This Scene Is Dead. Is This Scene Dead? – A Brief Evaluation Of York’s Music Scene

It’s fair to say that, over the past year, I’ve been far more exposed to York‘s music scene than I ever have before – a somewhat ironic fact, perhaps, but true nonetheless. Working at The Duchess for over a year has meant I’ve seen more local bands than I could ever have actually wanted to – and inevitably that includes more than a fair share of dross. When listening to the umpteenth terrible band and wishing they’d just finish already, it’s tempting to write off the scene as a whole – but are there glimmers of hope to be had? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’ll pick through some of that detritus.

It’s difficult to pick one band that sums up the bad aspects of York’s music scene – mainly because the shit bands are all awful for different reasons. Sometimes it’s just because they’re lazy copyists – take Skylights, who ply their trade doing an utterly IQ-deficient impression of The Stone Roses, or The Lookout, who desperately want to be The Beatles but end-up producing sub-sub-sub-Oasis bollocks. Sometimes, it’s the sound of band members attempting to live up to past glories and failing miserably. Take Chris Helme, who once worked with John Squire as part of vaguely popular 90s Britpop types The Seahorses – he played his last gig with his post-Seahorses project The Yards last Saturday, and it was hard work getting through an hour and a half of largely samey-MOR rock. Ex-Colour Of Fire drummer Matt Lunn suffered a similar fate after the band’s split – he now plays drums for electro-indie outfit The Officers, who aren’t even a fraction as exciting as Colour Of Fire were.

There’s also the parts of the scene that I have no real affinity with and thus hate by default no matter how lauded they are in their respective musical circles. Take local prog-rock types Mostly Autumn and spin-off project Breathing Space – a pair of bands that make me a little bit depressed just thinking about them, to say nothing of how I feel after having been forced to listen to them for what inevitably seems like an eternity. Similarly, it seems that for every decent metal band in York there are about ten utterly abominable ones. And then there are the bands who are just genuinely, irredeemably shit. I won’t even bother mentioning most of their names, but I will stop to pick on one band in particular – Astrae, who at this moment are the most terrible local band I can think of, defined as they are by the histrionic emo whining of a man who looks like Chris Crocker. Awful.

But that’s enough negativity already – the question is: “Is there any hope for York’s local scene?” On balance, my answer would be a tentative “Yes”.

First and foremost, we have The Federals – easily the most exciting thing in York right now, their support slot with The Yards last Saturday showed up the headliners for the plodding dullards that they really are. Taut, snarling bursts of no-nonsense garage rock combined with the sheer loudness of their sound makes them a thrilling prospect. They’ve even picked up a little bit of national recognition, from a somewhat incongruous support slot on The Veronicas’ tour to Fearne Cotton being papped wearing one of the band’s t-shirts. While I wouldn’t go as far to make some daft statement like predicting ‘Big Things™’ for them in 2010, I will say that if there’s one band that has a chance to really break out of the local scene, it’s them.

Speaking of which, the last York-based band to really enter the public consciousness was Hijak Oscar – largely thanks to their involvement in Channel 4’s MobileAct Unsigned and their subsequent decision to walk off the show. Well, they’re still around, and while their music isn’t not the kind of thing I’d want to hear an extended set of, they’re entertaining in small doses and certainly very good at what they do – as they proved quite aptly during their short set at Duchesstival last Sunday.

Also present at Duchesstival were a couple of bands who haven’t played for a while, but who both reminded me just how good they are. First, The Buccaneers, who sound like the garage rock band that Kings Of Leon should have been all along – arrestingly melodic howl of a vocal and all. Secondly, The Blueprints, who’ve been somewhat AWOL for a while but have returned complete with new keyboardist to brighten up our dull little lives with their sparklingly perfect indie-pop gems. Other good bands off the top of my head: Glass, who do a good line in dark, theatrical, slightly Interpol-esque rock, and Lost From Atlas, who sound a bit like Battles – and that’s always a good thing in my book. It’s also worth briefly mentioning the proliferation of singer-songwriters and acoustic artists in York – although it does make it difficult for any one person to particularly stand out, there are certainly some talented individuals out there.

So, while it’s struggled to produce acts that have really broken out of the city in the same way that, for example, Leeds has, there are still some good things to be found in York’s music scene. It’s just that you have to sift through a hell of a lot of chaff to find them.

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