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8th February 2024

Banana Undertones are building a musical cinematic universe

From dodgy vapes to darker music, Banana Undertones are about to make some serious waves. Find out the lowdown before anyone else here
Banana Undertones are building a musical cinematic universe
Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

“So I bought a horrendous vape from the G-A-Y bathrooms,” Banana Undertones guitarist Esther Brindle explains after a knowing laugh, sat on the floor of a non-descript, draughty rehearsal room. “It was meant to be cotton candy, and I was like ‘what the hell is this?’ – and then I said it kind of tastes like it’s got banana undertones.” After convincing the other three members, a seemingly innocuous dodgy vape has become the story behind one of student Manchester’s most exciting prospects.

Banana Undertones don’t have any music out on Spotify. They have also played less than a handful of gigs. The first time they played in front of an audience that wasn’t Brindle’s boyfriend and drummer Segev Moshe’s girlfriend, they won Gigs and Bands Society’s Battle of the Bands. They didn’t plan a performance if they got to the final, because they didn’t think about it until the day. Frontperson Yanat Mengisha brushes it off. “We just pulled through.”

Banana Undertones’ origin story isn’t out of the ordinary for a student band. Mengisha and Brindle lived in the same accommodation in their first year; Mengisha wrote songs, Brindle is a multi-instrumentalist music student. It’s not rocket science. With the addition of Moshe and bassist Iffan Hornby, the lineup is complete.

banana undertones
Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

The band’s music – which can only be heard live at the minute – casts its net wide in terms of influence. Post-punk, grunge, heavy metal, and queer punk are all genres mentioned by the four. Mengisha unfortunately mentions they like anything with “darker undertones,” which causes the room to erupt in laughter.

“I like stuff with a darker subtext to it. I listen to a lot of Nirvana, and I really like Hole. I just like the anger of it all, I really appreciate it. I’m also a big fan of Britpop – or if not the music – the Cool Britannia style. It’s cool to be British and I just like having British culture in songs and referring to British things.”

The songs that the band rehearsed when I sat in on their practice, however, didn’t suggest a Blur-style list of British customs. ‘Pear-Shaped Thorn On His Side’ and ‘Portrait of Constant Dismay’ channel the cautionary tales of fables, and poetically narrate a tale while keeping universal themes in their crosshairs. Complacency in love, perfectionism, avoidance – Banana Undertones’ music is not emotionally distant, or for the faint of heart.

This links to some of the rejected band names. Mengisha talks about calling the band Strasbourg – a Horrible Histories sketch about a dancing plague. “The point was ‘we’re going to make you dance’. Have too much of a good thing and you dance until you die.” Banana Undertones carry theatricality with them, consciously deciding to wear coordinated yellow on stage and already talking about world-building and intertextuality.

banana undertones
Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

“I reference a lot of fairytales in our songs, and I want to be its own little magical world. If you want to come [and see us live], you can see inside this land where things happen. We wear yellow, and we do weird shit, and it’s our little molecule. Welcome to our molecule.” Mengisha goes on to refer to this concept as their “cinematic universe,” which prompts laughs from the room.

The band all have different conceptions of success, and it balances them out very well. Where Brindle sees success as playing on a stage like Manchester Academy 1, where she currently works behind the bar, Mengisha sees success as producing a body of work. “I’d like to be proud of what we actually do. That, for me, ensures that I’ve succeeded.” Moshe goes next: “It’d be super corny to say having fun. Doing something in 20/30 years I’d remember, no matter what.”

banana undertones
Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

It’s such an exciting time to have an eye on Banana Undertones because they could go anywhere. They’re a proactive band; from stories of Mengisha refreshing the page constantly to apply for Battle of the Bands, to Brindle bringing in strange instruments to utilise her full skillset, to playing several gigs a week, Banana Undertones sound like they’re about to dig in and make a name for themselves in Manchester.

“We’re just trying to get ourselves out there and shown to as many people as possible. I guess it’s kind of word-of-mouthy,” Mengisha answers. The story of Banana Undertones, currently only a prologue, is one to follow keenly.

Follow the band on Instagram for news.

Alex Cooper

Alex Cooper

Head Music Editor and Writer for the Mancunion. Once walked past Nick Cave in Zagreb. Enquiries: [email protected]

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