Chapter 2 – Music and the rise of the Internet – 1990 to 2005 – part 1
by Trevor Locke
This article forms part of a series called The History of Music in Leicester.
Chapter 1 of this series Music Today has already been published and covered the period from 2014 back to 2005.
This is part 1 of Chapter 2.
Part 2 looks at the 1990s.
In this chapter, we look at the period from the early noughties (2000 to 2005) to the 1990s (taken to be the start of the Internet, roughly speaking.) As was noted in Chapter 1, all music of a particular period had its roots in the past; the music of an era cannot be understood without looking back at the roots that nurtured it at that time. Hence, our journey back through history to see how music has changed and how people’s musical tastes have been shaped and formed by what was happening to them and the people before them. The outstanding feature of the period 1990 to 2014 was the growth of the Internet.
The Rise of the Internet
All kinds of music has depended for its growth, development and distribution on the technologies available; music in pre-technological society was exclusively live and its distribution was dependent on the printing of sheet music. Before that, it was all about oral traditions being handed down from one generation to another. All this changed with the invention of the gramophone player, the radio, television, the CD player and then the Internet. Technological development changed the way people listened to music but it also changed the musical tastes of the majority of people by giving broader access to music. This is covered in more detail in our article Music and Technology. Peoples’ access to the Internet had two parts of it: email and the World Wide Web. In the early days of the Internet, these were the two services that most people used.
The noughties and the ‘web – 1990 to 2005
The growth of the Internet, particularly from the late 90s onwards, brought huge changes to the way that music was distributed. It also allowed bands to reach a wider audience, through the medium of the world wide web. This period saw a growth in music festivals and live music venues. The advent of personalised music-playing devices, from the Walkman in the 1970s through to the iPhone’s launch in 2007, allowed listening to become a personalised experience. By contrast, the rise of the big festivals, raves and the construction of high-capacity arenas, brought back a social element to the experience of music, one not seen since the demise of the music halls in the early years of the twentieth century.
One other thing, that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about, was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels.
Mass broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook enabled the rise of the DIY artists – those who could record music in their bedrooms and reach a large market, usually very cheaply. This revolutionised the means of musical production, compared to the days when the production of gramophone records was prohibitively expensive for the unsigned group or individual. YouTube, Reverbnation and Soundcloud further aided the rise of self-production of music.
In 2005, Arts in Leicestershire was founded. The domain name was registered on 22nd February; this was soon followed by the publication of the early version of the Arts in Leicestershire website, which later became a magazine. The site published content on all forms of art but half its content was about music. By its heyday, over 600 pages existed on the site (covering all genres of music) and, at the height of its popularity, it had over 28,000 readers per month. The first gig reviews were published on it in 2007. This was made possible by the availability of inexpensive hosting services. In 2013 the music content was transferred to a new site called Music in Leicester. When the music content of the old Arts in Leicester website was removed from the Internet, I began making plans to re-publish the gig reviews as a book. Fortunately, I archived the whole of the Arts website to disk and then extracted all the gig reviews, hundreds of them, to a separate file and arranged them into chronological order. The resulting ‘book’ was given the working title A compendium of Leicester gig reviews; it contains a year by year account of many of the music events that took place in Leicester from 2007 through to 2013 when Music in Leicester started. The only other publication to comprehensively record live music over a period of time was The Monograph. Live music is an ephemeral phenomenon and evidence of what happened quickly disappeared. Anyone wishing to research music will find it difficult to extract material from verifiable sources.
At Leicester University, the Oral History Archive has recorded over a thousand interviews with local people and in some of them, they talk about music, gigs and the shows they went to. Music journalism often misses an important side of life – what people remember about their experience of music events. Today, music fans post their thoughts and experiences on social media every day but this rapidly disappears and there is no easy way to gather and store it for use by the researchers of the future.
Apart from social media platforms, independent websites were set up that provided information about the Leicester music scene. In 2009 Alan Freeman published a list of Leicester rock bands on his website. Arts in Leicester maintained a listing of local rock bands for many years; this captured the names of bands that were playing and sometimes where they came from and style of music they played. Analysing this data enabled Arts in Leicester to claim that ‘Leicester had more bands per head of population than most other cities of comparable size.’
It was in the mid-noughties that Facebook began to challenge MySpace as the ‘must-have’ presence on the ‘web for bands, singers, rappers and music artists, alongside countless thousands of music fans who followed them. There were some early adopters, from Leicester, such as the singer and songwriter Kevin Hewick who opened an account on it in 2005. Trevor Locke also joined Facebook in the same year. Val McCoy, who was the promoter of the OBS, joined Facebook in 2007. Twitter was launched in 2006 and as its presence grew in the UK, bands started to open accounts to tweet about their activities.
Bands too began to register domain names and to use them for their own websites. Kasabian was one of the earliest UK bands to register its own domain name, in 2002, as we noted in chapter 1; Leicester bands like ICTUS, Autohype and The Screening were early adopters of free-standing websites with their own tailor-made web addresses (i.e. domain names.) Maybeshewill band registered its own domain name on March 2004.
Stayfree music, then based on offices in Conduit Street, was home to a web hosting service that its own servers in the same building. Many local bands used this service at that time.
Whilst there were a few content management platforms, a lot of websites, in those days, had to be hand-crafted using HTML code. Software, such as Dreamweaver, made the task of designing websites easier. Having been created in 1997, Dreamweaver was taken over by the Adobe corporation in 2005. It’s killer function was its ability to write code whilst presenting the page in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format. Also at that time, Microsoft provided its own proprietary software called Frontpage. There were plenty of people around who could make websites for bands and artists but some musicians were savvy enough with the Internet and computers to do it themselves. The Internet provided people with a means to communicate on a mass basis, something which, in previous periods, was limited to the printed page and newspapers, along with the broadcast media.
Music in the noughties (2000 to 2005)
This section looks at the period we call ‘the noughties’ before moving on to the 1990s (in part 2)
The period 2000 to 2005 saw much activity on the Leicester music scene as bands formed, gigs and events took place on a regular basis and there was a high level of activity across all areas of the city’s music industry. The growth of the Internet, from 2002 onwards, brought significant changes to the way that music was publicised and distributed; it also allowed bands to reach wider audiences, through the world wide web. This period saw considerable growth in music festivals and live music venues. One other thing that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels. The mass use of broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook enabled the rise of the DIY artist – those who could record in their bedrooms and reach a market very cheaply via the Internet.
Leicester developed a vibrant live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow. The number of live music venues increased, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed or listened to. The small venues allowed bands and promoters to put on their own gigs, hiring the venues and selecting their own line-ups of acts. Gig promoters were usually individuals who had a passion for live music and would hire bands to play in a variety of local venues. Some of them also secured bookings for bands to play outside of Leicester.
Apart from the weekly round of gigs, several large-scale events took place in Leicester, including One Big Sunday, which was organised by the BBC’s Radio 1 and took place on Victoria Park on 20th July 2003. It attracted an audience of over 100,000 people.
In February 2000, a big show was held at the DeMontfort Hall ‘featuring the very best bands from Leicester’ and ran from 2 pm to 11pm. On the advertised line-up were Saracuse (later to become Kasabian), Pendulum, Last Man Standing, The 13twelve, Marvel, Slider, Fusion, The Incurables and several others. The first Original Bands showcase was held in 2004. The band that won that year was The Dirty Backbeats. The OBS is still going today (2015). In 2006 we saw the beginnings of the Fringe Festival with its mammoth Fringe Thursday, an event that had its beginnings as the Summer Sundae Warm Up party. On Fringe Thursday, buses transported music fans around all the live music venues in the city.
It can be argued that such series of shows supported the local music scene and encouraged people to see bands, who might not otherwise have bothered. The value of serial events, such as the OBS, is unclear, in a long-term perspective, but each year they have created live music opportunities for large numbers of acts and the fans who went to see them. Taking part in something like the OBS is enough reward in itself, it could be said. Leicester has not developed any kind of awards recognition institution to celebrate the best of its local music; in fact, as far as amateur local music is concerned, only a handful of cities in the UK have established annual awards ceremonies. Awarding music band and singers is something that was done at the national level. This might seem odd given a large number of TV programmes devoted to singing and entertainment competitions that enjoyed massively big audiences. Perhaps local recognition is not so valued as that conferred at a national level. Things like Battles of the Bands have occurred regularly in Leicester throughout the noughties and 90s. As a way of organising live music, such series of gigs attracted considerable controversy from bands and fans alike. Leicester bands participated in the national competition Surface Unsigned, often with considerable success.
Compact disks and vinyl records were popular in the noughties and Leicester supported a range of retail outlets for them. Ainsley’s record store, once a popular retail outlet, closed in 2004. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001. He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.
We looked at record shops and stores in Chapter 1. With the growth in digital media, sales of plastic sources of media declined but many fans still value the ability to own CDs and vinyl records and bands continue to provide them for their fans.
Leicester has never been noted for its music industry agencies but in Horus Music, established in Birmingham in 2006, later moved to Leicester which is where it is now. I ran Get Your Band On from June 2005 to November 2009; it acted as an agency for rock bands, providing training, bookings, management and bookings. GYBO worked with a number of bands from Leicester as well as supporting bands and artists from all over the UK. During this period, several people became promoters, putting on gigs and events; in most cases they were individuals. Alongside those who worked with rock bands, there were several entertainment agencies that provided a range of artists for music-related clients. What Leicester lacked in modern times was band management; people or agencies specialising in providing management, bookings and publicity services have been few and far between, given the very large number of bands and artists that have existed in the city. The majority of bands and artists had to do all these things themselves.
Venues in the noughties
The year 2000 saw Darren Nockles take over the Bakers Arms in Wharf Street South, a public that had been active since the 1970s, turning it into the venue we know today as The Musician. The old Musician closed its doors on 31st December 2004 only to re-opened in 2005. The Donkey, a pub in Welford Road, became a music venue in 2005. In the following year, Gaz Birtles began work there as a promoter. Many will have fond memories of the small venue in the city centre called The Attik. It ran from 1989 to 2006. Andy Wright, who ran The Charlotte remembers that on “16th January 2009, the police shut the doors to stop any more people getting in and shut the bar down .. was fun that night.” Concerts were held at the University of Leicester, mainly in the Queens Hall and the DeMontfort Hall continued to put on performances by rock bands and orchestras playing classical music. Several large music events were held at The Granby Halls (demolished in 2001 to make way for a car park serving the nearby Tigers Rugby Club.) The Who played there on the opening night of their 1981 tour on 25th January 1981. Churches, including the Cathedral, also provided music-lovers with concerts of music; they kept alive Leicester’s choral tradition which started in the middle ages. It was not just venues that grew over this period. Nightclubs were also popular for those who wanted to hear DJs playing recorded tracks. MOSH nightclub opened in 2003. ‘Red Leicester’ was The University of Leicester Students’ Union Wednesday official night out from 2004 – 2014.
Festivals in the noughties
The first Summer Sundae festival was held in Leicester in 2001. It became one of the most important events both for national bands and artists as well as for the many local acts that played. It attracted an audience from all parts of the country. A festival was held in Abbey Park in 2002. The Abbey park music festivals played a seminal role in the development of Leicester’s music, from1981 until their demise about twenty years later. In 2009, Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey park’s bonfire night. A similar-sized crowd was present in 2014 when rising pop stars The Vamps were the headline act, supported by local artists Jonezy and Curtis Clacey. Glastonbudget Festival started in 2005 (as mentioned in the previous chapter) and has continued to run every year up to the present day. Strawberry Fields festival started in 2010. Quite a few small local festivals were organised, sometimes on a one-off basis. In 2009 and 2008 Arts in Leicester reported on Summer Sundae, the Big Session festival held in Victoria Park, Glastonbudget, Fristock, and regular events that included music in their programmes, such as Gay Pride, Diwali, Caribbean Carnival and the Belgrave Mela. Just over the Leicestershire border, Download attracted large numbers of people from our local area and Arts in Leicester listed the bands that played there. Batfest took place on 21st August 2010 near Ibstock and was organised by Elliot O’Brart. Batfest was an annual event held for charity in the tiny but pretty village of Battram. The festival was primarily a music festival with a couple of stalls selling homemade cakes and a raffle stall [Arts in Leicester magazine] This was typical of a large number of local music events that took place in the city and county during the noughties. Other examples included Cosby Big Love, the Braunstone Carnival (which usually featured a music stage), Glastonblaby, and the Oxjam festivals.
Bands of the noughties
I cannot speak from personal experience about Leicester’s live music scene much before 2005. My very first reporter’s notebook goes back to 2006. I did not start writing about local music much before 2001; in that year I started a website called Travel to Leicester which had a section about the entertainment which visitors to Leicester could find and which mentioned gigs, bands and venues. During the 1990s I wasn’t living in Leicester; my home was outside the city in Blaby district and in those days we didn’t come into the city at night – unless we had to. It was not until November 2002 that I went to The Shed for the first time. Hence, I missed out on music, as far as Leicester was concerned, in the ’90s. I did, however, attend One Big Sunday, on Victoria Park on July 2003.
It was in 2005 that I started Arts in Leicestershire, a website that took over the content about the arts, including music from the Travel to Leicester website. I have written about the history of this Arts website, now called a magazine [Arts in Leicester] and have covered its history [Arts in Leicester]
From 2005, I really got to know the local bands. Under a heading ‘2007’ I noted many of the bands that were popular at the time. In May 2007, an extensive listing of gigs was well underway. This page showed some of the promoters that were active at the time, such as 101 Promotions which was run by Paul Matts (who previously managed the Attik live music venue.) As far as I know I wrote my first gig review in 2006, the same year that I joined Facebook; in just ten years the Internet had gone from being a fairly limited system to one that offered an array of services, many of them multimedia, and new platforms were coming on stream on a regular basis. I started to write gig reviews for Arts in Leicester magazine, together with collaborators such as Kevin Gaughan; at one time there were as many as 600 amateur bands based in the city and the county. ‘Leicester is home to over 400 working bands, playing all styles of music. Here we give a guide to our pages that are about bands in 2012’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2012]
The magazine also featured local bands in its Band of the Month, pages and listed all known bands in the East Midlands from 2011 to 2013. Here is the list of bands that were given featured (band of the month) status:
The Manhattan Project, Backline, Messini Assault, Beat Club, The Utopians, Breek, Subdude, Full Circle, Forty More Autumns, Razmataz, Smoking the Profit, The Heroes, The Truth, The Chairmen (Oct 08), Kids in Cars (Nov 08), Formal Warning (Dec 08), The Steptoos (January 09), The Pennyhangers (February 09), Project Notion (March 09), Skam# (April 09), Shortwave Fade (May 09), The Waits (June 09), Kill The Batman (July 09), The Fazed (August 09), Autohype (Sept 09), Weekend Schemers (Oct 09), AstroManiacs (Nov 09), Azidify (Dec 2009), Kicking Habits (Jan 2010), Drive By Disco (early Feb 2010), The Stiggz (late Feb 2010), Iziggy (Mar 2010), Third Time Lucky (May 2010), Neon Sarcastic (June 2010), Silent Resistance (Jul 2010), Ashdowne (Aug 2010), Go Primitive (Sep 2010), The Black Tears (Oct 2010), Us Wolves (Nov 2010), Maybeshewill (Dec 2010), Skam# (Feb 2011), Glassfoot (Mar 2011), Aphtershock (April 2011), The Boobytraps (May 2011), SuperEvolver (June 2011), Rassoodocks (July 2011), The Chairmen (August 2011), Midnight Wire (September 2011), Muleta Smiles (October 2011), By The Rivers (November 2011), Arms of Atlas (January 2012), Raptusound (February 2012), Resin (March 2012) No band of the month in April, May and June 2012. Vengeance (July 2012). Smokin’ The Profit (August 2012), Axis Mundi (September 2012)
The very early Band Of The Month entries have been lost but were very limited (just a highlighted mention and not much more). Covers and commercial bands were listed separately. The magazine also published pages about new bands that had started and young bands. The news sections reported on local bands, venues and music events. Two sections specialised in coverage of African and Asian music (the latter being edited by the late Harjinder Ohbi.) There was also a page about underground and alternative music. The old website – Travel to Leicester – included details of where karaoke evenings took place. In those days these frequently featured high-quality singers who attended them and sang for fun; some of them were professional artists and others were simply very good vocalists. Rock was not the only type of music to be covered; the website also had a page about jazz in Leicester and this content was carried across to the new Arts in Leicester web site when it was created in 2005. Bands mentioned in 2007 included The Eaves, Tommy’s heroes, My Amour, Taste The Chase, Ictus, Quaternary Limit, The Iconics, The Jack of Hearts band, The Beat Club, M48, Drumlins, Screwloose, The Chairmen, NG26 (from Nottingham), Proud to have met you, Manhattan Project, The Utopians, 1000 Scars, Killquicks, Sub-Rosa, Firstwave, Kid Vicious, The Codes, Aisle 13, The Elite, Backline, Silent Devices, September Flaw, Messini Assault, Half of Nothing, Rise as one, Black River Project, Internal Conflict, The Authentics, Pink Strip, Blue Light District, Breek and many more. Most of these were local bands, a few were out of town bands that regularly came to play in the city.
In September 2004, Kasabian released their debut album. Having started life as Saracuse, they played one of their first gigs at The Shed, in 2009. The name Kasabian became associated with Leicester, in much the same way as Arctic Monkeys was associated with Sheffield and Oasis was associated with Manchester. Engelbert Humperdinck said ‘It’s so wonderful to know that we have another up and coming big name on the horizon from Leicester. I am proud to be from Leicester.’ [Shooman, 2008] Five musicians, most of them from Blaby and Countesthorpe, formed a band called Saracuse which made an early appearance at The Shed in September 1997. The band also played at the Three Nuns pub in Loughborough and later performed at the town’s University. They also played at Princess Charlotte in Leicester, in 1999, the same year went back to play again at The Shed. In 2005 the band performed at Glastonbury festival on the ‘other stage.’ It was Kasabian’s third single Club Foot that brought them chart success in 2004. The band won the best live act award at the 2007 NME ceremony. The band became signed to Sony Music. [Shooman, 2008]
Leicester band Roxum formed in 2005 and went on to become a very popular act on the local scene. The year 2008 saw the formation of a clutch of local bands including Neon Sarcastic, Little Night Terrors, The Chairmen, Axis Mundi, The Boobytraps, and many others. In 2009 we saw the emergence of Formal Warning, The Furies, Arms of Atlas, The Weekend Schemers – all of these bands went on to become popular on the local scene and had active careers in music. Because Arts in Leicester was an arts magazine, it could cover a much wider scope of music than rock and pop; concerts of classical music, opera, ballet and musicals were also reviewed and it made some attempt to report on music from ethnic communities, such as the Indian community. Several local bands achieved national notoriety and success. Among these, we would include By The Rivers, The Displacements, Midnight Wire and These Furrows. Many other acts achieved notable successes. For example, The Heroes played at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. Other Leicester bands to play at the coveted Glastonbury festival included By The Rivers.
In July 2008, The Heroes won a competition to be opening band on the main stage at the Summer Sundae festival. ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ Guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band. [Locke, 2015]
Rehearsal rooms and recording studios in the noughties
Several recording studios have come and gone and some are still open today. Deadline Studios, in Aylestone Road, started in 2001; others include Quad Studios, in Friday Street, Yellow Bean Studios (from 2010), in Western Road, (another studio Western Studios, operated in the same premises in around the year 2006). HQ in Charles Street opened in 2012, providing a small recording room. Some Leicester bands went to Nottingham to record their music and some even to London and places further afield. In 2011 Flat Five Records was set up by the Potts brothers, in honour of their father the legendary jazz trumpeter Mick Potts. They published the work of many important bands of this period, such as Kenworthy.
References are given on a separate page.
Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester
Chapter 1 – Music in modern times
Music and technology