From the start, it is clear Sundara Karma are here to make a statement. Striding onto the intimate stage of The Louisiana Bristol, the four piece (comprised of front-man Oscar, bassist Ally, guitarist Dom and drummer Haydn) wasted no time in getting down to business, with the first few chords of their opener ‘Freshbloom’ already captivating the crowd. When asked how they would describe their sounds, frontman Oscar described it as “just a blander version of the bands we’re influenced by”, reeling off said influences such as “The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Die Antwoord, Marilyn Manson”.
These influences can be seen with varying levels of clarity, but it would be hugely untrue to label this band’s sound as “bland”; having already made a name for themselves with their distinctly fresh and youthful sound. They make their intentions for the feel of the band quite clear, when explaining the band’s unusual name Oscar reveals that “it means beautiful karma. We’re all just massive hippies at heart really and that’s why we thought it would work well. Most people get put off by the name and think we’re a Kula Shaker tribute band going through the whole hippy phase but no, it’s to do with ethos, nothing to do with the music”.
‘Flame’ becomes the second song of their set, and is met with enthusiasm by the crowd. With almost a million and a half plays on Spotify, the punchy rifts and focused vocals are more than likely instantly recognisable to the audience, who move energetically en masse as the band become absorbed in their performance. Before the show, I asked how it felt to have a single that had been so widely listened to, to which they replied that “It doesn’t feel like we have to be honest… yeah it’s wicked to [be able to] say that we’ve reached a million plays, that’s nuts but a real sense of achievement would be to sell out Brixton or headline Glastonbury, not having a million plays on fucking Spotify.” The atmosphere of the set alters as the more mellow track ‘The Night’ begins, led by an insistent, moody bass line but still retaining the lighter rifts that the band have become synonymous with.
“I could look at this radiator and fall in love with it and write about it”
What really becomes apparent in tracks such as ‘The Night’ and ‘Vivienne’ is the lyrical maturity the young band have achieved; discussing where he finds inspiration Oscar said “[we get inspiration] from loads of different things, sometimes I’ll draw upon my experience or maybe they’ll come from something I’ve read that I think has something interesting that could work well for a lyric for a song, then I’ll do that… There’s no real blueprint to it, [it comes from] literally anywhere, I mean, I could look at this radiator and fall in love with it and write about it.”
After asking about specific tracks they explained that “’Flame’ came from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, ‘Loveblood’ had a bit of an Oscar Wilde influence and ‘The Night’ had a bit of a Dracula influence, so I suppose literature has quite a big part.” There is a sense of intention behind the song writing that is made crystal clear in a live setting, as the band twist tales together, extracted from philosophy, literature and real experience and deliver them tenderly, but mostly thrust toward the audience in a wave of angsty, frenetic sound. Sundara Karma’s intrigue as a group itself perhaps originates from the contrast between the mostly light sound, evoking a summery mood, and the contemplative, intimate lyrics. One thing is quite clear – this is a group with a distinctive voice and people are flocking to listen.
The second half of the set, launched by new track ‘Diamond Cutter’ is where Sundara Karma really come into their own as a band, ironing out some occasional moments of earlier discordance and forming a progressively cohesive sound. Having toured extensively over the past year, they have formed a set that is at once polished but still retains a sense of enthusiasm and experimentation with what they do. Describing their long tour stints as “a blur”, “one big party” with Ally commenting that it “had gone very quickly”, it is clear that that Sundara Karma are passionate about performing live, and they do it well. Haydn commented that Alexandra Palace was a stand-out performance for them as a band saying “it’s a bit of a landmark really, it’s it? And to play in front of that many people.”
When asked to describe their dream venue they suggested “in the ocean, surrounded by dolphins… at the bottom of the ocean”
Ally elaborated “The view from Alexandra Palace is ridiculous. I think on this tour, Nottingham, at The Bodega was a favourite venue. That was good – there was a big stage invasion.” Sundara Karma made a name for themselves in part throughout their tour dates with The Wombats, which took them across the UK and Europe. When asked how they’d been picked as support acts, they admitted, “we’re on the same management as them! Completely blagged it really”, but it’s clear why this energetic, young band were right for the job. Haydn described The Wombats themselves as “wicked, really lovely, lovely guys. They’ve given some quite solid touring tips,” the exact nature of which, they were hesitant to discuss (apart from the recommendation of “gummy bear tea” to remedy “a particularly rough night”). When asked to describe their dream venue they suggested “in the ocean, surrounded by dolphins… at the bottom of the ocean,” and while it may take some time to fulfil that ambition, they can guarantee they’ll have plenty of shows at a variety of venues to play in the meantime.
As they storm to the end of the night, with the ethereal track ‘Waves’ providing a nice counterpoint for the boisterous Loveblood, there is a sense of real appreciation from the audience, who by now are truly immersed in the joy of Sundara Karma, a world away from the bleak November night beyond The Louisiana. Having just dropped EPII, this band have a lot to look forward to saying that their upcoming plans were “mainly recording, getting ready for next year”, with an album being “what we’re working towards; that’s the big hitter really”. With fresh, genuinely interesting material and an engaging perspective to match, Sundara Karma look set to emerge as some of the brightest faces of the next year.