Sweet Unrest weren't dressed up as a rock band; they were born that wayOliver Cooney for Varsity

If you asked me in first year how I’d be spending the night before my final exam, I might have said cosy in bed. More realistically, I might have said two Red Bulls deep in St John’s Library. Nevertheless, the words “rock concert” would never have crossed my lips. Yet, when I sat down to take my last exam, the sound of London-based band Sweet Unrest was still ringing in my ears. While their set taught me nothing about computational linguistics, it did teach me that pre-exam gigs are worth it.

Imagine a rock band. Whatever image you have, that’s what I found as I strolled into The Portland Arms. Mullets, Doc Martens and hand-rolled cigarettes decorate the sound of lead singer Jack, who strums his guitar into his phone, proclaiming, “Oi, this riff, doesn’t it bang?” Catching glimpses of this effortlessly cool group jamming their way through soundcheck, I realise this isn’t an act. Sweet Unrest aren’t dressed up like a rock band; they were born that way.

“If you want a new word, call it grit pop"

“We met via an app,” they explain. Like Tinder but for musicians, Vampr connected Jack with guitarists Tom and Marlo and drummer Dan. “We met Leon [the bassist] the boring way – in real life.” But, unlike my online dating experience, the group have undeniable chemistry. “It’s been the easiest song writing experience I’ve ever had,” Dan reveals. The product of this chemistry is a gritty yet beautifully composed blend of The Stooges and Ramones. With the melodic vocals of an indie band and the heft of punk rock, it’s hard to classify Sweet Unrest. “If you want a new word,” Jack says, “call it grit pop.”

Jack is undeniably a rock star. His charisma is infectious as he dances through the crowd, tambourine in hand, equal parts insane and in control as he flips the mic stand upside down to sing from the floor. But this energy buzzes through the rest of the band too. Tom and Marlo slam their heads in alternating rhythms, driven mad by the confines of an amp cord. The Portland Arms is a small stage, a perfect intimate venue. Yet, this time, the four walls felt too small for a band with this much energy and talent.

“The four walls felt too small for a band with this much energy”

This became clear during ‘Peace of Mind’ – the track you would get if The Stone Roses had written Circa Waves’ ‘T-Shirt Weather’. As the song kicks into double time, the room explodes, Marlo launching into the crowd and shredding his guitar. The only downside was the lack of a crowd to match. Easter term is a tough time to hold a gig. But, as regret plagues those of us who missed a pre-fame The Last Dinner Party in Cambridge last October, the fools revising for their finals missed experiencing another band on the road to stardom.

The first stop on that road is a vinyl release, featuring their latest single, ‘Falling for You’. When asked about the story behind the single, Jack says he “was dreaming about this riff Marlo had.” This dreamy authenticity is felt in the song’s romantic opening, with reverb filling the room alongside potently honest lyrics. Then, drums break the song open to let in gorgeous overdrive and an impeccable guitar solo. Tom says this is a common motif in their songs: “clean verses then smashing into the choruses”. This carefully crafted power is what makes their tracks so exhilarating and their live performances even better.

Essex-based The Rebel Party dominated the stage beforehandOliver Cooney for Varsity

Though talent was not confined to them, as The Rebel Party dominated the stage beforehand. The skill of lead singer Victoria gave me chills as she maintained a powerful belt while bent half-double with passion. Furthermore, drummer Jon’s sensitivity to the flow of their versatile repertoire and guitarist Marc’s careful balance of technical complexity and artistic flair highlighted the band’s virtuosity.


Mountain View

Girlband: Cambridge’s answer to The Last Dinner Party

Cheap Date, a recently graduated student band, also took the stage, though with less cohesion than the others. Despite some “phworrr”-inducing riffs, the disorganised transitions and tactless confusion of the singer’s commentary meant any energy they built dissipated by the next song. However, platforming a student band was central to label manager Owen’s vision: “We want to get gig exchanges going… put Cambridge bands on the bill and bring Cambridge bands to London.” That means No Distance Records will be back in Cambridge and long before your next exams.

As a finalist, I won’t have any. But I’m certainly grateful my finals didn’t require speaking. The sheer thrill of this gig left me without a voice for the entire weekend of post-finals celebration and with an undying need for more. Thankfully, with a new release scheduled every six weeks, Sweet Unrest won’t be resting any time soon.