Superfood might be stepping away, but there’s a lot to be excited about.
Was B-Town a real scene, or as Swim Deep’s Cavan McCarthy told Tom Pell of Birmingham Post in a 2013 interview, a bit of a joke cooked up by himself and Peace frontman Harry Koisser? For a fleeting moment a few years ago, it did feel like something special was brewing, with clear influence from the baggy and Madchester scenes, and perhaps something near the comradeship of shoegaze, ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself’, as the bands were all friends, rather than rivals. Were Peace, Swim Deep, Superfood and Jaws the 2010s equivalent of Lush, Slowdive and Moose? Quite possibly.
Despite mixed reviews from the music press, Peace being described in The Guardian as ‘essentially reheated baggy leftovers skilfully marketed at people who hadn’t yet been born in 1990’, for many, B-Town summed up early 2010’s indie. In a post-Skins, post-Razorlight UK, B-Town was the perfect antidote for the feelings of anomie festering in those growing up in Tory Britain. British indie had entered something of a fallow period, as the exciting post-punk revival of the 2000s was disintegrating, and the genre was fast becoming the preserve of lads with guitars bringing out the same old influences, the same old chords, the same old lyrics. What we now refer to as ‘landfill indie’. I had just turned fourteen when Peace released their debut In Love, and in the midst of the typical adolescent uncertainty. I got into the rest of B-Town a little bit later on, but for a couple of years in the early ‘10s, Peace, along with the likes of Palma Violets, The Vaccines and Two Door Cinema Club, made me feel like I had a place. Like I was part of something.
At the end of 2012, as the scene was emerging, Sam Wolfson sat down with Peace, Swim Deep and Jaws for The Guardian. Looking back, he says that “it was kind of at the tail-end of when there had been lots of journalist-driven scenes in Britain, and that [B-Town] was a good way to be grouped and tell a story about themselves. It came after new rave and the Sheffield stuff and all of that – it wasn’t a fake thing, it was genuine, those bands are mates with each other – it was trying to play into that kind of format as a way of launching a couple of acts, and it helped that they were all mates with each other.”
Despite Superfood putting their music on hold for a while, we had a new Peace album last year, a new Jaws album arriving imminently, and new Swim Deep in the offing. The whole sound – if there was ever a homogenous ‘sound’ of B-Town, has evolved since the funky, baggy indie of 2012. When Superfood released Bambino in 2017, it was clear that they were doing something markedly different to the early ‘90s-revival that was so observable on their debut three years prior. Swim Deep shifted from shoegazey dream-pop on Where the Heaven Are We to something a little more experimental and influenced by krautrock on Mothers. Even Peace have grown; they may not be making sounds as funky as ‘Bloodshake’ and ‘Ocean’s Eye’ of late, but on Kindness Is the New Rock and Roll they displayed a newfound maturity.
Meanwhile, there’s a new generation of bands in and around making a name for themselves. Bands such as Sugarthief, Riscas, and Ivory Wave are gaining recognition, with the likes of Echo Beach! and The Sunset Beach Hut also showing clear promise. I spoke to Echo Beach!’s Ross Carley about the impact of B-Town on this current wave of artists, and he only has good things to say about the movement.
“I think those earlier Birmingham bands have had a huge influence. Superfood especially impacted on us as Paige [former lead vocalist] and I adored them and even saw them live together a few times as a band. Their music broke boundaries and to have it come from so close to home made it feel somewhat an attainable success!”
He namedrops some of the more recent Birmingham bands who are getting ever more popular: “Bands like Violet and Sugarthief appear to take influence from the likes of Swim Deep and Jaws too and even interact with those bands. There’s definitely a similar thing happening now, especially Sugarthief, Ivory Wave, The Clause and Riscas are doing similar things with tours, drawing big crowds across the UK and having such a big impact on their fans – especially Sugarthief even going as far as releasing such a groundbreaking EP that wouldn’t have been possible in the years between now and B-Town’s 2014.”
Without doubt, there’s a lot for this current cohort to live up to. It’s not B-Town Mk. 2 per se, but there’s a community forming around the Birmingham scene again, and maybe it’ll have more longevity. Did the original scene exactly live up to its potential? Wolfson says: “Peace and Swim Deep did alright, didn’t they? I guess it never had a breakout star really – also crucially they all moved to London very quickly. Not Jaws, but Peace and Swim Deep did, so I think that even though they had this quite honest story to tell about Birmingham when they launched, they all moved to London at the first opportunity. I think that’s the real issue in a way; it’s become much harder to sustain that kind of local scene that gets national attention. You think about the nineties and even the noughties in British music and there were all these really important local-based scenes that could have a very big impact, while remaining true to the place that they’re from. I think that B-Town was a kind of last-gasp urban attempt for that to happen – it doesn’t feel massively like that’s able to happen now.”
At Scala, on the night of the gig, I keep an eye out for the scene’s major players. It reads like a Who’s Who of British indie 2013 onwards. Austin Williams. Mattie Vant. Theo Ellis. There’s a bittersweet tone to the evening, as the venue is packed, nobody quite ready to leave Superfood behind. Like Bambino, the set opens with ‘Where’s the Bass Amp?’ before going into ‘Unstoppable’, the crowd screaming every word back at the band as if their lives depend on it. ‘We’re going to play some old songs’ says frontman Dom Ganderton, as a few debut bangers make an appearance before ‘Bubbles’ and the seldom seen ‘Houses on the Plain’ are announced to a raucous, if a little emotional, reception. For the remainder of the set, there’s a handful from both albums, the main set finishing with ‘I Can’t See’. Of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without an encore, ‘Natural Supersoul’ and ‘Superfood’ – how else would they end things? They deliver a fantastic show, almost rubbing it in that we are losing one of our most underrated bands.
We may be listening to Don’t Say That whilst crying, but as Carley says, “The Birmingham music scene is very much alive and kicking.”
‘I’m a music and culture journalist currently based in the West Midlands. Always on the lookout for up-and-coming artists but my favourite bands include IDLES and Arctic Monkeys. Probably last seen at a gig.