Oxford is well known for being a birthplace of musical talent. Radiohead, Supergrass and Foals all had humble beginnings playing gigs in the city’s many bars and clubs. Not surprisingly, many have tried to follow in their footsteps, using the lively gigging culture to try and make their mark.
One such group is Northeast Corridor. A four-piece band made up of three music students and a chemist, they have already had much success at home and abroad. Since their debut in June they have been gigging up and down the country, have played Oxford’s O2 Academy and have even been picked up by BBC Introducing.
Perhaps the key to this success is the band’s keenness to confront issues that matter to them. When lead singer Nick Hampson found out about protests in the United States about a homophobic message posted on a church sign in Haarlem, NYC, he teamed up with a New York charity to see how he could help.
The result was the band’s debut single and music video, written in memory of Ali Forney, a transgender youth who was killed on the streets of New York in 1997. As Nick explains, “We came up with this idea of creating a music video which could raise awareness of the fight for survival that all these boys face everyday… it was an attempt to capture something completely unfathomable.”
‘Where You’re Sleeping Tonight’ is low-key, melancholic and soulful, the lead vocals floating effortlessly over the guitar accompaniment. The video itself is visually striking, an abstract collection of images depicting life on the streets of Haarlem. The two combine to produce an experience that is mellow, soporific, but deeply moving.
Northeast Corridor consists of lead singer Nick Hampson, bass guitarist Harry Davidson, lead guitarist Tom Stafford (he occasionally plays a modular synthesiser) and drummer Nick Orr. “Every time we play we learn more about each other as people and musicians,” says Nick. “So long as that continues I think our music should continue to develop and hopefully never stop changing.”
The band’s musical influences are certainly diverse. Harry cites jazz fusion artists such as Snarky Puppy’s Michael League among his bass-playing heroes, and Tom talks of a love of hip hop artists such as Wu Tang Clan, Odd Future, and Death Grips. The band’s live sets are full of musical surprises, ultimately lending them a Muse-like vibe. As Nick puts it, “We try and make music which goes to places you don’t always expect… our show certainly isn’t quiet!”
I ask them if there are any plans for an EP at some point in the future. Nick answers conservatively, “I think we will continue releasing individual tracks rather than doing an EP or an album in the near future. We are still in a way figuring out what we are and who we are as artists. What is most important to us is being fully in love with each thing that we release.”
The band’s classical training plays an important role for them. Nick was a cathedral chorister from a young age, Harry played the bassoon in the National Youth Orchestra, and Tom is an enthusiastic contemporary-classical composer.
“Our backgrounds as classical musicians are a unique influence on the way we write rock songs,” explains Nick. “Some of our favourite bands, like Radiohead, for example, use the complexities and subtleties of classical music to an incredible advantage in rock music and that is definitely something that we are trying to develop in our own work.”
So is there enough dialogue between classical music and rock genres? “Perhaps that’s too big a question to answer,” evades Nick. “Good music is good music to me. I don’t really care what people call it or class it as. If it rocks, then it rocks.”
This attitude will surely stand Northeast Corridor in good stead as their career gets off the ground. With a BBC Introducing gig in Reading, appearances in London, and an Oxford Festival appearance on the cards, we may be seeing a lot more of them over the coming weeks and months.
Northeast Corridor play at the Jericho Tavern on the 27th of November.