The United Kingdom has always been home to some of the world’s greatest rock bands, with obscene examples of talent dotted along the spectrum of tone; all the way from the smooth, buttery melodies of The Beatles to the edgy and eccentric anthems of groups like Black Sabbath, there is truly no shortage of British acts to headbang (or at least nod) to.
The genres accommodating the heavier rockers have proven to be no exception, with dominating forces like Motorhead and Judas Priest calling various cities of our country their proud home. However, with the overwhelmingly fast induction of short attention spans and an imposed focus on delivering quick, snappy and easily digestible tunes, a lot of meteorically talented modern groups have been pushed further underground than their older brethren were ever forced to.
This is particularly true when a global pandemic is omnipotent in its ability to disrupt the cosmic energy manifested in the crowds of rock shows. Fortunately, there is one shining light providing hope for all – a 10k capacity pilot version of the ever-present Download festival.
Here we highlight a few gems you might be lucky enough to catch at this year’s event, and some that are destined for similar stages when their talent is free to blossom.
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Max, David, James and Ollie met in Guildford while studying towards music diplomas, and Blackwaters was quickly formed in a burning desire to pursue music. This now Sheffield-based four-piece honed their craft with a plethora of aberrant punk-rock tracks starting with the coincidentally aptly-titled ‘Jarr’ed up Generation’ and leading into definitive moshpit-starts ‘Down’ and ‘Fuck Yeah’. Throughout the five years of releases, this group have maintained a core DIY element evident in their artwork and attitudes; a grounded perspective helps these lads give back to their communities and feed further underground arts.
More importantly, though, their tunes are undeniably hefty, with 2018 EP ‘People Street’ cemented their status as underappreciated kings of the local scene. However, the grunge drawl swiftly transitioned to a search for boppy melodies with ‘I’m Not Your Man’, a single that simultaneously heightens the catchy appeal of the band while raising the walls of sound higher than ever before. A flurry of equally immersive releases over the last two years has us questioning: where will they be next?
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Fellow city-of-steel rockers SHEAFS deliver further tight and sharp bangers, expunging their concerns on 2020’s debut EP ‘Vox Pop’ that serve as an injection of adrenaline for their listeners. Lawrence, Chris, Charles, Charlie and Cal (confusing, we know) danced around the blue-pint-soaked floors of Sheffield’s greasiest clubs before coming together to radiate energy and attitude across the country. Embodying and elevating the post-punk movement, the quartet shaped their sound with the assistance of Spring King/Dead Nature’s Tarek Musa, someone they’d watched from afar as they traded places on stage across a series of rowdy festivals.
‘Thinking Out Loud’ opens their concise EP with narrative and introspective commentary before three tracks carry the consistent mood across ‘Vox Pop’. Ultimately, though, their current discography peaks at it’s closer ‘Care Less’, a sonically aggressive bop that secretly has a positive message: “you’ve got to care less about what [people] say.”
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Moody, black-leather-wearing trio SPIT UK consists of Rico, Dave and Rob. Hailing from down South, they encourage those tuning in to “get loose and roll your bones” to their tunes – they’ve dropped three addictive rockers over the last year, but have yet to truly manifest their deserved audience. We all love jumping on a band we know will make big moves in the future, and ‘Love Like A Pill’ certainly evidences the potential for SPIT UK to do exactly that. Simple but effective riffs cut through thundering basslines, a fast and loose vocal performance and some killer drum fills.
‘Sky’ and ‘Bali’ ebb and flow through soothing soundscapes and over mountainous guitar shreds, bolstering further notches on their collective, distinguished belt – try it on and see how it fits, had-rock fans.
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The first of these highlights to worm their way onto Download’s 2021 pilot bill, alt-rock duo WARGASM produce “angry songs for sad people” from their base in London. Milkie & Matlock clearly let off almost literal steam with screaming vocals, stadium beats and psychedelic electronic sounds that merge with a punk attitude and a guitar grounding, resulting in angsty songs that jump between sombre reflection and pure aggression.
Boasting a Saturday main stage slot at this year’s special event, the pair are ready to bring that essential mosh energy along with them, served up in neat not-so-little numbers like very recent single ‘PYRO PYRO’ which promises to set crowds, stages and maybe even speaker systems alight. If you find yourself experiencing a performance from these two, be prepared for extremities in almost every way; sounds, volume and certainly in aesthetic.
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Another act that uses a range of experimental sounds to intensify their rock’n’roll sensibilities, Strange Bones hails from Blackpool and consists of brothers Bobby, Will and Jack Bentham, alongside pal Nathan. Self-described “electro-punks”, these true noisemakers push the edges of their sonic environments until they are no longer definable. An openness to any sound, theme and aesthetic allows them to weaponise their music, and this approach has cultivated a significant following over six years of non-stop experimentation.
Huge amounts of thematic and sonic distortion ripple across their ever-growing discography; a trait that allows any act to truly stand the test of time. Across two EPs, several collaborations and a bunch of high quality singles, the hype has never dwindled – these guys were born for the bigtime, and made for the stages of the future.
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Karla, Colm, Jack and Sam and are a shit-hot act operating under the ‘garage noise’ label; grabbing at elements of rock, post-punk and raw indie, they throw sharp hooks and a driving rhythm in a melting pot with passionate lyricisms and vocal delivery on their debut EP ‘Manifesto’. Cutting melodies grab you from within spoken word sections that dramatize every last drop of sound on the record, offering four solid tracks that embody everything the group is about: authenticity, bluntness and sharing experiences.
Finishing this EP just before lockdown numbero uno – a true throwback at this point – the band’s momentum is currently in full force, and you should expect to see Sprints on a stage soon if you haven’t had the pleasure of previewing Dublin’s next big export already.
OK, OK - they're not British... but would you leave 'em out of a list like this? No, you wouldn't.
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You can’t talk about great, underrated UK rocks with huge potential without mentioning the name Tigercub. This Brighton trio have been around since 2014 and have never tried to serve up the same release twice. An everpresent groove underlies their discography from initial singles to their debut LP ‘Abstract Figures in the Dark’, onwards into a series of EPs and reaching the explosive project that is their second record ‘As Blue As Indigo’.
A venture into solo project Nancy has clearly instilled frontman and songwriter Jamie Hall with a fresh sense of bravado in addition to an increased desire to dive deeper into his own psyche. Delicate fragile moments shatter and implode into luxurious riff walls providing a cathartic release from the morbid thematic explored here.
Best of all, this top-tier band have also landed on the line-up for Download’s pilot where this tunes can finally be unleashed upon a hopefully deserving audience. Tigercub epitomise the exciting talent bubbling beneath the mainstream surface of the UK’s rock scene.
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Words: Finlay Holden
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