The Underdog – a retrospective

This article appeared on “The Flux Presents”, a Bristol-based music blog – visit it here: http://fluxpresents.com/


Bristol’s Mammoth New Battle of the Bands – “The Underdog”!


“Battle of the Bands” has been a dirty phrase in live music for a long time. Far from the Jack Black “School of Rock”- style events where hundreds of fans turn up to see the best grass-roots local talent, these shows have become a popularity contest/cash grab in all but name. Fledgling bands badger their friends into paying to watch them play, and find themselves out-voted when another band buses in their entire extended family from the depths of Somerset!

                Not in Bristol, though! Jon Spencer’s Synthetica Events Group have put together a Battle of the Bands truly worthy of the name, where last year 50 bands fought it out all summer long, over the course of a dozen gigs at the legendary Thunderbolt venue. In the competition to claim top prize of £1,000 my band, White Noise Radio, just missed out, and had to settle for the second prize of a weekend’s recording in the near-mythical Sawmill Studios on the River Fowey, following in the footsteps of Muse, the Stone Roses and Oasis. This year, there’s another grand up for grabs, as well as some seriously impressive runner-up prizes. If you’re in an unsigned band, you should sign up for the 2016 Underdog; here’s why:


You’ll get PAID!


                We sold enough tickets during the Underdog competition to come away with £150 in the band kitty, money that we put towards recording our first EP. Given that most promoters we’ve booked with are unwilling to share even a small percentage of their profits with the bands, Synthetica’s attitude is refreshingly ethical, and they don’t impose a “minimum ticket sales” condition on bands; you’ll be paid for every ticket you sell!




                Like all unsigned bands, we’ve played gigs to half a dozen disinterested bar patrons, and we’ve played gigs to a room full of our friends. Neither of these really helped us out though; what we need is to play in front of other band’s fans, and this is an opportunity the Underdog gave us. Especially in the later stages of the competition, the venues would be absolutely packed, there would be nowhere to stand, and the atmosphere would become electric (not to mention humid)! There’s really no better way of getting your name out there than by putting on a great show in front of a full room of people.





                It’s not much fun to play a blistering set to thunderous applause, then find out you’ve been outvoted by the other band’s dad’s mates, who’ve all nipped in from Wetherspoons for a cheeky pint and an embarrassing dance! Luckily Synthetica split their scoring between the audience vote and a panel of judges, so you can go home certain in the knowledge that if you won, it’s because you were the best band there.





We have had some absolute nightmare gigs with bands over-running, kit not showing up when it ought to and promoters neglecting to do even a little bit of promoting! In the Underdog, each band is scored on their overall professionalism as well as their performance and audience score, which means that bands who miss soundcheck or fail to promote the gig lose points. Bands with the work ethic and professionalism to make it in the industry are rewarded, meaning that the bands in the final are the ones most likely to make their mark in years to come. Likewise, Synthetica keeps everyone well-informed about their shows and keeps pushing the promotion of each night.


It’s an opportunity to IMPROVE YOUR BAND


                As a band, we’d never worked as hard as when we were in the Underdog. As soon as we made it through to the Semi-Finals we rehearsed over and over again, practised until we were sweaty and raw, learned how to use Twitter and Facebook effectively and polished our act until we had something really worth showing off to people. Without the incentive of a big payout we wouldn’t have pushed ourselves so hard, and I think we’d be less of a band today because of it.




                Over the course of summer we saw so many unsigned bands that we’d never even heard of – Stone Cold Fiction, for example, an excellent blues/rock three-piece who very nearly knocked us out in the first round, and who we then supported at their EP launch in autumn. Though the pressure of the competition caused more than a couple of bands to implode, it also helped knit the bands and fans of Bristol closer together, and by bringing scores of fans to legendary institutions like the Thunderbolt has helped keep the gigging infrastructure alive and kicking!


Applications are still being accepted for the 2016 Underdog, but will close soon – visit http://underdog.synthetica.co.uk/ to reserve your spot this summer!

White Noise Radio will be headlining the Underdog’s opening ceremony this year at the Fleece on May 15th – you can stream our EP for free here: https://whitenoiseradio.bandcamp.com/album/white-noise-radio-debut-ep

Gig Review – Alpha Male Tea Party / Memory of Elephants

Here’s a review I wrote for the local Bristol culture magazine, Bristol 24/7. I live only a few minutes away from the Stag and Hounds, so having excellent bands like these play there is absolutely excellent for me!

Memory of Elephants and AMTP – Stag and Hounds 31/3/16

Your radio may be droning out an assortment of forgettable songs from this year’s X-Factor winner but in the heart of Britain’s music venues something is brewing; there’s a new generation of bands building their own music scene out of sight of the mainstream media, and legendary Bristol music venue the Stag and Hounds is right at the centre of it. Two brilliant new bands performed here and tore the roof off, showing that the Bristol music scene is alive and kicking!

Memory of Elephants

               Memory of Elephants

“Memory of Elephants” are a fine home-grown Bristol trio who fuse complex math rock with thunderous, near-sludgy towers of noise. Though their songs are long and complex they manage to avoid the usual math-rock trap of putting musical tricks before quality songs, and demonstrate both their musicianship and songwriting talents to equal extent. Their set is for the most part raucous, raw and reckless – unfettered math-rock with a primal, organic element that sets them apart from the rest of the scene. They are also stonkingly loud, and this presents a problem; once they’ve turned up to 10, there is no 11, so it feels like they are straining against the ceiling, trying to push louder and louder when there’s nowhere else to go. Still, the crowd are fully engaged and heartfelt cheering follows each new song.

              Alpha Male Tea Party

                Liverpool three-piece “Alpha Male Tea Party” are tonight’s headline act, and the crowd is ready and waiting for them from the very first note. The whole pub is onboard and involved, singing along with the guitar, shouting and clapping in all the right places – it feels like we’ve all been waiting for our favourite band to start playing, and the excitement is palpable. This tour is the warm-up for their new album and features a set of fresh tracks with unforgettable titles like “Nobody Had The Heart To Tell Him He Was On Fire”, confirming that AMTP do indeed have all the best song names. Their new material also maintains their excellent ability to tread complex new ground whilst retaining a defined musical style and sensibility; this is math-rock with heart, soul and balls!

They follow their “New Song suite” (as their guitarist puts it, tongue firmly in cheek) with some old favourites including “Truffles” and “You Are My The Rock”, before closing out their set with “Athlete’s Face” from their latest album. They say their goodbyes, but the crowd are having none of it; as the Stag and Hounds erupts with demands for more, suggestions are shouted back and forth until the band agree to play “Boris Bike Briefcase Man”, to the crowd’s delight. Five more minutes of intensely precise riffage ensues until the band, pouring sweat, call it a night and leave the stage, to passionate applause and cheers.

                It’s reassuring to see that despite a crumbling record industry and frequent venue closures, Britain is still turning out top-notch bands in a vibrant, lively music scene. You can find Memory of Elephants online at memoryofelephants.bandcamp.com, and Alpha Male Tea Party at alphamaleteaparty.bandcamp.com.

Ben Lampard 1/4/16

Good Times, Bad Times


We’ve made ourselves quite busy at White Noise Radio HQ in the past month, with lots of hard work going into making our EP launch a success. We put the show on ourselves at a venue we love, with bands we love, and it all paid off; the night was a great success, people had a great time, and the EP has been well-received by all. We’d worked hard for ourselves, and we’d made something good – surely things can only go up from here? Well, it turns out that’s not so.

Last night, we were brought back down to earth with a bump – fully reminded of the opposite end of the spectrum for small bands. For every promoter that goes out of their way to improve the local scene there are two who just don’t seem to care, beyond their balance sheet at the end of the night.

We were booked for a show at a local venue after contacting them for a gig. Once they understood that we didn’t want to hire the venue (this took repeated stressing), they said that there was indeed a slot, and would we like to play it? “Yes, sure, who else is playing?” we said. No reply. Never mind, these things happen; despite the fact that the show is only a couple of weeks away the promoters we’re dealing with aren’t always hot off the blocks with their emails, so surely we’ll get some info soon.

A week passes. Now, the show is less than a week away, and we’ve heard nothing from the promoter – we chase them to find out who’s playing, and if the gig is still even happening. No reply. We call the venue and talk to the manager; she thought the night had been cancelled, but isn’t sure; she’ll get the promoter to call us. He does, and assures us that the night is going ahead as planned, but with one catch; there’s only one other band. Ticket prices will remain the same, though – never mind that it’s a high price for a full night of unsigned bands, let alone just two acts!

It’s now the night before the show. We’ve decided that although there is a conspicuous blank space on the venue’s “What’s On” web page and a distinct lack of input from the promoter, that we’ll honour our commitment and play the show. We get there at 6:30 for our 9:30 start, and load in. The sound guy is there, and we begin setting up. “Where’s the bass amp?” we ask. “Where are the drums?” Confusion reigns, as apparently the two pieces of house gear we were told we could use are not, actually, provided. Eventually, the just-about-not broken drum kit is retrieved from a cupboard, and we borrow a bass amp from the other band; soundcheck begins, and it actually sounds very good. Our sound-guy works at Colston Hall and knows his stuff. Still no sign of the promoter who booked us for the evening, but that’s not unknown; he’ll probably show up later.

Soundcheck over, we step out to grab something to eat. On the way back, we noticed something’s wrong. “Excuse me” I say, “could I borrow some chalk? We’re playing tonight, and there’s nothing written on your boards outside.” Sure, I can borrow some chalk, if I really insist on putting the name of our band outside the venue. It’s not like I’m, for example, doing their job for them. Anyway, stage time is an hour away, so we go and watch the other band perform. On the way, I meet our promoter for the first time; he’s playing Angry Birds on his iPad, and tells me I don’t need to bother with the list of names I’ve brought – he’ll just work out who people are here to see.

Stage time rolls around, and things sound pretty good. Bar a technical hitch or two, we’re sounding pretty tight, so it’s okay, and there are a few people here to see us. Apparently this is the other band’s first-ever show, so they’ve brought all their mates along to see them and a few of them stick around to watch us; in total, there are maybe 20 people in the room. I’ve played shows to far fewer, so there’s nothing to complain about there.

Offstage, pouring sweat, absolutely drained, and I’m straight to the back room to grab a handful of CDs. Badgering everyone who I recognised from the stage I make my way around the room trying to flog our EP, and manage to sell a copy – I come back upstairs to pack my gear away and load out. This takes another half hour, so we’re leaving the venue at 11, and on the way out I decide I’ll go track down the promoter to find out how many people we brought in, since we get paid per ticket sold. There’s no sign of him, so I ask at the bar. “He went home”, she says. When I ask how many people we brought in, she snorts and says “Only 5”. Since we don’t get a penny until we sell 10 tickets (at £5 each), that means we get nothing. In my head, I count up the ticket prices (£25), and the cost of two drinks per person (another £25) and I figure that the promoter and the venue have just made £50 for doing nothing that they would not be doing anyway – certainly not making any effort to promote the evening in any way at all. Meanwhile, we’ve been at the venue for five hours, sweating and performing, and have made £5 from selling the EP that we made. The message from the promoter is clear; “You do not matter to us.” It doesn’t seem that there is the slightest interest in making the night a success, or an enjoyable experience; they expect us to promote the show for them, bring customers to their bar and sell them tickets so that they can make a little extra money on a slow night, and if we don’t like it then there’s always another band.


We pride ourselves on having a professional attitude and taking ourselves seriously. We don’t cause scenes, we don’t shout or throw hissy fits; we take that promoter’s name off of our list and take care to let other bands know who is a good promoter, and who isn’t. I count us very lucky that in a city like Bristol we aren’t just confined to the one promoter, and have several excellent people we can contact who genuinely try to make their shows enjoyable, but for many bands in small towns this isn’t the case, and they’re stuck being shafted by the same promoter over and over again. It’s easy to see why the UK music scene is struggling when there are so many people involved who just have no business doing what they’re doing.

White Noise Radio Debut EP!

I started the band with Antoine way back in 2012; I had moved from Guildford after finishing my degree at the ACM and moving to Bristol. Last year, we competed in the Underdog Battle of the Bands:



We placed 2nd out of the 50 acts and took home a weekend’s recording at Sawmills Studio:

We then spent another 88 hours (!) finishing the record off in Room4 Studios in Bristol:

And now, 6 months after beginning the process, these lovely things arrived:

Though the record may be actually in our hands there is still a lot of work happening behind the scenes: we’ve taken the challenge of making this record to step up our game across the board. This means we’ve built a website, we’ve made T-shirts, we’ve booked and organised our launch (04.03.16 @ Crofter’s Rights, Bristol), we’ve shunted the record out to as many radio stations and sites as we can, we’re doing a proper photoshoot – we’ve still got our noses to the grindstone for the next month. After that, we’re going to dive back into gigging and promoting the record, so things are unlikely to slow down!

Keep an eye on the WNR Twitter account and Facebook page to keep up with what we’re doing. Catch you at a show!



New Year, New Studio

I’m very pleased to say that I’ve now taken up a lease on a private studio in Berkeley Square! I’m right on the very top of Park Street in the hustle-and-bustle of Bristol, but pleasantly removed on the top floor of the building. The views are magnificent; my window directly faces the beautiful Wills Memorial Building, so current and ex-Bristol Uni students will be familiar with the sights!

Studio 31, Berkeley Square

Studio 31, Berkeley Square

The view from my floor

The view from my floor

My new studio

The view from my window!

Having my own space is a world away from sharing the back room of a guitar shop. It’s warm, cosy, and overall a much nicer atmosphere for learning!

Here’s hoping the neighbours don’t complain . . .

Band-battling and Riff-Raffing

We entered the Underdog Battle of the Bands this year; it’s a Bristol-wide event which pits 50 of the best bands against one another in a series of heats, with the winner claiming a grand prize of £1,000. We managed to win our first heat, so we’ll be playing in the semi-finals on the 14th of August. We had an absolute blast on the night, with many of our friends coming to watch us, and a genuinely great atmosphere.

My choir Riff Raff also performed our summer concert at the Redland URC. This went swimmingly, with everyone putting on a good performance.

WNR’s first video

We’ve put together a music video for our song “Desert”. This is one of our oldest songs which we’ve been playing for a couple of years. We’re pleased with how it’s come out and hope you enjoy it too. We’re playing our first Battle of the Bands this Thursday, hoping to get through to the semi-finals at least!


Smash It Out!

Toehider are bringing out a new album, and in the hopes of enticing Mr. Mills to the UK I’ve covered this little gem. Enjoy; it’s short but intense!

Toehider are an Australian band I stumbled across on Bandcamp a few months ago. All the music is created by Michael Mills from his studio/garage which makes the sheer quality of every part of the band even more amazing! Check them out here: http://toehider.bandcamp.com/

More to come soon! Happy New Year to you all (just on the deadline for that to be inappropriate. One last time!)