Article for Fused Magazine: March 2008.
Unfathomably, our humble city of Birmingham tends to get a bad ‘rep’. For those in the know, Birmingham is a veritable breeding ground of talent, creativity, originality, style and culture. We just need to spread the word!
Music-wise, Birmingham has never been so hot. The recent SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, saw some of our finest musicians showcasing their talents on an international stage. Bands such as Copter, The Big Bang, Swampmeat, Deluka, Blackfish. The Scarlet Harlots and Trash Fashion are just a little taster of the abundance of musical talent here in Birmingham. Not content with filling the city’s eardrums with guitar-based noises, innovative music-buffs from Birmingham and its surrounding areas are constantly thinking up new ways to spice up the ever-thriving alternative clubnight scene. The list of choices is growing ever longer with regular nights such as Bigger than Barry, Hott Date, Coldrice, Bang!Bang!, Resurrection, Panic (at new venue Q Club), Naked Lunch, Below, “Vinyl is…” and many more. The genre of music ranges from new-wave, electro and garage rock to crystal-clear minimal beats. Every imaginable musical leaning is catered for!
Not only is the musical content of out ever growing plethora of club nights impeccably varied (and top notch to boot!), the fabulous range of independently run venues which host them are also unique to our vibrant city. The Sunflower Lounge (Smallbrook Queensway) is a mecca for Mods, Rockers, Electro-geeks and Indie kids alike. There is a DJ every night and cult films from decades long gone are projected onto the bar wall, creating a tangible retro atmosphere. Pop around the corner and you bump into Birminghams ‘Bar of the Year 2007’, Island Bar (Suffolkf Street). Bringing together some of Birmingham’s finest bartenders under one roof, the cosy and retro styled cocktail bar boasts every cocktail imaginable. And not only that, the highly skilled and ever-entertaining bartenders are encouraged to use their imagination and skills to create bespoke cocktails of your choice. My favourite is ‘Cherry Stone’ – Amaretto, Midori and Cherry juice. It tastes like a bakewell tart but with less fat content!
As well as boasting an profusion of Indie hangouts, Birmingham also has a booming vintage fashion scene. Choose from the Saturday Flea Market (Custard Factory, Digbeth), the Vintage Warehouse (Digbeth High Street), little treasure chest and jewel in the crown of the city centre shops YoYo (just off New Street) or head to the various infamous ‘Charity Miles’ of Birmingham boroughs Bearwood, Kings Heath and Harbourne for your 50p handbags. For a high street or high fashion fix, head to the internationally renowned Bull Ring, home to all of our favourite chains and of course the luxurious Selfridges. Get your Krispy Kremes here! For a more ‘upmarket’ shopping experience The Mailbox is our very own epicentre of haut couture; spend an afternoon wandering around Harvey Nichols and stop for lunch at once of the many gorgeous restaurants.
For all of your punk, goth, rock or grunge ‘subculture’ requirements, look no further than the Oasis markets (top of Corporation Street). It is a collection of independent stalls in an indoor market environment and has the best range of alternative clothing, footwear and bandwear in Birmingham.
Another well kept secret of Birmingham is the age-old and long-standing Rag Market. Situated just south of the Bull Ring, it is home to untold little fashion treasures, all at stupidly low prices. Taking the ‘£1’ man for example or the £5 vintage Wrangler denim jackets, bargains come at your from every angle! This discount dreamboat is open daily. Count your pennies and get cracking!
Not one to shy away from new and innovative ideas, new club night Mannequin fuses vintage clothing and good music for a pay-day jumble disco hybrid, hosted once a month by the fabulous Rainbow Bar (Digbeth). The perfect way to spend all of your pay packet in one go!
In keeping with the creative current running through Birmingham, there are numerous salacious art-spaces and art-ventures to keep our insatiable art-hungry selves occupied. The IKON gallery (Brindley Place) is free and prides itself on showcasing the best cutting-edge modern art outside of London. The Custard Factory, as well as being a first-class music venue and shopping hub, it is a well- respected arts space characterised by a bustle of creativity; it is undeniably one of the greatest assets to the city.
Finally, cinema pioneers “7 inch cinema” endeavour to bring the best rare and independant cinematography to the Birmingham masses. 7inch events offer a gathering point and a test-bed for sketches and celluloid experiments that might not otherwise get seen or heard. This is undoubtedly a healthy and welcome alternative to the polished shorts made with one eye on a TV career. The next showing is 23rd March at the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath.
If all that still leaves Philistines feeling unconvinced, just take a look at some of the progeny of our fine city; Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Duran Duran, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, J R Tolkien, Dame Judy Dench and wildlife Mastermind Bill Oddie!