment in time - into the recording studio, and as a result All Our Favourite Stories works so much better for it.
What's most apparent about this record is that every one of its ten individual pieces could happily stand out as a 45 in its own right, whilst still fitting in with the other nine like an ornately constructed jigsaw. Of course those comparisons with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club (fair enough) and Mumford & Sons (simply bizarre) that have stuck with the band since their humble beginnings will no doubt be bandied around by some, but as ably demonstrated by the majority of All Our Favourite Stories, Dog Is Dead are a band heading in a completely different direction to the band that graced Junktion 7's Club SOS night three years ago. (8)
Hot in 2013: Kagoule
Grunge flavoured lo-fi trio Kagoule have been regular favourites of this column for a few months now. And with good reason. Their live show has blossomed into one of the finest currently doing the East Midlands circuit, while their songwriting has also developed at a fast and furious pace way beyond their teenage years. Debut double a-side single 'Monarchy'/'Mudhole' is out in the early part of 2013 on Denizen Recordings along with more shows. In the meantime, here's a studio recording of live favourite 'Made Of Concrete'. Enjoy!
Interview: Kappa Gamma
One band to emerge from the city's growing underground music scene over the past twelve months are local five-piece Kappa Gamma. Despite only being together for the best part of two years - most recent recruit, keyboard player Safia May only joined in the summer - they've amassed a wealth of critical acclaim culminating in debut single 'Just Another' finding itself on the daytime Radio One playlist last month. On top of all that, they've recently just returned from their first ever European tour as guests of long time DiS favourites Rolo Tomassi. DiS caught up with the band - Tom Towle(vocals, guitar), Julian Hanson (guitars), Max Starbuck (bass), Safia May (keyboards), Adrian Cook (drums) - prior to their biggest hometown headline show to date at the Bodega in November.
DiS: How did the band first get together?
Tom: It was all kind of just a bit of fun to start with. We didn't really know each other. It was Julian that got us all together. He individually invited us all to his house for a jam and then said "I think we should play again tomorrow" and it just carried on like that for a while.
Adrian: And then we got really obsessive over it.
DiS: How long ago was this?
Adrian: Almost two years ago.
Tom: The first thing we ever did was at Stealth for a Confetti Studios Christmas Party and there was hardly anyone there. We played there a couple of weeks ago for the Branch Out Festival and it was jam packed.
DiS: What's the oldest song in your current set?
Adrian: 'Green Eyes'. It's probably the first song we ever wrote, although to be fair most of the songs we currently play have evolved over a period of time.
Tom: I think we've matured over time and developed a somewhat darker side. That's where we've gone back and revised the palette and changed some of the older songs.
Max: The thing is, although to us they're old songs, to a lot of people that haven't heard us before - and that's an awful lot of people - they're still brand new songs.
DiS: I guess the first time many people would have initially heard the band was at Rock City last December when you supported Dog Is Dead. How did that show come about?
Adrian: It was definitely quite a big stepping stone for us.
Tom: We got the show through an online competition run by Mark Del and NUSIC. We just entered and did really, really well.
Adrian: I think Rob (Milton) from Dog Is Dead really liked 'Green Eyes' as well which maybe helped. That was the second song that Pete (Fletcher) from our label Denizen Recordings heard as well and that's the song which convinced him to sign us. But yeah, that show was a huge deal for us and I remember being sat backstage quietly shitting ourselves before we played!
Tom: That set was half an hour yet it felt like about eleven minutes! My mouth was so dry afterwards. I didn't dare look at the audience for the first three songs. It was terrifying.
DiS: What's the deal with Denizen? Is it a long term commitment or just an ad-hoc arrangement based on individual releases?
Adrian: We have an excellent relationship with Denizen. Everything's fairly flexible. We all believe in the same thing and we're going to keep riding that while it feels good.
DiS: Would you sign to another label or relocate to another city if a better offer came in?
Adrian: We've talked about it. If it feels right for us then obviously we'd have to seriously consider it. But at the same time, I think we're in a really good position at the moment and a lot of that is down to Denizen.
DiS: Having seen the band several times over the course of this year, it's fair to say your live show has developed considerably. Is it something you tend to work on?
Tom: The only real practice we get is by playing live, so it's just a matter of becoming more confident. Everything's still extremely new for us and we're constantly pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. There's a lot to learn from doing that, so it's great to hear people say they've noticed us improving when they see us play.
DiS: So how does the writing process work at present?
Adrian: Tom is our John Lennon! The way our songs become pieced together can be very confusing. We all kind of study it and then we have arguments. We're like the musical equivalent of a pizza. Tom supplies the bread and the rest of us provide the toppings!
DiS: The newest member of Kappa Gamma, Safi, only joined the band in the summer and played her first show at Splendour Festival in July. What does she bring to the band and will she be involved in the writing process in future?
Adrian: I think she gives a lot of what we do a whole new dimension for a start. It really became obvious on the Rolo Tomassi tour how important she is to the band. I think she became one of the boys on that tour, always farting and burping with the rest of us!
Tom: I don't think she changed her socks the whole time we were on tour either! She gives us a good kick up the arse though and she's multi-talented. She plays numerous instruments and is exceptionally well trained as a musician.
DiS: Your first single 'Just Another / Wildfire' came out as a joint release between Denizen Recordings and James Spence's Destination Moon imprint. Is that how the Rolo Tomassi tour came about?
Tom: Pretty much. They're such great guys and James has really got his head screwed on.
Adrian: We're really quite privileged that he likes the stuff we're doing.
Max: It's quite mind blowing to us that someone like James is a fan because he's such a ridiculously talented man.
Adrian: I don't think any of us really envisaged how well we'd go together live but we really did. The energy every night was something else.
DiS: Did it feel like you were having to prove yourselves every night to their fanbase, especially playing in a foreign country?
Tom: It was interesting. I think people appreciated it. The response was positive every night.
Adrian: We played a hardcore show one evening which probably divided opinion and then we played a squat party on another night which was incredible. Everyone just loved everything! In England people tend to be more interested in fashion and the image of things, whereas in Germany they were purely there for the music.
Tom: Rolo Tomassi have invited us back as well. We're doing the Christmas show with them at the Harley in Sheffield on 10th December.
Adrian: That's going to be a really awesome party.
DiS: Do you think having an image is important?
Tom: I think it depends how truthfully we want to answer that question! Our image is kind of naff I guess. We haven't tried to do anything, or thought about it in any way. I don't really like it when bands get too hooked up on the way they look.
Adrian: We just want people to focus on our music.
DiS: Your single 'Just Another' was recently playlisted on Radio One? Were you surprised to receive that kind of attention with your first record?
Tom: We haven't really been over here to appreciate it! When we were arriving at the airport in London we were getting all these texts saying "You're on the radio now!" and we couldn't listen in because there was no reception. I haven't heard one single play yet.
DiS: I guess the support from Radio One should act as a springboard for things like festival slots next year.
Adrian: BBC Introducing are doing a wonderful thing and they seem to be the main stepping stone for new bands at the moment. If you want to take being successful seriously it can only strengthen your portfolio and this is one of the best ways to do it.
DiS: What are your plans in terms of future releases?
Adrian: I think we're planning to release a couple of tracks in January off the EP we've been selling on tour. It's only been sold at shows so we're looking at putting out a proper release based on that.
Tom: It was only initially meant to be a preliminary tour CD purely to help pay for the shows.
DiS: Any preference as to which two songs they might be?
Tom: We literally have no idea at the minute. We don't even know what our next song is going to sound like because we're constantly changing that much. It's very difficult to predict so we'll just see where our songs are going and where the colouring is, what's going to be appropriate I guess.
Max: Round about March time we should be ready for releasing the first single off what's going to be our album.
DiS: Is there a projected release date for the album?
Tom: It's hard to say really.
Adrian: We tend to make these loose plans and then they always get revised or change completely.
Max: Like when something such as the Rolo Tomassi tour comes along which pushes things back that bit further. We should really be writing the album now but because we've been doing all these shows it's given us an opportunity to have a break over winter and pull everything together. We've got the bodies for the songs there. They just need fleshing out a little.
Adrian: We're moving into our new studio at First Love and we're just going to burrow away in there, hibernate for a few months. The bleakness of winter is a powerful thing to draw from.
Tom: With the writing at the moment we'll kind of have an idea then leave to one side to work on again later. Not a lot's been finalised with the album yet. We've just got about a million ideas floating around instead!
DiS: Although only a relatively new band yourselves, are there any other new bands in the city you've been impressed with recently?
Tom: The bands we do like people are already mentioning. Kagoule for example. Cheap Jazz as well from Derby.
Adrian: Derby really doesn't get enough attention. There are some great bands there at the minute. Anything Marty from Alright The Captain is involved with too. Leela And The Spaceship as well.
Tom: I do think we're quite oblivious to a lot of what's going on around us. We've been stuck in our own little bubble for a while, although I'd definitely add Childhood and Wanderlings to that list.
December being a traditionally quiet month for live music, here's a selection of what Nottingham has to offer leading up to the festive period.
6th December - The Wave Pictures - The Maze
8th December - Gary Numan - Rock City
8th December - The X Rays + Bus Stop Madonnas - The Navigation
8th December - Tigercats + Haiku Salut + Fever Dream - Chameleon
10th December - Native + Bayone + Dead Sailors - JT Soar
14th December - Rob Green + Harleighblu - Bodega Social
14th December - The Wickets + Karhide + Our Helical Mind + Ex-Wizards Arkestra - Bunkers Hill
15th December - Indiana (pictured) + Saint Raymond - Nottingham Contemporary
21st December - Discharge - Rock City Basement
22nd December - The Damn You! Annual Christmas Covers Party featuring Grey Hairs, The Cusp, Fists, Pilgrim Fathers + many more - Bodega Social
Drowned In Nottingham will be back in the early part of the new year, so if anyone has any gigs, releases, links, events or club nights they wish to add please do so in the comments section below.