Redbrick’s Imogen Mellor and Kieren Williams share their knowledge of some of Birmingham’s iconic music venues in a new guide to beat-finding
It’s easy to get lost in the pull and push of what is University. You have Fab, you have that sports club you occasionally show your face at so you don’t feel guilty buying sports night tickets, you have the Netflix show you’re currently binging, convincing your parents you’re working hard and probably some actual work in amongst all that. Sometimes what’s really important is to take a step back and enjoy the finer things in life, including music.
Music shouldn’t just be for your gym soundtrack or hip-hop lo-fi beats for studying to, although those are both excellent uses for it, but something you can go and enjoy on a fundamental level. So here are some fantastic beats and where to find them.
The Sunflower Lounge
The Sunflower Lounge, set along Smallbrook Queensway, barely a five minute walk from New St. Station, mixes the charm of an indie dive bar with amazing underground and upcoming artists that you’d be a fool to miss out on. It prizes itself on its ahead-of-the-curve music tastes and a penchant for plucking up soon-to-explode artists and putting them in their basement on stage. The likes of Dua Lipa, Wolf Alice, Royal Blood, Kojey Radical, the Amazons, Rat Boy, Foals, and more have graced the dark stage below the bar and shaken its walls and raised its roof. With a definite focus on intimate performances, I cannot advise you enough to keep an eye on their website for their upcoming performances. Performances that blur the line between stage and crowd, the artist can dance back and forth between the two in a way that venues like the O2 with all their rules and regulations simply don’t allow.
Their DJs upstairs keep spinning even when there aren’t performances downstairs, and whilst the focus is on indie music, they don’t shy away from any upcoming stars, having British rapper Kojey Radical on stage only a few weeks back. The Sunflower Lounge is a key part of the music circuit in Birmingham, stepping back from distant arena performances and redefining what they can be in an exciting and fun environment.
If you like hip-hop, grime, and R&B then this has got to be your one stop shop for a night out. It has everything from 90s hits, a la Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G, to RnB both old and new school, including Aaliyah and Ella Mai, as well as the latest grime hits (if Funky Friday doesn’t play I’m not going to be impressed). With music from both sides of the pond, the live DJs perfectly mix American and British artists across a handful of rooms.
But, even if you miss this one, Applebum returns like clockwork. Each time it’s a can’t miss event for all the hip-hop heads out there. If you want to mosh to ‘Mo Bamba’, Applebum’s your event, if you want to break out those moves you’ve definitely not been practising in the mirror to Cardi B then please for your sake go to Applebum. Or if you want to dance to ‘Funky Friday’ and pretend you don’t have countless impending deadlines the next day, then Applebum is the only answer. If this is the type of music you listen to then Applebum has to become a staple of your term.
The Indie Lounge
A Selly Oak local that many people walk past just on their way to University. This unassuming bar, located on Bristol Road, holds within it regular music nights: musical singalongs, Open Mic nights and, my personal favourite, Jazz Funk Soul nights. To those that don’t know, JFS holds a night in the Indie Lounge every two weeks, give or take, and it’s a great way to listen to some genuinely good jazz, as well as participate for the more musically talented amongst us! That’s not all however, the Indie Lounge also holds fundraisers for various Drama societies like Guild Musical Theatre Group, and charity nights for societies like Nightline or UoB Mental Health and Well-being Society. So going to these events, drinking and socialising and perhaps even forgetting the words on stage, as many a student has, is good for the things we support!
It’s a brilliant way to chill in a fantastic atmospheric night of music without going too far from home. Be sure to follow the Indie Lounge, JFS, GMTG and other societies on Facebook to find out when the next open mic night or social event may be going on.
‘Beats’, it may not hold often, but great musical events, it certainly does. To calm it down a little, the biggest classical venue in Birmingham hosts famous names in the classical world but also low-key free gigs in their café for anyone to enjoy live music just by passing through. You may be able to even catch university choirs and musicians performing there on occasion (University Voices are performing there in April 2019 with John Wilson). We know that maybe classical music may not be something that the average student wants to pay to go and see but we know there are those of you out there that switch on some Mozart when trying to finish that 3,000-word essay, you should have finished two days ago but the new season of [insert Netflix or Amazon Prime show here] came out so you had to binge it.
If you filled in Ru Paul’s Drag Race for that show you binged, then Symphony Hall is even better for you, having only just hosted plenty of Queens, from Bob the Drag Queen to Asia O’Hara, in November for their Christmas Tour. In any case, no matter what you might be looking for on the more orchestral side of life, the Symphony Hall has more than enough interesting free and paid gigs for any taste.
Hare and Hounds
It’s no surprise to most seasoned gig goers that the Hare and Hounds is a great place to go and see live music. In the lesser known (by students at least) area of Kings Heath, Hare and Hounds frequently holds many artists of all genres and sizes, from giant Craig Charles to local acapella groups. From the outside, Hare and Hounds sort of just looks like a large pub. Pretty tall, pretty low-key and on a high street with a Wetherspoons and some everyday shops. Without being told to go in, and then upstairs and across a hallway, would you ever know about the fantastic sounds being blasted to entranced crowds every week.
Rock, pop, indie, alternative. It’s a great place to go for those sorts of beats whether you want to dance or sway your night away. It’s a shame it isn’t closer to the Vale or Selly Oak, as I feel not as many students know about this fantastic venue, unless you’ve been dragged there by a wavy mate who happened to have an extra ticket to whatever it is they want to see. All I really can encourage is for you to go and visit Hare and Hounds. Whatever your expectations are, it will exceed them.