Skip to main content

Home Music Music Features

Meet UNIVERSITY, the Crewe emo rockers with intoxicating energy

From their DIY base in the Cheshire town, this four-piece make a delightful racket and even incorporate, err, video games into their live show.

By Will Richards

UNIVERSITY (Picture: Holly Whitaker)

When all their schoolmates were going to University, five friends from Crewe decided to make a band by that name instead.

After studying music together at college, Joel Smith (drums), Zak Bowker (vocals/guitar), Ewan Barton (bass) and Eddie Leigh (video games? We’ll come back to that..) set up shop in Barton’s dad’s house and played ‘til their fingers bled.

What came from those sessions is Title Track, the band’s astonishing debut EP, out now via Transgressive. On it, they take cues from emo and math rock before turbo charging them and speeding them up to lightning fast levels.

The first single ‘Notre Dame Made Out Of Flesh’ is a gargantuan statement of intent from a young band. Over its five minutes, it travels through what feels like hundreds of sections, all at breakneck speed. Hardcore, punk and emo are all honoured in its sound, and it comes with the unhinged energy of the earliest Biffy Clyro records. At the end of the song, one member laughs maniacally, as if astonished at the incredible racket they’ve just made.

Live, they’re just as raucous and interesting a proposition. While Smith, Bowker and Barton thrash away at their instruments with abandon, Leigh sits at the side of the stage and literally plays video games while wearing a balaclava. When one song is over, he holds up a sign with the (often long and wordy) title to the next track, before his bandmates let the handbrake off once again.

From their Crewe base, UNIVERSITY tell Rolling Stone UK about their beginnings, honing their sound by putting the hours in, and what’s next.

How did the band start, and what changed when you managed to get your own practice space?

Smith: We started at college, and when we finished studying we only were able to practice for four hours every two weeks at a practice space in Stoke. It wasn’t cutting it. We stopped doing that and thought: are we fucked?

Bowker: We thought we couldn’t practice anymore, and it seemed worse because we’d just come out of the back of COVID. Then we had to work out how we could use the spare room here, and once we turned that into a practice room we started playing together every day.

Smith: The band technically didn’t start when we got the new practice room, but it might as well have.

How did you see the band change when you were able to play together every single day?

Smith: It became a lot easier to pick up and go. It was a lot tighter and the musical chemistry went off the charts. You could play the same song for two hours in some long instrumental jam and just have fun. The song arrangements became more complex. ‘Notre Dame…’ and ‘History of Iron Maiden Pt. 2’ all came together quite quickly, and it all just felt more comfortable. Because we used to have such little time together, we were trying to rush it to get an idea. Here, it happened more naturally.

What bonded you together musically when you first met?

Smith: Like everyone, we were 16 and into gateway bands. Nirvana, Metallica.

Barton: You’re finding your common ground.

Smith: The Streets were a big influence, and a lot of happy hardcore and electronic music. The Prodigy as well. Not dissing big gateway bands, but we’re so happy we ended up getting into a lot of nicher bands after that, like Nouns, Hella and Dilute. You can probably tell in the music how into math-rock we are. When you get into that sort of stuff, it does blow your head off.

Bowker: It’s just sick, and they’re going mad on their instruments. Why would you not want to do that?

Smith: Especially nowadays, I’ve got into jazz music too so I can appreciate math-rock even more.

Can you tell me a little bit about Eddie’s role in the band? What do you do Eddie?

Leigh: Everything…

Bowler: He plays games and writes everything. We’ll write something and he’ll sit there and say: ‘That’s codswallop.’

You should try and premiere Grand Theft Auto 6 at one of your live shows…

Barton: We want to so much!

Smith: Don’t worry it’s in the works…

Barton: Mainly we want to get on the GTA6 radio.

Bowker: When Eddie’s on stage, it’s this little headfuck for me. He sits immediately in front of me, and every time I see him I immediately forget that I’m playing a show. I’m back in the house, chilling, loving life, practicing, just having fun. It makes the show better, because we have the balls to do the things we would be scared to do. It gives us the confidence to really stretch the songs.

Your hometown of Crewe feels tucked away from the UK music industry – do you think that’s been to your advantage?

Bowker: It’s pretty rough writing music here, but also a blessing in disguise.

Smith: It’s away from everything, so you don’t get a lot of the distractions you have when you’re living in a city. If you want to do it in a tiny town, and just get stuck in and write tunes, it might be a blessing for you, because there’s nothing else to do. You can sink a lot of fucking time into it

Barton: You’re less influenced by the sound around you, and more just the sound that you want to create yourself.

Smith: There was no sound around us! We never saw any bands or went to any local gigs, because there weren’t any.

Bowker: It’s pretty far away for us to go to a gig, and we couldn’t afford to unless we were playing.

Smith: Our influences was just what we were playing at the time, and sitting around and listening to tunes all day and practicing for two years straight. If you sink your teeth into something to the level we did, you’re gonna get pretty decent at what you do.

And is that mentality still the case moving forwards?

Smith: We’re still just trying to write the music that we want to hear, and that’s all we’ve ever done. We want to make the music that we’re not hearing anywhere else.