Sunderland Rock City

Field Music's fertile home turf
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  March 17, 2010

The Futureheads

Smooth operators: Field Music are ready to soft rock. By Eugenia Williamson.
Sunderland is a smallish city (population about 200,000) whose recently revived downtown boasts a football stadium (currently home to the Northeast's only first-division side), a steel bridge, and more than two dozen acres of fallow land where a brewery once sat. The locals are known as Mackems. In Sunderland's more verdant past — before German bombs destroyed many of its buildings — Lewis Carroll hung out at the library and wrote a book called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that he based, in part, on his surroundings. A century later, the city — hollowed yet more by recession — was rebuilt in the uniform, concrete fashion of the times.

Whatever it is about post-industrial English cities that lends itself to credible rock music, Sunderland's got it in spades. The city has produced its share of the famous and semi-famous. Oft-anthologized '80s pop-punk-rockers? Check. (Toy Dolls, they of "Nellie the Elephant," formed there.) Ubiquitous synth-poppers? Check. (Dave Stewart of Eurythmics grew up there.) Dance-punks dating Eleanor Friedberger? Check. (Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kampranos started out there before moving to Scotland.)

In spite of this pedigree, it wasn't till the turn of the millennium that a recognizable Sunderland mini-scene emerged. As befits a city a third the size of Boston, it consists of a few super-talented dudes who play on one another's records. We'll help you connect the dots.

THE FUTUREHEADS | Formed by a group of friends at City of Sunderland College (senior high to us Americans), these post-punks — a peppier, less didactic Bloc Party — gained international acclaim with their homonymous 2004 debut. Peter Brewis played drums with the Futureheads before dropping out to form Field Music with his brother; he was replaced by the brother of the Futureheads' singer.

SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE | This is David Brewis's solo project, and the 2008 Sea to Shore is its first and, so far, only release. With help from a couple of Futureheads in the studio and live ringers courtesy of Thrill Jockey labelmates Tortoise and Euphone, School of Language earned enough attention to make a triumphant tour of the States.

THE WEEK THAT WAS | Peter Brewis's critically sanctified solo record was released later in 2008 and was subtitled "A Field Music Production." It featured — yes — brother David and — also yes — a Futurehead in the touring band. Perhaps because that line-up had nine members total, it never played here.

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  Topics: Music Features , Eurythmics, Lewis Carroll, Dave Stewart,  More more >
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