In its heyday in the 1980s, Birmingham was the birthplace of DIY rock and heavy metal. It was the origin of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Napalm Death and Godflesh, who broke out with their visceral guitars, and Ozzy Osbourne biting the heads off bats.
Led Zeppelin hailed from the city and Pink Floyd recorded live sets for Ummagumma in the now long-gone club Mothers. Then there was Electric Light Orchestra, The Move, The Moody Blues, UB40, The Beat and Duran Duran, who all staked their claim as the boys who “done good” from Birmingham. Since then, Birmingham's impact on the music scene has been pretty humble. Even 1990s residents Ocean Colour Scene rose to fame riding the coattails of the “Madchester” scene. Twenty years on, Birmingham is now having something of a musical comeback as emerging new talents bring national attention to the city's indie scene.
Up-and-coming indie bands Swim Deep, with their shimmering summer tunes, and Peace, with their psychedelic guitars and catchy choruses, are among the Birmingham bands currently receiving national hype. In the same vein as the 1980s DIY bands, Swim Deep, Peace, Troumaca, Corelli, Wide Eyed, Bombers and JAWS aren't just part of the same scene, they are all friends. They grew up together, live near each other, work together, party together and play together in the same clubs, pubs and house parties in Birmingham. Harrison Koisser, the lead singer of Peace, says: “We recorded our first demo for ”Bblood“ in our mate Dom Ganderton's party flat in [Birmingham district] Digbeth, and Swim Deep and Wide Eyed did their first demos at his house in Edgbaston. Even [Columbia Records' A&R] Ollie Hodge went on to sign us after he saw us play in Ganderton's kitchen in Edgbaston”.
Digbeth was recently named “The Shoreditch of Birmingham” by NME. Covered in graffitied Peace symbols on street corners, and with photos of band members put up proudly in their former workplaces, the band members are more than just local celebrities – they've created a fanbase within Birmingham that has touched a musical nerve across the UK and made music lovers turn to the city for new music. Even London's Old Blue Last pub venue has been graffitied with a large Peace sign across its doors in recent months.
“It all started with Troumaca,” says Koisser. “It's our mate's band who used to put on nights at the Adam & Eve pub where us and Swim Deep used to support them. That's where it all became a thing. It was us and these other bands just having a laugh. Other than that we just used to drink K Cider in Digbeth and go to 'FACE' at The Rainbow”. When KK Downing, the founding member of Judas Priest, spoke to the BBC about the emergence of the metal scene in the 1980s, he responded similarly: “We didn't have cars or money so we just walked around from pub to club and on the corner of every street there was a venue with bands playing.”
Earlier this year as Peace were seen on billboards in Birmingham with the slogan “WHAT THE FCK BIRMINGHAM”, they would be promoting nights like 'Club Babe' at The Rainbow. In the past few months their tracks would pop up on websites Soundcloud and YouTube and attract instant hype online, such as their first demo “Bblood” (now called “Bloodshake”) and “Follow Baby” – including a video of the band with all their Birmingham friends on a hilltop – which made the rest of the UK prick up its ears to the sound of something new and very British. Peace's cheeky guitar hooks and lyrics like “You vibe so hard” are a biting image of the naive, destructive power of youth that are making a mark on mainstream UK indie.
Swim Deep, who signed to RCA in August, broke out with their refreshing summer tracks “King City” and “Honey”. Catching on to the Californian grunge-pop wave, they dream of a place beyond the dull, grey Midlands. Finding inspiration in summery Beach House-esque escapism, their tunes are full of clean synth loops and dreamy guitars. Their video to single “King City” acts as a tribute to Birmingham as the band run amok around local landmarks including its famous local band venue, The Sunflower Lounge.
JAWS, Wide Eyed, Heavy Waves, Poppy & The Jezebels, The Bombergs, Two Fathoms and Victories at Sea are among other bands now seeing success beyond the Birmingham scene, and it's in part thanks to local promoters. “This Is Tomorrow”, “Atta Girl”, “Likely Lads” and “Chicks Dig Jerks” are the key promoters bringing in fresh, new talent from Birmingham and drawing in crowds to hotspots like Hare & Hounds, The Rainbow and The Sunflower Lounge to celebrate Birmingham's place among the best in new UK music.
Before heading on tour with UK rising indie band Spector, Swim Deep's bassist Cavan McCarthy jokes that, “The Birmingham scene happened because there are special powers in the beer at The Rainbow, and Austin Williams (Swim Deep) and Harry Koisser (Peace) both drank beer there”, adding “it just happened because it happened”. Austin Williams, the lead singer of Swim Deep told NME: “What's happened is more than three bands are decent enough to get on the radio and get people excited so it's been talked about and labelled a 'scene', the B-Town scene. To be honest, it is a scene; all the bands go out together in Digbeth in the Adam & Eve and stuff. You go out and know everyone in the room.”
The buzz and activity surrounding Birmingham's music scene has spread throughout the UK and has led bands to sign major record and publishing deals, sell out shows, receive national radio play and play big, overseas tours. The music scene may have laid dormant for some time, but Birmingham is fast becoming the best place in the UK to look to for the most exciting new music.