Beneath the Surface … No Shortage of Musical Talent

Surface Festival 2012 poster
It’s a perennial question among rock fans. Do the bands that make it, make it because they are the best bands, or are the bands that make it simply the lucky ones who somehow got the breaks? In a previous blog I reflected on the songwriting abilities of a local band I used to follow called Vigilante, noting that “for every band that makes it, there’s probably a hundred others who could have”.

Leaving genius aside – not every band or artist can be a Stones, a Beatles, a Zeppelin, a Dylan, a Morrison or a [insert name of your favourite musical genius here] – the answer to this question is probably that ‘making it’ (itself a difficult notion to define) depends on a wide-range of factors, of which talent is just one. Others include current fashions, industry whims, networking and marketing skills, hard work, dedication, contacts and, of course, a very healthy dose of good luck. Sometimes good bands make it, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes relatively poor bands make it too, though usually they don’t.

Whatever the answer to the question posed above, one thing I do know is that there never seems to be a shortage of aspiring and hopeful bands with their sights and hearts set firmly on a musical career. Judging by what I saw at the Surface Festival 2012 Wales and West regional final last week (Sunday, 19 August), there’s no shortage of talent or ability out there either.

The Surface Festival, for those who don’t know, is a live music event. More precisely, it’s an extensive and co-ordinated collection of live music events, designed to help discover and promote new talent. As the festival website notes: “Surface Festival is the largest event of its kind in Europe. We are based in 16 cities in the UK and Europe and operate over 500 shows a year working with artists and musicians from all backgrounds, ages and genres. We work in partnership with some of the largest global sponsors to deliver amazing prizes and opportunities for bands and musicians involved … The Surface Festival bestows all the tools bands and artists need in the modern digital age to gain precious exposure in the discordant music industry.”

Apparently the Festival receives over 20,000 applications from bands and artists each year. That’s a lot of bands and artists! Through initial selection and a series of live heats, the number is graduaully whittled down to just a few who contest the International Final at the London O2. Without a doubt the Festival provides unsigned bands with the opportunity to strut their stuff in front of audiences (and industry professionals) who wouldn’t otherwise see them, at venues they wouldn’t otherwise get to play.

For those fans who like to debate the “perennial question” posed at the start of this piece, the Festival also draws together a vast array of bands, giving you a chance to have a good look for yourself at the unsigned raw talent ‘out there’.

The event I attended, at the O2 Academy in Bristol, featured fifteen bands, most (though not all) of whom played some species of rock.  All the bands had come a long way in the competition, so the regional final was a big deal for them. The 4 bands who ultimately went through to the International Final all had a real spark and something exciting about them. These were:

  • Audio Razor – a classy and together Reggae outfit with some great tunes;
  • Syren City – an in-your-face alt-rock band who exploded onto the stage with real intent and a real ‘wow factor’;
  • Jam with RoBina – an instantly endearing acoustic band, aggressive and subtle by turns, with great vocals and arrangements; and
  • White Collar Boxing – a bunch of highly-charged and exciting young guns who brought their own rug and simultaenously invoked (in me, anyway) memories of the Rolling Stones, A Clockwork Orange and teenage hijinks in school changing rooms. (I know, disturbing isn’t it?!)

While these bands undoubtedly deserve their place in the final, there was plenty of other talent on display too. Purely in terms of personal taste, I was much taken with Courson, Apherium and Brothers Grimmer. Courson played an engaging and enveloping form of psychedelic grunge which sucked me in and left me wanting more. Apherium, whose singer/guitarist Larry Turner has clear star quality (and is a dead ringer for Euros Childs to boot) delivered a proficient set of moody and soulful hard rock/metal. Brothers Grimmer had real presence and a great vibe that left me feeling they had a lot more in the tank. Honourable mentions too for Swansea band No Obligation, who gave it their all, delivering a set of accessible tracks with strong hooks that clearly went down well with the significant travelling support, and Mortdelamer, who put in a gutsy performance notable, in part, for the maniacal gurning of bass player Joe Bishop.

But in truth, every band played their part. No one was there simply to make up the numbers. Screaming Martini, Tides of Change, The Shoots, Kingdom, Black of Night and Breathe will all have had their advocates. (Indeed, Breathe got a very strong text vote and narrowly missed progressing to the final.) I found plenty of value in each and every band, and almost feel a bit guilty singling out a few favourites!

So … no shortage of bands, no shortage of talent. How many of those who reach the dizzying heights of the regional and international finals will go on to ‘make it’? Who knows. The Surface Festival is a great showcase for them, however, and in an era of increasing fragmentation gives old rock fans like me pause for thought and reasons to be cheerful. (I’d certainly go to see a number of these bands again and will be looking out for them in the future.) So, if you can, check out the final in London on 29 September. And if you can’t make that, look out for regional events near you in 2013. Support new music, support new talent and, as I also said in that Vigilante blog piece, “support your local rock band”!

For more about the Surface Festival, go to:

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1 Comment

  1. Great blog Michael, glad you enjoyed the Fest.

    Did you see the Daily Mail article about Kasabian/Reading yesterday? This shows just how ignorant they really are xxx


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