Battle of the Bands: The Grand Final

by Ali Watson

Photo Credit: Aaron Yeung. National Acrobats at the BOTB semi-final. 

This weekend was that time of year again, the highlight of the year for many members of Exeter’s music scene. It was of course the final of this year’s Battle of the Bands competition, held at Cavern.

As I arrived it was clear that anticipation was building, as crowds of friends (and even family) were excitedly gathered. Each band almost had its own unofficial camp-out in a corner of the venue which, in a weird way, reminded me a bit of Eurovision - although maybe that’s a tenuous comparison!

After a slight delay to proceedings for an unapparent reason, the first band of the night, Lucius and Milo, were called to the stage. An alternative rock band, their set was a mix of slow-tempo, acoustic guitar based songs and louder, more fast and furious rock songs.  Generally, the band are better when slower and calmer, as they did have a tendency to become rushed and let the drums take over on a few of their heavier tunes. This being said, songs such as Pulse and Harvest were the highlights of the set, and Davide on guitar should be commended for some impressive solos. Overall, it was a captivating performance which was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Next on stage were Trystero. Apparently the members of the band all met in the University’s Jazz Orchestra, although as soon as their set begins it is evident that this isn’t the vibe they’re going for. They launch into an upbeat, fairly aggressive start. Their second song is more structured than the first, with a very catchy syncopated guitar riff. It moves on to a great instrumental middle 8, but at times the voice comes across slightly more as shouting than singing. This does detract a little attention from the impressive riffs performed by the left-handed lead guitar, but makes the overall performance no less impressive. Throughout the set it is evident that the band are well rehearsed and write good rock songs, and this comes across clearly in their set. The reaction from the crowd indicates that it was evidently enjoyed by the crowd.

CHEBS took to the stage next, and with them came a change in atmosphere in the small underground venue. CHEBS brought their whole fan base, and crowd signs close to the stage read supportive messages such as “CHEBS4EVZ”, “#CHEBS4THEWIN” and “SHOW US YOUR CHEBS”. They’re immediately dancing when the first song starts, a groovy upbeat funk song that seems to typify all that CHEBS are about. The crowd are chanting “CHEBS CHEBS CHEBS” between songs, and the band launch straight into their next song after their bassist/rapper/frontman (a pretty cool combo) announces “we all paid four pounds to be here tonight, so let’s get dancing!”. It’s a funk mashup of Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz and Dr Dre’s No Diggity and it goes down a storm. They carry on through their set playing to a crowd that will cheer almost anything, including some well deserved recognition for stand-in guitar, Smithy. The set then finishes with a fantastically put together mix of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel, Stevie Wonder’s Master Blaster and Kendrick Lamar’s i. Wow. A highlight of the night so far, the song receives a rapturous applause from the adoring crowd as the funk band walk off stage, empty Red Stripe cans in hand.

Perhaps wondering how they were going to match this performance, rounding off the evening were National Acrobats. From the outset they seemed professional - frontman Tom had a sample pad by his side for added depth to their sound, and after hearing their first few songs they clearly fit the alternative/indie rock genre. They also show their heavier rock side in a song that I’m guessing has to be called It Is Happening Again, seeing as this lyric features so heavily. They’re well rehearsed, have catchy, original songs and also an impressive stage presence. Sounding a lot like Two Door Cinema Club and an early Bombay Bicycle Club, I’m wondering if maybe they should change their name to National Acrobat Club?

Next was the wait for the much anticipated results. The crowd dispersed to the bar but then gathered again twenty or so minutes later when the result was ready to be announced. No one could really call it, but after a tense wait National Acrobats were crowned champions of the 2016 competition.

Congratulations is definitely in order for all of the bands that competed in such an impressive competition this year – they all managed to put on one hell of a show.