Hugo Manuel, aka Chad Valley. Leading the way for “Blessing Force”.
The mainstream commercial and critical success of Foals and Stornoway has been unprecedented and a great victory for putting Oxford back on the musical map where it belongs. A city that in the 10 years I’ve been involved in the music scene here has always had a million great bands and a seeming dearth of acts going that next step and making waves on the national (and international) stage. What’s exciting right now is that the two bands to have made the big step are keen on promoting and developing bands and musicians in the scene that they came from. Foals have had more than a minor role in the success of a burgeoning scene now known as Blessing Force. Counting amongst their ranks “ambitionless office disco” trio Trophy Wife, post Animal Collective chill waver Chad Valley, new project from ex Foal and Youthmovie Mr Andrew Mears (Pet Moon) and trumpeter extraordinaire Sam Scott’s Solid Gold Dragons.
Formerly the focus point for the collective was erstwhile experimental folk ensemble and latterly post Vampire Weekend afro beaters Jonquil. Then the trio of Trophy Wife broke away from the mothership to concentrate on being “ambitionless”, a wise move it seems. What seems to define the aesthetic of Blessing Force is slick as an oil slick production, tight as a gnats ass disco rhythms and more than a nod to math rock greats of old. Hear the spangly post New Order coldness of Trophy Wife’s guitars and Mr Mears’ dizzying polymath assaults. Obviously following in the footsteps of the great Foals, the BF mixture of 70s disco, 80s electro and 90s math rock is a unique brew that has caught the hearts of minds of the small circle of London media that get to say yay or nay, and, so far, the yays have it.
Aside from Blessing Force, there’s another scene that has been in the wings for a while now and is waiting to step forward and get a slightly silly name. Following in the wake of the meteoric rise of post folk chamber pop ensemble Stornoway, bands such as Neil Young meets Granddaddy influenced The Epstein, folk arkestra and newly Brainlove Records signed darlings We Aeronauts, hang dog pop geniuses Family Machine and Oxford formed, Brighton located and forthcoming Stornoway tour supports Foxes!. All of these ace groups, with the support and patronage of Brian Briggs et al, stand to soon find themselves in the limelight. What could be termed as defining this loose collective of bands is, like Blessing Force, a love of retro music, but much more on the folk/country side of things. Imbibed with a hazy, psychedelic, lo-fi edge and a soft focus take on Americana as well as classic British pop, where Blessing Force has minimal techno and chillwave pretensions Ox-Fi acts seemed to go for rousing choruses and a love of earthy humour. If there’s any justice all the acts from both these scenes will go on to spread their wings and fly, hopefully the powers that be will, in each case, see sense.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other ace Oxfordian musical outfits that don’t fit into this narrow field of vision (honourable mentions to Ute, Borderville and The Gullivers. With Truck’s OX4 Festival this weekend I urge you to get on the Oxford Tube and come find a load of amazing new bands only 50 miles from Shoreditch.