It’s that time of the year again when the hottest university bands battle it out to be crowned the best. Last year saw psychedelic indie rockers Bloom take the top spot after a tight final, and this year there are some great bands on the way up – some fresh on the scene, and some veterans of the competition returning with a honed arsenal.
First up were Stress Cows, a four piece named after, judging by their Facebook cover photo, stress balls in the shape of cows. They threw out some nice pop rock to get things started, with clean guitar chords plunking on top of danceable drums. Smooth baritone vocals from the frontman completed the mix, and they bounced through a tune or two before a breaking into cover of ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ by the Arctic Monkeys: a good choice for their sound. After that came an original called ‘Angst 2k16’ – its arpeggiated chords were vaguely reminiscent of some Killers tracks. Their song structure was straightforward and solid, but their tightest song was probably a Modest Mouse cover that really gave the drummer a chance to break free of the ‘4 to the Floor’ beat and hit them hard. They rounded off with one final original, which could have been a touch tighter, but not a bad start at all.
Next up, National Acrobats. They were instantly confident, having reached the finals last year, and it showed. Out of all the bands performing, they had the fullest sound, jumping right into some energetic indie. Chords flicked along nicely to some clever bass work, vocals nipped in between falsetto and chest voice, darting from hook to hook, and the drums felt full and vivacious. Their second song Jericho was perhaps the best original of the evening, showing off a well-considered song structure and catchy vocals. A formidable riff or two later, they closed with some angular guitar lines and more Kooks-y, noughties-esque tunes. A few more backing vocals might have really added to their sound and given it another layer or two, but on the whole, this was a band that knew what they were doing, and with some fresh ideas since last year, they look set to go far in the competition.
it’s already shaping up to be an exciting year
The third band of the evening, intriguingly named Póg Mo Thóin, broke away from the pop-indie theme with a positively metal barrage of sound. With some piercing female vocals slicing through a thick loaf of distorted guitar tones, they smashed through an original, but not before one of the guitarists with a fuzzy curtain of hair covering his face ripped a wild guitar solo worthy of Slash himself. Their second number was as frenetic as the first, complete with a tapping riff on an Ibanez (what else?) and some fist pumping crowd interaction. The sound was muddy and a little clutttered, but the general effect was certainly entertaining, if a touch under-rehearsed timing-wise.
Despite a string snapping, they powered through, and after an “axe” replacement, launched into a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead. Dual vocals worked well here: high and low octaves created a powerful effect suiting the mood of the song. The opening chords to ‘Highway to Hell’ roared, and the crowd jeered. Perhaps it was fate that the spare guitar was a Gibson SG, the signature axe of Angus Young. If Angus held one guitar, it was Slash with the other, as they rounded things off with a cover of ‘Paradise City’ by Guns and Roses. It was a little disappointing that they relied so heavily on covers, but it got the crowd going and, possibly due to the volume, packed a memorable punch.
Closing proceedings was a band called Flaws Above. A cover of the Chilli Peppers’ ‘Dani California’ came first, with some tuneful dual female vocals giving it an original flavour. Cleverly, they played it into ‘Little Black Submarines’ by the Black Keys, keeping things interesting. Their first original consisted of a couple of chord progressions to some fairly standard rhythm lines – nothing revolutionary, but what they did they did well. Some barre-chord use on their second original gave them a plumper, punchier sound and the song structure built up and down along with space-themed lyrics – their best number. Their finale provided a playful riff and sprightly melodies, before closing with a tight finish. These guys can definitely play and write, and although they didn’t altogether have the most coherent sound, their set was pretty neat for the first round.
So, after all that, the two bands that made it through were National Acrobats and Flaws Above. It was a bit of a shame that the bands were so guitar-orientated and slightly reliant on covers, but the presence of female vocals was refreshing. Anyway, it’s already shaping up to be an exciting year for the event, and the turnout was particularly encouraging, especially for the heats. Lets hope round two delivers more of the same.