An education for Alt-J

University is a unique environment for fostering musical talent says Chloe Hamilton, as evidenced by this year's Mercury Prize winners

Students get a lot of stick. They sleep until noon, live off baked beans and drink their own bodyweight in beer. But for some, university offers more than just the opportunity to pull off 10-pint-challenges as evidenced by band-of-the-moment Alt-J who met while studying.

Alt-J isn’t the first band to flourish at university: Coldplay, Queen and Pink Floyd all met among the beer pong and pot noodle, taking advantage of social groups and music facilities to develop their sounds.

The hard-working Mercury Prize-winners, who have crept up on the music industry and taken it by storm, began recording in their bedrooms while in their second year at Leeds University. Two years later, in 2011, the foursome signed a deal with Infectious Records before winning one of the most coveted awards in the music industry for An Awesome Wave last month.

The boys met by chance, a happy example of being in the right place at the right time. Gus-Unger Hamilton, keyboardist, says: “We had no ambitions to be in bands before we came to university. Maybe we hadn’t met the right people.”

Known for their experimental style, the group went by a number of different names before deciding on Alt-J(∆). The moniker was born after bassist Gwil Sainsbury discovered the Delta shortcut on his Mac.

 “Alt-J was the only name we could all agree on. We didn’t really bother to think about the name, we were more interested in making music,” said Gus.

The band comes from drastically different musical backgrounds. Gus started his musical career as a choirboy at King’s School Ely, while drummer Thom Green used to be something of a metal head.

“Our music is different to what we’re all into. We almost shut out our musical background,” says Gus.  “We didn’t discuss what kind of music we were going to make. I didn’t really know what type of music it was, it felt instinctive.”

University offers a unique environment in which to develop musical talent. Like-minded people, lots of spare time and late night jamming sessions make for a killer combination. A student band even made an appearance in Channel 4 comedy Fresh Meat this week, after characters Kingsley and Oregon formed a ‘house band’. Unfortunately, they clashed over whose song to perform and broke up minutes before going on stage.

Tom Morley studies Popular Music at Goldsmith’s College and also lives with one of his band-mates. Since moving in together, Tom and Steffan have exploited their close friendship, embarking on a number projects together.

“It’s so difficult to find someone who’s committed, but we help each other out. We’re both songwriters, so we give each other feedback,” says Tom.  “Sometimes it makes me feel guilty if he’s is writing a song and I’m doing something else. It’s healthy though.”

Tom admits there could be trouble on the horizon if either one became more successful than the other. He says: “No, I don’t think he would give up his music to be in my band.”

Charmingly, Gus speaks highly of his band-mate’s approach to song writing and tells me that Alt-J’s new-found fame won’t change the way they write music. 

“Joe writes the lyrics. He has a very good approach. He doesn’t write them in one go, he spends a few months collecting words and images,” says Gus. “Our approach to writing songs will be the same. Everything has a reason to be there. We want every line and instrumentation to be justified.”

Alt-J are the new poster boys for aspiring musicians. They’re one of few success stories, but with the music industry revamping itself and musicians recording their own EPs, there will undoubtedly be further successes to come. DIY musicians are taking their future, and the future of the industry, into their own hands. 

In the meantime, failed rock-stars will be digging out dusty cassette tapes and faded photos, and explaining to their incredulous children that they too were in a band at university.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea