Battle of the Bands 2021


Kristina Wemyss gives a rundown of York’s Battle of the Bands 2021, speaking to the Chair of BandSoc, Alex Thompson and the winner, Al Smith.

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Image by Luke Snell

By Kristina Wemyss

Battle of the Bands is an annual event which is hosted by BandSoc in collaboration with the various media and music-related societies on campus. Speaking to the Chair of BandSoc and former MUSE editor Alex Thompson, it’s clear to see that this competition is a huge event within the music scene at York. Normally, the contestants and judges would pack out the Lounge for a great night of live music, drinks and socialising. It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t possible in 2021, but BandSoc were still determined to make Battle of the Bands 2021 an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the incredible range of musical talent at York.

This year there were twenty-three contestants, each of whom submitted a track that they had recorded during lockdown. These submissions were then scored out of ten by a panel of judges which included representatives from Nouse, AlbumSoc, and Vision, as well as Tom Beer from Bull –  a York-based indie four-piece. Despite the screens, Alex says that he’s glad the event managed to keep its usual community feel as it’s a key part of “what makes BandSoc such a supportive environment.”

The standard of the submissions was phenomenal this year, despite the fact that it has been a difficult time for many musicians to find inspiration or get access to certain equipment, technology and studio space. Taking this into consideration, the scoring system was slightly altered to place less emphasis on production. It was particularly interesting to see how students worked around these barriers and it was also refreshing to hear lots of home-grown raw talent that hadn’t been overproduced. Alex comments on this too, saying that this year’s tracks were very different from the submissions that BandSoc usually expect and receive. Furthermore, he’s very happy that there was a higher proportion of women and non-binary contestants this year. Normally, he tells me, “BandSoc has a very 'white boys with guitars' image but I think moving the competition online has helped to smash that stereotype by giving women and non-binary artists more room to thrive.”

Despite the title of the event, none of the acts that progressed to the final were bands, instead, they were all solo artists. In some ways, this was even more impressive as you would never expect these tracks to have been created in the midst of a pandemic by one single person. Solo artists, songwriters and bedroom producers really came into their own this year and the fact that the event wasn’t live meant that they weren't overshadowed by louder and more dominant bands.

After the judging panel had scored each track, the top six artists were shortlisted and progressed to a live final on Discord. By popular vote, Al Smith was crowned the winner, impressing everyone with their track ‘losing you’. The captivating harmonies, heartfelt lyrics and beautifully simplistic guitar playing certainly made them a deserving winner. That being said, the competition was stiff this year; there were a huge range of musical styles and each track had its own appeal. Other artists who also made it to the final include Trueman, who submitted an endearingly nostalgic indie song called ‘Frivolous Things’ and Rory McLean with his energetic track ‘Waiting For the Night’ – both of which are guaranteed to get stuck in your head.

Speaking to Al Smith, she is clearly grateful to have been voted the winner, letting me know that she was blown away by the talent of her fellow competitors, particularly Mary Alice, who submitted the quirky track ‘girl who danced in berlin’. When I ask them whether it was more difficult to make a song during lockdown she puts a positive spin on things; “music has been the silver lining of the pandemic for me,” she says. Having taken a break from music for a few years, it was only while she was living alone during lockdown that Al started to get back into it. “It’s definitely given me a lot of time for self-reflection which I think has helped my writing, and only having access to one mic, and an acoustic guitar sort of forced me to write.”

The prize for first place is a £50 voucher for PMT or an equivalent music retailer- something which would undoubtedly be very useful to any musician during these times. Also, Al will be interviewed and have their track played on Jorvik Radio, which they are very excited about. She recognises the importance of radio play for any young musician; having been on BBC Introducing Norwich several years ago, she is now very grateful to be able to come back from her break from music with a bang.

Listen to Al Smith’s track alongside all of the other wonderful submissions by clicking the link below: