QMU’s battle of the bands saw eleven acts compete to win a £150 cash prize and a place to perform at QMU’s Live Fest on Saturday 12 March. The bands had seven minutes to play on stage followed by individual feedback by four student judges who chose Blair Coron and King Wine as joint winners of the battle. Blair Coron, a solo keyboardist, was commened on his relaxing trance music and King Wine performed a uplifting, funny, and exciting set at the end of the night.
The hosts began the night to an initially sparse audience but asserted their enthusiasm in introducing the first band, Peninsula. It seemed unlucky to have the first slot, not only having to set the tone and standard but having only a quarter of a completely stationary crowd to work with. Despite this, they were completely comfortable on stage with a confident and impressively big sound reminiscent of the Kooks. Locarno Honeymoon followed – although they didn’t sound totally polished they also gave an enjoyable performance due to their chilled-out and easygoing atmosphere –a band you definitely want on the Sunday morning of a festival.
The first band to really stand out was The Bikini Bottoms, a two-piece with enough sound for six or more. The singer’s slicked back hair and embroidered shirt gave them a reckless Wild West vibe, emphasised by their technically excellent cover of Dick Dale’s version of Misirlou. The audience were tapping their feet the whole way through and they even got a cheer at the end – if not for their pure energy then for their excellent musicianship. By this time the X-factor style judging format was already sounding tired, the commentators saying “it’s that time again”, but this was compensated for with the progressively witty comments from the judges, in this instance “that felt like Frankie and Bennys on speed’, which was true.
Confident stage presence and more excellent guitar playing by Bottle Note led us into one of the most controversial bands of the evening, King Wine. Opinions in the crowd were mixed from the first few notes of the game-boy style riff – the two-piece consisted of the electronic backing track with a simple bass guitar and the melodies sung in an almost conversational way, like a wilder and more energetic version of the Ting Tings. There were mentions in the crowd of their style satirising and possibly undermining that of the more ‘traditional’ bands, however, this seemed to be down to their confidence in their own style and the singer’s uninhibited dancing which more than anything provided a refreshing break. They were interesting, made everyone smile (whether out of joy or confusion) and seemed like the kind of band everybody secretly wants to be in when they dance alone in their rooms. Whether they were the audience’s thing or not, they definitely got their attention.
To follow this was another stand-out act, Blair Coron. With just one keyboard on stage and his reserved understated manner, nobody was expecting him to be one of the best of the night. This was evident from the dead silence of the crowd as soon as he began.
His abstract electronic style had distinct elements of Nils Frahm and Thomas Newman, building up intensity through repetition and layering which seemed to put the audience under a relaxing trance. It was the perfect music for yoga, the nature channel, or in a film when the main character is on a train or there are sweeping pan shots of mountains. “Did anyone else feel like they were in space?” (to quote the hosts) is an accurate summary of the atmosphere, and not only was his music beautifully composed but his execution was faultless.
DopeSickFly kicked the second half off with an instant injection of energy. Now having a full room to play to, their indefinable fusion of dub/hip-hop/funk/reggae/soul grabbed the crowd’s attention with their liveliness and excellent harmonies. They were the only band to bring a sense of community to the evening, not only from the size of their band (6 members, brought together by meeting each other busking in Glasgow) but also by inviting King Wine on stage with them (“can you get up here, can you like … jam with us”). They left the stage to a room full of converted fans, one judge saying the frontman Ant Thomaz is “the only person who’s this good at both rapping and singing”. He even gave out free demos; crowd experience 10/10.
The Sesh followed with a sound that had hints of 90s American alternative/emo, which although had been hinted at in several bands in the night already it was done here extremely well. Whether it was down to the tech team or the band themselves, the instruments were especially clear and perfectly balanced and they came offstage to feedback of “very good, very edgy, very nice”. The only criticism with the judges feedback comes from when they attributed the crowd’s excitement purely to the band -they had “started a mosh pit” – when it was also partly due to the timing as the venue was only just filled by this point.
The next band to play was The 21st State. With elements of Fatherson, Twin Atlantic and Imagine Dragons they were the most accomplished and traditionally Scottish sounding band in the night so far. They have a headline gig at King Tut’s coming up and this level of live experience showed through in their refined style and expressive stage presence. The most notable point was the finale of their last song when the singer and guitarist used a single drum at the front of the stage; it was a powerful visual technique which, although used increasingly commonly in bands of a similar genre at the moment, impressed both the judges and the audience.
Both In White Rooms and Frank’s Red Hot Wings had the disadvantage of performing after the night was supposed to end, so most of the audience and the lively atmosphere was beginning to disappear – however, both gave strong performances and the audience who stayed were still enjoying themselves thoroughly at the front. This atmosphere got even more strange after the break when most people had gone, only a quarter of the room was full, and Blair and King Wine (and DopeSickFly allegedly if they had stuck around) were on track to compete for the winning spot.
Those who left, however, were missing out on the best performances of the night – King Wine were uplifting, funny, and exciting and by this point, the remaining crowd was dancing along with them whether they wanted to or not. Blair Coron got everyone up on stage to sit cross-legged around the piano and although it was not the end of the night that people anticipated, it was even more enjoyable for being unexpected. There was a strange sense of unity in this small group listening silently to film-score style music. In the end, they were both awarded the prizes, which although was well deserved rendered the final round questionably pointless as the event was due to end two hours before the final had even started. Despite this, the evening was definitely an interesting experience and those who went away did so feeling good and having something to talk about.