The music scene which is rooted deep within the streets of the city of Stoke-on-Trent is a powerful one. With a rising wall of young hopefuls, a gradual blurring of the lines between what’s classed as “old” and “new” music, a bubbling concoction of blogs, festivals and new music platforms, as well as the potential crowning of City Of Culture now within smelling distance, Stoke is undoubtedly a very good place to be.
But much like anything, the music scene is flawed. Whilst local bands thrive at every venue in their path, backs are turned and doors are closed for anyone attempting to break through the barrier that divides “local” and “out-of-town”.
But what if you’re a band of two cities? What happens then? That’s something that Deep City Diver are trying to work out.
Local folk or out-of-town aliens?
With members from both Stoke and London, the three-piece, now based in East London, are looking to break into this scene and all of its sticky-floored, sweaty, live and local glory. Having already performed locally only once before, on a line up with China Tanks and acoustic soloist Chris Reale, the band are keen to be accepted as a “Stoke band”.
For Stoke-born bassist Joe Macmillan, returning to the scene he once performed so regularly in with previous band Aversion, has been wonderful and frustrating in equal amounts. “We went around to venues and asked who’d take us. I think we’d just released our first single and that’s all we had at that point” he tells me, as we stand in the electronics aisle of a well-known supermarket chain. “No one would have us because we were that “out of town band””.
With two Australians in the band and everyone living in London, the trio has struggled to break into the Stoke scene, even with Joe’s local musical past. “London is the adoptive city but I’ve kind of felt so incredibly drawn to Stoke”, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Nicolussi adds. “It has these really incredible parallels with Wollongong which is where my family are. It’s a steel city so it’s quite working class in many ways. I think Joe’s enthusiasm is infectious you know?”
I do know. After spending just half an hour with the pair I can’t help but feel proud of this city and the progress it’s making, especially with regards to the City Of Culture bid, something that Joe believes we’re more than ready for.
“From what I understand there’s a very rich industrial history which creates then a cultural history,” says Ryan. “It is a creative city, I think, throughout the years and historically. I think it makes a lot of sense to carry on that torch.”
Where it began
Deep City Diver began as a concept long before it became a physical entity, with Nicolussi writing many of the songs that appear on their self-titled debut album before he’d even entered the country. But a chance meeting through mutual friends in an East London pub, lead Ryan to Joe – “… you know: “How do you do? Lovely to meet you”. Twenty minutes later: “Do you want to be in a band?” – and Deep City Diver was born.
Drummer Ryan Kalkman joined shortly afterwards and the boys got to work developing Ryan’s songs. “I think the moment that we kind of knew that we could continue with this trio was when Joe heard the demo for ‘Another World’. He was really excited about it and Ryan was too. That was the key moment where I could see how it could work.”
Lines of connection
Before the album release in October this year, the band released two singles to grab the attention of indie pop fans everywhere. The plan was to draw in potential fans with something catchy and simple, before dropping their album later in the year – an album that goes far beyond the realms of “generic indie music”.
A nine-track mother of a record, the album takes you on an 80’s inspired journey filled with youth, energy and emotion. Tracks such as ‘Easy Prey’, ‘Everyone Is Alone’, ‘Another World’ and ‘Down On Wreckyn Street, I’m Ruined’ bounce off the album at full speed, whilst ‘As The Crow Flies’, ‘Honeyeater’ and ‘Living in the Hyphen’ ground you, Nicolussi’s vocals making you feel things deep within your heart.
It’s clear that Ryan too feels a deep attachment with the songs, as he explains his passion for ensuring that they all ended up on the same album together. “There are all of these lines of connection between the nine songs on that record… we’ve got other stuff in the works but there was a real line in the sand that I wanted to draw with this chapter.”
The album came into fruition after an online kickstarter campaign gave the band enough money to create physical copies, although not in the way you might expect. If you want to get your hands on a copy it’s vinyl only or an online digital download, making Deep City Diver just that more interesting. “Is the CD dead?” asks Joe. “Yes probably, because I don’t have a CD player in my bedroom let alone in my house.” It’s true that vinyl is making a comeback in a huge way and with it, the long-lost age of patience as you tentatively remove the album from its sleeve, place it on the turntable and drop the needle. There’s no fast forward or rewind, which makes it easier to appreciate the music in full.
Stoke and beyond
Tonight Deep City Diver will act as main support for Divenire at The Underground in Stoke, where they’ll perform one of the best sets the venue has ever witnessed. But the journey hasn’t been easy. “We struggled to get this gig and we’ve only got it because we’ve curated it and basically hired the venue,” says Joe. “Stoke’s great, but it’s got this lock down and we’re trying to be considered a Stoke band. Can we have dual residency?”.
“We’re more Stoke than we are London”, Ryan adds. “I mean there’s two Australians in the band and a guy from Stoke!”. It’s a frustrating situation for the trio, but one that I’ve heard time and time again. Despite having such a vibrant local scene, it appears that Stoke struggles to accept outsiders – even if they’re formerly of this parish.
But the band have high hopes, with plans to return to the city at least three times next year. Along with gigging and continuing to break down the dividing lines, 2018 should also see the release of new music. “The second album is written. We haven’t recorded it but it’s been written,” Ryan says, as I question him about the next step. ‘Dream Sequence’, a brand new track that they’ll later perform at The Underground, is set to be released in the new year and although the band are unsure of how they’ll present their new material, it’s safe to say that we’ve not heard the last of Deep City Diver.
They’re a rare breed of a band; one you only come across every once in a while and with a debut album that ranks highly within local releases of 2017, as well as the passion and drive to make quality music together, it should be us who’re asking for them to play our best venues.
Can they be considered a “Stoke band”? E Major says hell yes.