The Underdog – a retrospective

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


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 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:

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