Can I get a drumroll please?

Last Tuesday saw the prog-tastic finale of BandSoc’s BOTB 2009. The night gets off to a late start, and although Tempo appears rather full, at least 50% of the people packing out the small venue seem to think that they’re organised the show, strutting about with mics and cameras looking important. However, I do not let this deter me, and tucking myself neatly away behind WTV’s filming equipment I await the evening’s entertainment, desperately hoping not to be disappointed.

The first band to play, Rambutan, open with five minutes of prog noodling, before their dreadlocked singer bounds onto the stage to provide some vocals. At first Rambutan seem like a rather bizarre bunch of misfits, their singer, for example, looks and, with that gravelly voice, sounds as if he would be more at home in Choking Victim. This matters less when they really get going, due to the massive grins permanently attached to their faces; they’re evidently enjoying themselves incredibly, and this enjoyment reaches out to and affects the audience as well. During their third number I start to see the band gelling more and coming together as a whole, whether this is down to the fact that it was the least proggy thing they had played so far, or just because I was becoming accustomed to their dynamic, I cannot tell. As the song was ending and I was beginning to feel like this lot could be strong competitors, the positive feelings I was having towards the group were unfortunately dispelled with the singer’s declaration ‘Wait a minute guys, this song isn’t over yet! We’re a prog band!’

I expect it has already become evident that I’m not the world’s biggest prog fan, so you can imagine my thoughts when the next band, the unfathomably named Drongo Sealion Magic, take to the stage, bringing with them a six-string bass, a laptop and two houseplants. There are some timing issues and DSM seem rather hesitant at times, the bass player and drummer often seemed to be looking towards their singer/guitarist/keyboard player for direction, but he was usually too far gone into his own little prog universe to hold the three-piece together. The group had clearly put a lot of thought into their set, which is commendable; they used sound bites and guitar pedals in a very interesting and arresting way, at one point the bass was making noises that sounded something like a laser gun. It’s just unfortunate that the looseness and uncertainty of the group sometimes made this feel like nothing more than a waste of good equipment.

Next up are reigning champions, Hot Magenta. Think hair rock: leather pants and bare chests galore. Hot Magenta have had a line-up change since taking the title last year, and although the silky, bewitching tones of Fran Lobo are irreplaceable in the opinion of many, including myself, their new leading lady has a good stab at it. It can’t be easy fronting a band of which the other four members are all hairy, sweaty, rock-beasts. Her vocals are powerful but at times feel forced, although she does a wonderful job at getting the crowd going and clearly doesn’t feel intimidated by an audience. The band are polished and very well-rehearsed, and although it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, with song titles like ‘Passionate Zombie Lover’, this lot clearly know what they’re doing and have the skill to pull it off well.

Digital Earth provide us with the final dose of prog this evening, thank the Lord, but it sure is a heavy one. Their first number is around the five-minute mark, and just when I think I’ve taken more than I can handle the singer announces ‘This is our second song. It’s also our last song. We’re going to leave you with one 15-minute-long instrumental’. My heart sinks to the bottom of my Converse. But shockingly, Digital Earth manage to hold my attention for (almost) their entire set, which is a major achievement. The use of synth-ey keys was lovely and the band are incredibly tight considering the amount of variation in key and rhythm; definitely one of the most interesting groups of the night.

Following them are I Prefer My Snow Leopard. This group are announced as a ska band, and I immediately accept this, I expect due to my relief that the prog-fest was over. However, about three songs in I started to have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Where were the palm-muted upstrokes? There was scare one in sight. I think the lesson we should all take from this is that a brass section and silly hats does not a ska band make. But to move on from genre classifications, IPMSN were a fun band, their set included a song about Shades (the dodgy strip club in Leamington) and another number entitled ‘While My Trombone Gently Melts’. The light relief that they offered from the other bands, who all took themselves very seriously, was most welcome, although unfortunately it seemed to go hand in hand with, and be inseparable from, a lack of professionalism and polish.

The final act of the night was Club Silencio. On first glance these three look pretty cool, but as they begin their set awkwardness seems to take hold of them. The vocals are by far the weakest of the evening, Club Silencio’s singer has real problems carrying the melodies and his vocals often come off as stunted and wavering. This is a real shame as, underneath that, the rest is rather good. There’s not anything special here, just your average indie rock band, but they have the right look to pull it off well. Since the band have been around for three years now and have taken part in this competition every year, it’s puzzling that they haven’t ever considered finding a new singer and becoming a four-piece, which would be a massive improvement.

Around midnight the judges, Ben Ablewite, Rick Wallace and Lucy Reynolds, gave their decision and Club Silencio were declared the winners. It seemed a little bizarre that the judges plumped for the most generic but definitely not the most talented act, and several audience members expressed the opinion that it was likely to be to do with the fact that the band had such a history with the competition and that it was the last year that they would be able to compete. Club Silencio win recording time, the headline slot for ‘Last Exit’ at the end of term 3, and a slot at the Leamington Peace Festival. Hot Magenta came a deserved second, and, for some inexplicable reason, the fantastical Drongo Sealion Magic took third place.

All in all, the final. and indeed the whole of BOTB 2009, ran very smoothly and was a great success. The BandSoc exec have yet again done a wonderful job of giving our young bands the opportunity to get up there and play, and should be commended for all the time and effort put into organising these events.


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