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In the Spotlight

Harriet Clifford talks to indie band, Larkins, about their success and explores a new music platform in York

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All Images: Priti Shikotra

Whichever year you're in, you'll probably be feeling the pressure of looming internship or graduate scheme deadlines round about now. You only have to try to book a Careers appointment at 8am a couple of days in a row to know that life after university is on everyone's minds. But with Careers Fairs coming at you left right and centre, it's sometimes easy to forget about the opportunities there for students hoping to enter into a different kind of industry.

I catch up with a group of guys who have done just that. Having made a name for themselves in the Manchester music scene last year, Larkins are now seeing their fan-base grow beyond the UK, with a recent gig taking place in Berlin. Speaking to Dom (Lead Guitar/Synth), I ask him about how they came together as a band. "Me and Josh (Lead Vocals/Guitar) have been playing music together since we were about 13 years old in secondary school, and started the band together at the end of college. We were introduced to Henry (Bass) through our old guitar teacher and loved his style, so he joined a little later on, and Joe (Drums) joined in late 2016."
It's such a competitive, brutal industry that there's no way you can get into it without really working hard.

Both Henry and Joe are currently studying music at university, and Dom has recently graduated, so I ask Dom what he would say to aspiring student bands in York. "I think you've just got to put everything into it. It's such a competitive, brutal industry that there's no way you can get into it without really working hard. Obviously the music should be the focus, but there are so many more aspects of being in a band that are important, like 'image' for example. In an industry that is predominantly online, the look and aesthetics of an artist are so important."

I find what Dom says about a band's 'image' interesting, especially considering the bands that typically come to mind when someone says "indie band from Manchester". Dom tells me that "Manchester is an amazing place for live music. It is a city with such an incredibly rich musical history and I think it's something that, as a city, it's extremely proud of." At the same time, "Manchester is often summed up with Oasis, The Stone Roses and The Smiths, but there is a much wider variety of indie music coming through, with bands like Everything Everything, The 1975, and Blossoms all ... summing up a new generation of Manchester music."

Unable to resist, I ask Dom for Larkins' opinions on Liam Gallagher's recent comeback. "We were very surprised at how good the album sounds and how well it's gone down with the public. It's not necessarily something that we'd listen to regularly, but there are some class tunes on there. We're digging 'For What It's Worth'." Well played, Dom, well played.

As well as their image, which they describe as "far from the typical masculine posturing of much of Manchester's indie output", Dom and I discuss Larkins' general ethos. I met the band when I stumbled across them in a bar in Leeds, drawn to their fresh sound and sharp vocals. After their set, my friend and I (very excited and a couple of cocktails in) spoke to Josh, who seemed to take a genuine interest in chatting to us. I found this very appealing, and was surprised to find out afterwards that they had recently returned from playing in Berlin with Cassia and Glass Caves, as well as having played a set at Kendal Calling.

My surprise was not a reflection of their musical standard, but at how they could remain so humble. I ask Dom whether this is something he thinks could change as Larkins gains in popularity. "It's definitely something we think about all the time [...] we're extremely grateful to everyone that makes an effort to come and see us! That ethos will definitely stay the same: we love speaking to people after gigs and connecting with fans."

During our conversation, I find out that Larkins have been supported by BBC Introducing, which gives artists the opportunity to upload their music for potential exposure. Dom tells me, "BBC Introducing is such a good platform for up-and-coming artists and gives people the chance to be played on some huge radio stations and play some massive festivals. BBC Introducing Manchester have been incredibly kind to us and have allowed us to do acoustic sessions, and have played us consistently throughout our time as a band."

It's obvious that Larkins have worked hard to push themselves beyond the remit of a typical student band, and their success is probably what a lot of bands at the University aspire to. Clearly, not everyone who uploads their music to BBC Introducing is successful, so I want to find out whether there are any 'stepping-stone' opportunities for students here at York.

I speak to Jamie Castle, third year Economics student at York and founder of twenty3, a recent start-up which aims "to give grassroots British bands the chance to gain vital experience and exposure that will hopefully stand them in good stead to make it in the music industry." While this is their long-term goal, Jamie tells me, "To begin with, we're targeting student bands, initially in York, ... giving them a chance to play at a venue in the city."

Not being a musician himself, I'm interested to know what inspired Jamie to take on this endeavour, "Even though my degree choice wouldn't suggest it, I've always had an ambition to do something in music - but in more of a behind-the-scenes context ... Equally, I've always wanted to start my own business." He tells me, "The actual idea came about when I started to frequently go to gigs a couple of years back (when I could actually afford it), and I'd see so many great support bands ... It's crazy how congested the music industry is, so I came up with a business that in the long run will hopefully make it easier for smaller British bands to get their music out there, rather than just getting drowned out by everyone else."
It's crazy how congested the music industry is, so I came up with a business to make it easier for smaller British bands

We talk about twenty3's scouting process and the fine line between putting up barriers and wanting to maintain a high standard. "Obviously, we want to choose the best bands because it'll attract more people to the gig, but at the same time the whole concept is built off giving people chances." He goes on to say that only one of the bands playing at the upcoming Fibbers gig has a full list of original songs. Jamie admits that this was "a bit of a leap of faith" for him, but it seems that this willingness to support a band right from the start of their career is the best way to open doors to new talent.

Discussing Larkins and their success, I try to gauge whether Jamie sees twenty3 as a similar platform to BBC Introducing, or whether he wants to offer something different. He tells me that while BBC Introducing is great, "beyond that, the bands have to go their own way in regards to getting a record contract. So hopefully in the future twenty3 will be able to offer that by signing on a few of the bands, then we can mentor them and give them a proper shot in the industry."

It seems that whether you want to make it into the spotlight or get involved behind the scenes, there is a way of getting there, and that this way isn't always obvious. Despite the panic of "what comes next", we mustn't forget that we're currently in a perfect environment for taking stock and experimenting with our ambitions. Missing university already, Dom reminisces, "Uni is such a great time to get some independence and find out what you want to do."

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