“For many of us, B-Town was like a nuclear bomb of culture,” says Birmingham-born promoter and radio producer Tim Senna. “And once it went off, everybody – publications, music fans, radio stations – couldn’t stop talking about our local bands. That era really laid the foundation for what’s happening here right now.”
He’s describing the aftermath of B-Town, the glitter-splashed, K Cider-drenched wave of jangly guitar heroes that broke out from Birmingham’s Digbeth area in the early 2010s. In its heyday, SoundCloud success and word-of-mouth praise among avid gig-goers inspired a buzzy level of hype around local acts including Swim Deep, JAWS, Superfood and Peace. The former’s Cavan McCarthy quickly claimed that those involved were “embarrassed” by the media noise, which stitched these bands into a scene solely based on their location – but NME were soon in on the joke. “If B-Town didn’t exist, you wouldn’t bet money on any of the bands involved being arsed to invent it,” wrote Barry Nicholson in his review of Swim Deep’s Top 20 debut effort ‘Where The Heaven We Are’.
Yet with their refreshingly youthful belters, full of shimmering hooks and cheeky lyrics (Peace’s stomping ‘Bloodshake’ featured the endlessly quotable refrain, “You vibe so hard!”), this lot truly connected with a new generation of hungry, devoted teenage fans – and cemented their city’s place among the best in new British music.
Almost ten years on from this indie explosion, Birmingham’s newcomers are reclaiming the term and want to bring national attention back to their beloved locale. In the same vein as the bands that came before them, Crymson, Myriam Adams, Hanwell, Jack Cattell and Paradise Circus have grown up together, and now play at the same house parties and pubs across the city. “We see ourselves as one big band. We run on a philosophy of wanting to learn from others; we move as a pack, not as individuals,” says Paradise Circus vocalist David Purchase, whose band is named after a former Birmingham city centre roundabout.
Singer-songwriter Joe Jackson, otherwise known as Hanwell, concurs: “It just feels like there’s a buzz around the city again all of a sudden. There’s been exponential growth in audience numbers at the shows; every band wants to uplift one another, both in-person and over social media. It truly feels like something underground at the moment, and I can’t wait for it to really explode.”
After virtually connecting with each other via livestream shows throughout the first wave of the pandemic, these bands are now starting to see success beyond the Birmingham scene with increasing streaming numbers and national radio play, and it’s in part thanks to local promoters. The aforementioned Senna has previously organised photoshoots in order to bring fresh acts from the city and the surrounding Midlands areas into the enclave, and has led gig nights at local venues such as The Sunflower Lounge and Hare & Hounds to give them the opportunity to collaborate with each other.
Rebuilding this ‘us against the world’ spirit is a shared mission for the bands involved this time around. They are all keen to stress that there is no underlying competitive streak between them, and instead want to collectively champion a vibrant cultural renewal that they believe Birmingham has lacked in recent years.
“I think everyone’s very confident that we are reviving B-Town,” explains Myriam Adams’s Jacques Hete. “That’s why there is no competition because we all know what we are doing – it feels like a really healthy, much-needed scene. We’re just going to keep trying to succeed together until we’ve all literally got nothing left to give.”
As they start to push for success beyond their respective Brum regions, get ready to meet the bands and artists that are putting heart, soul, and hometown passion back into the B-Town scene.
Who: Sunshine-dappled indie kids guaranteed to put a spring in your step
Mission statement: “It’s just as simple as acknowledging the fact that we’re from Birmingham in our music. And that’s all it really needs to be. We’re all coming up in this scene, and to have that recognised, nationally or even internationally, would be really cool – and it wouldn’t be an impossible achievement,” says bassist Sam Allen.
For fans of: Circa Waves, Sea Girls
Key track: ‘What A Way (Cheetah)’
Favourite B-Town moment: “The first show we went to after lockdown was JAWS at Mama Roux’s – and it couldn’t have been a better time to headline. It was 350 people absolutely loving each other and getting sweaty with one of Birmingham’s finest indie bands. It made me emotional just watching the scenes and knowing that we are back, the Brum scene is back to life.”
Who: Faithful worshippers of the moshpit looking to alter the boundaries of emo-pop
Mission statement: “We have a simple ambition: to bring people together through our music,” says Hete. “Our shows will always be inclusive.”
For fans of: Machine Gun Kelly, KennyHoopla
Key track: ‘LA’
Favourite B-Town moment: “Discovering JAWS! We were mind blown.”
Who: Solihull-based quartet channelling the hard-riffing spirit of early 2000s indie
Mission statement: “This second B-Town wave is built on a shared sense of community; we don’t all play the same genres of music, but we share that desire for a new scene. And if everyone buys into that, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says lead vocalist Patrick Shannon.
For fans of: Mystery Jets
Key track: ‘Sun’
Favourite B-Town moment: “‘Money’ by Peace or ‘Honey’ by Swim Deep.”
Who: Lo-fi singer-songwriter crafting laid-back, funky soul beats
Mission statement: “Every band in Birmingham wants to grow together, and I want to help make that happen for all of us.”
For fans of: Rex Orange County, Boy Pablo
Key track: ‘Claire, Did You?’
Favourite B-Town moment: “‘California Daze’ by Peace. Just a great song by a great band.”
Who: Straight-up indie-rockers that dare to dream beyond the local gig circuit
Mission statement: “From the original B-Town scene, we’ve got a blueprint in the way of how far things can go,” explains lead vocalist Cattell. “We’ve conquered Birmingham and now we want to show other bands that we can go international.”
For fans of: Sam Fender, The Lathums
Key track: ‘What I See’
Favourite B-Town moment: “The Swim Deep homecoming shows at The Sunflower Lounge in 2019 – Peace and Jaws played DJ sets afterwards. It was great that the original B-Town scene had come full circle. [These bands] have managed to break through, but still remember where they come from.”