Advertised as Digbeth’s best kept secret: “If you know; you know. £5 OTD / four bands / cheap bar / DJs ’til late / Hell yes”, I’m there! Hosted by FOMA records in a lockup in the backstreets of Digbeth somewhere, with just a photo of the studio to help us find it, I set out with my friend Ray on a very dark and wet trail. Already my heart is racing with anticipation. This is ‘it’ for me. You can stuff your sell-out worldwide stadium and arena tours (don’t get me wrong this is an immense achievement for any band) but I wanna be there at the birth, conception even! We eventually start to hear some noise through our hoods and the hammering rain and we see the studio ahead.
We reach the venue, soaked to the core and freezing cold, but I couldn’t be happier. This is the venue of dreams for me. Stepping inside we immediately bump into James (vocalist/guitarist of Mutes) “That’s my bet lost then” he says with a big grin. “I bet no-one would come tonight”. My heart sank a little for him initially, this comment echoes my exact thoughts and feelings about tonight, getting people into venues is probably the toughest job for smaller bands these days. Here my heart pops out of my chest as the room is already filling nicely, and no bands have even started playing yet. Thank you, Birmingham! There is an amazing underground punk rock scene going on right now and the support between bands for each other and their fans is impenetrable.
We grab a couple of cans from the bar (said bar being a table and portable fridge), maneuver around a couple of random sofas and head up front where a pretty impressive stage has been set up. First up are Matters, a band I’ve not come across before and I’m intrigued by their set up. With the stage lit in blood red, this instrumental three piece take to the stage.
The keys are eerie and dramatic, which give a real gothic feel to the set. Laced with intricate, melodic guitar sounds and a tight, trance drum beat, this band evoked memories from long-forgotten all-night dancing at festivals; way after the headliners had left the stage. The tempo has most people moving and it’s a welcome excuse to warm up; coats on and we can still see our breath! I look to my right and there’s a young artist sketching the band as they play, the vibe in here is immense! The melodies progress into a synth-punk sound and after a few tech problems, the guitar sounds that were initially buried, emerge and resonate around the room. A great start to the night; a band I will definitely check out again.
This is my second time seeing Grain Death. This indie-rock band pretty much blew my socks off last month when I caught their support slot at The Hare and Hounds, and I was eager to catch them again. Offering a very different energy and vibe to the previous band, the four piece bounced around the stage throwing out grunge infused tracks. It was a perfect setting for this heavily 90s influenced garage band who were having a party on stage and quite rightly so.
Okay, so not always the prettiest of vocal harmonies but they were delivered with a passion and confidence that won the crowd over instantly. Grungy filled riffs and militant drumming had heads bobbing and a one-man mosh pit at one stage, not bad for a room with forty or fifty people. This band have huge potential, completely at ease on stage and some great tunes to boot; I’ll be following them closely.
Mutes are one of those bands that excite me massively right now. Stepping away from a lot of the regurgitated sounds you hear so often these days, this band are completely unique. Currently a three piece, Mutes are planning to release their debut album this year, following latest single “Vanishing” released in January.
They power through a melodic, punk-infused set. Distorted guitars mash sublimely with James’ urgent, Bowie-esque vocals, often lyrically dark and brooding. Frenetic drum beats ricochet within your chest, entwined with provocative bass lines; you can’t fail to be aroused by this sound. Towards the end of the set, James lights a cigarette to help with his voice which is met with much laughter and applause. The crowd are captivated and dance along to the intense and evolving songs, the band take out all their frustrations on their instruments coming to a thrashing crescendo that leaves me breaking into a sweat finally and breathless. Bravo, lads; that was pretty spectacular.
Headliners of the night are Hoopla Blue, a new band for me. Their latest EP Itch Be Still was released last September and they are described as “ridiculously gifted” by Radio 6 Music’s Tom Robinson. Only this week they have also announced their support slot for The Flaming Lips, so I’ve caught them at just the right time it seems.
This four piece produce a captivating and, at times, quite dark set. An alternative, progressive rock sound fronted by melancholic vocals made them stand out for me tonight. Again it was exciting to see a band in its infancy bring something completely different to the table. Shared vocals produced haunting harmonies lending to a gritty and atmospheric performance. Instruments played to within an inch of their lives, the musicianship was outstanding. Songs drenched in angst were catchy and thought provoking which induced head bobbing to a still enthralled audience. Dark and seductive, this is another band I’ll be keeping firmly on my radar.
This was an incredible night showcasing some of Birmingham’s finest up and coming bands. Exciting and diverse sounds, each band standing out for their own uniqueness and skill, I felt a great sense of pride tonight and it was a privilege to witness. Best fiver I’ve ever spent!
Grain Death: facebook