[FEATURE] THE NEW B-TOWN? THE RISE OF BERKSHIRE-BASED BANDS TAKING INDIE BY STORM

There’s something in the Thames water running through the rural Berkshire countryside. For the first time since the infamous B-Town scene took over the indie contingent in 2012 – which saw the likes of Birmingham’s finest PeaceSwim Deep and JAWS dominate hipster’s record players and medium sized festival line ups – a new scene is fast erupting.

Headed up by indie pop princes and trail blazers Sundara Karma the RG postcode (and surrounding Berkshire towns) are buzzing with new bands which have enough infectious riffs to cause an epidemic. The Amazons, Palm Honey and Haize also belong to this new South East squad.

It all started with a single SoundCloud upload in 2013. Sundara Karma’s members Oscar Lulu (vocals/guitar), Ally Baty (guitar), Dominic Cordell (bass) and Haydn Ashley (drums) were all still at school when they put Freshbloom online and consequently earnt themselves a slot at Reading and Leeds festival. Two years and two EPs later and the four-piece have just signed to Chess Club Records and completed their first headline UK tour. A key factor in the Reading band’s success has no doubt been the consistency in their material. From that very first track to latest single Vivienne the atmospheric, electric guitars and transcendent, dreamy lyrics have always been there, proving them to be the juggernauts of this new, exciting and emerging scene.

 

Sundara Karma @ Reading Festival 2015
Sundara Karma @ Reading Festival 2015

 

Also joining the collective is The Amazons, and they’re a band who have really honed in on their raw and rambunctious rock sound. The evidence of this lies within their first EP Don’t You Wanna. The four-track release was put out on their own label, Goth Cruise Records, in October and is another addition to the list of their exciting achievements this year. In February the band supported The Kooks in Germany, and, as well as a handful of festival appearances they bagged a slot on the BBC Introducing stage at the Holy Grail that is Reading Festival.

Next up is Palm Honey, the psychedelic sonic siblings of Sundara Karma. Brimming with illustrious synths and perfectly polished production, it’s no wonder tracks like Bewitched are gathering support at a rapid rate. The funky electro beats paired with glistening and grooving guitars is a joy to the ears. Speaking about the track in a recent interview, lead singer Joseph Mumford said, “It’s supposed to be a documentation of the feelings you go through during a night out, or a trip, or whatever. The excitement, the anxiousness, the unknowing, the come down.”

Last, but by no means least, is Haize. They’re the boys who cut their teeth as a band called Laguna, and are currently excelling in creating indie dream pop. Their track Solar contains soaring riffs and building basslines. They’re also a four-piece who are very aware of the emergent music scene coming from their hometown right now. Speaking to the band’s guitarist Ben about new music in and around Reading, he said, “We’re big fans of The Amazons, Sundara Karma, Palm Honey, Goldn, Area 52 and Captain and the Gypsy Kid at the moment, but I’m sure there are more gems we haven’t yet discovered.”

There’s no doubt about the community feel surrounding these bands at the moment. You only have to take a quick glance at their various social media accounts to see the unwaning support they all have for each other. Ben continued, “The Reading scene feels more like a little family at the moment. We’ve been going to see a lot of the bands for years and they’ve supported us a lot since we started.” For the newer bands in the collective it has always been this way too, “I’d say it’s always felt like a community to us just because it’s what we’ve grown up around and learnt from” says Ben.

The scene has been welcomed with open arms amongst Reading’s music fans too, as explained by local Liam Howells, “With Reading it’s pretty interesting, as some bands from Reading are only huge in Reading, very few Reading and Berkshire bands seem to break out which is a shame.” But all that looks as though it’s about to change.

After stepping off onto the platform at Reading station and taking a walk outside, it’s clear the town doesn’t appear to be bursting with creativity, whether it be because of the dull, gloomy British weather or the hordes of people bustling around The Oracle shopping centre, this commuter town’s shining music gems still remain largely undiscovered to passerbys.

 

The Purple Turtle Bar on Gun Street
The Purple Turtle Bar on Gun Street

 

However one part of the new B-Town which struggles to remain elusive is The Purple Turtle venue. Home to many of Thirsty Network’s events, the front of the Gun Street building is painted bright purple and holds a striking green name plaque above the door. Inside the walls are adorned with gig posters of rock n roll’s most legendary pin ups, but most notably by the entrance is a light up board displaying the BBC Introducing Berkshire bands that have previously played inside. The list includes RG’s own Sundara Karma, as well as Temples and Eliza Doolittle.

The Oakford Social Club on Blagrave Street and Sub89 on Friar Street have also played host many times to the bands at the forefront of this Reading scene, although they appear a little less eye-catching, merging into Reading’s plethora of old architecture and high rise buildings combined. It’s not all about looks though as Sundara Karma’s Oscar offers when asked where people should visit when they come to Reading, “The Purple Turtle and Oakford Social Club. If you ever come to Reading, be sure to amass your fill of merrymaking at these two places.”

 

 

 

The Oakford Social Club on Blagrave Street
The Oakford Social Club on Blagrave Street

 

Much like Birmingham’s B-Town had the Zombie Prom club night and home of the indie elite, the nightclub Snobs – which Peace’s Harrison Koisser once described as, “Our stomping ground in the glory days. It’s where we all became friends” – it’s fair to say that Berkshire’s B-Town has Thirsty Network and Reading Festival.

Thirsty Network is the club night that has tight links with Sundara Karma. The monthly event is held in venues across Reading (often The Purple Turtle and Oakford Social Club) and features predominantly Berkshire bands as a way of promoting the flourishing music scene by uniting local bands and giving them a platform to showcase their music. Sundara Karma as well as The Amazons, Palm Honey and Haize have all played Thirsty Network shows before, and as the events gain more and more popularity, bands from outside the RG postcode are playing too – the next event sees Viola Beach (Warrington) and Vinyl Staircase (Surrey) play the Oakford Social Club.

As for Reading Festival itself, it’s an event which has held its roots since 1971 and a place which has become the breeding ground for many bands in the rock, indie and alternative genres. So it begs the question, why hasn’t there been a more prominent RG scene sooner?

Long term Reading Festival attendee and freelance writer Hannah Cade believes that the event’s new found diversity in genres on the line-up could be a factor in the current prominent RG scene. She says, “Bands in the area may aspire to perform at Reading but those slots usually go to big London or American based bands. Now that they’ve opened up the festival to different kinds of music, maybe these bands feel they can come forward.” She elaborates, “Reading has proved to be so historically epic that these up and coming bands can use their hometowns as a platform and a way to say ‘we’re the next big thing.’”

The influence of the local event for these bands is undeniable. Ben from Haize explains, “[Reading] festival has been quite a big part of Haize for a lot of reasons. We’ve been going for years and seeing new acts and our friends on some of the stages definitely motivates us. Some of us met for the first time at Reading 2013 so you could say if it wasn’t for the festival then there’d be no Haize.”

 

Reading Festival 2015
Reading Festival 2015

This is a sentiment echoed by Oscar from Sundara Karma too. Recently when asked if his band grew up attending the festival he recalled, “Yeah we did and we would always joke to one another saying, ‘We’ll be there’ and then we played it, it’s nuts.” In a separate interview he commented, “I remember when we were 13 we went to Reading Festival and caught The Vaccines and Bombay Bicycle Club. Throughout both of those performances I thought, ‘Fuck me, I want to do this.’”

While the issue of Reading Festival’s burgeoning influence on bands in the town, without creating such a vibrant scene sooner still remains a mystery, one thing is incredibly clear, Sundara Karma, The Amazons, Palm Honey and Haize all have immeasurable talent. This paired with the mammoth amount of support they have gathered from each other, and fans consequently, make them the strongest contenders to takeover indie in 2016.

 

Words by Shannon Cotton

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