One of the best characteristics of Nottingham’s music community is its readiness to lend a helping hand to newer, lesser-known acts. Now into its third year, the Future Sound of Nottingham contest is a prime example, offering valuable exposure to a wide range of local talent.
For the ultimate winner, there’s the biggest opportunity of all: an opening slot on the main stage of the Splendour festival in Wollaton Park, supporting Dizzee Rascal, Razorlight and Katy B.
In Round One, 54 acts submitted tracks to Nusic, the non-profit voluntary organisation who organises the contest. A panel of four judges whittled these down to twelve semi-finalists, who were invited to perform in the Market Square last weekend. A public vote will then determine which six acts qualify for the finals at Rock City.
After a set from last year’s winners The Money, singer-songwriter Joe Danks was the first semi-finalist to take to the stage, accompanied by a very special guest on the fiddle: his mum. Happily undaunted by the size of the crowd, Joe’s three song set ranged from the mournful optimism of Buoyancy Aid to the folky, upbeat Hook Line And Sinker. As the last remnants of an earlier downpour cascaded from the roof of the stage, he laughed away the interruption: “Pyrotechnics!”
Although still feeling rough after a big night out, The Afterdark Movement blew away the cobwebs in fine style, with their winning blend of rap and indie-pop. As the only act from last year’s semis to re-appear in 2012, their determination to progress further this time around fuelled a strong set.
The Species were up next: riff-driven rockers, who sounded like the Arctic Monkeys might have turned out if Alex Turner had grown up reading Kerrang instead of the NME. They were followed by Joy Mumford, an acoustic soul singer who quickly conquered her initial nerves, visibly gaining in confidence as her set progressed.
The gentle mid-afternoon mood was abruptly shattered by Crash Jacket, who blitzed the Saturday shoppers with greasy, rasping rock anthems. Imagine Kasabian crash-landing in a free festival in 1972, and you’re halfway there.
Tom Wardle completed the first day’s entries, with arguably the most confident performance of the afternoon; he was certainly the most slickly turned out, in shades and a sharp suit. The day ended with an uplifting, soulful set from Rob Green and his six-piece band, joined by Nina Smith for a performance of Bad News. Rob and Nina will both be performing at this year’s Splendour, on LeftLion’s courtyard stage.
Sunday’s line-up was opened by Long Dead Signal, who won the contest in 2010. Undeterred by the recent deportation of their Mexican bassist, the remaining members used backing tapes to replace him, draping a colourful Mexican blanket over the back of the stage in tribute.
“Don’t Google us unless you’re over 14 years old!” quipped Hot Japanese Girl, one of the most hotly tipped acts in this year’s contest, and certainly the hardest and heaviest. Their insurrectionary thrash made an apt soundtrack for the dismantlement of the Occupy Nottingham camp, just a few yards away.
Mumford-esque folksters In The North Wood won their place in the semis by “spreading the most love” about their fellow Nottingham acts – and in a further manifestation of good karma, they had already leapt to a convincing early lead in the public vote. The sunshine held out until the end of their set, but by the time that electronic dance act Tray Electric took to the stage, the heavens had opened. Raving in the rain isn’t the most natural of activities, but at least we were able to bob our umbrellas up and down en masse.
Sadly, last minute day-job commitments prevented Michael Lynch from making an appearance – but he remains in the contest, his place filled on the day by the superb Opie Deino, one of last year’s finalists. She was followed by Goodnight Astronaut: a rasping, swaggering rock band whose full-tilt, high-octane, all-out assault left our eardrums ringing and our bowels quaking – but in a good way.
Until a few days ago, 24-year old Indiana was a complete unknown on the scene. This was to be her first ever live performance; a daunting prospect for a brand new artist, but a challenge which she rose to quite magnificently. By the end of her set, she had secured the admiration of the largest crowd of the afternoon, astonishing us all with a superbly crafted, emotionally intense vocal performance, and ending the weekend on the most heart-warming of highs. Future Sound of Nottingham is all about offering opportunities, and Indiana couldn’t have been a more deserving recipient.