Feature: 35 Years of Rock City

Since opening its doors in December 1980, Nottingham’s Rock City has played host to bands and acts of all genres, sizes and styles. If you name an influential band from the worlds of rock, indie, pop, metal or punk from the past 30 years, they’ve probably graced the main hall stage at some point. The ‘80s saw U2, The Ramones, Madness, Duran Duran, The Smiths, LL Cool J, Slayer, and Faith No More visit the home of Robin Hood. Later, the early ‘90s saw the grunge explosion arrive in the form of the iconic Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. As for influential ‘90s rock, 1993 saw Rage Against The Machine visit not once but twice in the space of six months. The “Britpop” boom of the mid-1990s was led by Oasis and Blur, both of whom played Rock City in 1994 just as both were about to explode nationwide and beyond.

As the 1990s progressed, so did the list of major names to play Rock City. From David Bowie to Foo Fighters, from The Offspring to Iron Maiden, Green Day to Ozzy Osbourne and Radiohead to Daft Punk, the decade saw Rock City solidify its place as one of the UK’s top music venues. It continued into the new millennium as the likes of Slipknot, Queens of the Stone Age, Muse and Biffy Clyro stopped by as they made their way to becoming festival headliners.

With the world-renowned venue celebrating its 35th birthday this, several members of the Already Heard team have shared their memories of Rock City.

What are your memories of Rock City? Let us know in the comments.

Sean Reid (Already Heard Founder/Senior Editor)
Growing up in the historic market town of Newark-on-Trent, my visits to Nottingham were few and far between. I was more interested in spending my pocket money on CDs in R & K Records than actually saving money to see bands in the city that’s 25 miles down the road. Nevertheless, Rock City always had an appeal to me. The name alone sounds massive; rock as a genre is big and meaty and when combined with the imagery of a city, you’re left with the impression of something that is truly mighty.

It’s no doubt that Rock City has more than played host to its fair share of memorable nights. However, for me, my first taste of the venue isn’t a good one. In April 2006, I went to see The Ataris. However unfortunately for me, this was at a time that frontman Kris Roe decided to take the band in a more mellow, experimental direction. It’s left a bad lasting impression of The Ataris ever since. Thankfully, my second visit quickly followed and was a far better experience. Taking Back Sunday were riding the wave of the recently released ‘Louder Now’, and delivered a stellar set that covered all three albums to that point.

In the years that have followed, I’ve been to Rock City dozens of times, but it’s not just the gigs that have made it such a beloved place for me. I’ve made a few hazy memories with my friends, courtesy of Saturday’s Hey! Hey! Hey! club night. The main hall pulls floor-fillers from all genres; rock, indie, dubstep and pop punk, and brings everyone together for one big party. Meanwhile, the adjacent basement and Black Cherry Lounge rooms allows people to get their fix of metal/hardcore and cheesy pop respectively. If you’re ever stuck for a Saturday night out in Nottingham, then I can’t recommend Rock City enough.

Furthermore, the annual Hit The Deck and Dot 2 Dot Festivals support the venue’s tendency to back new music. I’ve attended the former every single year and witnessed something new and memorable each time. The likes of Crossfaith, Heck (then known as Baby Godzilla), The Front Bottoms, Gnarwolves, Black Peaks and Brawlers spring to mind.

Like a lot of music venues, Rock City has a habit of bringing people together for one brief moment. The layout of the main hall allows all in attendance to get a good view of whoever is playing on the decent-sized stage. Some bands push the setting to its limit with their production, whilst some take a more grounded, stripped back approach. In recent years, I’ve witnessed outstanding shows from Jimmy Eat World, A Day To Remember, Frank Turner and Architects, all solidifying their place as some of rock’s current crop of important bands.

Whilst it’s not the most perfect venue, depending where you stand and on the band, the vocals can get lost in the mix. I’ve had indifferent experiences of seeing Brand New at the venue. The first time in 2012 didn’t have that zest compared to when I’ve seen them in other venues. Roll on two years, and they knocked it out of the park as Hit The Deck Festival headliners.

Nevertheless, there is a reason why Rock City is one of the UK’s most well-known music venues. Whilst some venues have unfortunately ceased to be, Rock City has continued to be at the forefront of music in both the UK and overseas. Throughout the years, it has been a vital setting for bands to visit as their status and popularity has risen. It has sensibly expanded beyond its “rock” core, constantly knowing what its audience wants. Now after 35 years, Rock City is a diverse and well-rounded music venue that continues to play host to established and emerging names.

Happy birthday to one of the UK’s premier music venues. Here’s to another 35 years of making memories.

Rob Fearnley
In 1997 the internet was considered a suspicious interloper rather than the information crutch we all cling to know. New bands (particularly US ones) were found through the column inches of the rock press and occasionally Headbangers Ball (ask your parents). Even then the metal rags of the world were loath to stick anything in that wasn’t established as a genre, so the rise of nu-metal was a genuine slow burner. How I found Deftones in the first place I can’t remember but I know that my snotty 17 year old brain their name became a byword for “cool” and once I eventually tracked down a copy of their debut album ‘Adrenaline’ (it was way more difficult than you can imagine) the hook was in and every subsequent trip to school and then work was soundtracked by these mythical creatures from Sacramento.

With such a low-profile overseas, it was no surprise that it took some time before the band headed for Europe but in the Autumn of 1997, with anticipation building for the release of second album, ‘Around The Fur’, Deftones booked a short run of dates in the UK. They understandably played it safe and stuck to established venues in towns and cities with reputations for metalheads. London, Glasgow, Manchester, Wolverhampton… and Nottingham’s Rock City.

I was only 2 years into gig going and my parents were more than a tad fidgety about me de-camping 70 miles south from my Leeds home for a show – particularly as the return journey was on the notoriously sketchy 3.30am National Express. They relented though and after paying 8 quid (seriously) over the phone (seriously!) I had a ticket and was ticking off the days.

I’d read all about Rock City of course but had no idea what to expect. When I finally walked up the stairs and into the venue I was rendered dumb. It was every bit the Shangri-La that I was expecting and then some. Leeds had no metal scene to speak of at the time (certainly not one I knew about anyway) so to see someone in a Sepultura shirt or Slayer hoodie was a rarity but here I was in a room FULL of Sepultura shirts. And Korn shirts. And Snot shirts. And Sevendust shirts. Who were all these people and how the hell did they know of all these bands…..and how did the DJ know to play Incubus over the PA??? I thought it was only me had been devouring the 50 word articles in corners of Kerrang and Metal Hammer but no, this new scene was very much alive and there were hundreds of people as part of it.

The room itself was and is a wondrous fleshpot and perfect for shows. It took me a good 10 minutes to catch my breath as I stood leaning over the bannister of the staircase. My older and more experienced gig buddy took it all in his stride though and dragged me to the bar for a pint as I continued to stare, open-mouthed at the venue and people in it. This was everything I’d ever dreamed of. I was half disposed to make a nest under the stage so I’d never have to leave.

Deftones were of course, incredible. Imagine getting to see them play stuff only from the first 2 records now? That’s what we got and that’s what we wanted. From the opening bars of ‘Bored’ the whole room was in rapture and it just got better with Chino Moreno crowd-surfing to the bar half way through the set – it was unhinged, it was blissful and the opening of huge gateway of live music for me. I’ve been to Rock City many times since but nothing ever beats the first taste. Here’s to you Rock City and here’s to another 35 years!

Dane Wright
Even though I’m a Northerner, Rock City gave me my first proper taste of what a real rock venue should be like. It just seemed so much grungier and punk spirited then the venue’s I’d visited previously back home.

The first show I saw there was the ‘Get Happy Tour’ with Bowling For Soup and the Bloodhound Gang, and with people bouncing and going crazy on the barrier, the stairs and the balcony the energy in the room was insane.

It was also the first place I interviewed bands, and the fact that it has a lot more quiet corners and places to record interviews then most venue’s it’s size, helped while being still slightly starstruck teenager struggling to get his questions out.

Heather Fitsell
The reputation of Rock City precedes itself, February 2011 saw my first successful venture into this legendary venue (the first was a failed hen party attempt) to see a tour put on by the short lived Classic Rock Magazine record label, Powerage, featuring New Device, The Treatment, Million Dollar Reload and Lethargy. That night forged friendships that continue to this day, and have seen me travel to Northern Ireland to consume more alcohol than my liver cares to think about. Rock City encapsulates the very essence of what I love about my life.

Carrie-Anne Pollard
A week after my 14th birthday, I ventured to Rock City for the first time to witness Hoobastank at the height of their ‘The Reason’ popularity, with Three Days Grace as support. Since then its been an 11 year and counting love affair.

From the now stadium sized acts such as Bring Me The Horizon to the lost gems of The Casino Brawl and This City, to the sold out confetti-filled main hall to the mayhem filled barrier-less basement. Rock City has played host to almost every gig I have ever attended, hundreds of nights have been spent singing, moshing, photographing, and enjoying mostly great bands, some average and only a handful terrible. Here’s to another 35 years of the best independent venue in the UK!

Rock City links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

Photo by Carrie-Anne Pollard.

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