AS our weekly column highlighting the bands and musicians breaking out of Brighton and Sussex, hits its 50th milestone, The Guide looks at three more acts poised to make it big outside the city in 2015


OF EMPIRES are living proof a band today doesn’t need a record label behind them to get noticed.

Named MTV Brand New’s Unsigned band of 2015 from hundreds of entries around the country, the four-piece from Brighton via Guernsey have been making waves with their epic-sounding riff-heavy debut EP Stranger Sensations, released in September. It sounds readymade for stadiums with a slowbuild cool aesthetic melding with anthemic hooky choruses on openers Gimme What I Need and I Want You To Get Mad, while Stranger shows off a looser more soulful side to the band.

Principal songwriter Matthew Berry admits the band’s first release was designed to be radio-friendly.

“It took a lot longer to put together than we had initially planned,” he says.

“There was lots of trial and error - the idea was to write three singles, three songs that would be attractive to radio play. We had to make maximum impact.”

The band’s origins date back four years, when Berry and an old schoolfriend, vocalist Jack Fletcher, attended a Guernsey music festival.

“We just said: ‘We need to start a rock band’,” he says. “We enlisted [drummer] George Le Page and [bassist] Liam Bewey shortly after and the rest has been history.

“It was more about logic than emotion which is strange coming from people who describe themselves as artists.”

The Stranger Sensations sessions were recorded back in May in Hove’s vintage studios The Toy Rooms in Kingsway – Nick Cave’s favourite city studio – with Oasis engineer Ben Thackeray at the controls. Jon Gray, who has been behind records by Kooks, The Subways, The Coral, The Zutons and Editors, mixed the finished results.

As well as making sure their records have the right sound, Of Empires have been carefully crafting the right look for the band – based around monochrome slightly abstract band shots.

“It’s us showing part of our hand, but not all of it,” says Berry. “There’s a whole lot more to come.”

Berry and Bewey are both now based in Brighton, where Fletcher and Le Page were already studying at BIMM (Brighton Institute Of Modern Music).

“The first record was written through the means of technology,” admits Berry. “I would write a song and send it across the ether, so Jack and George could do their bits.

“I’m more excited now to think about what we can accomplish all together in the same place – I can only see it going forward and upward.

“I’ve only just recently moved to Brighton, but it is having a massive impact on our direction. I don’t think we could base ourselves in Guernsey any longer.”

He won’t be drawn on the format of the band’s next release – saying it could be a mini-album or a full record – but the plan is to show the band’s wider range.

“We need to demonstrate we can write more tracks with more scope,” he says. “I definitely feel myself to be the key songwriter – but that in no way detracts from the other elements and components the rest of the band adds to the songs.

“I think there’s definitely a juxtaposition in the way we collaborate together – it is a team effort.”

The band played their first headline show in their new home just before Christmas, as part of Lout Promotions’s regular Brighton Rocks nights at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar.

And in the wake of their MTV success – which will see them record an unplugged session for the channel later this month – they are being courted by other promoters across Europe for a headline tour in 2015.

Of course there is still the enticing opportunity to finally sign to a record deal.

“It is difficult to do things when you don’t have the time and resources to devote to a record,” admits Berry. “When you’re in full-time employment it’s not always the easiest thing to make. We are a lot more timestretched, which is the downside of being an unsigned act.

“But there are probably lots of signed acts who wish they were still unsigned. If you’re offered a deal you have to make sure you’re smart enough to take it. They are not always as beneficial as you might think – they give with one hand and take with the other.

“A lot more record labels are doing 360-degree deals where they give you a small advance and licence off your music how and when they please.”


MAX WHEELER’S life changed completely when his band Anushka suddenly received airplay on BBC Radio 1.

“I literally just got a text from a friend of mine saying Gilles Peterson is playing your record,” he remembers from the vocal booth of Red Bull Studios, where the duo is recording a one-off track for BBC Radio 1 DJ B Traits’s upcoming mixtape.

“We didn’t even know Gilles had a copy! As soon as the track was played on the radio it all went into overdrive.”

The DJ was passed a copy of their track Yes Guess by Anushka’s co-manager, Paul Martin, who had previously worked with Peterson on his Talkin’ Loud label.

The Brighton-based duo are now signed to Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, which released their debut album Broken Circuit last year.

Wheeler first met vocalist Victoria Port at Riki Tik’s in Brighton, having been introduced by a mutual friend who he knew through a regular producers’ night at the Caxton Arms.

“I don’t think the project would have happened without Brighton,” he says. “There’s a really creative atmosphere, there’s a little less pressure so things can evolve naturally.”

The pair moved between various studios putting ideas together, although they now have their own studio - based in a log cabin in Wheeler’s Brighton back garden.

“When we met I was really into underground electronic music, and Victoria was writing more soulful song-based stuff,” he says.

“As it has gone on we have absorbed a lot of each other’s influences and got into a lot of different stuff.

“There has been an explosion of house music, and we wrote Broken Circuit while that was happening. We were playing a lot of raves – so the material on the album was aimed at the dancefloor.

“There’s still a lot of that in what we are doing now, but now we’re doing stuff that is going back to the hip-hop we grew up with. We like to jump around a lot with different tempos – we don’t like to stay in one place too long.”

The band’s next single, Kisses, which is released on Monday, January 19, is part of that move towards a more hip-hop style, featuring a collaboration with rapper Trim.

And Water Lilies, the track the pair were working on in Red Bull Studios when they spoke to The Guide, is an even bigger departure according to Wheeler.

“For B Traits’s mixtape we thought we should go and try something out,” he says.

“We brought three songs up with us - and we could tell straight away Water Lilies was the track B Traits was into the most. We’ve recorded a bit of Fender Rhodes and percussion on it, Victoria has been singing all day. She wrote a new part in the studio which was quite nice to watch.”

He describes his role in the live shows as a combination of DJing and live production while Victoria sings.

“We try to react to the crowd,” he says. “In the summer we were playing 2am raves and soulful chilled-out matinee shows.”

Last year saw the pair play a variety of shows, from a British Council show in Vietnam, to South By South West in Austin, Texas, as well as a European tour which took in Russia and the Baltic states.

All of those experiences have found their way into the music they are now making.

“Our lives have changed since we were signed, and our perspectives have changed,” he says. “We hear music everywhere we go and absorb a lot. The music played out in the Baltics is so hard and brutal, while in Latvia and Lithuania we were hearing grime music.

“Listening to the responses it was a surprise how well our music went down - there is a more universal culture everywhere now. Things have got a bit more homogenous. It has changed the way we write.”

And he sees writing as essential to the band’s survival.

“As long as we keep making music, then everything keeps moving on around us.”

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FOLLOWING in the footsteps of UK chart-toppers Sam Smith, Emeli Sandé and Jessie J, former Brighton Institute Of Modern Music (BIMM) student James Bay has won the Brit Critics’ Choice Award for 2015.

The 22-year-old singer-songwriter will be presented with the award on Thursday, January 15, as part of The Brits Are Coming nominations show broadcast on ITV. He will perform at ITV Studios alongside Clean Bandit and FKA Twigs.

The main Brit Awards ceremony is at London’s O2 on Wednesday,February 25, with a live bill featuring Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and last year’s winner Sam Smith.

Bay is not the first Sussex artist to win the Critics’ Choice award – which was chosen by a panel of music industry experts and tastemakers.

Adele, who now lives in Hove, won the first trophy in 2008, and fellow former BIMM student Tom Odell of Chichester was named the winner in 2013.

The final shortlist for 2015 also included George The Poet and Years And Years.

After the award was announced Bay, who was born in Hertfordshire, said: “I’m pretty speechless. After all the years I’ve spent watching the Brits and even after this year, watching my fan base grow so much, I never thought I’d actually be getting an award myself.

“I’m really chuffed. Thank you to everyone who has supported me.”

His short career has already seen him support John Newman on tour and share a bill with The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park.

He has also been named on the BBC Sound Of 2015 longlist - where he came second.

Ian Sillett, who was head of song writing when Bay was at BIMM Brighton, described him as the “perfect student”.

He said: “Not only is he extremely talented but he is a lovely guy.

“As soon as he started we knew he was something special – he is an incredible guitar player, he has that style and of course there’s the voice.

“He has worked hard for it, he has gigged all over and taken onboard as much advice and help as possible.

“2015 is going to be a huge year for him and he deserves all the success he gets.”