Earlier this week, the OxStu Stage Section got talking with three members of Oxford’s all-male a cappella success-story, Out of the Blue.
Having dabbled in Oxford’s a cappella scene myself, the “OOTB” boys were always an intriguing, somewhat distant competitor amidst the myriad of groups here, in an atmosphere I kind of wished was more like Pitch Perfect than the reality of friendly banter and luke-warm rivalries – in comparison to the cinematic counterpart at least.
Having risen to YouTube fame last year with their infamous Shakira medley and frequent touring abroad (this year alone visiting both coasts of the US, Switzerland, and Norway, to name a few destinations), Out of the Blue seem to be busier than ever, now currently preparing for their end of year concert. Performing their full repertoire from the past 12 months and more, their annual gig at the New Theatre promises “added pizzazz”, “pyrotechnics”, and hopefully some of their signature sass.
Then it’s on to Canada. Squeezed in before a month-long stint at the Edinburgh Fringe, they’ve been invited to Montreal to perform in a comedy festival that is now branching out to incorporate music and other art forms – “at least that’s what they’ve told us”, one group member jokes, “whether that’s actually true we’ll find out”. Although who knows, their performances do have quite an ironic, cheeky edge to them, especially in the choreography: “we don’t take ourselves too seriously”.
Second-year member, Will Northcott, defines the experience of being in the group as a “work hard, play hard kind of thing”: “we do a lot of work when we’re on tour, but it’s not relentless”. Their recent America trip worked in visits to Yale, Princeton and Stanford universities, where they met many other a cappella enthusiasts who hosted and rehearsed with them. Pitch Perfect bells begin to go off in my head again… Their favourite stop however? Vegas, apparently. Though despite my probing for why, they give the inevitable polite yet elusive answer “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Perhaps the a cappella scene is less innocent than I thought…
With the somewhat incessant touring and performance opportunities throughout the year – a particularly surreal moment for them being the chance to perform for Tommy Hilfiger and his wife in London – it’s a wonder they manage to balance work with their group commitments, and when asked how, there’s a brief, tense pause before their answer: “with difficulty…Will our tutors read this interview?”
“We’ve done a lot of travelling this year which has been mad and knackering, and also a lot of fun, but some of the best things we do are the smaller gigs. We recently went down to Dorcestershire-on-Thames: in comparison to the stuff we’ve done in America and Switzerland, it was quite low-key, but it was one of the most fun gigs I’ve done. People are less tired from travelling so we had more energy and we tend to enjoy ourselves a lot more”. “The people get really into it – the kids and the adults”, Law-student Deon Fang adds, “it’s something I find quite hard to grapple with, meaning so much to people…its very humbling”.
Although this perhaps sounds a little trite when put into text, whilst talking to these guys it’s clearly coming from a very genuine place, not forgetting the core foundation of the group in their charity work amidst all the travel and media support. Roshan Forouhi, this year’s Music Director for the group, emphasises how “some of the nicest moments for us in the year are when we go down to the charity we support, Helen and Douglas House, just down the road. It’s one of the best things we do, singing for the kids, making them smile. They write to us as well…it’s really special”.
Thankfully, despite their active online fan base, complete with fan fiction (whatever that is…), relative student fame doesn’t seem to have completely gone to their heads. “[Our fan base] reminds us of how important what we do in this little rehearsal room for 6 hours a week is…it means something to people” Deon explains, with Will adding ironically “I can still walk down the street without getting mobbed”.
So what’s next for this globetrotting bunch? First of all they’re hoping for another viral hit with their new video released in the next few days, filmed in Paris and supposedly even more flamboyant than the last. But after Out of the Blue? Apparently many of their alumni (about to celebrate the group’s fifteen-year anniversary) can’t shake off the a cappella addiction and have continued singing with a London-based a cappella group, Afterparty.
Yet with the majority of the group leaving at the end of this aca-demic year, with only Will and Deon staying on, the change-over this year could mean a very different Out of the Blue to come in the future. However, this certainly doesn’t seem to faze them, especially with the self-assurance that comes from fifteen years of alumni backing them up. Nor does my final question, asking what their favourite a cappella noise is. For Will, “nothing beats a good ‘dm’”; for Deon, an alternative love of “silences and rests”; for Roshan, “I love baps”. Excellent.
Out of the Blue will perform at the New Theatre on Wednesday 17th June at 7pm.