Cultural Birmingham

In the, decidedly non-Birmingham-related, film The Commitments soul music is called “the rhythm of sex. Rhythm of the factory, too”. Sex, maybe, but if any sound has the rhythm of the factory, the hammering, drilling, thumping it’s heavy metal—and Birmingham in the late sixties and seventies was the home of both.

Every few years a politician suggests that Brum’s airport be renamed in honour of Brum’s Ozzy Osbourne in the way that Liverpool airport celebrates John Lennon. And every few years the airport and tourist chiefs dismiss that idea as batty. Birmingham as a city hasn’t served its denim and leather heritage well, until very recently. Local promoters of all sorts of avant garde noise, Capsule produced a huge and popular exhibition—fittingly called Home of Metal—that even featured recreations of the factories where members of bands like Black Sabbath worked; before they clocked off and changed the course of music.

The city seems to be finally spawning a body of new bands comfortable with that heritage. And Capsule are being joined by other rock-focused promoters like It’s Just Noise and the team behind El Ghost Fest, a quarterly festival based at the new Muthers Studio (muthersstudio.co.uk) a surprisingly big venue gritty, heavy, Digbeth.

Julia Ghost-Fest, also keyboardist in post-rock collective Ghosts of Dead Airplanes, rates Them Wolves highly (themwolves.co.uk) “the guitars are dark and crunchy, the vocals are too. It sounds now”. They’re a fixture at the airless, room underneath The Flapper (theflapper.co.uk Cambrian Wharf, down by the canal) where the wood panneling will drip with sweat, and the toilets are awash with other liquid and also The Rainbow (therainbowvenues.co.uk High St, Digbeth). Here bands blast the local surroundings from what was the beer garden but has had to be re-enforced and soundproofed to prevent noise abatement orders.

For the more traditional metal, based on black T-shirts, dark imagery and angular fonts Kataleptic (facebook.com/Kataleptic) are loud and urgent as you like—and voted one of the UK’s top unsigned bands by metal bible Terrorizer.

The factories are all but gone, but the noise remains.

Originally published in The Guardian.

Author: Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.

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