Newly signed to Transgressive, noise merchants University are an undeniable force.
Words: Jamie Muir.
Photos: Holly Whitaker.
When it comes to band introductions, UNIVERSITY may just have the best one going. Laying out their manifesto as an act hell-bent on doing exactly what they want, when they want and how they want, the four-piece describe their sound as, “Like getting punched in the face by a gorilla but then being cuddled afterwards.”
Huddled in a room adorned with cut-out pictures, scribblings, video-game posters, garden chairs and signs you’d usually find adorning the walls of public buildings, it feels like a true creative hub. “I think people want people like us to push the boundaries of what people can take and enjoy,” states drummer Joel Smith. “We like the idea of breaking the rules a little bit.”
Drenched in a world of mystery, in the past 12 months, UNIVERSITY have laid themselves out as a must-see live force. Pounding hooks, electric guitars and an unstoppable eruption of sound surround their every move. Along with guitarist/singer Zak Bowker and bassist Ewan Barton, their early years were spent navigating high school and college in various bands (in some cases “the worst band ever made”, Joel recalls) before being joined by fourth member Eddie Leigh, regularly found on-stage at gigs either playing video games or sat at a laptop. It was only then that UNIVERSITY properly locked in. “I think the main change was probably the philosophy around it,” explains Joel. “Before, there was a bit more of those dreams of like…”
“WE’RE GOING TO BE THE NEXT NIRVANA!” dives in Ewan. “WE’RE GOING TO BE THE NEXT GREEN DAY.”
The smiles ring out through the rainy winter evening. “That shit!” points Joel. “After that, we just kinda stopped caring what people… like, we’re from this town that nobody’s heard of [Crewe]. Nobody comes from here. We’re just gonna write and play songs that we want to hear from the music we were listening to then, and only after we’d written those songs, we noticed a massive change in just the nature of how we wrote music.”
A melting pot of different styles and genres, they took influence from fuzzing alternative cult bands such as Hella, Dilute and Nouns, as well as witnessing the rush from the early days of black midi. The result seen across debut EP ‘Title Track’ is nothing short of a revolution. A made-live, born-to-be-experienced-live and unstoppable-live statement of intent from a band taking musicianship to stunning new heights. When experiencing a UNIVERSITY show, “We never want people to have a certain expectation of what we can do,” lays out Joel. “We always want to make sure we can continue to surprise and deliver.”
Honing their craft by relentlessly playing together in a rehearsal room for seven hours a day every day for an entire year (until noise complaints became one of their first experiences of making an impact), the core fundamentals of being a band and carving their own path ring true. Thrashing vocals on cuts like ‘Notre Dame Made Out Of Flesh’ and the crunching history of ‘Egypt Tune’ have one focus only: making you move.
“The first festival we did this year, that was definitely a key moment, even if the show was shit,” recalls Zak. “It was an important one, though, because it taught us how to show a room of complete strangers who we are as a band. How to introduce ourselves.”
Joel remembers it as, “The noisiest, most outrageous set, but not in a good way. It was very confrontational.”
Wearing their passions firmly on their sleeves, UNIVERSITY feel like a kick against everything else right now, a reaction to the norm that screams and pulls at the foundations people have come to expect, delivered like an earthquake. Letting the music do the talking is critical to everything they’re about.
“We had someone come up to us and say, ‘I didn’t even know music could sound like that’, which could mean anything!”Zak bowker
“We like to be mysterious and not give out our secrets too early,” says Joel. “When you see how some bands promote music nowadays, it’s a bit dystopian. Bands like Hella and Dilute, it’s just there staring you in your face. You just have to give it respect, and you get something out of it all by putting yourself in the line of fire.”
It seems over-the-top to suggest one night at a UNIVERSITY show could alter everything else to come, but that’s exactly what they represent. “We get a pretty mixed reaction,” laughs Zak. “We had someone come up to us and say, ‘I didn’t even know music could sound like that’, which could mean anything!”
Firmly set on evolving and making that experience as undeniable as possible is what comes next. Meeting every occasion head-on, they’re whipping up their own exciting lane away from the pack.
“In ten years, we’re going to look back on a band like Black Country, New Road and be like, ‘Wow’. Even if you’re not into them, it felt like something important,” explains Joel, as he ponders the wider scene UNIVERSITY are stepping into, both feet first. “But there are so many bands now trying to be like them, or Thee Oh Sees, or The Chats, or IDLES, and it feels like if you’re not like them, then you’re not a band. Don’t get me wrong, those bands are pretty good, but it’s been done.”
With debut ‘Title Track’ setting a marker for who UNIVERSITY are at this very moment, what comes next could be anyone’s guess. “We’re a band who are, like, throwing something in the machine. You throw all this different music into the machine, and it grinds out into something completely different,” says Joel. “We had our sound a year ago. We have our sound now. We’ll have our sound in a year’s time. It’s all about evolving.”
Vital. Invigorating. Fiercely essential. UNIVERSITY are ready to rip apart any preconceptions, and they’ve got one goal for those leaving after a show in the years to come. “To not be listening to the same shit you did before you came here.”
Taken from the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of Dork.
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