The Boxer Rebellion - Exits - Artwork

‘Thanks for your support but unfortunately you can’t,’ Todd Howe tells me with a grin, adding ‘And I’m aware of the irony.’ It was a cold autumn day in the fall of 2007 in Munich. EDITORS just ended a satisfying performance, supporting their second album An End Has A Start. The support came from THE BOXER REBELLION, old friends from London. It was a bit of returning the favour since EDITORS once played their first gig ever under that name as support of THE BOXER REBELLION. That was back in 2004. It was a time when it seemed that Nathan Nicholson, Todd Howe, Adam Harrison and Piers Hewitt were on the verge of a breakthrough. The 2001 founded band just released their first EP via Poptones, the follow-up label to Alan McGee’s Creation Records, they played Glastonbury in 2003, were about to tour with THE KILLERS (who were as unknown as the rest of those legendary indie-rock bands) and all these pretty little things.

Exits, the band’s debut album, was released on May the 2nd in 2005, two weeks prior to the bankruptcy of Poptones. Speaking of ‘bad timing’ might sound like a heavy understatement in that situation. Even worse: THE BOXER REBELLION lost the rights to their own debut album back then and fought years to get it back. When I first witnessed the band live in 2007 that was still the main struggle for these gentlemen. They didn’t have any CD’s to sell back then and they didn’t own the rights to reprint the record. ‘Even I don’t have a copy’ told me Howe back then at the merchandise table which might have been a joke after all but perfectly sums up the struggle of THE BOXER REBELLION in those years. They gave away the songs as a free download which seemed to be no problem at all. Well, I’m not a lawyer, obviously. They were mostly playing powerful new songs on that evening; songs that would end up on their second album Union. It took them two more years before they could release it (and ultimately re-release Exits as well).

The story of THE BOXER REBELLION has always been one of persistence and hard work. They carried on even when the odds were against them and although the three follow-up records slowly but steady gained them a bigger audience it all started with Exits, a highly underestimated debut album that deserves your attention. Produced by Mark Robinson and Chris Sheldon it represents all the strength of the group but in a way rawer context. Yes, a lot of people love THE BOXER REBELLION for their heart-wrenching ballads and sweet indie-rock melodies but they also have a really interesting louder and rougher side which Exits perfectly captures. Flight opens the record with raw noise before All You Do Is Talk rocks the listener with powerful riffs and lyrical determination. ‘You don’t seem to listen, You don’t seem to know / Your time is ours now, And we won’t go away’ screams Nicholson in the eye of a guitar rock storm. Watermelon, the lead single of the record, is still a perfect closer to the band’s live show and a furious demonstration of their wild side. They were a perfect contender for THE COOPER TEMPLE CLAUSE and BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE back then and I wouldn’t mind a bit more of this spirit on the next album.

The Boxer Rebellion - 2013 - Photo by Vincent Dolman

The Original Boxer Rebellion Line-Up, 2013: Todd Howe, Nathan Nicholson, Adam Harrison, Piers Hewitt (from left to right)
Photo by Vincent Dolman

One of the last remaining true independent bands

On the other side there’s been already room for more tender moments. We Have This Place Surrounded is a wonderful anthem packed with all the desperation and big gestures a band needs to touch the hearts of all those people in a big arena. But they never sounded pretentious. Focussed yes, but not forced. And then there is a reduced piece like World Without End that drowns it listener in a sea of soul-caressing melancholia. And in the night the lights went out’ – yes, and you don’t want them to ever switch on again. But they do, later on, in the form of Never Knowing How Or Why and the hypnotic Lay Me Down which combine the band’s heavy alternative rock sounds with a captivating shoegaze setting. THE BOXER REBELLION celebrate the bittersweet tension between silent moments and epic guitar walls on Exits, from the start to the closing track The Absentee. The result is a diversified and entertaining example of good old fashioned ‘real’ independent music before the big wave that followed the years after.

Plenty of time has passed since then and although times were never easy for THE BOXER REBELLION they just continued to carry on despite all complications. A lot of bands from the time back then aren’t around anymore and last year Todd Howe also left the band after over a decade of passionate contribution. Together with new guitarist Andrew Smith Nicholson and the rest of the gang are currently recording the band’s fifth album. After losing the deal with Poptones the group never signed another contract. They finance everything by themselves via their fans and countless concerts all over the world. The word ‘independent’ got quite corrupted in the past decade but there’s only few remaining artists who truly deserve this label. THE BOXER REBELLION are one of those bands and they are not done yet. Back in 2007, I ended up buying a T-Shirt of them (which was the only thing to actually from them on that night). I still wear it with pride and if my body measurements will allow it I will continue to do so in the next years.

THE BOXER REBELLION recently re-released ‘Exits’ (and all their other albums) on vinyl. Find more infos about the limited edition box set right here and listen to ‘Exits’ on Spotify and buy it via iTunes.