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Best of 2017

Sundara Karma: "It feels like a dream, it doesn’t feel real"

Dork's former cover stars, Sundara Karma finished their year with a massive London show.
Published: 8:53 am, December 10, 2017
Sundara Karma: "It feels like a dream, it doesn’t feel real"
“I remember standing literally right...” drummer Haydn Evans jumps into place, flashing back to a night where he watched Jamie T grace the room in front of him “…here!”

When he looks up, he spots not just his bandmates strolling around an empty Brixton Academy, but that stage once again. There’s a smile, one that frequently shows itself as he, frontman Oscar Pollock, guitarist Ally Baty and bassist Dom Cordell take in the venue in all its glory - the four of them removing themselves from the hustle and bustle that now is a Sundara Karma show and breathing in the moment.

In a matter of hours, this room will be filled and they’ll be adding their name to the illustrious boards and photos lining the venue’s many corridors. There are shots of David Bowie, The Prodigy, The Smiths - all primed one next to the other like a timeline of special memories captured and saved for thousands to look back on. The shots lead right through to the stage itself, seen straight away when a band leaves their dressing room. It’s history adding yet another name to its roster, and for Sundara Karma - that measure calls at their door tonight.

“Fuck sake dude!” exclaims Oscar, taking a seat in the band’s dressing room as they continue to chat about the show that awaits them. “When you put it like that it’s terrifying, I didn’t even think of it like that. I’ve been walking around today thinking, ‘Ahh, y’know, Brixton tonight - that’s cool’ - and now I’m absolutely shitting it!”

“I was giddy as fuck this morning,” jumps in Haydn, and there’s good reason why. In a year of important records and breakthrough bands, none may have reached as many as Sundara Karma. A fusion of gut-grabbing tales from the highs and lows of youthful adventure and a penchant for souring heart-on-sleeve indie majesty, ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ took on a life of its own. Like a scrapbook of those key landmarks we all go through growing up, it’s a record of hearts and minds that has taken them around the globe - something that has catapulted four best mates from Reading into something of a phenomenon.

“It feels like a dream," reflects Oscar. “It doesn’t feel real. To travel the distances that we have and still have people who want to hear our music, to see us play live, to buy our merch - it’s a strange thing, but it means that people have connected to the songs on some level. For those people to want to even say hi to us, it’s amazing.”

From the crisp chills of the January air that welcomed its arrival, ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ was a record years in the making - one that was bound to be pulled into the orbit of thousands. Since then, it’s become an album that for many will have soundtracked 2017. For the band who made it, it will always call back to memories they never dreamed of reaching.

“There have definitely been surreal moments," says Oscar. "Thinking back on some of the stuff we’ve done this year is mental, we’ve ticked a lot off the bucket list. Playing the NME/Radio 1 Stage at Reading, Leeds then being huge too, going to Japan, the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury was mental…”

“South By [South West] as well,” points out Haydn.

“Yeah!” continues Oscar, “we’ve done so much it’s crazy.” Starting with a run of huge shows alongside Two Door Cinema Club, the headline run that followed in February saw Sundara Karma getting a proper glimpse at the level they'd now reached. That badge of a new band doing ‘okay’ flown well and truly out of the window, the big leagues were calling.

“That was sick. Around that kinda time our shows had been picking up quite rapidly in terms of the number of tickets we were selling and the energy people were giving. That was like, I don’t want to say a peak of it, but that was the moment we knew,” enthuses Oscar. “The rooms were big, people were allowed to have fun, and they knew the songs - it all just came together at that point.”

That foundation can be felt in every detail at Brixton. There’s a feeling in the air that you can’t escape, of a band that truly means something. It’s there in the fans that can be seen from the dressing room windows, lining up from the early hours to get as close as possible. It’s the sort of reaction usually held for the biggest forces in music, for bands on a path to greatness. Ten months after ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’, it’s there at Brixton Academy for Sundara Karma.

“With anything creative, there are people who love it and people who don’t, or are half-arsed about it - but the majority of people seem to love it which is cool,” notes Oscar, looking back on the album that chronicled such a large portion of his life up to now. “I had no idea what to expect; we’d never put anything out like that. It’s not a Marmite record I think though; I think it’s quite easy for people to get into. I don’t think we were expecting people to be offended by it…

“That’s for the second album.”

Brixton is a long way from the Battle Of The Bands of Sundara Karma's early days, and that growth is something they’re the first to recognise, helping shape the vision of where they go from here. “When we started we were the naive school-rock band who thought, 'We’re going to be the fucking biggest band in the world!' That was what we aimed for, but I think as the years go on, we couldn’t care less,” states Oscar, met with nods and smiles around the dressing room. “What’s changed is where we place success. For us, it's being able to do a tour like this, one that we’ve always wanted to do where it’s planned from beginning to end, and we plan how it looks, and work with people who are really talented. That’s it. If we can do that and not do another job then that honestly is success.”

As Sundara Karma soundcheck, that set they’ve always wanted to do is beaming with swagger. Mirrored coating, a platter of dazzling lights and a laser show that flicks and sears around the hall that’ll soon be packed to the rafters - they’re every inch the shining beacon of British indie. It’s not just the anthems they now have at their disposal; it’s more than that. It’s the evolution of a great hope into an undeniable reality.

"pull" text="Are we worthy of Brixton Academy? I hope so" ]

“There’s definitely been an evolution,” ponders Oscar. “If you take the band thing out, being 21 years old and going into 22 is quite a rapid change in your psyche, just for anyone going through that. And then when you add the pressure of being in a band and presenting yourself in that kinda way, it does get a bit confusing. But I think we’re on top of things at the moment.

“It’s really nice because it’s easy to be swept under things and not be in control, and then it will suffer, which hopefully won't happen.”

The smiles return. With every inching moment that ticks by, Sundara Karma know something special is on the horizon - a moment that they’ll never forget. In the hours ahead, they’ll search for a local tattoo artist to help them out on an old bet made by one of their crew. “When we were playing all these tiny shitty bars, he was like, 'Oh when you guys play Brixton I’ll get the Sundara Karma sun tattoo on me'," explains Dom. "And here we are!”

“Does anyone know someone?” asks Oscar, searching on his phone for any nearby. “It doesn’t have to be five-star quality, that wasn’t part of the deal.”

There’s more talk on where they go next, 2018 feels like an age away for them - even after the non-stop year they’ve had - but there’s hope for a new album (and some much needed holiday time). “Those new ideas are always kinds there,” elaborates Oscar, “but for them to really present themselves there needs to be detachment - we need to get really bored! We don’t feel like we’re limited in any way though, and the new stuff, it excites me a lot and makes me happy.

“If you’d have told the 17-year-old versions of us that we’d do everything we have done, we would have been losing it; it’s insane. And now Brixton. Y’know, you almost have to check yourself on whether you deserve all of this - are we worthy of Brixton Academy? I hope so. We’ll see, anyway!”

Flash forward to 9:30pm, and Brixton is at fever pitch. A drowned out choir pours itself into every note as Sundara Karma take them to church, through their debut statement to the world and beyond - it’s a rich celebration of a band being welcomed into extraordinary company. Wrapped in gorgeous hooks and chimes, it’s a set that confirms Oscar’s soon-to-be-iconic status, the touch of something truly special when he glides across the stage and throws himself into the crowd during ‘Flame’. Four Reading lads done good, it has that aura of an unabashed guitar band revelling in what they’ve become.

As the final notes ring out, the band head back to that dressing room once again, passing the shots of those defining moments in years gone past. Thousands descend onto the tubes and buses of Brixton to whisk them away into the night. They sit clasping at phones, scrolling through the shots of what they’ve just witnessed. They’ll be back again and again, and so will Sundara Karma. They’ve looked back in retrospect, and now they’re fixed on the future.

Taken from the December/January issue of Dork, out now.

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