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YOUR CITY REVIEW – Sun 25th July

Your City: Sunday’s review
by Ollie Hopewell

Image courtesy of Mark Vyse

 

Saturday 24th July 2021 saw the return of Stoke-on-Trent’s Your City music festival, a return 790 days in the making after lockdowns and social restrictions brought the music industry to its knees. But out of the silence venues such as The Sugarmill, The Underground, and The Backyard are re-emerging once again, taking the crucial steps to bring the UK music scene back to the lofty heights it once knew.

The Your City festival saw a two-day celebration of local and touring music return for the first time since 2019, and Stoke-on-Trent’s mighty music scene has only matured in the absence of live music venues; crowds of people delighted to be back at their favourite music venues were met with a plethora of talented musicians excited to share their work once again.

This Sunday I was lucky enough to witness eight fantastic artists at The ‘Mill, and my months of waiting were more than made up for. So here is what you might have missed from Sunday’s Your City line up:

 

Reygan
@reygan_music on Instagram

The second day of the festival began with a small but enthusiastic crowd gathering to watch the up-and-coming Reygan, a four-piece fronted by the incredibly talented Regan Latham, whose amazing voice paired with slow and dreamy lyrics draw immediate comparison to the likes of Jorja Smith and Ariana Grande.

So far the band have a sole release in Forget Me Not, a lo-fi pop crossover which draws similarities to the earlier works of Wolf Alice and Billie Eilish’s Ocean Eyes, but there is plenty more where that came from; Reygan have more in the bank with several tracks yet to be released being played alongside covers of Jack Garratt’s Water and the aforementioned Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman, the track used to see out their performance in explosive fashion.

There’s so much to love about this band and there is certainly more to come, with Latham teasing at big plans in the future. A humble start around local venues is on its way and you’d be foolish to not go and see them as soon as possible, so keep an eye out for Reygan as they begin their musical journey with a grand plan in mind.

Leaving the crowd wanting more, Reygan really announced themselves onto the scene on Sunday and I really hope to see them performing at the Sugarmill again soon.

 

Bathtub
@bathtubofficial on Instagram

Second to the stage were Stoke-on-Trent’s very own Bathtub, a rock duo tipped to make it big in 2021 by BBC Introducing, and you can certainly see why. The pair have been playing music together since they were in high school but officially christened the band as Bathtub on Boxing Day of 2018, a name which now proudly sits upon drummer Brandon Fiore’s forearm.

All the hype around these two suggested that a crescendo of high-octane and gritty sound was imminent, so imagine my shock as they opened their set with a subdued rendition of Amazing Grace, though this was short-lived with frontman Olly Murphy-Tinsley soon changing to Introduction, a song the band describes as the perfect summary of their sound.

The sound produced by just two lads was incredible, as a cacophonous explosion of sound filled the room, making it immediately clear that this was something special; Bathtub look set to challenge the idea that the Post-Punk and British Rock movements are dying as they “wage war” against the pop music they find insincere and shallow.

Heavy inspiration from Nirvana and fellow two-pieces Royal Blood, Slaves, and the White Stripes clearly lay out the sounds and ambitions of the band who take pride in their thunderous and chaotic stage presence, dominating the Sugarmill’s stage with their gritty sound and Cobainesque lyrics. I honestly believe that these two would have just as much fun playing in an empty room as they would at a sell-out venue, that is how much they love performing. If they had a larger crowd on the night it would’ve made for one of the best performances I’ve seen at the Sugarmill.

The two demonstrated their abilities with a cover of Kasabian’s Club Foot, prefaced by a warning of “If you stand there still I’ll be really disappointed” before rolling into Oiled Up, the band’s newest single and Friday, teased as part of the soon-to-be-announced EP.

Bathtub already have the foundations in place to gain a huge following with an active social media, plenty of fan interaction, and an official YouTube channel on which they post everything from behind-the-scenes content to self-produced music videos of an industry standard; these lads have their shit together and seem adamant on taking us for the grunge-rock ride of our lives.

 

Oceans On Mars
@theoceansonmars on Instagram

After speaking to people at the gig, you’d be easily misled to believe the Oceans On Mars were the real headliners of the day; more had arrived and all were singing the praises of the Cheshire band, with most in the audience telling me that this wasn’t their first time seeing the band play live.

There are so many incredible artists who have quite clearly inspired Oceans On Mars and this was abundantly obvious in how different each song sounded to the last; Mousetrap sounds like a softer take on Nirvana’s Been A Son and People In My Head is an ode to grunge, channelling a certain Pearl Jam sound, but then Cold Blooded sounds closer to a pop-rock/alt-metal hit. It is genuinely amazing how much ground this band covers musically while maintaining a tight sound and consistent image.

With something for everyone, you can see why the band sits on around 500,000 online streams, and this is more than likely why the crowd seemed to surge in number before they took to the stage. Starting with a low and almost haunting guitar blast reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, the five-piece seemed to win over the entire crowd within seconds, getting everyone jumping.

Everyone in the band feels like an equal part of something greater than themselves, with no key person taking the limelight as frontman Haydyn Biddle made sure all of his bandmates got their time in the spotlight, allowing lead guitarist Angus Scott, bassist Alex Fairhurst, rhythmic guitarist James Oldham, and drummer Greg Wilkes all to have their moments showing off their abilities in front of their fans, a class touch.

Unafraid to change the pace of their stellar performance, the Manchester-born frontman Haydyn Biddle takes a moment to thank everyone for their support and help through the bands journey, dedicating the gig to those who have suffered mentally from lockdowns across the UK.

So, what comes next for Oceans On Mars? Well, they have sold out Manchester’s Deaf Institute this Saturday and will continue to tour afterwards, so I highly recommend that you grab your tickets while you still can.

 

Lucid Waters
@lucidwatersmusic on Instagram

Lucid Waters came to the Sugarmill on Sunday with very little content available to gauge how they perform as a band, having no music available on any major streaming platforms. The band’s only online record, Petty Few, is only available via Bandcamp and serves as a demo for their work. Coming into the Your City festival as almost total unknowns was a big risk, but what a risk it was.

Fans of the post-punk movement can rejoice in the much-needed revival of the movement’s traditional sounds undertaken by Stoke-on-Trent’s very own trio of Alec Playford, Rowen Addams, and Joshua Goodwin. Sounds originally spearheaded by the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd, Talking Heads, and most notably Joy Division, who serve as the band’s biggest inspiration, are being implemented into the sound Lucid Waters are carefully and meticulously crafting, with the aforementioned demo single Petty Few displaying the band’s commitment to their art.

Emerging onto the stage dressed like a mixture of AM era Alex Turner, the skinhead movement, and Jervis Cocker, Lucid Waters immediately caught my attention; if they played half as well as they dressed we were in for a treat. Opening their evening with a fantastic cover of Joy Division’s No Love Lost, the crowd seemed to surge forwards to the sound of Playford’s scratchy vocals as the band caried out their set with as much confidence as any other band seen on the night. The New-Wave and Cold-Wave influences gave the crowd a great taste of what is to come from the Stoke-on-Trent band, with plenty more to be expected from their performance which certainly gave me lofty expectations for their future.

Covers may have filled a decent chunk of Lucid Waters’ set, but all were played out very well in a great homage to their musical idols. If you check the band’s Facebook page you can find covers of The Gun Club’s She’s Like Heroin to Me, Kip Tyler’s She’s My Witch, and Joy Division’s Leaders of Men, all of which are excellent and give deeper insight to the capabilities of the band.

For similar listening, their modern-day contemporaries would be the likes of The Lounge Society, Belarussian three-piece Molchat Doma, and Sweden’s Viagra Boys, all of whom make for excellent colleagues. I am excited to see what the future brings for Lucid Waters.

 

The Howlers
@thehowlersuk on Instagram

Let’s get one thing straight with The Howlers, they do not want to be like anybody else; often pushing back at genre labels and artistic comparisons to give themselves creative freedom, the London-based trio does this not out of ego but out of their desire to become the next big thing in music. And while they are comparable to many other great bands, they do have a very valid point in their pursuit of becoming something new.

Rather than being “the next Arctic Monkeys” The Howlers just want to be The Howlers, and they genuinely are their very own thing. Combining elements from desert rock, grunge, and tones of both punk and alt. rock to create a refreshing and unique sound which the band can cultivate and call their own.

Taking the stage like ducks to water, the lads just seemed to just get on with things, opening to a sizable Sugarmill crowd and displaying their musical prowess and looking good in doing so.

Best described as a Blossoms aesthetic with tones of The Black Keys, and Jake Bugg with elements of DMA’s, The Howlers really have found a sound that they want to run with, and it worked well on the night. Very well indeed.

Singles I Don’t Love You All the Time and Lost Without You seem to really lean into their new sound, leaving the crowd begging for more. Tracks from their Badlands and La Dolce Vita EPs and the band’s 2019 single Matador gave a rockier side to their performance while giving respite in the slower pieces of the night.

Comprised of singer/guitarist Adam Young, Guuster Braak on bass, and Cameron Black on drums (as well as fourth member on synth/piano on the night), The Howlers look set to take the UK by storm with their shameless and obsessive love for their own brand of debauched alternative rock. Delivering an emotive and fierce performance to the Sugarmill to commence the halfway point of the evening, The Howlers are certainly future headliners and have caught the attention of all the right people, for sure one of the best performers of the festival.

 

Sawel Underground
@sawelunderground on Instagram

By far and away the biggest tonal shift of the whole evening, Sawel Underground introduced themselves as the forerunners of the 60s rock revival scene and as the new wave of British freakbeat, combining sounds from of Swinging London alongside the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era of The Beatles.

Sawel Underground didn’t have the longest or tightest set of the evening, but it was certainly an experience to behold; a five-piece composed of four guitars and one drummer was able to conjure up sounds unmistakable to the psyche-folk sounds of the 1960s in what was the biggest gig of their careers.

Separating themselves from the pack on the evening with their go-go dancing aesthetic and low buttoned baggy shirts, Sawel Underground make you want to close your eyes and imagine life during the Summer of Love as their confidence only seemed to grow as the evening progressed, jumping from strength to strength while entertaining a sadly dwindling audience.

If you stuck the band’s first single, Hundred-Sunned Dream Sister I, into a vinyl collection of rock psychedelia you would struggle to realise it was released in March of this year rather than 60 years ago when the movement was in full flow.

Armed with all the camp charm of the era and a genuine passion for their project, if Sawel Underground want to spearhead the Staffordshire Psychedelic renaissance with a flourishing but gritty sound juxtaposed to the derelict setting of North Staffordshire I say let them, who could possibly resist the droning call of their hallucinogenic garage rock inspired by the likes of The Animals and Jefferson Airplane.

 

Queen Cult
@queencultband on Instagram

In desperate need of a bigger online presence, Queen Cult brought a sense of anarchy and fun to the stage as they bounced around the stage with all the swagger of Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, performing their seminal single Shindigger to a lively and engaged audience.

Fronted by Macclesfield-based Maisie Johnson and Leila Jacklin, the band played as a quartet on the evening and carried themselves with a confident mayhem which not only produced a great atmosphere but gave way to a great set of alternate rock music fused with punk influences not dissimilar to New York rock trio The Rapture.

Queen Cult are just waiting for a break to come so that they can share their catchy melodies paired with chunky guitars and unrelenting drums with the world. The energy of the band was equally as unrelenting, and you couldn’t help but jump around throughout their set while the band seemed to have plenty of fun on stage.

Moments before their explosive ending “I’ve got work tomorrow, but I don’t care!” was met with cheers and laughter from the crowd who were probably quite dizzy from banging their heads so much throughout the band’s half-hour set.

Much more is expected to be coming this Summer as the band have consistently teased online, but for now we will have to wait with what we’ve got, and I certainly don’t mind sticking the excellence that is Shindigger for the time being.

 

Darla Jade
@darlajadeuk on Instagram

An emotional end to the night as the unbridled talent of Darla Jade saw out 2021’s Your City festival, bringing electro-pop brimming with synth notes and thought-provoking lyrics to the stage as the up-and-coming Stoke band headlined.

Bringing a mixture of Scandipop and an electronic sound of the early 2000s together and merging it with poppy lyrics gave frontwoman and band namesake Darla Jade a cool and chilled vibe, allowing her to really express herself onstage as her band looked honoured just to be sharing the stage with her.

In reality I’m sure Jade was equally as happy to share the stage with so many talented musicians who really perfected the lo-fi synth-pop feel. There was also plenty for the fans who had come earlier in the day, with a great cover of Paramore’s The Only Exception winning over anyone who wasn’t already enthralled by the band’s immense aura.

Personal favourite song Disconnect, the title track for this Friday’s forthcoming EP, was perhaps the highlight of the set, as everyone seemed to be smiling and swaying as the band gracefully and passionately glided through their set. To contrast, This Time, Forget You Not, and Overcrowded seemed to get everyone in their feels as the sombre melody and heart wrenching lyrics gave everyone something to think about as Jade sang about her self-reflection relating to the problems experienced by the modern youth of the UK.

Ethereal vocals draw similarities to Kate Bush and Bjork while the overall sound felt more influenced by the likes of Ariana Grande and Wolf Alice, some very talented artists who Darla Jade definitely deserve to be compared to.

Already received recognition and exposure on Radio 1 and Spotify, it’s only a matter of time before we hear Darla Jade being played more frequently on the radio before their inevitable climb into the UK charts.

The final performance of the night really gave the evening somewhat of a cyclical feeling; starting with Reygan and ending with Darla Jade, it was great to see Stoke’s music scene being represented by two very talented women with very bright futures.

 

© Ollie Hopewell 2021
Contact ol.hopewell@gmail.com

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