by Folarin Akinmade
For those of you that weren’t at the London round of the Voice Festival UK on Saturday 9 March, you truly missed a treat. As always, the standard of quality was soaring and a good time was had by all.
Before we get to the review, a quick summary of the show:
THE SCOPES from Imperial College, London
ALL THE KING’S MEN from King’s College, London
THE HOUGHTONES from London School of Economics
VIVE from Guildhall School for Music and Drama
IMPERIELLES from Imperial College, London
THE TECHTONICS from Imperial College, London
Master of Ceremonies:
Scott Riseborough, Voice Festival UK
The show was opened by newcomers, The Scopes, from Imperial College. Their relative youth seemed to show in a certain timidness at the beginning of their performance, but as their set wore on it became apparent that the group has accomplished a great deal in their short careers, having only formed last year. The second song of their set, Live While We’re Young by One Direction gave them a chance to really settle into the show, and have fun with their performance, and by the time it segued into Starships by Nicki Minaj, their energy and enthusiasm was beginning to rub off on the audience. Though the beginning of their third and final song had a slightly prolonged start, it soon became the best song of their piece with simple, but extremely effective choreography, and a fantastic solo from Will Carr. All in all, it was a good performance and a brilliant debut at the VF-UK.
All The King’s Men, King’s College London’s all-male group were next to the stage, and as the reigning champs they had a lot to live up to, and they didn’t disappoint. They opened with Steve Winwood and James Vincent McMorrow’s Higher Love, and immediately demonstrated the slick, togetherness that carried them to victory last year. It was clear that they’ve been doing this a while. Their second song was Slow Dancing In A Burning Room by John Mayer, a fantastic arrangement that played with the texture and emotion of the original, even adding choral elements whilst still retaining the raw emotion of John Mayer’s classic. The final song of their set was Forever by Chris Brown. This number, fronted by one Eunseog Lee had the men showing off their boy band credentials with dance moves that would throw teenage girls into a frenzy. The judges later awarded them the award for ‘Outstanding Choreography’ with judge Paul Howard Davies noting that it was not just for the elaborate moves, but also for the times when their subtle or non-movements were just as effective in conveying the power and emotion of a song.
The Houghtones of LSE were the third group to take to the stage, and they opened with a fantastically original idea. The theme of radio jingles cleverly ran through their first number. They opened with the BBC Radio 2 jingle, segueing into Queen’s Radio Gaga, Ignition (Remix), and even Beethoven’s fifth symphony combined with When I Get You Alone, Robin Thicke number based on a sample of A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, before ending on the ‘This Is Heart’ jingle. In that fantastic introduction – complete with a William and Kate parody – they established themselves as having a fantastic sense of humour, great stage presence, and fantastic, simple, but extremely effective arrangements. They clearly enjoy a good medley and so I was already sold, but then their next number, an arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water that borrowed elements of Aretha Franklin’s version of the song, really brought the good stuff, combining a brilliant soloist with an arrangement that was both subtle, pretty, powerful and full on. Their set culminated in a mash-up of We Are Young by fun. and Take A Walk by Passion Pit. This is definitely a group to look out for.
And now, time for something completely different. Vive of Guildhall School of Music took to the stage next, and we simply were not prepared for them. With a distinct lack of choreography, they were not what you might usually expect from an a cappella group competing at VF-UK, but the fact of the matter is, they simply don’t need to conform, the music speaks for itself. I’m struggling to know where to begin, but let it suffice to say that I am in love with Vive. As individuals they all have fantastic voices with Soprano Emily Danworth’s heavenly tone beautifully piercing the blend (though we would be remiss to forget Sam Robson’s beautiful falsetto). They opened with Your Motivation, an original by group founder, James Rose. I had always thought that it would be hard to keep the attention of an audience with an original song in this sort of competition, but Vive were captivating, and the judges recognised this, later awarding them this song the ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ award for its beautiful use of melody. Though Your Motivation was fantastic, for me it was their next song Somewhere from the musical ‘West Side Story’, arranged by alto Sam Robson that really showed what they could do with a beautifully complex arrangement, rich in crunchy, almost-dissonance. Their set ended with a stunning rendition of the spiritual Honour Honour. Vive brought a certain relaxed cool, and an absurdly high level of musicality to their set, and watching them was an absolute pleasure.
The Imperielles of Imperial took to the stage with a very strong opening and a fantastic soloist, though a little steam seemed to be lost towards the end of the song, it was firm start to the set. We then saw their arrangement of the aforementioned fun. song, We Are Young, putting them in direct competition with The Houghtones. The Imperielles take on the song was perhaps more delicate and they held their own beautifully. They ended their set on a high with an arrangement of I Knew You Were Trouble. It was a fantastic arrangement, with brilliant choreography. All the while, their performance was strengthened by the skills of their beat-boxer, a fact noted by judge, Yvette Riby-Williams, whose use of vocal percussion was very imaginative, not simply constraining herself to the standard techniques heard in such a context, but creating interesting and dynamic accompaniment.
The Techtonics‘ set was an absolute delight. It seemed to centre around their desire to subvert and parody every a cappella cliché, other groups and even their own past, and make us wet ourselves with laughter in the process. They started their performance with a rendition of Bangarang by Skrillex, setting the scene for their entirely electronic (mostly dub-step) set that included the likes of Bonkers, Harlem Shake, We Will Rock You, and The Veldt. At this stage it seems pertinent to mention that their deft interpretation of dubstep a cappella was made possible due to the monstrous vocal percussion of Max Hunter who was later presented the ‘Vocal Percussion‘ award. A highlight of their set was Harlem Shake in which they managed to incorporate the dance seen in the viral videos, complete with a man in a horse mask to start it off. As well as not taking themselves to seriously, at one point singing “We really like this song but it’s a little ridiculous”, they also took the time to parody the moving V for which All The King’s Men have gained notoriety for, as well as poking a little fun at VF-UK sets in general – “Now’s the time in a Voice Fest set where everyone knows how it goes”. It was truly rip-roaring stuff, but they took the time to show us that they are fantastic singers with lovely arrangements, particularly at the beginning of the instrumental song, The Veldt, which was a genuinely beautiful moment, and one of their number who asked to be referred to as ‘The Sexy Baritone’ walked away with the ‘Outstanding Soloist’ award.
Outstanding Choreography: All the King’s Men
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Max Hunter of The Techtonics
Outstanding Arrangement: Sam Robson of Vive for Your Motivation
Outstanding Soloist: ‘The Sexy Baritone’ of The Techtonics
Ward Swingle Award for Originality: VIVE
ALL THE KING’S MEN
Ultimately, All The King’s Men won the round, with judge Paul Howard Davies saying it was their complete package that won them the day, and Vive were given the ‘Ward Swingle Award for Originality’, meaning the two groups went through to compete in the final.