Deathbulge: Battle Of The Bands is roughly 1000% more fun than being in an actual band

The first scene in RPS Game Club pick Deathbulge: Battle Of The Bands – a genuinely funny and innovative riff on turn-based RPGs – sees candyfloss n’ superglue-haired guitarist Faye frantically search for her missing guitar as the crowd for the titular battle grow impatient. You’ll quickly realise this a school-with-no-trousers-esque dream sequence, but the matted mess of thick black cables that carpet this dingy side-stage is painfully accurate. Pissing around with gear is roughly 70% of the band experience, in my limited experience of being in bands. This probably changes when you’ve got roadies or dedicated tech people, but we did not, because we were skint. And also terrible. Several hours of Deathbulge has brought me more joy than several years of being in actual bands. I had some isolated good times in some of those bands, but I’m having a very good time with Deathbulge.

Deathbulge is not good because it’s deeply cutting satire or anything. It most often just finds the fun in sheer abstract nonsense or goofy characters, and I reckon the team (3 people!) would have found both the shits and gigs in any subject, shit gigs notwithstanding. However, the subject matter feels vibrant and accurate enough to let me confidently deduce that its writer 1. Has an abiding love for Big Mouth Billy Bass, 2. Has watched at least enough Peep Show to base the look of one tracksuited energy drink mogul on Super Hans, and 3. Has either been in bands or has lots of mates who were. They also likely used to hang out at skateparks. They have probably worn a short sleeved tee over a long-sleeved at least once.

Faye performs a hair-shredding guitar move in Deathbulge: Battle of the Bands.
Image credit: Deathbulge/Five Houses LLC/Rock Paper Shotgun

Some of these gags are painfully accurate, like the experience of trying to impress the dude at the instrument shop. The dude’s five years older than you and he’s got a nose piercing. He saw Slipknot twice. Before they made Iowa. He is the coolest person your idiot self has ever met, and you would cut off a toe if it got him to nod and say “nice”. Here, Faye tries this by naming instruments that have ‘bass’ in the title. There’s plenty of smaller bits recognisable to anyone who’s spent time part of some loosely-defined, DIY-feeling scene that was actually heavily choreographed by marketing blokes with big alsatian dogs and whoever manufactures those studded wristbands. Like, for example, the fan club that enjoy dunking on you for not having heard of a rapping duck, with a tiny penguin mascot named Recently Hatched, much more than the experience of just sharing that music.

It would be hyperbolic of me to compare the actual experience of interacting with other bands, as a band, to the demonic murder pact Deathbulge’s members unwittingly sign in the game. However! Playing gigs for beer and petrol as part of what I would affectionately come to know as the ‘toilet circuit’, you do find that other bands often consist of most of your audiences. You will laugh and smile together, all the while harbouring secret disdain for each other. After all, the chance of one band clawing their way up from the same lap of the toilet circuit is incredibly rare. But two? No. You know, deep down, that you are better than these people in every way. Sure, they have better gear than you. A tighter set. And, yes, when you listen to their music, you tap and nod along, where listening to your own music just makes you die a little inside. But you cannot trust your own lying ears. Pedestrian concepts like ‘basic listenability’ have no place in art. You are making the real shit. Their shit? That is obviously the fake shit. You can tell because the crowds are really into it. Crowds are idiots. Everyone knows that they cannot handle the real shit.

Faye laments an inaccessible loot box in Deathbulge: Battle of the Bands.
Image credit: Deathbulge/Five Houses LLC/Rock Paper Shotgun

We turned up late for a gig once because of various transport woes and ended up being chucked to the very end of the evening, by which time everyone had gone home except for the other bands. Every now and then, I’d spot the bassist I’d spent the last two hours forming a lifelong friendship with, their face slowly turning to a look of disgust as they decided that whatever it was we thought we were doing, it was most definitely not the real shit. Fine by me, because they definitely weren’t making the real shit either.

We probably could have stayed mates, but I was too proud for that. I wasted a lot of my life convinced it was more important to be an interesting person than a helpful or complete or nice one. Anyway, I’d like to think I probably take myself at least a little less seriously these days, which is the only lifelong artistic endeavour that’s actually worth pursuing. Now, I just pick up a guitar after work sometimes and write a little song not intended for anyone’s ears but mine, and I love it. Music is what happens between things that make noise and your ears, and something that’s fun to do with mates. Everything else is just guff and bluster, and I reckon Deathbulge gets that.

Faye kicks a door, to no avail, in  in Deathbulge: Battle of the Bands.
Image credit: Deathbulge/Five Houses LLC/Rock Paper Shotgun

This is just my idiot doings, though, and I imagine there are plenty of lovely talented bands out there that are good wholesome mates like the good wholesome mates in Deathbulge. It’s lovely and very entertaining to play something that takes both the sleeping-toe-to-nose-in-a-van camaraderie and the odd little pretensions and nonsense of being in and around bands, and refuses to take any of it too seriously. And if you haven’t heard of it….that’s totally fine and cool! We’d be happy to sit and tell you all about it. (Friday May 31st at 4PM BST!)

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