Moving with the times pays off for The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion - Credit: Archant

They were grouped in with the post-punk revival, the bunch of early millenniums tasked with succeeding the Brit-rock years of Oasis and early Radiohead.

Discovered by Creation Records guru Alan McGee, they appeared on British soundtracks to films like The Football Factory, which featured the likes of The Libertines, Razorlight and The Buzzcocks.

The only problem was that The Boxer Rebellion weren’t really British.

Formed by Nathan Nicholson, who hails from Tennessee, and Australian Todd Howe, the group began when the former moved to London 13 years ago on a year abroad from Florida State. When the time came to move back, Nicholson and Howe had already begun to make music with Adam Harrison and Piers Hewitt and found they didn’t want to leave.

“I was absolutely broke though,” says the American. “I was sleeping on Todd’s couch, getting by on Pot Noodles and watching movies all day because I couldn’t work. There were a few cash-in-hand jobs but, apart from the band, there was nothing much else going on.”

Glastonbury hit

In such circumstances, Nicholson had to have “a faith you can’t qualify” in Slippermen, as they were then known, even if, as he admits, they weren’t initially very good. Fortunately, a rebranding as The Boxer Rebellion and an early hit called Watermelon helped the band to build a fanbase which saw them storm the Glastonbury New Bands tent in 2003.

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Ten years later, they are bringing their atmospheric big ballad pop-rock to The Forum on the back of four studio albums and a unity which evaded many of their early British contemporaries.

“It’s weird because we never really fit into a music scene. You had bands like The Music and The Coral, but we’ve never been the cool kids. Maybe that’s why we’ve been able to continue where other bands would peak.”

Much of The Boxer Rebellion’s success has come from moving with the times. In 2009, their second album, Union, was released solely on iTunes – a decision that saw them become the first musical act in history to break into the Billboard Charts with a digital-only release.

Furthermore, most of their recent exposure has come from a willingness to embrace the “new radio” of television and film soundtracks.

Grey’s Anatomy

“We’ve never been a band who had much radio coverage,” says Nicholson, “but then we’d land something like back-to-back singles in Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not really my cup of tea, but these sort of shows have become a forum for music fans.”

As the death of the physical record becomes ever more likely, this is one band who are likely to survive the musical apocalypse. And when they do, we can be thankful that they’ve done it as Londoners.

n The Boxer Rebellion play The Forum in Kentish Town tomorrow (October 11). For more information and tickets, visit