And then there were four. Following several rounds of fierce competition, we’d been left with just four finalists battling out the title of ARU Battle of the Bands winner. With some pretty nifty prizes on offer as well, a video shoot and mixing gear amongst them, it was clear that there could be no slipping of standards tonight. The four competing bands were:
Four Undercover Kings
With pounding drums, heavy guitars and punk rock revelry at its best, local trio Lemon Escapades were up first and got us off to a ferocious start. Front man Sam Buffery-Turnell has a real stage presence; singing from his gut, his voice booms across the room in a way reminiscent of The Enemy’s Tom Clarke, and as he swaggered around the stage the Escapades playing became more and more frenetic. It’s in your face, aggressive and you can’t help but join in. Musically the band are tight, in a manner defying of their tender years they manage to control what could easily become chaotic music. Catchy riffs and testosterone fuelled sing-alongs such as the opening bars to crowd favourite ‘Lambrini’ keep the crowd engaged, and as Buffery-Turnell sneered “I’m an anarchist for the sake of it, a rebel because I can”, you’re inclined to believe him.Up next were Echo Trails and, well, I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like it. Call it Nu Folk, call it experimental Jazz…call it what you like. This was jaw-dropping stuff. Under moody low lights a lone drum starts an almost tribal beat, shimmering cymbals slowly gather the pace and while the mystical sound of a Viola snakes its way into your ears, lead singer Dimitra Tzanakaki sways her hips, at one with the audience, entranced. What follows on from there is hard to convey in type. Shimmering cymbals and soaring vocals merge into the macabre, scratching strings and synthesized keyboards move jauntily underneath the sound of heavy breathing and an almost sinister laugh. Then a Viennese Waltz! The beat picks up as the crowd bobs in time, captivated. The multi-skilled band moved seamlessly across the vast array of styles, with Julia Vaughan on Viola standing out as she battled for control with Tzanakaki on vocals and keyboards. A group that force you to sit up and take notice; find out when they’re playing near you and go see them, astonishing.
“Half of you look shocked to see us” smirked Four Undercover Kings front man Shaun Impey two songs into their set. As a cluster of fans more familiar with the group howled their approval, the rest of the audience at the ARU stared back, eyes wide, too shitscared to disagree. Above a frantic beat, three guitars thrashed out gut-wrenching, head-banging tunes while the young Johnny Rotten up front stomped and roared his way around the stage. This was brilliant hardcore punk rock – renditions of ‘Internal Warfare’ and ‘Rise Against the Mask’ showed that beneath all the noise and swagger, there was real talent on show here. Coming into the final as the wildcard ‘best of the runners-up’, the Undercover Kings had taken this chance and were clearly giving it their all, making up the numbers they were not. As their set came to a close and the room finally stopped reverberating, Impey, drenched in sweat, leered into the microphone and grinned at the crowd. “I hope you learnt your lesson?” Fuck yeah.
So with some seriously high standards set; the final act of the night took to the stage, it was time for The Abstracts. The local three piece outfit had pulled the largest crowd of the night, chanting their name while clad in band t-shirts, there was a certain edge of expectancy in the room. They didn’t disappoint. Within seconds it was clear to see the attraction, bass driven melodies over a thudding drumbeat, this was outstanding Indie Pop. It’s abundantly clear the band love playing live. As the crowd responded to their every word, Felix Morgan and Ben Nunn played back off their audience, and perhaps more importantly off each other. Stand out tracks were ‘Tyrants of Love’ and ‘Scouse Guy’ as well as ‘Sick of Second Best’, which held number one spot on the Cambridge 105 Unsigned Chart for an impressive nine weeks. With a dynamic stage presence and some potential indie anthems at their disposal, I think it’s unlikely they’ll be able to compete in that chart for much longer.
With all four acts done the judges were sent off to make their decision – a far from easy task. While they deliberated backstage, the MC gauged the crowd’s choices – while they all received a raucous response, it was Echo Trails and The Abstracts who were edging it here. And then it was done, the ARU Battle of Bands 2012 winner was announced. The Abstracts had taken it, certainly well deserved. An attempt to reveal the other standings was thrown into disarray with a mix up on points, but it mattered not. All four bands had shown real quality and masses of potential, but it was The Abstracts who stole the show. Clearly jubilant with their win, they took to the stage to a rapturous reception and set about an encore with a cover of The Buzzcocks classic ‘Ever Fallen in Love’. “I can’t see much of a future…” they sang. Sorry lads, but I have to disagree.
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