Music wise, it’s not the most famous city in the UK, but the Steel City’s production line of bands that sell big and rock out has been nothing short of astounding. While Liverpool and Manchester often get recognition for ‘some guys’ from Penny Lane and the Gallagher brothers, Sheffield’s seemingly never-ending talent pool would surprise more than a few.
After going through a transition from prosperous industrial epicentre to thriving metropolitan borough, the city saw a cultural uprising with the formation of unforgettable groups with a knack for killing it live. Of the multiple festivals on offer, the headliner is Tramlines Festival, started in 2009 that sees not only international bands featured, but also highlights the great talent coming through the local scene.
From Sheffield Synthpop to some Steel City Metal, here is a glimpse into six of Sheffield’s finest.
Def Leppard epitomised everything that was glorious about 80s glam before transitioning into early 90s metal to stay relevant and continue to rock out. Beginning in 1977 in Sheffield’s Bramall Lane district, the band are noted as one of Britain’s finest ever exports as they managed to conquer across the Atlantic before they went big on the charts in Old Blighty.
Def Leppard haven’t been without their fair share of roller-coaster moments, with a series of unfortunate events forcing dramatic changes to the line-up. While founding members Joe Elliot and Rick Savage remain today, Rick Allen, Phil Collen, Steve Clark and Vivian Campbell were called on later to get the phenomenon kick-started or to keep it rolling. Adding to such reformation, drummer Allen plays today with one arm after undergoing amputation following a horrific car accident, while Campbell was called on following “Riffmaster” Clark’s tragic death in 1991.
For a band that has been on the road for 39 years, you would expect a degree of success, and Def Leppard are no exception. Their 1987 album Hysteria reached no.1 on both the US and UK charts, seeing the Sheffield band join an exclusive club in the process. However, the fact that the album that played host to cult-classic ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ reached 12 times platinum in the States and only two times platinum in Britain goes to show how under-appreciated Def Leppard were in their home country. To this day the boys from Bramall Lane are still performing and their live shows are considered amongst the most entertaining out there, so be sure rock out when they come to a town near you.
The Human League
The early 1970s was an interesting time for Sheffield, as the transition from rock to punk left the Steel City without an artist or group at the forefront of the music scene. Eventually up stepped The Human League, with their new-wave, synthpop style to welcome in the 80s. The electronic features, a core of The Human League’s sound became key ingredients for the 80s’ glam, used in part by the aforementioned Def Leppard.
The League began in 1977 when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh met at a youth art project. The two had been working as computer designers and their occupation at that time is often pointed to as the key in their understanding the systems and equipment behind the electronic side of synthpop. After their first band experiment ‘Future’, The Human League, as it is known today, was formed when Ware and Marsh headhunted Philip Oakey for vocals, with the group debuting at Sheffield’s Bar 2 on June 12th 1978.
The League is till touring today, with Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall in place of Ware and Marsh. Time has also seen the League pass through a number of styles, with their original sound being taken through a transformation from new wave to electronic avant-garde. Such versatility has seen accolades received across a number of decades with the Brit award for best British breakthrough group in 1982 and the Q Award for best innovation in sound 2004. To go with the awards, the League’s third album, Dare, reached number one in four countries, most notably in their home country, while reaching number three in the US. Whilst the League’s sound isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it can’t be argued that their style and innovation has stood the test of time in order for their name to remain a draw the world over.
Originating at a similar time to Human League, Pulp mixed the sounds brought to Britain by the 1960s wave of rock and roll with that of the aforementioned League; fusing rock and synthpop to form an almost ‘synthrock’ sound. Pulp’s vibe was the perfect metaphor to match the position of British music in the mid to late 70s: holding on to the 60s’ glory days and not quite accepting new-wave and punk.
The band was formed out of Sheffield’s City School by best friends Peter Dalton and Jarvis Cocker, with early debates of the name shifting from Arabicus to Aribus Pulp. With the name settled, Dalton and Cocker added David Lockwood and Mark Swift ahead of their first performance at Rotherham Arts Centre in July 1980. A session with John Peel, an English DJ and producer, in October 1981 rocketed their local fame to unprecedented levels. A revolving door of members due to education commitments forced a mass reshuffle and the new look Pulp, featuring six new members, released their first album, It, in April 1983.
Despite never securing a Brit award like other artists on this list, Pulp gained a number of accolades up until their original disbandment in 2002, as well as their final act from 2011 to 2013. Album’s five and six, Different Class and This is Hardcore both reached number one on the UK’s album charts, while their 1995 album His ‘n’ Hers was awarded Uncut Magazine’s coveted five-star review. Definitely worth checking out in order to fully grasp the new-wave synthpop movement that had Sheffield in spins in the 1980s.
Bring Me The Horizon
Often weaving in and out of genres or evolving from one to the next, five-piece Bring Me The Horizon have called Sheffield home since forming in 2004. Frontman Oliver Sykes even went to school with fellow Sheffielders, Alex Turner and Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys.
The post-hardcore outfit were recently at the forefront of our argument, Can Metal Still Be Mainstream? which demonstrates their modest beginnings and widely acclaimed recent success. As we wrote, the once niche sounding group are now “selling-out arenas across the globe and doing shows with orchestras at the Royal Albert Hall.” While their popularity has never declined, their sound has drifted between metalcore and even nu-metal, which has seen them equip new fans, but perhaps made old ones ask questions about the direction they’re headed.
Before the hate starts rolling in, let’s clarify that Drenge originated not in Sheffield but in Castleton, Derbyshire. However, as they relocated to Sheffield in 2014 and have been busy touring and producing work in the Steel City since, it is more than fair to say that Drenge are a Sheffield band.
Beginning in 2011 with Loveless brothers Eoin and Rory, Drenge are still an up and coming band in every sense of the word, adding Rob Graham on the bass only last year. Described fairly as a garage, grunge-rock band, the boys rose to prominence in 2013 in the most bizarre fashion for an alternative group: the resignation of Labour Member for Parliament Tom Watson. Following the formalities of a typical politician sign off, Watson concluded with: “And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge”.
Their first album, self-titled, released in 2013 reached 39 on the iTunes charts, before 2015’s Undertow made it as high as 14 in the UK Albums chart. In their short time, Drenge have appeared at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds Festival, the 2013 iTunes Festival and on USA network television on The Late Show with David Letterman in early 2015. With such a grunge-punk, garage feel, Drenge are quickly being touted as one of the most exciting acts to come out of (their adopted home) Sheffield in recent years, second only to …
Releasing their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, in 2006, the Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene at the tender ages of 20 and 21 across current members Alex Turner, Matt Helders, Jamie Cook and Nick O’Malley. The album was a major success, selling over 360,000 copies in their first week to smash the record as the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history. The album was able to highlight the band’s versatility in style, ranging from The View from the Afternoon’s brash, in your face features to Riot Van’s calm, measured aura.
The boys from Sheffield often pay homage to their hometown in their songs, with frontman Turner admitting to observing behaviour in Sheffield’s nightclubs to impact the feel and lyrics of not only their debut album, but 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. Adding to this, many critics have pointed to the use of Turner’s Sheffield accent in their music making the band so hard to cover; creating an extra element of uniqueness.
One of the most decorated modern British bands, the Arctic Monkeys have picked up seven Brit Awards from only nine nominations, including Best British Group and Best Album on three occasions in 2007 (Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not), 2008 (Favourite Worst Nightmare) and 2014 (AM); the first band to ever achieve such double-accolades. Although their latest two albums, Suck It and See and AM, have seen a shift to deeper lyrics and a move away from their breakthrough garage, post-punk styles, the band keeps getting bigger and bigger. Turner is currently finishing up a tour with his side-project The Last Shadow Puppets, but hopefully the Monkeys will be hitting the studio again soon after this…