Bearded’s Guide To… Oxford

Guest contributor Alex Kealy lets us in on what's going down in Oxford.

Posted on Mar 24th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Spring Offensive / By Alex Kealy
Spring Offensive Writing a guide to a region’s music scene can be an even faster way to make enemies than telling your gran that you don’t give a monkey’s about the royal wedding. However, while idealistic republicanism might merely ruin a Christmas dinner, telling a town’s residents what their scene is can alienate you from swathes of fans if you miss off a pet band. So, y’know, apologies in advance for my tastes not running the full gamut from nu-metal to nu-folk. Hey, as long as it’s ‘nu’, though, right…?

That spineless pre-apology stems from the furore that surrounded THIS, where the NME waded in to Oxford’s gig culture and promptly had their hands bitten off by the foam-flecked fanatics of Oxford gigging. This was a pity, as it highlighted some cool bands, particularly the folk-tinged indie-bop of Jonquil, but constructive musical appreciation of upcoming bands descended into a gruelling slogging match.

Still, there is a lot to Oxford’s music scene. Sure, there’s the obligatory O2 Academy where you have to conjure Mephistopheles up for a Faustian pact just to afford a pint. There’s also the gaggle of achingly cool kidlets who typically hail from the university and wear far more wool than befits a non-ovine species, but don’t worry; there’s a good chance these banjo-wielders won’t invite you anyway. There’s a happy medium between the corporate and the commune, though, and it’s generally to be found in venues like The Wheatsheaf, and The Jericho Tavern (a pub that’s seen the first gigs of many of Oxford’s finest).

Bands working this circuit include named-for-Inspector-Morse trio Dead Jerichos, who push a pop-punk sound that sees the rhythm section of the Arctic Monkeys married to some complex, and reverb heavy, guitar work reminiscent of more famous fellow Oxford alumini – and Mercury nominees – Foals. Also grafting away are the likes of Phantom Theory, who peddle pleasingly muscular riffs, and Gunning For Tamar, whose looping opus ‘Norse Blood’ kicks seven shades of shit-bat awesome out of its math/post-rock rivals. These two released a split together towards the end of 2010 and it’s well worth checking out.

You can also catch Gunning for Tamar on April 7th at The Bullingdon Arms (ignore the name – no fancy uniforms or gratuitous destruction for daddy to pay for here) supporting Spring Offensive, who will be launching their new single. Spring Offensive have been making waves of late with their brand of intelligent lyrics, angular sound and intricate riffs. Their debut mini-album (self-released last March) contained tales of mathematicians gone mad and relationships vitriolically cast aside, and album highlight ‘Every Coin’ sees frontman Lucas Whitworth tell a harrowing story of a man force-fed the contents of his wallet supported by a powerful musical crescendo. They also released a free single in the summer, ‘The First of Many Dreams About Monsters’; it’s a 14 minute, five part epic based on the five stages of grief. It’s understandably, er, heavy but wonderful. 2011 will see them continue to release fantastic music in an innovative fashion: Valentine’s Day heralded a pay-what-you-like acoustic EP. They’ve been compared to - sadly now-defunct - progressive Oxford outfit Youthmovies but really a more apt comparison would be Danish math-pop group Mimas, who are also worth a listen.

Other excitement in the area will likely stem from events promoters YMD!, who help with the organisation for many of the music festivals in the area including the superb Truck Festival, headlined last year by the brilliant Danish math-poppers (yup, it’s a very common genre dontchaknow) Mew. There’ll also be a new album from The Young Knives at the beginning of April, and Fixers seem set to make it big with their ridiculously catchy indie-pop (cf. ‘Iron Deer Dream’). There’s your snapshot and I hope I haven’t missed anything important, otherwise I’ll never become head of radio at the BBC. Ha.