A defence of the Cambridge music scene

15 June 2018

To listen to this academic year in music, check out TCS' Highlights Playlist, complied by our very own Joe Hilton.

Cambridge is a town prone to stereotyping. Some of the stereotypes I heard ahead of coming here have certainly lived up to their names: the work is pretty stressful (surprise, surprise…), you’ll refer to things with silly names for no apparent reason, (why must I call my kitchen my gyp?) and Fez does sometimes drip from the ceiling (if the ceiling hasn’t already fallen down.) However, now nearing the end of my first year here, I’ve had to reconsider the stereotyping of the Cambridge music scene. My expectations were set pretty low; I was informed that I would be inundated with chart cheese, and that I pretty much had to embrace The Lion King as a club classic. Okay – perhaps both of these things have come into fruition, but looking back on my year it is plain to see that music scene here extends far beyond the stereotype that’s enforced upon it.

Firstly, something that I think is so exciting here is the fact that there are a myriad of nights out that are completely student run, and offer opportunities for student DJs to perform. Reflecting on The Cambridge Student’s interview with Hamish Oliphant, (HamHox, OOX), it’s fantastic to see that students have the opportunity to bring the music they’re passionate about to Cambridge clubs. This student-led space also allows for a real embrace of everything truly whacky. I don’t think I have heard of any other university night-out based around dressing psychedelic-y and like a delicatessen food, at the same time.

Club nights this year have also sported considerable DJ-talent, and we have seen the likes of Kuda (essentially a glorified corridor) brought to life by some of the names that will dominate this summer’s music scene. Highlights include Aussie DJ/producer Mall Grab at the start of the year, Berlin-based Palm Trax at Junction and “one of dance music's most prosperous newcomers” O’Flynn at Kuda. I think the necessity to submit to ‘Mr Brightside’ being the highlight of your clubbing experience here is something of a fallacy. We might not be as spoilt for choice as a regular as a club-goer in Bristol, but good music is definitely not un-heard of (or even, unheard) in Cambridge.

Performing in Cambridge has also proved to be an enjoyable experience. The variety of student bars mean there are ample opportunities to play about town, and the atmosphere is unfalteringly positive and receptive to the performance of original music, which can often be quite daunting. Particularly significant for me was an event put on by Cambridge’s infamous hip-hop society. I’m not really a hip-hop musician, but I was encouraged to get involved nonetheless and I felt incredibly welcomed by the community, both of fellow musicians and the audience. Again, music in Cambridge creates a safe space for creativity and passion, which is something I think ought to be cherished.

Beyond clubbing and student events, the live music here has certainly not disappointed. In what was probably one of my favourite nights at Cambridge so far, I found myself (somehow!) on stage with Belle & Sebastian at ‘The Corn Exchange’, dancing around with Stuart Murdoch. This concert, I might add, was followed by ‘Grandma Groove’, one of my favourite nights of term – and student run! Smaller venues equally displayed a variety of talent, with The Portland Arms’ ‘Open Deck Night’ showcasing female and non-binary DJ talent across Cambridge, and Hot Numbers providing an incredibly apt environment for the appreciation and performance of jazz music.

So yes, I will admit that I have walked home on many a Wednesday evening wondering why I have subjected myself to music that I don’t enjoy once again, simply for the sake of going out. However, this is certainly not to say that music here is all bad. There’s so much talent in this city, and I’ve had such a good time hearing new music, performing my own music, and boogie-ing to old classics on the luminous Lola’s dance-floor.