Loyle Carner smiling as he remembers that time he performed at Gonville and Caius May BallDrew de F Fawkes/Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/2o8HkJK

When May Balls announced their music acts last year, I was curious to see how they compared to previous years. Astonishingly, I found that no record of past May Ball acts existed in one place. I was lost. I couldn’t separate fact from fiction. I couldn’t even debunk the Robinson student who told me that Ed Sheeran had played their May Ball, because, as a redhead, he’d been attracted to the red brick.

So, in a fit of procrastination, I stalked disused Facebook pages, spoke to long-graduated students and trawled through ancient reviews to collate a list of every act since 2013. I’ve carefully selected the best ones to make this: the ten best May Week acts of the last ten years. Read on to see if your college made the list!

Bastille – Queens’ (2013)

Not only did Queens’ secure these titans of British music, they did so just months after Bastille released their flagship hit, ‘Pompeii’. It must have been euphoric to hear Bastille close their set with that when it was freshly released – if you know any thirty-year-olds who went to Cambridge, maybe they can tell you about it. Bastille loved Queens’ so much that they went back a few months later to record with Queens’ choir and the Cambridge Chamber Academy.

Charli XCX – Trinity (2017)

Netting Charli XCX shows that the events of the previous year had not broken Trinity’s spirits (they’d tried for two years to secure Taylor Swift, only for her to agree to headline their 2016 ball and then cancel). Cambridge-born Charli was well-established by 2017, having transformed her sound from ear-candy pop (‘Boom Clap’) to the avant-garde synth stylings of Vroom Vroom.

Becky Hill – Trinity (2019)

Bastille performing at Queens’ May Ball in 2013Cantab12/Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bastille_at_Queens'_College_May_Ball_2013.JPG

Your local PureGym may play her songs to death, but there’s no denying that Becky Hill has an awe-inspiring number of hits, and I am reliably informed that her performance at Trinity was “class”. By 2019, Hill boasted the dance bangers ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Gecko (Overdrive)’, but she became even more prolific after the ball, producing earworms like ‘Better Off Without You’, ‘Remember’ and ‘My Heart Goes’.

Loyle Carner – Gonville and Caius (2016) and Pembroke (2017)

Pembroke got to see Loyle Carner just after he released his acclaimed debut album Yesterday’s Gone, and Varsity reported that he “charmed the audience”. Since then, Loyle Carner’s confessional, conversational style of rapping has seen him rise to the top of British music. Track five off his latest album, ‘Homerton’, seems to be a ploy to get Homerton May Ball to book him for this year, but they’ve already announced Dick and Dom. Hard luck, Loyle.

Jungle – Trinity Hall (2017)

You’ll know Jungle’s biggest hits by their distinctive sound. From laid-back (‘Casio’), to tropical (‘Heavy, California’) to downright motivational (‘Busy Earnin’’), the group always maintains their funk-infused groove. The number of acts that have performed at multiple May Weeks proves that if Cambridge can secure an act once, it can secure them again – so this is me telling the Christ’s May Ball Committee to nab Jungle for 2024.

Chase and Status – Trinity Hall (2014)

“June Event”, aside from being more temporally accurate than “May Ball”, usually implies something small-scale. However, there’s nothing small-scale about Chase and Status. Although it was only a DJ set, I’m sure Chase and Status’s frenetic DnB anthems (check out their 2011 album No More Idols) absolutely took the roof off.

Scouting for Girls – Jesus (2014 and 2018), Downing (2017) and Christ’s (2022)

This is the only act on the list that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. When I heard that Scouting for Girls were going to play at Christ’s, I thought: “don’t they only have one song?” I was mistaken – their discography has aged like fine wine. Scouting for Girls gave Christ’s a highly energetic performance, but at their advanced ages, I bet they felt it in the morning.

Little Simz – King’s (2016)

Little SimzPaul Hudson/Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/253fJCV

When she played King’s, Little Simz wasn’t blowing up like she is today, but some people had already predicted her ascension. Back in 2015, Kendrick called the Islington rapper “the illest doing it right now”, and clearly the King’s Affair committee were on the same wavelength. Simz went on to release Grey Area (you’ll know ‘Venom’) in 2019, and win BBC Album of the Year for 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – and I don’t need to tell you how popular she is today.

Example – Trinity (2013), Jesus (2019), Downing (2022)


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Trinity delivers good acts pretty consistently (no surprise given that they’re the wealthiest college, and that I’d have to remortgage my house to go to their May Ball). EDM producer Example is as magnanimous as he is successful, wishing Trinity “fucking good luck for the rest of your lives”. Breaking onto the scene with 2010’s Won’t Go Quietly, Example is a longstanding fixture of the May Week calendar that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Clean Bandit – Robinson (2013), Trinity Hall (2013) and Jesus (2016)

Formed by four Jesus undergrads, Clean Bandit have come a long way from gigging in Fez (that’s what MASH was called pre-lockdown). By the time they played Jesus, 2014 hit ‘Rather Be’ had secured the group’s chokehold on British culture – everyone remembers those constant M&S ads. Clean Bandit played four back-to-back John’s May Balls even before Robinson, and have credited all these May Weeks with giving them “a great opportunity to learn about live performance”.