Live from the Electric Ballroom:
The state of London’s underground metal scene

By: Joe Butler

Sabbath gave us all metal.

They gave us the Diabolus in musica, which is the core structure to all metal riffs. Then Judas Preist and Iron Maiden paved the way for more and more metal bands. Then seemingly, without warning, during the late 80’s and early nineties British metal seemed to die out and America had their chance to shine.

Nowadays, with the metal charts at bursting point from the saturation of the emo explosion, (one look at the music channels Scuzz and Kerrang will confirm this) from bands like Panic At The Disco, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, British metal seems poised to take back the crown.

Bands at the forefront of this comeback include the battle metal masters Dragonforce, whose technical proficiency earned their lead guitarist Herman Li the Metal Hammer award for best Guitarist. Kingsize Blues, whose no nonsense, all out, balls to the wall metal draws comparisons from Pantera, Down and even At The Gates and The Haunted with awesome head nodding, horn throwing riffery, to the more eclectic sounding Ted Maul, with their drum and bass loops, odd samples, crushing riffs and guttural roars.

The place: Sin City, the Metal night at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, North London. The doors open at 10:30pm and if you’re there early enough you’ll be treated to an empty bar and an empty dance floor - music blaring for anyone who wants to stand at the sidelines and nod their head for the first hour or so.

A few drinks later you’re ready to get down to your favorite tracks, which insist you bang your head along - one more time with conviction - and scream the lyrics that are forever emblazoned in your memory.

The Electric Ballroom itself, having been around since the 1930’s has been a musical stamping ground for new bands for decades including; The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Ian Dury and now the rising cream of British metal.

The early DJ sets are the most musically diverse, comprised of the heaviest, most experimental and varied songs of the night. The DJ gets to play what ever he or she likes because, lets face it, no-one is going to start dancing until sufficient alcohol is consumed.

This is about the same time that you will hear something that generally does not appear later on in the night - British metal. One-time Sludgecore rising stars, Raging Speedhorn, are sandwiched between Slayer and Rob Zombie. The rap/ reggae confusion of Dubwar, Benji from Skindred’s first band, is slipped in-between Slipknot and Rage Against the Machine.

The dance floor fills up, and the DJ changes for the main set. The rest of the evening is filled with mainstream American metal like Korn, Deftones, Trivium, Pantera, System of a Down and Limp Bizkit.

It made me wonder how up and coming British bands not only survive but thrive and garner strong followings - bands like Sikth, Funeral For A Friend, Forevernever, Kingsize Blues, Ted Maul and Stampin Ground. Or does it explain bands like the Lostprophets and Bullet For My Valentine migrating to America to seek their popularity?

It also made me wonder what current UK bands thought of their status of “underground” and whether they aspired to be more like their American counterparts.

Interview: DJ Bex

I got some time in the DJ booth with one of the Electric Ballrooms DJ’s, DJ Bex.
She’s been a DJ for two years and usually plays the eclectic warm up set, where she gets the opportunity to mix Manson with the Prodigy, Will Haven with Linkin Park.

What do you think of the state of the underground British metal scene at the moment?

I think that the metal scene in London particularly has a good platform for new and upcoming bands. There are a fair few venues that put on shows for underground bands and I think the buzz around the clubs, gigs and the new accessibility of music TV, radio and specialist publications means that more people are forming bands and pushing for gigs and live shows. I think it would be nice to see more British talent make it big, but it is evident that these underground bands do have a strong loyal following through gigging and promoting on the club and underground gig scene.

Do you think the rate of successful underground bands has increased in the last few years?

I've only paid attention in the last few years so prior to that I'm not entirely sure what the underground scene was like. I am aware of promoters choosing to book unsigned bands for events and club nights and also some of these bands are booked to support other more well known bands at gigs. In terms of gigging and building a strong fan base, I think that the opportunities are there today. This also provides a platform for bands to be spotted by talent scouts, etc. So far as crossing the line into popular culture and big bucks contracts, I can't say I'm aware of whether this is something that underground bands are enjoying more readily now than in the past.

Do you think that places like the Electric Ballroom are partly responsible for keeping the underground metal scene alive?

I think it's very much down to venue owners, promoters and the bands themselves; anyone who organizes events where these bands can play and attract more of a following. Any club or venue that hosts these gigs can be seen to help keep the scene alive, but ultimately its down to the popularity and demand of the scene itself as well. The more people keep attending these shows, the more these bands will be booked/book shows themselves and this will keep the underground scene going with more new bands joining the scene.

Being a DJ, what is your opinion on playing mainstream American metal in your set when there is thriving UK metal scene and does that have any influence on your set? For example would you throw in a Kingsize Blues song or a Ted Maul song into your set or does band popularity dictate what you play?

‘Alternative' encompasses a huge selection of sub-genres of music and many, many bands with their own unique sounds, whether they are 'mainstream' or 'underground'. As a DJ, it is your job to explore what's out there, finding the best music to fit the club night you are playing. Of course it is important to keep your ear to the ground and find out what new talent is surfacing and you have the perfect platform to play new tunes and introduce new bands to the club scene. It's about a good balance though, as there are enough people with enough different tastes and preferences in music to go around and ultimately you choose your songs to set a certain mood on the dance floor Listen to your audience. Sometimes mainstream American metal works best and it's what the clubbers want, it's important to acknowledge and support new talent but also not to be too gung-ho about ignoring what is popular for the sake of forcing what is new.

Would you like to see more scope for underground UK metal in the current club scene?

I think underground UK metal deserves to be heard and there are a lot of talented bands out there, wanting the chance to go somewhere with their music. I'm not entirely sure whether creating more scope would actually push the scene forward too much to the point where it defeats the purpose of it being 'underground'. Fans of the underground scene like the word-of mouth approach and part of the appeal is knowing that this particular band hasn't 'sold-out' or isn't widely known about. I think the underground scene thrives on loyal support but also needs to be able to put on these shows within the alternative community. Magazines and TV programs now encourage unsigned bands to come forward and show their talent. In one way I don't think the scene has received so much encouragement or has been so easily accessible as it is now. In another, it may reflect that the competition is greater now as more and more bands form and want to find success and more record labels are willing to scout for this type of talent.

Interview: Quinton "The Rampage" Lucion of Kingsize Blues

I also got the chance to ask a couple of questions to the lead guitarist of up and coming British band Kingsize Blues’s - Quinton "The Rampage" Lucion - about how he feels on the subject of being “underground”.

What do you think of the state of the underground British metal scene at the moment?

British metal in general is rising, man. There are loads of great bands that are coming about now with their own sound and their own attitude, playing great shows and tearing venues apart. There’s always been a British scene here and it’s great to see bands finally getting recognition for the hard work they put in. I mean at the end of the day that’s what it comes down to, hard graft and playing your arse off. In terms of an underground scene I tend not to think about it in that way. Music is just music and some people like to treat being “underground or “mainstream” like a massive fashion statement or use it in a derogative or degrading way. Personally I like whatever I want.

Do you resent or relish your position in the underground? Would you like to be more mainstream in terms of popularity? As I understand it, at one point the only thing that was stopping you from massive mainstream attention was the name of the band?

Yeah I think that was the case, but not necessarily in terms of huge success. Labels didn’t like the name and to be fair we weren’t that exposed to the public at that point. It’s only made us work harder and it’s worked in our favor in every aspect. I mean, if people are so narrow minded that they don’t like a band based on their name, well that’s just pretty sad for them – hell, you know the type, they don’t think you’re a serious metal band unless you call yourselves “Bastard Son of a Pig Fucker”. Hell, I say fuck ‘em. If they don’t get it, then they don’t get it. Period. Resentment? Nah, man, I love the position we are in at the moment as a band. Rehearsing, gigging, recording, writing music and partying, how much better can that get?. I’d definitely love to see this band get bigger and hopefully take on the world but without having to compromise who we are and the music we write. That’s how the biggest bands in the world have done it.

How do you feel about mainstream metal bands like Killswitch Engage, Trivium, etc?

With bands like Killswitch and Trivium, they are pretty much at the forefront of what they do and to me are regarded as mainstream due to the success they have gathered. To get to that sort of level you have to be able to know what you are doing musically so respect is due for that. I don’t understand any of these bands that don’t want to progress in all aspects and think that playing to more that ten people in a basement is selling out.

Your sound is reminiscent of Pantera, Down, Lamb of God, Darkest Hour, and The Haunted to name a few, but what bands would you consider influential? What is your view on taking influence from more mainstream bands and utilising that in the context of your own sound?

For Kingsize Blues, whenever we try to write, we don’t sit down and say to each other “yeah this has to sound like this or we have to do a singing chorus like that”. I know its pretty cliche but that’s pretty much it. It seems like a lot of bands don’t put enough emphasis on putting their own stamp on their sound. For me it has gotten to the point where I really can’t tell the difference between lots of bands nowadays because they want to sound like the Bjorler twins (At the Gates) or Killswitch Engage or a mixture of both. For us we just write what sounds good to us. It’s the first band I’ve been in where all 5 members put in their 20 percent. Within this band our musical influences are so different right across the board. Alex, our rhythm guitar player, doesn’t even listen to metal bands, especially newer ones. He draws influence from hip hop to grime to Thin Lizzy or just anything musical he can get his hands on. I love guitar-influenced music from Uli Jon Roth to Decapitated to Pantera. Of course when you hear our stuff you will hear certain types of aspects of bands or types of music we love. To me taking influence from bands is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as say you don’t completely rip them off and become a carbon copy. Take Lamb of God, I can hear Testament and Slayer in their sound but when you hear Lamb of God, you can tell it’s them on first listen.

In your opinion, is British metal dying or are you and bands like Sikth and Ted Maul leading the charge on a new wave of technically proficient British metal?

I don’t think British Metal is dying at all. Bands like Sikth, and Ted Maul have been doing this for years and it seems that times have changed since Limp Bizkit/ Blink 182, era bands. People are looking for actual un-fabricated music played with pure power. Nowadays more and more people are picking up instruments so it’s great that these bands get looked at also in that respect. There are some great bands like Akercocke, Biomechanical,. Malefice, Dante’s Ascension to name a few that are astounding musicians but none of those bands sound similar to each other in the slightest.

Do you think the UK metal club scene, and places like the Ballroom are a good breeding ground for these bands?

Definitely, no matter what, it leads to more exposure you see. Especially with places like the Mean Fiddler Venue or Club Kerrang where bands get to play on club nights. It puts bands out in front of a new type of audience. But it also depends on how far bands are willing to go to get their music heard by other people. There are so many different clubs from Sin City at the Ballroom to Rock City in Nottingham.

What sort of relationship do you have with other UK underground metal acts? Is there a camaraderie of sorts with other unsigned bands?

Well, there’s definitely a sense of respect between bands that are trying to get somewhere. It’s not like we stand in the corner of each others sets, arms folded whispering about how shit the other bands are like certain bands so. You do get the odd band that does that but they are usually jealous or bitter. Most of the time it’s been cool and because of that respect it makes for friendships to form. My previous band, recorded a demo with Alex from Kingsize Blues and Luca from Ted Maul helped me cut some guitar tracks. Help is always round the corner and we all do what we can for each other. We’ve never really had issues with signed bands either. Bands like God Forbid, Testament and Crowbar have been really welcoming to us. Our last two tours were with Mendeed and Stampin Ground and both couldn’t have treated us better from sharing guitar licks, to sharing beer to sharing accommodation. At the end of the day we are all in the same boat you know so what’s the point in being negative and jealous right?

How has a platform like Myspace helped the success of your band so far and do you see its mass accessibility something that is more in keeping with the underground DIY ethos or something that allows you a possible path into mainstream metal?

Myspace has definitely helped us in terms of exposure. The use of the internet is continually expanding and it’s good to be able to use it for our gain. The cool thing is being able to stay in touch with fans and getting your music heard. We pretty much handle our Myspace page and run it how we want so it is very much a DIY thing. It’s pretty much replacing websites and helps cut costs in terms of that stuff. If we have to cancel or reschedule a show or post a new song up you can do it with ease. And like I said before mainstream success depends on how far bands are willing to go to get exposure. Take Job for a Cowboy, extreme as hell but they are now able to travel across countries and get their shit heard. They worked and continue to work fucking hard to get to where they are now. They whored the shit out of their Myspace and it’s reaping rewards for them and that’s great. You get some bands that don’t think beyond their local towns and fair play to them because that’s what they want to do.

And, finally, could you tell me about the album you are currently recording?

Well, it has been a long time coming, that’s for sure. We are just wrapping up some final demo tracks before we run into actually recording the album through August. We have been writing pretty much since I joined the band in July last year and it’s been fucking awesome to see these songs take shape. We’ve had our obstacles with my brother Tori being injured for two months but since then we’ve been right back on track. In my opinion this album is going to make people take notice of us. It has got everything from balls out metal to brutal death metal to stupid guitar playing or just music you bang your head or dance too and beyond. NO bullshit. It’s just a snapshot of where we are in 2007 and in my opinion it shits on our EP from a great height. We are straight to the point and it takes on so many different moods from really dark to frighteningly heavy shit. There is some melodic stuff there too but not what people would expect. Since the EP we’ve just become better songwriters and musicians so it should be interesting to see the reaction we get from people. It really does encapsulate the phrase ”Bastard Heavy Metal.” We’ve started playing some of these new songs live and they’ve been going down a storm. Peoples jaws have been like dragging off floors (laughs). As soon as it’s finished, mixed and out in the shops we will be back on the road doing what we do best. That’s all I got to say about that. That’s the bottom line!

American metal has done for us what we did for them in the sixtie. Our Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden is their Pantera, Machinehead and Slayers. Which all seems to conform to the cyclical nature of musical influence. There is a new wave of British metal on the cusp of something big, the level of musicianship from bands like Dragonforce, Sikth, Kingsize Blues and Ted Maul are definitely matching and in those cases exceeding that of their American counter parts.

So what is stopping them becoming as big? According to them, nothing at all.

For more information and to listen to the bands themselves, head over to their Myspace pages.

London’s Electric Ballroom:





All opinions expressed by Joe Butler are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


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