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Dance with the devil; The battle of the bands idea has been around for years, but it's becoming an ever more commercial enterprise. Gavin Allen talks to two bands about the benefits and drawbacks of competition.

Byline: Gavin Allen

WE didn't take it seriously at first," says Drew Stoodley, the didgeridoo player in Cardiff band Under The Driftwood Tree, of what has become a success story for the new band.

On Sunday afternoon UTDT will perform at The O2 Arena in London in the final of Surface Unsigned, a nationwide battle of the bands that has whittled 30,000 entrants down to a top 16.

Awaiting the winner is a very large pot of prizes which includes pounds 5,000 cash, 40 hours recording time, a professional photo shoot, a lot of expensive equipment, their own merchandise and a CD pressing and distribution deal.

When they entered, UTDT thought they had no chance of winning. They were only a few months old as a band and their blend of shuffling feel-good surf-folk is completely at odds with the usual rock, indie and metal bands that pack out these competitions.

However, they made it through heats at The Globe, Barfly, Clwb Ifor Bach and The Gate to be crowned Welsh champions, but to do that people had to vote for them to win. As well as using a judging panel and audience votes, Surface Unsigned operates by a text vote system costing pounds 1 per time.

"One of the bands in London got through with 1,200 votes," says Stoodley.

"I realise the organisers have costs to meet with venue hire and prizes but if just one band makes them pounds 1,200 on text votes in one heat I'm certain they are profiting from this, rather than doing it for the love of the music."

There is no altruism at play here. There is profit to be made in discovering unsigned bands but instead of profiting from record sales, the organisers profit by seeking lucrative text votes from supporters of the bands and the general public. It could be perceived as exploitative.

"Morally I'm conflicted on it be taking part comes with the expect of getting all these texts, which i makingmoney for someone," saysS ley. ecause tation is just Stoodook "If you take that side of it away, lo it purely in band terms, it's defi worth doing because we get to pla O2 and you never know who mig there." at initely ay the ght be omthe o findlining Onebandwhohavebenefited fro competition is Sierra Alpha, who ished third last year and are head thisweekend'sevent. Since lastyea have signed with a management pany, released an EP and got a pub campaign behind them.

arthey comblicity "It was far from the golden ticke it gave us exactly what we wan exposure," says the Llanelli band's man Martin Goddard. et but nted - frontecause "I'm against the texting thing be theoretically you could win the petition without actually playing a if you get enough votes. coma note "We didn't push the texting thing with our friends because we didn't want them to pay for a text instead of coming to the gig. It was the judges that came through for us but that won't be the case for everyone."

To raise awareness of their cause for this weekend's big opportunity UTDT have been playing as many gigs as they can, including three days of free gigs in Cardiff's Queen Street.

Competitions such as Surface Unsigned aren't perfect but they do at least offer bands the chance to gain some exposure and having been relatively successful in that world, Goddard's advice to other bands is this: "If you really believe in your band, do it."

You can vote for Under The Driftwood Tree at Surface Unsigned by texting 'cardiff 6010' to 64343


Sierra Alpha, above, and below, Under The Driftwood Tree playing outside Lobster Bob in Queen Street, Cardiff
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 26, 2009
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