Seven o'clock. Cash running low, tea is a bag of chips on Oldham Street with a soundtrack of Shoshin, who are - unbelievably - still at it. Someone give these lads a medal for effort!
Photo by Ged Camera
They've scored themselves at least one decent gig from a passing promoter, and certainly got their name on peoples' lips. Not my thing, to be honest, but I wish them all the very best - now go and get something to eat and a nice warm bath, lads, you've earned it.
Breton, in Dry, are described as a "multi-instrumental and visual collective... combining elements of math-rock, post-rock, straight-up electro and even tropical". Or, indeed, Foals with some artily out-of-focus projections. Bought a drink though, so I'm staying put - and it pays off. The music gets more interesting and so do the visuals: close-ups of disembodied grey moustaches (no, really) arrive around the same time as some spaced synth and dubby bass, closely followed by shuddering cityscapes and heavy disco-punk like The KBC gone tribal. And then just when they're starting to get good, they're off. Frustrating.
10pm. The Kill Van Kulls seem to have been playing everywhere this week and I finally catch up with them in Noho. Now this, dear London, is how to do electropop properly. Great big fuck-off massive tunes, delicious little OMD-ish synth riffs, simple thumping beats and lyrics just the right side of rubbish, but only just. No, seriously. You don't want to try and be too deep when you're basically making fun pop music. They're like the young and wilfully frothy Killers, before they got beards and Springsteen records, and when they bring on a trumpeter for half a song (already an absolute belter) they just get even better.
Time for a wander onto the Fringe, specifically the Bay Horse which has been running its own little basement mini-festival throughout the three days. And whilst some fringe events are basically AN Other random local bands night, a glance at the line-up here tells us the promoters - the wonderfully named Dusty Pop Experiment - are not skimping on quality with some fine difficult-to-pigeonhole local talent including This Morning Call, Unconscious Jungle (both reviewed recently on MM) and the band we're here for, To Sophia. A band with more tattoos than a small Navy vessel, a rich brew of tripped-out jazzy blues, and one of the most unique female singers in Manchester.
She is Najia Bagi, and her voice alone knocks you sideways. Part smoky jazz-club chanteuse, part rousing soul sister, part Patti Smith untamed spirit. Her very presence, too, far outweighs her slight stature; twisting, dancing, jumping on the spot, pointing out into the crowd defying you not to listen, or stalking seductively around her bandmates it's like the music is radiating outwards from her, wrapping itself around the band and the room. Not that the boys are just a backing band, mind: the five-string bassist, in particular is exceptional. And then a man appears from nowhere, sits at the front and starts dashing off charcoal sketches of each of them: somehow, this seems to make sense, in that the sound is so expansive as to be truly inspiring.
I've missed Yuck. And I don't even care. It's so late even Shoshin have packed up, along with some of the smaller venues; back to Leeds it is, then, or at least the temporary suburb thereof that is Gullivers tonight, for a bit of that mosher music Whiskas was on about earlier. Nowt like a bit of contrast, is there?
Chickenhawk are not for the faint-hearted. They've supported Kong and come out of it not looking a bit weedy, which is some achievement. Just being somewhere in their crowd brings a threat of being crashed into by an enthusiastic/insane guitarist. They mix up the firepower of pure punk rock, the frantic thrash of speed-metal and the edginess of hardcore, but with actual songs - you know, tunes and that - even if they are buried in a mountain of wire-wool and Semtex. They're a hardcore band you don't have to be a worryingly-pierced teen to enjoy, although I don't doubt that plenty do - as one of them comments "it's nice to play to a room of faces that are over twelve". And how can you not love a band that says "this is a song about the Large Hadron Collider, I love physics!" - OK, maybe that's just me. It starts like a snotty teenage Motorhead, anyway, and then changes time-signature three times (the drummer is just incredible) and ends up sounding like Minor Threat if they hadn't been into all that straight-edge stuff and had instead embraced the joys of tramp-cider.
Kisses. Sorry ITC, I just watched Chickenhawk rip Gullivers a new arsehole and now you want me to go and watch a band called Kisses? Clawing our way through a wave of hype - or at least a pretty full Ruby Lounge - we find three rather sweet-looking youngsters whose very shiny new equipment tells us they're being rather well looked after by some label or other. Unfortunately the electro-indiepop that emerges from it is... well, it's not shit, but neither is it particularly special. And it's covered in a sheen of 80s mainstream-pop cheese, but without the daft bombast that allows, for example, Hurts to get away with that kind of thing. Yeah, they're OK, but in the rich seam of exciting bands that's been ITC10, OK doesn't cut it for me. I know, I'm greedy. They seem very popular though, so what do I know?
It's 1.30 in the morning. The room fills with dry ice, shrouding the synth onstage and the hooded figure behind it. Now I have to admit to some cynicism about the whole "Witch House" thing - although this is largely to do with the utterly stupid names most of the bands go under, often involving unpronounceable collections of punctuation, or the particularly silly oOoOO (who released a split single with White Ring, the sleeve of which featured a death shroud and candles). It's the latter who fly the flag for the genre here. The music itself is generally pretty good: gloomy atmospheric electronica which has roots in EBM (the goth-friendly trance of the turn of the century) and ambient black metal (no, I have not made this one up, I promise). Many of its purveyors seem to have come from those scenes, too.
It starts with slow dark layers of synth like a winter windstorm, then some broken beats drift in, some distant voices like Worriedaboutsatan slowed down and submerged. The beats start to coalesce into rhythms; the dry ice keeps on coming, then... what the fuck was that? A piercing screech, barely human, more like some wild bird caught in barbed wire, repeating - a sample? No, there's another figure in there. Slight, female, silhouetted briefly against the red light at the side of the stage. And here White Ring succeed where generations of goth bands of all flavours have usually failed: this is genuinely creepy and unsettling stuff. The duo swap places and we see her. Skinny, pale, inverted crucifix hanging round her neck. And him - tall, still hooded, older than your average hipster... and then they're gone in the smoke again. Sometimes she's ethereal, like an echo of Alison from The Cranes (the proper cranes, not whatever upstarts have been using the name this week according to Jon's Thursday posting) but only an echo. The shriek returns, and the dry ice. People are covering their ears, their mouths, running out of hands. And eventually they and the smoke disperse and we are back in Ruby Lounge.
Maybe they're not quite as good as I'd wanted them to be; a bit more bass would have pleased this ageing techno-head, but they're certainly an experience.
- - - - - - - - - -
It's 2am and I call it a night. Walking back through Piccadilly I'm happy - not just that I've seen 20 bands in a day and the vast majority of them were great, but quite simply that ITC 2010 has been a vast improvement on 2009. Maybe it's the move back to the Northern Quarter - this is, after all, music fan territory unlike the hideously bright Peter Street bars with their poor quality drafted in PA systems. And there's not been quite so much hiking / sprinting involved: you can get from one end (Trof) to the oher (An Outlet / Umbro) in a few minutes; from Gullivers to Dry to The Castle to Night & Day in seconds. Maybe it's the Wednesday-Thursday-Friday thing; I commented last year that for your non-delegate with a day job Sunday-Monday-Tuesday is a pretty crap time to be going out. Or maybe it was just the quality of the music on offer - never once did it feel like a band was just making up the numbers, and there were enough "hot" names on the bill to entice plenty of non-delegate, non-press local music fans to snap up those wristbands.
On a personal level, this is the first In The City for MM since I've been at the helm. I'll be transferring all the reviews to the main site over the next week or so, and there's a heck of a lot of them. Still a couple more to come I think. So it's a big thanks and round of applause to ITC veterans Ged (whose photos are illustrating plenty of reports, and who'll be sending some words along soon as well) and Jon (whose step back from the fray of managing the site content was for purely personal reasons; his enthusiam for new music as strong as it ever was - and whose continuing support and assistance has kept me sane over the past ten months). And equally big thanks and applause to David, Steph and Adam for what I hope will just be the first of many years of In The City coverage.
Right, I'm off out to see Doves. I can't promise a review; it could be the last time I see one of the bands that shaped my life; the band whose emergence in the late 90s was the spark that brought me back into a world of live music I'd feared was behind me. Without whom none of this might have happened at all.
Signing off til 2011
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