Taking Oxford by storm: the Magic Gang sells out the O2

The Magic Gang aren't just another band - they're something much more unique

The Magic Gang performing at The Horn, photo: Paul Hudson

It would be easy to dismiss The Magic Gang as ‘just another band’. Indie bands from Brighton aren’t exactly thin on the ground, and in a highly competitive industry, creating a new sound is really difficult. Strangely though, something that makes the Magic Gang stand out is that they don’t appear to be trying to. Compared to current favourites like the Arctic Monkeys or Catfish and the Bottlemen, the Magic Gang have a sound that is a lot more relaxed, and reminiscent of bands like Weezer or the Beach Boys, with even a few of their songs, like ‘Fade Away’, edging towards the sound of the later Beatles. It’s chilled-out and optimistic, the kind of music you want to listen to on sunny days, and even when they’re writing about tougher topics like relationship breakdowns, they still have a strange sort of optimism, or at least acceptance.

 

There’s definitely an edge to their music though, that reflects the time they’re playing in. Their dress and general vibe is firmly indie – a little bit different, and heavily focused on music that can be played live. If you were wondering what they’re like, Spotify lists bands like Viola Beach, Blossoms, and The Night Café as similar, and their lyrics and performance place them alongside this kind of more laid-back, alternative vibe. You couldn’t mosh to most of their songs, but you could certainly dance, and with shows like Leeds and Reading Festival under their belt, the quartet are certainly established, and gifted, performers.

 

The Magic Gang are just at the level of fame where they’re attracting a decent crowd but haven’t got to such a popular level that have to play venues like arenas, which can make bands lose some of the atmosphere that gigs are all about. They’ve had a fair amount of practice warming up bigger crowds though – one of their breakthrough moments was supporting a bigger group, Wolf Alice, on their 2016 UK tour, something that they’ve openly credited as being a big boost in their early days. The band even opened for them at the Oxford O2 – and now they’re coming back on 5th October for their own headline gig; a venue that I can say from experience is perfect for the kind of intimate show that makes you feel really in sync with the music, but has a big enough capacity for the atmosphere to really kick off too. Paeris Gills, the drummer, agrees that smaller venues are better, “at this point we still love the places we play. The atmosphere is a bit better with more energy in a small place”. It seems likely that Oxford will be treated to a genuinely fantastic time, where both the band and the crowd are loving what they’re doing – exactly what everyone wants.

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One of The Magic Gang’s main strengths can be found in their lyrical prowess, played against an array of guitar riffs, and making them not just a fun, but genuinely talented group of musicians. Rather than leaning heavily on loud bass and frenzied drum beats, like others in the genre, the more simplistic style of music shows their talent well, but still retains the fun and quirky indie vibe that makes the genre so popular, especially live.

 

This has led to a wave of positive feedback from established critics. They’ve only released one album so far; a sixteen-track creation, that peaked at number 12 in the UK album charts, pretty good going for a debut, and earning them an NME Best New Artist nomination. Following in a well-established indie tradition of eponymy, the group simply called it The Magic Gang, following the same simple naming system they have on previous EPs like The Magic Gang EP (2016) and The Second EP From (2016). NME gave The Magic Gang (album) four stars out of five, calling it “a timeless collection”, and placing it in the top 14 debut albums of 2018 so far – a solid indicator that they’re doing well. In fact, across-the-board, feedback has been positive, which is quite unusual for even more established bands. This was possibly due to the fact that they recorded the whole thing in a farmhouse in Banbury, not far from Oxford, and we all know that things created around here are just naturally better… but I guess it could be down to their innate talent too.

 

Ultimately, in a world dominated by divas, it’s rather endearing to see a band that seem just genuinely thrilled to be able to do what they love. The reason for their style of music is clearly shown in their personalities. You can see it in their attitude to touring; asked whether he was looking forward to their 2017 tour, front-man Jack Kaye is clearly sincerely excited, replying “I’m buzzing about it, yeah, it’s great!”. In their interviews, rather than boasting about partying, drugs and girls, they mess around with each other, teasing bassist Angus Taylor for his childhood appearance on Raven, and laughingly reminiscing about the time Jack sleepwalked and locked himself out of his bedroom in Holland in just his underwear. The final member, Kristan Smith, shares the same laid-back attitude to life that the others do, but reminds us that this doesn’t translate in their attitude to creating music, noting laughingly “it’s really hard work!”.

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They’re not rock stars, something that they’ve decried as ‘bullshit’ in GQ, they’re normal boys, who genuinely love what they’re doing, and this comes across in the quality of their music. Ultimately, their sound and outlook can be summed up pretty well in Kristan Smith’s description of the album, “all of the songs are about friendship and love and family and good vibes… that’s what the album means to me: it’s good vibes”.

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