Chris Filsell analyses the first heat of this year’s Battle of the Bands (hosted by Campus Bands) and lauds the wealth of student talent that it had to offer.
After weeks of anticipation Campus Bands’ annual Battle of the Bands returned to Exeter, though not in the manner that you might expect. Gone were the days of having to mix with the disinterested predrinkers at Timepiece. Instead, we were treated to a more intimate affair at the Lemon Grove bar, in which the only attendees were those with a passion for live music. Moreover, tonight was an opportunity to see many of Exeter’s local bands perform for the first with time, the majority of the bands from last year’s contest having graduated, meaning that the night was primarily devoted to new faces.
Of these new faces were opening act Splitsville, a guitar and drums piece. Whilst appearing nervous as they first walked onto the stage, the duo songs oozed confidence as they managed to fill the room with noise, regardless of their small setup. Falling somewhere between the Modest Mouse, Built to Spill raw minimalist sound, their songs were a more traditionalist prospect with obvious roots in pop guitar rock. The frontman’s shy banter could appear awkward at times – particular when he made a cringe worthy one liner halfway through their set – but this is a minor criticism of a promising fledgling band, and arguably something they’ll iron out as they gain more experience on the Exeter circuit. Overall, Splitsville delivered a solid performance which put them comfortably through the semi-final on judges’ vote.
Next up were Deathstar Disco, Campus Veterans who’s Glam-Rock inspired Rock and varying costumes will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the Exeter music scene. Having seen Deathstar perform several times, I was sure I knew what to expect: a highly energetic performance of fast-paced guitar solos and proto-punk vocals that would occasionally sacrifice musical tightness for theatricality. As the band took to the stage dressed as Pokémon’s Team Rocket, these suspicions grew stronger and I braced myself to hear something that was, whilst thoroughly entertaining, hardly different from anything that I had seen before. However, I was wrong. Whilst Deathstar Disco still maintained their bag of performance tricks – a backing vocalist dressed in a Pikachu onesie joined them at one point – they also delivered in the songwriting department with killer riff after killer riff being accompanied by an exceptionally tight rhythm section, all played at breakneck pace. Praise must be given to guitarist Tom Collier, who played easily the most complicated guitar solo of the night whilst simultaneously jumping around the stage in tights. The set ended with new song ‘Norman’, arguably the best song Deathstar have written in their long career and it was clear by the time of the acapella outro that the public were firmly on Death Star Disco’s side. Put simply, the year has been kind to Deathstar Disco and it was with little surprise that they managed to sway the public to carry them through to the next round.
Concluding the evening were newcomers Reckless by Name, whose sound evoked many bands you’d be likely see on in a late 90’s edition of Kerrang. This in itself is not a criticism, but with a set of four songs, two of which were covers, it was difficult to judge Reckless by Name’s performance in terms of songwriting, an issue that may have prevented them from progressing from the next round. That being said, they still delivered a confident performance with an excellent frontman, whose Brian Molko-esque vocals and invitations for the crowd to move closer proved both unsettling and very powerful.
Overall, the first heat proved to be an exciting night for Exeter’s music scene, with solid and promising performances from all three bands. Special attention must also be paid to the fantastic work of the Lemon Grove’s sound engineers, who provided a clean and clear mix throughout and ensured that the music remained as loud as possible. I can only expect just as bigger nights next week.
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