Since being named NME’s Best Small Venue of 2012, The Tunbridge Wells Forum has been able to attract increasingly bigger names in the music business. However, as pointed out by Mayor Ronen Basu when opening Monday’s show, the real beauty of this venue is its role as a platform for young musicians to perform ‘without fear’ in front of friends and strangers alike.
This is a message also heavily encouraged by independent record label Unlabel, who show-pieced some of their best young (and old!) talent during their annual festive gig.
Despite the ferocious conditions outside, a sizeable crowd had already turned up as moody rocker’s Tor opened the proceedings. Although clearly not lacking in musical ability, the band struggled to connect at times with their sombre tone and deep brooding vocal style. Talented? Undoubtedly. Self-Indulgent? Perhaps.
Next to take to the stage were instrumental three-piece Hymmel, a group of young Kent-based musicians exuding soothing guitar grooves weaved in with more intricate and vibrant segments. Drummer Ben Tupper, adorned with a bizarre Indian headdress, was impressive throughout, although the addition of vocals would certainly add an extra dimension to the trio as a live entity
Experimental DJ Brassica smoothly handled the transitions between sets, as Christopher Stewart’s Dead Ceremony brought their brand of electronic indie dance to the party. Having previously played the ‘keys’ for local sensation Tom Williams & The Boat, it’s no surprise that Stewart’s band were the most impressive of the evening. Witty audience interaction, coupled with an infusion of high-pitched vocals, sharp guitar lines and entrancing beats make Dead Ceremony a pleasure to watch.
Of course, an Unlabel Christmas party wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from the band that made it all possible. Jason Dorman (the owner of The Forum) and his band Joeyfat started Unlabel back in 1996 and have been running it ever since. The band themselves are somewhat an enigma; a mash-up of funky bass lines and electric guitar, accompanied by the spoken vocals of the eccentric Edward Cole. The overall sound is a sort of less glamorous version of Pulp, with echoes of Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip thrown in for good measure. Surprisingly it works and and yes… that previous description really is the only way to describe it.
The night is rounded off by psychedelic drum & bass act Bombay Monkey, whose heavily visually orientated show is highly professional, but sounds like it would be better suited to a nightclub in Ibiza than an ex-public toilet on a rainy night in Tunbridge Wells.
All in all, a talent- packed evening and an exciting glimpse of what the future holds for one of the country’s best small independent venues.