May Ball, the annual springtime event hosted by the Kate Kennedy Club, draws well-known artists to the musically parched town of St Andrews for a night of dancing (and drinking). The sheer number of acts that played this year was commendable; in the VIP entrance 2nd year students Folayinka Folarin-Coker, Stuart Hindmarch, and Daniel Garner greeted guests, while fellow classmate Ashton Squires held down the fort in the VIP tent, and Joe Jones played on both the main stage and the VIP tent. Accompanying guests during the dinner portion of the evening and playing for VIP guests as well, the student-led jazz ensemble St Andrews Fusionwas a booking that I felt was a nice touch, and suited the formal affair. Although there were a vast number of artists performing that evening, I stuck close to the main stage to watch Bwani Junction, Seedy Soundsystem, Julio Bashmore, and Craig Wilson play.
One of the first acts of the night, Scottish band Bwani Junction warmed up the crowd with some cool indie-rock vibes. I really dug the laid-back intimacy of their style, meshing a variety of musical influences into their sound. The Scottish roots of the group were strongly identifiable in tracks such as “Two Bridges,” but didn’t overpower their overall aesthetic. In fact, the band reminded me of a Sam’s Town era version of The Killers, with their mellowed, steady instrumentation and quietly infectious guitar riffs.
Seedy Soundsystem, a staple of the St Andrews ball scene, appeared next. Another act hailing from Scotland, the group consists of a DJ, saxophonist, and drummer, though there was a hypeman of sorts at this performance. One thing I can say about the trio is that they certainly know how to play to a crowd and get everyone amped up, with the DJ playing a slew of middle-school-dance favorites and the drummer smoking a firework on stage. As I watched the group play, it seemed to me that the band was possibly as intoxicated as the blank-eyed audience members they were playing for. While I am not condemning drinking during a performance in any way, I do feel that if you’ve been hired as an act, you should be coherent enough to play in time with one another and not consistently spill alcohol around electronic equipment, if only out of respect to both the organizers and audience as well as your own reputation. However, this didn’t seem to phase the hoards of students dancing to the music, and it was safe to say that Seedy Soundsystem was one of the biggest hits of the night.
Headlining act Julio Bashmore spun a crowd-friendly set of house and disco hits as well as some contemporary tracks, such as a “fire remix of ‘Hold My Hand’,” according to the notes I made on my iPhone. St Andrean house party staple “Au Seve” went off with a bang, but throughout the set I felt that Bashmore struggled to find his groove with the St Andrews audience. His set came off as a bit commercial and dated, resulting in something that would’ve sounded more appropriate as a 2012 festival set, which was disappointing as I am a fan of his creatively soulful sound. Things really came to life when Bashmore threw down some R&B vibes towards the end of his set, and his track selection sounded much more natural and organic. It would have been great if Julio Bashmore threw caution to the wind and played as a respected artist people paid money and came out to see, instead of pandering to a crowd of drunken students. Overall, I know how difficult reading (and pleasing) the St Andrews crowd is, so I commend Julio Bashmore’s efforts in his set.
Edinburgh native Craig Wilson has proven himself to be a fan favorite among our university town, with sets at the DON’T WALK afterparty and more. The DJ spun a number of EDM hits, including a dash of Darude’s classic, “Sandstorm.” Wilson was definitely pure fun, but again, I felt that he could’ve let loose a bit and played a more varied set, rather than going for the tried-and-true songs we’ve all heard time and time again. Because of this, I would again say that Wilson’s set seemed a bit outmoded. Regardless, everyone in the crowd was having a great time, and that’s all that really matters, right?
However, in the nearly eight hours of entertainment scheduled, there was not a single female performer in site, which was a bit disheartening to me as an audience member. Next year, it would be awesome to see a female tastemaker such as Radio 1’s Annie Mac or Scotland’s own Eclair Fifi headline May Ball – there are a number of incredibly talented women in the UK that would be well received at an event such as this.
Additionally, I found myself frustrated with how safe each performer’s set was; because of this, I feel that the music scene in St Andrews (or lack thereof) will continue to remain stagnant and close-minded. With great risk often comes great reward, and an out-of-the-box performance would’ve made May Ball 2015 even more memorable. I hope that in the future, St Andrews students will open their minds to new realms and spectrums of music, and perhaps be more receptive to an artist’s performance – if you believe in their abilities, you’ll most likely be taken through an incredibly exciting musical experience. Trust!