I have a confession. Forgive me, Campus Bands, for I have sinned – this was my first Battle Of The Bands. I didn’t go last year (I didn’t even know there was one last year, most probably because I was locked up in my smoky room listening to Temples’ dreamy, otherworldly album on repeat, invoking the Gods of Spring to make it sunny already), but I’m keen to make amends for that this year.
Heat 1 took place at the Lemmy on 27th January and, if you happen to have caught my Redlight review last week, you’d know how perverse the idea of any live music there sounds to me. As soon as I arrived, I heard that one of the bands, Perdify, had dropped out; one assumes, due to either excessive rider requests, the drummer getting with the singer’s girlfriend, or simply because they couldn’t get their shit together in time/be arsed. No matter – it left the contest between Splitsville, Death Star Disco, and Reckless By Name. It looked thrillingly promising; I mean, those names… you’d think we were at Download.
First up was Splitsville, fronted by Jordan White. I feel as though I’ve seen this guy perform literally everywhere in Exeter this year under his solo project. I’ve ‘accidentally’ seen him play around three times now when going for quick pints at Timepiece or Old Firehouse – the man doesn’t miss an opportunity to play. Rumour has it that he’s a first year, which makes his work output all the more commendable (we’ll go with that – if NME don’t need to fact-check, neither do we).
For this particular band dynamic, White opted to partner up with a drummer, banking on the recent popularity of rock duos such as Royal Blood (also see The Black Keys, White Stripes, Deap Vally, Drenge). The pair tasted more of pop/punk than hard rock though, owing to the punchy chords combined with vulnerability of the vocals, which tended more towards potency than actual melody. The songs were awash with masochistic teen angst and feelings of lovelorn contempt, which juxtaposed against Jordan’s polite, submissive banter. It was amusing and quite endearing. They gained a point for likability, but I felt that the potential perks that could have arisen from a drums/guitar outfit, such as use of dynamics and even general attitude, went largely untapped.
The award for all-round entertainment had to be given to Death Star Disco; the band waltzed up to the stage dressed as Team Rocket and singing the Pokémon theme tune, later joined by the singer who was dressed as Ash Ketchum, flinging Pokéballs at the crowd. Not ones to preach style-over-substance, they had the talent to back up their charisma; the vocals were solid and melodically astute, the bassist had groove to spare, and the guitarist spent most of the set on his knees praying to the Rock Gods by way of virtuoso guitar work. The performance was completed with a duet by Pikachu and Meowth, coming off the drums to sing, along with an ode to the Devil’s daughter and a song about some bloke called Norman. The crowd was thrilled by a band who were the embodiment of great chemistry and talent – one shudders at the thought of what might happen if they were to take themselves seriously.
The last band of the evening was Reckless By Name, a loud band with a grunge sneer. I thoroughly enjoyed their melodies atop driving guitars. Something about the singer’s diction, mannerisms, or the way his eyes would dart around the room would evoke a feeling of anxiety and paranoia, reminiscent of a very young Johnny Rotten (this may not have been intentional – he could have just been very nervous). They finished with a cover of Wolfmother’s Joker And The Thief, a personal favourite, which impressed me as the dexterous guitar lines were bang on the money. Although it has to be said that, due to the original singer’s almost Plant-esque range, singing it a few octaves lower than the original probably didn’t cause the electrifying effect that the band were hoping for.
Overall, this was an evening of great stuff. As results would have it, Splitsville were chosen by the judges and Death Star Disco were saved by the popular vote. Though there is no question about who I’d like to see again – only next time, I’m hoping not to get a Pokéball to the face.