When Birmingham last enjoyed a cultural cacophony, thanks to the rhythmic renaissance of Peace, Swim Deep and Superfood, it wasn’t entirely to the enhancement of the city – for as good as those bands’ Britpop-enthused haze was, they mainly dealt with escapism, the dream to disappear from the drudgery of Digbeth and bound down to the nearest beach.
Like other musical staples before it, the minerals of the Midlands were mined hollow – cyber circlejerks were wrung out, NME anointed any outfit formed around Erdington and anyone with a Black Grape vinyl was given a WordPress whiteout. However, since those heady days of 2012, Birmingham’s place in youth culture has become that of confusion; like post-Katrina New Orleans, there is a pre-conception that once the B-Town movement had stormed through the second city’s suburbs, there was nothing left but a devastated Digbeth.
That may have been the point for a year or so afterwards, but slowly Birmingham and its surrounding areas has grew, and is now quite rightly enjoying a resurgence. If New York has Williamsburg and Portland has Oregon, Birmingham has Digbeth, an explosion of expression, a network for nihilism and a place for cultural, creatively-minded people to exchange ideas and dreams without the fears of a beer-addled backlash. It’s where the outsiders align, address their anxieties and speak freely, sharing liberal views and meme-drenched news.
For those coming to Birmingham, perhaps for the first time, they will enjoy the credited canals, the pristine parks and the long-established connection to curry. However, peer through this pristine veneer and you will uncover an underground ethos teeming with tenacity and taste – you’ll find bars and clubs that house individuals that thrive on a liberal lifestyle rallying against the asphyxiating aura of post-Brexit Britain, musing emphatically on eclectic music and supporting one another in achieving goals. It is a museum of misfits, a celebration of cerebral uncertainty, and if you’re lucky enough to uncover it, you’ll find your life will be altered.
It can be difficult growing up in a period of uncertainty, a time where it feels those that are more creatively inclined are being pilloried and pushed into admin roles, but within Birmingham there is a source of escape without having to jump to the beach. I consider myself lucky to share in this scene, where you can sense the struggle, the fight and the will to change and evolve. As a Charlie in a world of wallflowers, being an outsider here feels more like a boon than a bane, where being fuelled by the giants of music and literature is an essential ointment.
Musically, as well as socially, Birmingham is renewed rude health. Bands not only originate originality, but also individuality, from taut, glacial post-punk (Semantics) to reverb-drenched garage scuzz (The Cosmics), as well as a host of other fine local outfits (Gleam, Afterbloom, HANKKS, Qui….erm, you get the picture). Venues like The Sunflower Lounge ooze quaint but quality music and a neat exchange of ideas, while Club L’Amour is a thriving indie metropolis, a Canaan of culture, as well as a regular rendezvous for up-and-coming bands, musically-minded individuals and those who crave a connection through the things in life that matter.
From the student-drenched stench of Selly Oak to the bohemian kingship of Kings Heath, Birmingham is alight with attitude, anticipation and awe…it’s not just for 2012 lovers, anymore.
Words by Sam Lambeth