CHESTER’S Above The Underground talk to James Walker about the lack of a music scene in Chester, and the importance of social media to up and coming bands.
Having a strong social media presence has become almost as important to the success of a band as being able to write a good song.
More and more bands are gaining followers, and even record contracts, all due to social media.
Above The Underground, made up of Will Kirkman, Al Kirkman, Nick Barlow and Brandon Icely, have been on Facebook pretty much since their formation in 2009.
“It’s never been easier to be in a band or interested in music in general, and that is all down to social media. We owe a lot to it in terms of contacts we’ve made over the years and just networking in general,” said Will Kirkman, vocalist for the band.
And in an area as void of ‘alternative’ music as Chester, and neighbouring town Wrexham, it’s not hard to wonder why ‘underground’ music and unsigned bands have made their way on to the internet.
“We’re fortunate enough to come from a region where almost every town has a decent scene going on, so we never felt like we were at a disadvantage. Warrington, Manchester, Liverpool, Wigan etcetera all have awesome scenes and are right on our doorstep so we spent a lot of time playing in those towns when we were starting out.”
“When we play here [Chester] most of the people that come down are from out of town, normally the areas surrounding Chester or towns like Middlewich and Winsford. It’s weird. You’d think with it being a college town there would be an endless supply of people who are interested in live music, but half the shows I see the venues are empty. It’s a shame.”
“In recent years it’s grown and there are some cool new bands coming out of the city now, and people seem to be taking more of an interest in music outside of going to watch cover bands at Alexander’s every now and then, which didn’t seem to be the case before.”
And with the recent rebranding of comedy club The Laugh Inn as The Live Rooms, the possibility for a rise in Chester’s live music scene is more apparent than ever.
“I’ve seen photos from shows and it seems that it’s taking off. Promoters in the area’s only real option in the past has basically just been The Compass so I think people looking to put on shows are probably breathing a sigh of relief that there’s a semi decent venue in town now. It was something we were desperately lacking.”
When asked what role social media had to play for their band, he said:
“I think that most of our fan base has come from playing shows and touring, but there’s definitely quite a lot of people who would have no idea who we are if it wasn’t for sites like Facebook and Youtube. It’s a great way to keep people updated with what’s going on.”
Receiving messages from strangers reading “Hey! I saw you liked this band, please could you check out my band!” or invites to shows are commonplace. The power of ‘sharing’ on Facebook has the ability to bring a track by a band with only 100 fans, or ‘Likes’ on Facebook, to the attention of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people just by two or three people ‘sharing’ it and subsequently sky rocketing them to fame.
A few miles across the Welsh border is Wrexham. A town that only really has the one music venue, Central Station, under the same management as The Compass in Chester, and not much in terms of a local music scene. But despite this, a local pop punk band, Neck Deep, have recently blown their way on to the iPods of people across the globe, recently signing to Hopeless Records – who have worked with bands like All Time Low, Enter Shikari and Taking Back Sunday – and they’ve only been a band since April last year.
Their current Facebook stats: 41,412 ‘likes’, and 7,699 ‘talking’ about them.
They’ve recently just finished up a nationwide tour with American pop-punk icons, The Wonder Years, performed at Warped Tour UK at Alexandra Palace in London, are currently on a headline tour of Australia and are scheduled for a huge headline tour of America in the new year in support of their debut record.
How? Social media. Not long after their formation, people were receiving Facebook messages from vocalist Ben Barlow asking them to ‘check out’ his band. Within months, Tumblr and Facebook were ablaze with people talking about Neck Deep. With only a handful of recorded songs, they had still amassed a vast fan base before their first three shows in December last year.
Above The Underground on the other hand have always favoured self-promotion through a live presence rather than online, having played over 200 shows in their four years, including two mainland European tours and a two-month long American tour.
“People always say hard work builds character and I think that applies to groups as well as individuals. Touring in a shitty van and being broke as fuck, playing countless shows to no one before people started to take interest has moulded us into the band we are today.”
“We would be entirely different if we had gotten big overnight,” he continued, but added “As long as a group of people are writing music and having fun together then that’s all that matters.”
With the rise of the sheer necessity of social media to not just bands, but promoters, record labels, fans, making the scene less and less personal, there has come a call from ‘purists’ for a return to the days when you would be approached by band members on the street or outside gigs, offering flyers or demo CDs, which would more than often end up in the bin or on the floor as soon as their backs were turned, over Facebook messages and invites.
“They’re both exactly the same thing, the only difference is if someone hands me a flyer in the street and doesn’t look crazy, I might pay attention to it and end up going to the show or checking the band out or whatever. I, like everybody else, get loads of Facebook invites everyday for shows hundreds of miles away from me that I would never go to so I just ignore them. But I mean it’s the same thing, it’s just promotion, and both can be effective if they’re used right.”
It is clear that the ‘personal touch’ is lacking in today’s music scene in favour of faceless social media sites being inundated with ‘flavour of the week’ bands, but why shouldn’t such an important tool in today’s world be used to their advantage?
“People think that the scene is like this fragile thing that needs to be defended, but hype bands have always been around in various forms and there have always been bands that have got big overnight. At the end of the day bands like that are just doing what they love,” said Will.
If it wasn’t for social media, it would be much harder for bands from areas like Chester or Wrexham to even get a first show, let alone tours in different countries. While it may seem that social media is another step towards the complete commercialization of ‘alternative’ music, but it also allows bands from areas, like Chester, which don’t have the strongest of scenes to seek and take opportunities which might otherwise be denied to them.
For better or worse, this is the way the music industry has begun to operate, and for some it could mean the opportunity of a lifetime, all because of social media.
Photo credit – Andrew Barlow
Listen to Above The Underground’s EP ‘Autumns’ below: