MANCHESTERMUSIC IN THE CITY coverage of in the city and other important world defining musical events

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ITC Friday - seasonably sick feeling after stuffing oneself at a religious festival

Wow I'm tired. I'm so utterly tired. Upon reflection Friday turns out to be a bit of a funny one. I thought I’d seen lots of bands, but in fact, only saw enough of a few to be able to write anything. Firstly I head out to Band on the Wall to catch EASTER.

EASTER are a band born of the ashes of a great many who have gone before them, that however, doesn’t stop their sound being one that I’ve rarely heard these last few days. With a nod and a wink to former Tsuji Giri/Sonar Yen guitarist Danny Saul, I’m expecting a sonic assault on the ears (after seeing him perform previously with Greg Haines, people went outside so they could hear it better), the kind that would probably soundtrack the implosion of the world, but no! Still alternative but with a ‘poppier’ element to it, this band have managed to create something altogether accessible to punks, indie shoegazers and rock fans alike. Chaotic, yet grinding forward through the tracks, the drummer is accurate and compelling and the deep, almost incoherent vocals mean we listen just that little bit harder to try and hear what the actual content of the lyrics are about, whilst being swathed in shimmering sheets of stunning guitar loops and intense strumming. Outwardly introspective, their songs are beautifully affective and make for a very good beginning of Friday night, which is just as well, because it all goes a bit skew-wif hereon in…

Moving on to Gullivers (student flat bedroom circa The Young Ones) we go to how SHAPES fit in to this whole equation. The live guide is being either deliberately vague or this band genuinely have no photos or feedback to offer by way of enticement. We’re not put off. We’ve missed the beginning though and walk into a jumping room with younglings on stage, blasting high octane abstract rock, akin to the screamager sounds of ‘At The Drive In’. An urgent and frustrated delivery makes them angular and fast, can you imagine the Futureheads with massive snarling teeth and hobnail boots? No? Just me then. Ear sleighing stuff from these young men from Birmingham. Now then, here’s where the impracticalities begin to bring the night into a chaos of sorts. Wanting to catch WFANFC, we leg it over to the Castle, knowing full well if we didn’t get into the tiny room quick enough we weren’t getting in. We didn’t get in. But we’d bought a beer so were lumbered in the beer garden unable to escape (people had lined the corridor and garden straining to hear the band, rendering us captured!). This however, is the second time people have been excluded because the band have been put a really tiny room. Why would you do this ITC? Why?

Anyway, I’m sure they’re incredible, but fall into a conversation with a guy from Blackburn, who’s vague about exactly where in Blackburn he’s from because ‘he didn’t want to get into the politics of it’. Rightyo! We bump into MM’s Dave who informs me that Soup Kitchen is rammed because D/R/U/G/S are on, for the third time this conference. I thought I’d get a look in at this one, seeing as though they’ve played every night, I’d assumed everyone would already have seen them, leaving me to watch them in an intimate setting but alas no. Sigh. It’s a while before we decide what to do, and we decide to go to ORPHAN BOY, because we’ve been to see a lot of good bands so far, and anticipate this not being as enjoyable. Banded out on XFM constantly, their anthemic, jubilant yet laddish indie pop is exactly what I expected from Awful Boy and I’m afraid I don’t enjoy it. I see MM’s Jon though, which I do enjoy, before sinking yet another pint and wandering off back up to Band on the Wall to see YUCK.

We manage only to catch their first few songs, so seems unfair really to review them proper, but I’ll give it a go. Wistful reminiscence and retrospective sounds, transported me back to the 90s when shoegaze ruled and you understood what distorted vocals were trying to say to you. I’m not sure if this band were so hyped either, in my head, or abound in conversation I’d ‘overheard’, but I’m not sure they were the finisher I thought they’d promised to be. I’ve been offered a lift home, and it’s a long way so I cheerfully accept before losing my coat, notepad, phone, purse and car keys.

It was an utterly confusing, excruciatingly tiring and thoroughly enjoyable experience. If only there was a way of people being able to buy a wristband from a box office that would allow you to venue hop in this way, but on a regular weekend! People would definitely see more bands this way. And while I’m sure all the panels relating to ‘getting ahead in the lucrative business of music promotion/distribution/management/’ were entirely relevant, I think we may have missed the point entirely. The freedom to hop skip and jump from venue to venue has meant that nearly 4 people have managed to see nearly 100 bands in 3 nights. How’s about that for marketing and exposure?!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tales From Behind The Haze... ITC - 15/10/10

And so the final day of In The City 2010 has arrived and after witnessing the amount of superb artists on show the previous evening, the chance to do it all over again is one which I am relishing as the Northern Quarter is once again buzzing with the prospect of playing host to so many acts within such a small area. It is an amazing event and one which continues to cement the reputation of this wonderful city at producing and discovering some of the best new musical talent on offer today. I find myself being drawn into THE CASTLE for the first act of the evening as BEAT THE RADAR are opening up an Akoustik Anakhy/Melodic night and they have pulled quite a crowd. Upon my first visit to The Castle I am initially impressed with being able to witness a band within the cosy confines of a traditional city centre pub and their melodic mix of rolling basslines, thumping drums and thrusting guitar suit the intimate back room atmosphere well. Despite some obvious vocal problems with lead singer Laurie clearly suffering from illness, they still deliver a punchy display of indie-rock which entertains throughout.

A trip to the basement is next on the list as Dry Bar is playing host to THE BEWITCHED HANDS and their heavy folk rhythms are interesting enough at first but not compelling enough to keep my interest as each song just sounds too similar without offering anything new. Coming across like a heavy version of Mumford and Sons meant a trip back to The Castle was in order to catch WORKING FOR A NUCLEAR FREE CITY. However, upon arrival, the pub is heaving and there are people lining up against the walls in the hope that somebody may leave the back room so they can catch a glimpse of the local lads play this very intimate venue. In the end I have to retreat out of the venue and admit defeat in failing to catch one of the most talented acts this city has to offer and i'm sure it was a memorable performance for those fortunate to be in attendance.

After this initial dissapointment, a first visit to The Mint Lounge and a change in pace was decided and the smooth electro sounds of BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT brought an air of calm back to proceedings. The synth-pop duo offer some nice beat driven moments but just lack that cutting edge to really set them apart from their peers. Like The Pet Shop Boys without the wackiness, their pedestrian approach is pleasant enough but is more bar room background ambience than main stage headliner.

From the laid back sounds of the Mint Lounge to the raucous nature of THE KILL VAN KULLS at NOHO. The local four piece offer a soaring mix of epic rock underlined by a dark synth sound that add to the dramatic style. It is an impressive mix of 80s influenced sounds with soaring choruses that get many heads bopping and leave a lasting impression for future reference. The addition of a trumpet player on the penultimate track only adds to the ambitious nature of the band without sounding too overblown. A compelling performance.

In an attempt to try and cover as many styles on offer tonight, a trip to MOHO and the MOBO Awards Tour was put on the agenda and one which was as far removed from what has previously been on offer. Although billed as an ITC event, it is also a non-ITC ticketed affair so MOHO is very busy for the arrival of a headline set by SKEPTA. The aggressive nature of the sound result in a highly charged atmosphere within the venue but the crowd are loving every minute and lapping up his every word. Essentially a grime artist backed by an array of samples, he appears to have few tunes of his own and is far too reliant on sampling other artists. Despite this, he is clearly a talented MC who given the right beat to work with can ever so easily conduct a rhyme to go over it. The highlight being when he conducts the crowd to chant "Fuck Skepta!" as he uses this to launch a mockery against himself for 'selling out'. A crowd pleasing set.

From the grime to the groove as it's off to the final venue of the night as the DUTCH UNCLES are about to slay the Ruby Lounge with an infectious display of dirty riffs and thumping basslines. The venue is absolutely heaving and the hype surrounding them within the city appear to be justified as they commit an energetic and soulful performance which is fed back to a highly charged audience hooked on every action. With the type of retro hooks and warm vocals on offer, they seem capable of building on the amount of public affection being shown tonight as their raw and powerful sound is highly appealing.

Following this was always gonna be atough ask but as it's nearing midnight and the end of festivities then KISSES appear to be an ideal choice to wind down the event with their smooth electro-funk providing a calm if uninspiring end to proceedings. The 3 piece offer some bright synthesised moments without sounding too cheesy and provide some nice head bopping moments as the beats are dark enough to make an impact.

After catching up and with Jon and Cath in the Ruby Lounge and sharing some of the many tales that In The City throws at each of us, it is time to retreat after one final drink to gather my thoughts on this great event and how this wonderful city continues to inspire and influence so many people to make such great music and showcase it in a way that makes it truly memorable. It has been a joy to cover this event as much as i'm sure it has been for those taking part in it. This city has a proud tradition of creating and being part of the most incredible life-affirming music around, long may it continue...

Here's to 2011!

Adam Wheeldon.

Staying the distance; Cath's Friday night

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

Cath Aubergine
News / Live Admin / Reviews / Fighting HTML / Frustration / Exhilaration / Live music addict with 206 gigs in 2010 and counting... :)

Friday - Jon's Final Fling & White Ring

....After some recharging (metaphorically, emotionally and technically courtesy of the venues soft furnishings, tea shop facilities and easily accessible plug sockets) at NEXUS, I stick around after catching up with various MM team mates. GIRL PERCULIAR then broadcasts some acoustically weaved songs, the detail of which summons up intricate lullabies for the broken hearted. Far from downbeat, she creates a floating, spiritually uplifting atmosphere. The system feedback though is just plaguing the second song and quite rightly the band pause. A few pops, booms and unhealthy 10kw electrical snaps later, proceedings recommence . Other instruments are filtered in and the careful application of electric strings help elevate this masterclass to an even headier level. In fact Bolton’s Girl P pushes things quite uptempo too all the time retaining a soft affectionate touch .

It's been threatening to rain outside in Manchester (and it actually has) and it's half six - what I can't work out is why there's a 30 something bloke clinging on to his blonde hair, sat opposite me in the basement of Nexus, wearing sunglasses and winklepicker shoes. Someone’s trying to beat Thursday's one leg trouser roll up…. Nexus has commendably attracted a broad church (no pun intended) of listeners too. There’s less pretension here than I’ve seen in a few other gaffs these past few days and that’s comforting as well as relaxing…

I need a food break and after a swift sandwich, I call into KRAAK where there's an art exhibition - I find a compelling collection of photography, ink and canvas there, as well as a 3D piece covering the small (or big or both) matter of Gulliver's Travels. This gallery and the complex around it, is a sought after hot spot for many hopeful scene builders, but it’s good to see that the right people are making it work with a genuine enthusiasm and altruistic mandate. Here’s to more…

ITC isn't ITC without a night curated by aA. This was on my radar early especially as PLANK! provided an easy, early attraction. Again I have to watch from outside the room as there's no way to squeeze in ! I already know most of the tunes (who can forget “La Luna” ?) - they hook in easily after a few gigs and just a couple of spins of their indispensable EP. You get that fluidity and well honed accuracy that underwrites their well honed, but utterly organic sound and before you know it, it's over - a good excuse to hunt them down next time.

I run into an old friend as he hobbles up Oldham St - he's recently been hit by a bus and spends the next gig in a gentlemen's recliner - get well soon you know who….

Next stop is the revamped BAND ON THE WALL - it's beautiful, retaining the classic interior but with boosted facilities and all are now in a very good state of preservation, behind which sits the very latest in modern technology. It doesn’t feel that different though, to when I played there in the very early 90’s – that’s an amazing job given the scale of the work that’s been done – it’s testament to the effort that must have gone into making sure that none of the old look and feel of this historic venue is ever lost – it also offers by far the best sound of the whole ITC event – impeccable.

EASTER therefore, are electric, compelling - beyond fantastic - from blustery Americana twists to their loud lo-fi West Coast / Mid West incendiary explosions. Tom and Danny's guitar jousting is both spectacular and daring, firing out like Neil Young versus Pavement and Sonic Youth, based on measured beats and fizzling with a refined, dizzying progressive tilt. I just recommend you see them – bloody inspired...

I'm then sprinting to The Roadhouse to see Worship, but Rich HV coming the other way, advises that I turn round, so it's down to DRY to experience THE BEWITCHED HANDS. Beards, plaid, long hair and an extended line up ensure a very full and to be expected American sound. There are tunes that trigger comparisons to Kings of Leon (early years) and Magic Numbers, but this act are more homely than even these distant references. The crowd certainly love it too and despite I’m sure, these songs being new to everyone, there’s footstomping a plenty and tempting sing-a-long moments.

Bloody hell, this music festivus is nearly over, so a determined effort to squeeze as much out of the closing hours gives everyone a second wind. It’s hard not to resist a final visit to UMBRO, just to catch BOY CRIED WOLF, a chirpy Brighton bad who've temporarily based themselves in Mancdom just for this show. They do well, with their youthful guitar spangles and some curious references to Morrissey and the city’s psychedelic pop guitar bands of the early 90’s.

On my final ROADHOUSE visit for this years ITC, it’s long time MM favourites ORPHAN BOY. The gaff is rammed and the influence of the band’s second album is translated to the stage with a fuller, broader anthemic sound. Orphan Boy have always been a high energy act, but now this is funnelled into a determined set. Drum beats create the pile driving backbone with the broad, cascading guitars and an anchored bass creating the perfect landscape for the vocals of Rob Cross ; commanding, melodic and engaging. This all goes to make “Pop Song” maybe their finest moment yet, from a sound that doesn’t abandon everything that was good about “Shop Local”; they’ve created a sound that can only make this band bigger.

There’s a bit of a gap in the timings – distance covered versus set times, is going to make a sprint difficult, so I hang around to watch GALLOPS. Gallops have been on my Spotify radar since the release of their tantalising EP. Live they re-inforce this collision of electronica, loops and refined scuzz. Whilst there are dancefloor elements , I feel there ‘s something more in their tranced, ethereal keys and semi- math rock outlook – you couldn’t add those two things together to get Gallops, but it could demonstrate the confused space they occupy. That’s no bad thing – it’s splicing genres to engineer something new. Neither ambient or raving, nor confusing, their battle with time signatures and the rumbling pulse of the music’s digital is persuasive.

The final trail has been marked out – one final trip to Umbro, where Barcelona outfit MUJERES brandish their own version of garage fuelled rock n roll. It’s pretty old school and slightly wild. The quartet take a swipe at psychobilly and 50’s / 60’s rock twangs and somehow tip it all into a kind of wired, slightly twisted jumble of coursing drum beats and crashing cymbals and guitars. It gets the foot tapping more than once, but I sense there’s that slight Gyspy-Punk influence in there, but with songs that chime in at around two minutes they can hit you with a bagful of tunes and still have time for beers before last orders.

And so, the final venue of the night and of the official In The City calendar.

RUBY LOUNGE as I’d anticipated is absolutely rammed. DUTCH UNCLES have a big fan base regardless of the attention the convention has given them. They inked a deal wit Memphis Industries in early autumn and now really it’s up to them to convince people outside of this town that they deserve crowds this big. I think they do, the songs tonight are as infectious, soul searching and innovative as ever. I just can’t get enough of their sonic mix of old and new – it’s art driven and potentially the source of some massive moments

KISSES are built as much on image as they areon their hybrid disco / electronica sound. Their synthesised sounds do not however rely on swanky beats. Instead there’s a slight Sheffield / S’Gazed feel to their material. It floats, haunts and slips through echoes. Visually it’s typical of this kind of stage set up – fairly static. This seems about right, as their sound aims and indeed does, supply a hypnotic opportunity – People are filtering out, but for a late night soundtrack it’s almost perfect.

Now. The final act tonight provide the kind of moment that I (and I suspect at least one other colleague) love. Any band who have a track called “Suffocation” have to be relaying the fact that they include despair as one of their many influences. WHITE RING are a duo from the opposite coast of the US – yes, Brooklyn. I suspect that they scare their fellow Yanks as much as they go on to frighten the hell out of a number of non-ITC revellers, who have unwittingly wandered into the basement venue. Firstly, you can’t see them. The stage is covered by a blanket of fog. Lights illuminate the air – you’re almost blinded. Then the noise begins. Dense electronica, again occupying the darker, dreamier realms of digital music. Then there are screams. These are earthy, almost painful, deeply emotional, anxious cries. I don’t know whether to call an ambulance or attempt some kind of syncopated wig-out. It’s baffling, but equally perplexing, disturbing but throughout, strangely inspiring. As a massive statement, it’s perfect for ITC and a perfect ending too – instead of an arm waving, fist clenched rock and roll theme tune, we have an audio transcription of a woman in pain, who also seems to be trapped inside a computer. Magnificent.

And with that..I wander aimlessly around the Northern 1/4 until somehow I fall into a cab. Goodbye In The City , see you soon.


Friday early evening - from Shoreditch scenesters to urchin punks

How's everyone's hangover then? This is Cath here, and when I last left you I was heading off after Night & Day's afternoon session, seven bands down already, and as it transpired another 13 to go before turning in which I believe might be a personal record for live sets seen in one day. Even a 12 hour day at Primavera usually yields just 15 or 16. And the thing worthy of note here is that quantity didn't come at the expense of quality. This is how Friday night looked for me....

First venue of the evening is Nexus, where Jon and David are already covering Bugs In Ember. I only catch the last song but I'm quite impressed by the way they seem to have turned into Spiritualized with a trumpet. More to the point I've got a sofa, refuelled (a slab of carrot cake) and found another plug socket for my trusty workhorse Blackberry. I kind of miss the days of pen and paper, and the morning deciphering of late night scrawls, but this way I don't have to spend half the morning typing...

Photo by Ged Camera

Girl Peculiar is a real underground treasure of the Manchester/Salford music scene. How many young singer-songwriters have made a single with Mark E Smith and performed in a Salford pub in a ballgown? She's only slightly less dressed up tonight, and as ever mixes sharp wits with friendly, down-to-earth folky indiepop. Alone with her guitar she holds the room's attention effortlessly; when her band come on people start to shuffle about (it's a bit well-lit and alcohol-free in here to actually dance... yet). And you can't knock anyone who starts a song with the line "I want bangers and mash!" and carries on "I want to be your drugs" amongst a collection of other requests, some more easily attained than others...

The place starts to empty as other venues' schedules start to roll, but I'm staying put because I'm intrigued to know what "hillbilly dubstep" - Arlo And Fell's self-description - sounds like. Really rather good, actually - and bewitchingly strange. Who would have even though of playing freeform acoustic bluegrass 12-string guitar over flickering late-night city beats, swathes of luminous synth and deep drone?

Back to my own rubbish pictures from hereon in...

And it's kind of like one of those school chemistry experiments whereby you mix up two things and create a third which bears little resemblance to either of them. It comes out sounding oddly Eastern, very psychedelic and intoxicating. Also get my first celeb-spot of the day: Bez, watching intently. Not, in this case, in any "elder statesman scenester" capacity - more the supportive dad capacity, Arlo being his lad. Every reason to be very proud of him, too, it's not every teenager that creates a completely new form of music, is it?

Next stop is Gullivers, which last hosted In The City gigs (and, as far as I can recall, any gigs at all until about a month ago) in 2004. It looks exactly as I remember it, hideous carpet included, as if the last six years didn't happen. Quite a lot's happened to Sam Whiskas in those six years: Forward Russia, then just a few gigs old, grew to become one of the country's best loved indie bands, released two astonishing albums and split, and here he is back on the unsigned scene with his new project Honour Before Glory. And he's only gone and done it again, hasn't he? They're bloody brilliant. The rest of the loose collective comprises mostly people I half recognise from gigs in Leeds. As does most of the crowd: Brew Records are in charge here tonight and as Whiskas warns us it'll be "some of that mosher music" later.

Honour Before Glory don't make mosher music. They make a troubled, black-hearted sound, with spiralling guitars not unlike their good friends I Like Trains and floating vocals that shift between Whiskas and another bloke: sometimes blending, sometimes echoing, always rather beautiful. Then there are mathy spikes and keyboards which whilst largely confined to the background (possibly the result of an overloading sound desk - there are also a few less pleasant noises that shouldn't have been there) have a Kyte-like electrogaze feel, and the songs - some written during his Forward Russia days and others subsequently - are wonderfully crafted; you can hear the links back to the more atmospheric and less frantic parts of his former band's final days, which were to my ears their finest moments. Ears which still miss them more than any other departed band of the past decade, but a little less now.

The schedule lists an interesting sounding Glaswegian band called American Men in Dry, but they've pulled due to a clash with Danananananaykroyd activity (and no I can't be arsed checking is that's the right number of "na"s) in whom one of them also serves. So it's a late call-up for Manchester's own Driver Drive Faster who score quite highly on ITC Beardwatch (this year's somewhat accidental theme, it seems): two onstage, plenty in the crowd. I seem to come away with a different impression of this band every time I see them; today it's kind of Mercury Rev letting their hair down and going to the indiepop disco.

Over in Mint Lounge is Japayork. The guidebook entry screams "scenester twat" - he's got ridiculous hair and is described as "a 22 year-old musician and graphic designer currently living in London... a multi instrumentalist, producer, re-mixer and videographer; he crafts lush, layered synth-pop tunes with meaningful lyrics" - and it's fair to say he and his band do look like they spend a lot of time in Shoreditch (did he buy that leather jacket already distressed?) but hey, I like synthpop, how bad can it be?


Um... look, I'm still feeling quite shit about that almighty slating I gave Ou Est Le Swimming Pool at last year's ITC so shall we leave it at "no comment"?

John Robb has told everyone on Facebook to go and see Flats, who apparently "take the Crass template and reinvent for 21st century". Someone else told me last night they were the worst band he'd ever seen. Could be interesting. Ruby Lounge it is, then.

"In The Fuckin' Cittttyyyy!" shouts a scrawny hooded urchin, heralding a ninety-second blast of thoroughly unreconstructed punk rock. OK, maybe not completely unreconstructed; there's a bit of Earache Records spec hardcore going on there too. After another equally brief attack the hoodie comes off to reveal a baseball cap emblazoned with "I Am The Greatest". People are pogoing. Not moshing, proper bouncy pogoing. Yep, so they're about as original as a photocopied fiver but this is undeniably Fun. Another couple of tracks, then "This is our last one and it's our best one" - and it's a veritable epic by their standards, breaking the two minute mark and even changing tempo (ish). And they're off. Thirteen minutes, I reckon. And you know what? It was a bloody enjoyable thirteen minutes. Like downing a dirty Jagermeister and Red Bull shot without actually having to pay for one. Cheers John.

Cath Aubergine.... with one more instalment to come :)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Picture Book: Soup Kitchen 23.00

"And now, the end is near..."

I feel the peculiar afterlove sorrow, the sense that tomorrow, I won't wake up needing to dash from venue to venue, filling my eyes & ears with great bands (though there is still Doves tomorrow, my body hasn't quite been abused enough yet...). In many ways, the past 3 days have been an epiphany, a vindication of why I packed my bags and headed across the harsh tarmac of the A1 & M62 in April 2007. There is no other city in the UK that could pull this sort of thing off. I am proud to be part of Manchester and all of its wonderful, twisted musical minds.

So I find myself at the Soup Kitchen, posters & pictures hanging over my head, surrounded by friends and fellow gig dwellers. The object of my attention is Picture Book. Who combine the whole electro-funk-pop shebang into a forward thinking blend of dirtiness and danceability. There's a ramekin of cheese at times but the whole sound is so powerful & the quality of the playing is so good that you can't help but be swept along into the energy & the rush. Especially their finale, which results in an explosive chant & a mini stage invasion. And then they finish off with a f**king brilliant dubstep mash-up of The Streets "Blinded By the Lights". What they do doesn't move mountains but the way they actually do it certainly is impressive.

And so, for a year at least, it is over. I walk off into the night, a skip in my step and a song in my heart. I am tired, yet revitalised. I ache, but stand tall with pride at my city. Music is alive, Music is well, Music still matters. As long as we all still believe, the world will still keep turning.

Goodnight and Signing Off. See you next year :-)

David x

Spectrals: Band On The Wall 22.10

The Soup Kitchen packed out beyond words, condensation steaming up the glass as I pass, and thus I abandon my plans to see D/R/U/G/S in favour of a more sedate stroll up Oldham Street. Whereupon I have a chance encounter with Manchester Music's very own Stephanie Webb, who was the only member of the team I haven't bumped into, so I've completed my Panini Album of my MM peers! We set the world to rights for a few minutes before we part ways and I head up to Band on the Wall to see Spectrals.

Now they're running a little late here so I only catch 15 minutes but what I do see is delightful: Phil Spector-ish expansive pop with a modern turn on the heels and a surf twist. Brian Wilson would love it, it'd fit snugly into his sandpit. It is sweet when it wants to be, sad & reflective at times & it twinkles like sun on breaking waves. Altogether lovely.

David x

The Black Knights: Sound Control 20.30

Ooh, this is a bit cheeky, cheeky! It's not officially an ITC gig (in fact, it's not even's about as far removed & disjointed as the current England midfield) but we heard that our long-term favourites The Black Knights were playing. So we couldn't avoid popping our heads in.

And is it just me, or are Gary and Thomas getting more unhinged? This, by the way, is a good thing. A very good thing. They've still got the same brute force, the same seismic riffs & the same dark, stirring, and wonderfully threatening Mississippi swamp blues as they always have. But there's something in the ferocity of Thomas's drumming, Gary's screams, mascara-framed psycho stare & levels of murderous guitar noise that suggests a band moving into a more terrifying, brilliant territory. They even look like they're thoroughly enjoying the whole thing, which considering all things must mean this is one of their best nights. They remain a magnificent enigma, they are still the best band around at doing this sort of thing.

David x

Santiago Street Machine: Joshua Brookes 20.00

Now, we at Manchester Music like to cover as wide a base as possible at ITC. So we don't ignore the fringe events, those newer, local acts who will no doubt be clamouring to move into the Northern Quarter this time next year. So as a result I find myself in Joshua Brooks with the excellent Santiago Street Machine. Who early in their career are already carving out a formidable reputation as a live act. Tight and refined, they plough a wonderful, heel-snapping seam of dazzling beats, smartly driven bass and showers of synthesizer, with just the right disillation of pop essence to sweeten the mixture. They are individual, inspired and intelligent. This is big music for big stages.

David x

Brown Brogues: Trof 18.00

Upstairs in Trof is actually a great place to see a band, they should do it more often. And it is here I finally meet Brown Brogues who I've been trying to catch all week. They are hypnotically captivating, a combination of struts, poise & fuzzed-out, dirty riffs from satan's signature distortion pedal. Underneath it all though, there are a series of well thought out pieces of music; the cool & the fuzz isn't just there to tape it all together: if they were both dressed in matching parka jackets, hidden from view while sat down & saying the square root of nothing, this would still sound formidable. Man-Mountain drummer Ben bashes the skins with equal power & grace while lead singer & guitarist Mark has jeans 'n shoes like Alex Kapranos, holds his taped-up stratocaster like Alex Turner, sings like Issac Brock on his "scary setting" and poses, struts & gyrates like Jake Shears. Any man who does all that has got to be applauded.

Right, I'm off for some tea now. Be right back with you shortly. After the break, we'll be over at Joshua Brooks and Sound Control. Don't say we don't cover the miles. Back to you, Cath, Jon & Steph....

David x


I make an earlier start today but even getting to NIGHT + DAY at 3pm doesn't make me the early bird. Cath is waiting for me. She's returned from watching a band in an aquarium in Hull last night. Came right off the train for breakfast here. Then she's covered and blogged four bands before I arrive. I'd better get a move on then....

GLACIER is one bespectacled chap with an electric Gibson guitar. Even with amplification he's battling the chattering crowds, but against the slight rasp of a cleanly strummed plugged in instrument his vocals live up to his name. He has a wonderful, note accurate voice that climbs octaves effortlessly and his songs have a warming and attractive fragility. It's a hard sound to master, this singer/ songwriter business, although I think Glacier is just giving us a snippet of something deeper that has the potential to be woven into some spectacular as yet unheard orchestration.

Ohh...Cath's back too....I suspect she's sneakily gone out and reviewed another 8 bands !- so we chat some more before the next musical interlude...

Now it's the turn of CHAPTER 24 - I like this quartet a lot. They hark back to '77 with a heady combination of arty twisted pop. The vocals have a Siouxsie / Slits slant (my esteemed colleague Cath concurs) and the jerky, dislocated guitar and bass attacks cut like Vampire Weekend on crack. I have to return though to the feeling I have about their basement bound sonics and the stark use of tight reverb effects - it's almost too exciting for 5 to 5 on a Friday - which traditionally should be Crackerjack time - superb...

My next stop is NEXUS and as there are early gigs on the calendar it's a good time catch up with David E. BUGS IN EMBER are about to start, despite some from niggles with the sound system. There's a bout of overkill here as the PA volume is beyond deafening. With some good quality earplugs in however I get a much better perspective on Bugs' mellow but resolutely melodic outlook. I've reviewed most of their demos but shamefully haven't caught them live - in some ways it's been worth the wait. Bugs are a charming outfit, exploiting a unique swirl of dark ballads and swingbeat lovelorn tunes. The addition of brass to their harmonies draws you into their moment with satisfying results.

There's more to come....

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Bugs in Ember: Nexus Art Café 17.15

Arriving into Nexus Art Café, I decide to respond to my body's cries for nutrition by treating it to a 3-fruit smoothie. Perfect, big chunks of banana, works a treat. Rock 'n' Roll can't all be about cigarettes & alcohol. Smoothies are the way forward. Well, for an hour or so, anyway. Things are likely to change as the night wears on..

They may be able to do smoothies but they're having a disaster with the sound here at Nexus. For the first 20 minutes I'm here I am assailed by feedback and when Bugs in Ember start, they are fighting against a horrible mix, with the bass too loud & the vocals being lost. Thankfully it all settles down & we get to appreciate their wonderful combination of progressive, trumpet fueled, anthemic folk-rock. What a beautiful collection of songs, so elegantly crafted & structures, decorated by timeless harmonies. But the real excitement is the way they drag this beauty this into sections of juxtaposed tension & agitation, before magically pulling it out of the dive. This is a special band.

David x


After a day away from ITC I'm raring to go again, and Friday starts in the time-honoured fashion of a massive great big Night & Day fry-up. There's a full line-up of bands to see us through Friday afternoon here and first off is a face rather familiar to MM, although in less than familiar surroundings...

It seems to be a week of members of Deadtapes not playing in Deadtapes. Following drummer Dug McLeod's supersub cameo with Chameleonsvox on Monday (see Live Reviews, main site, "Nostalgia, Tears And Splitting In Two" - and that seems like a lot more than four days ago at this point) today it's the turn of bassist Alex Redhead in a very different outfit, Letters To Fiesta. First thought: they sound quite a bit like Wild Beasts; not least because of the wonderfully swooping, octave-skipping vocals - although unlike most indie bands currently exploring the higher registers of the human voice, Letters To Fiesta's falsetto comes not from a tight-trousered bloke but from the striking Anna.

With a dark, tumultuous backdrop of Alex's ever-powerful deep bass rumbles and hard, hammering drums (Alex seems to be a magnet for great drummers) plus yearning guitar and her own rich synth sounds, this is a pretty exciting package. Standout track is the assertive "Traveller" which is like Siouxsie And The Banshees updated for the 21st century smart-indie crowd, but in reality there's not a duff moment in this set. It's almost too explosive for one o'clock in the afternoon. We spot just three other ITC laminates amongst the early-doors crowd but the early birds got one very tasty morsel there. Well, two, if you count the actual breakfast.

Chi Limpiroj is an altogether more gentle affair (perhaps as well really, we need to calm things down a bit if we're going to last the day out), dishing up lovely little two-minute nuggets of wistful, folky acoustic pop that reminds us of Jane Weaver - never a bad thing, that. The tunes are pretty without being sugary-cutesy - there's definitely a touch of sadness behind her smile, and her fingers seem to favour the minor chords - and subtly enhanced by a bassist and occasional loops of her own backing vocals. And there's something about them that really draws you in - we reckon this Warrington girl's definitely one to be watching out for.

By this point a little Manchester DIY Indie-Media Corner has developed with Underachievers, Pull Yourself Together, Fugitive Motel and MM gathered around the free power sockets and close to the stage for Golden Glow.

They thank us for getting up nice and early (I guess half two is pretty early in the world of rock'n'roll - the band have already confessed to us they were out til 5am last night) and reward us with a pacy set of glorious sunshine indiepop. There's just something wonderfully life-affirming about their perfect tunes and shambly style. I want to dance and sing along! In my head, I'm doing just that. Whilst worrying slightly about the thin trail of smoke that appears to be coming from their sort-of-eponymous stage accessory (a lightbulb in a suitcase - believe me, it works), the near-combustion of which caused an interruption to one of their previous appearances here. No such trouble today though, just a flawless set of future classics such as "The Cure" and a brilliantly fizzy "Adore Me" which drag the spirit of C86 firmly into 2010, buy it a pint and try and cop off with it. The last song ends in a mass of noise with Pierre bashing at his tremolo and Mary Chain levels of guitar squall - and improbable as this may seem if you've read our previous reviews, I love them even more.

"Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre!" The Bewitched Hands On The Top Of Our Heads go straight in at number one in the truly ridiculous band name stakes. "Can we forgive them the name because they're French?" asks RCRDLBL blog. No, we'll see what they sound like first. Which turns out to be deep-squad system turbo-folk with a 50% beard count, one foot in the Mumfords and the other in Arcade Fire melodramatics. Their first song's decent enough, but the second sounds exactly the same, and the third, and by the fourth I'm wishing there was a bit more choice for the daytime live music addict.

At which point - as if by magic - a text arrives: "Ruby Ann Patterson, 4pm Piccadilly Gardens Friday 15th that's today, see you all later". I have no idea who sent it, but can't resist following a mysterious tip...

There's a gathering round a little gazebo, as afternoon shoppers and passers-by stop what they're doing to check out a confident young lady with a big, equally confident voice. Accompanying herself on piano or guitar, she belts out smart polished jazzy pop that teeters on the borders between mainstream radio-friendly polish and something a little rougher round the edges. Corinne Bailey-Rae would be the most obvious reference point, and it gets me thinking - it's probably a lot harder to "break" a mainstream type act than an indie or electronica band for whom there are plenty of DIY promoters to approach if you're good enough. A definite talent, though. I never find out who sent the text.

Back in Night & Day, Glaciers turns out to be one bloke and his guitar. Only catch the last couple of tunes, but he's got a lovely Buckley-esque tone to his voice, gliding way above his delicate pickings. "That was a bit shit, sorry", he says as he departs after a last song that could probably have induced shivers in a slab of concrete. Bloody hell, can't wait to hear him when he's good!

There could hardly be more of a contrast, then, than Chapter 24, the last band in this eclectic daytime mini-festival-within-a-festival.

They start by battering seven shades out of a cowbell, stick in some frenzied drumming, choppy guitar with a bit of your cool Afrobeat feel to it, basslines that seem to have beamed in from a 1950s rockabilly club and then speed everything up to about 500mph. But it's singer Claire who's the most potent weapon in this well-stocked arsenal: for starters, she sings like Ari Up from The Slits, slipping from scattergun delivery to free-range yelps. and you just can't take your eyes off her as she stalks the stage looking like she really doesn't give a fuck, sings into the bassist's face, then suddenly breaks into a headbanging pogo that'd give Eva from Rolo Tomassi a run for her money. And then the drums kick in again like Adam And The Ants on steroids. There's just so much going on here they're almost tiring to watch.

It's been an astonishingly high quality afternoon of music: a nice relaxed atmosphere, too. And it's only half five. Right, bring on the evening!


Nick Mason & Jeremy Silver: The Place 16.15

So here we go again! The final day. I'm tired but have that final-festival-day feeling. Which basically means "drink through". Nice one. On my way up, I am stopped by some religious nutcase who insists I am eternally dammed unless I admit I am a sinner and repent. Hmm, based upon the past few days & what I expect tonight to be like, he may well have a point...

Photo by Ged Camera

Anyway, I start in a nicely civillised manner in The Place, listening to Nick Mason discussing the Featured Artist Coallition, music distribution & the industry in general. Admittedly, I'm mainly here because I am a bit of a Floyd obsessive (and I felt I should attend at least one seminar!) but there are some very interesting points & perspectives on the changing face of the industry from a man who has seen and done it all. It's a thoroughly interesting listen, he makes a suggestion that Pink Floyd may do a reunion gig for charity at some point (though I advise against it. One, it wouldn't be right without Richard Wright and two, I selfishly cling to the fact I was there at Hyde Park in July 2005 and will keep those 26 moments preciously near my heart until the day I die) and he can't quite help himself from making a sly dig at Roger Waters ticket prices for The Wall tour next year. I resist the temptation to stay & claw obsessively at him. But only just. It's probably a good thing. The last time I met one of my A-Grade musical heroes (Thom Yorke, Blackpool, 2006), I made a bit of a tit of myself. "Thom, you've helped me get through some hard times". Yah, I won't live that one down anytime soon....

David x

Lonely soldier, lonely soldier! It's Thursday and I'm climbing a tree! Tee hee!

ITC Thursday 14th October

I’m a lonely soldier tonight as I mooch my way down to Gullivers for the first time, not entirely knowing what to expect. First of all there’s the separation issue. The separation I need to make is from associating the place with ‘unsavoury’ characters loitering outside, smoking their roll ups with their dirty fingernails, creepy looking eyes and ‘slept in’ coats. The next issue I have is finding the room, which is quite obvious as long as you know to look for the scribbles of felt tip pen on the walls directing you through doors that look like they should be locked, to a very narrow winding staircase to where you should be. The room has a particularly old fashioned feel to it, a bit like an antiquated student flat complete with a corner bar. Comfortable and welcoming though, I eagerly anticipate FICTION’s arrival on stage, which turned out to be a non starter whilst equipment was fetched by a Liverpudlian…..

So I move on to the promising BERLIN BERLIN, over at Moho. Berlin Berlin are a 5 piece from near Manchester, and with a name like that I expected dark industrialism and stark but snappy beats, but just like being from near Manchester these boys were nearly there. Heavy on the synths and high end guitar riffs, their drums were more pounding and rhythmical, coupled with dual vocals and gave them an early Aztec Camera/Chameleons feel to it. Overall though I’m not sure they’ve managed to impress me or if I just expected something very different instead. Y’know like when you’re not sure if you’re tired because you’re bored, or bored because you’re tired? Maybe it’s just me…

In search of something little bit more interesting I head back up to Gullivers and manage to catch FICTION, the night now running 40- 50 mins late. I’m glad to catch them to be honest, instantly pleasing on the ear, they fill the room with strange and interesting sounds. For example I can hear what sounds like a synth sound being played backwards and as such it sounds like a steel drum?! Melodic and fun, they sound like Tom Tom Club Vs The Jackson 5 remixed by !!! (chk chk chk).

I look around at the smiling crowd, who are now melting in their retro 80s jumpers (I’m not knocking ‘em, they totally go with the room), before heading off to Band on the Wall to catch WORRIEDABOUTSATAN, who are still sound checking as I leg it upstairs to the balcony to get a birds eye view. That said, they’re the first band I’ve seen to actually start early, so the venue is fairly empty. The place fills up fairly quickly with people though, as they fill the air with sophisticated samples, looped drum scores and dreamy visuals, which are arguably needed as there are only two of them, on stage, facing each other. One holding a guitar, the other, the lighty square man operating the laptop and the lighty square box thing. I’m not exactly sure what it does (can you tell?!), but it was producing or helping to produce, a heady and melodic mix of layered guitars and drums, swirling around our heads like some sort of digital weather front. Their songs have an ethereal elegance to them, inducing trans-like dream states in the faces of the fans below. Quality stuff. With this in mind I decide that perhaps ambient electronica is where I wanna be, so I head toward the Soup Kitchen for a peek at CHAD VALLEY.

Chad Valley supported Neon Indian at the beginning of September, I know this, because I was there, but not a lot of other Manchester folk were. They were doing what people do and just getting down for the ‘main act’, but by doing that they may have missed something special. And maybe someone told them so. And maybe that’s why me, and about 40 other people find ourselves unable to physically get in Soup Kitchen, and resign ourselves to have to watch, noses pressed up against the window, from the outside. We’re all straining to hear his melancholic, teenage, summertime blissful electronica through the rattling windows whilst enduring the soft drizzle of the night.

Someone is trying to reverse his van into me now, so I move across to Noho to catch indie rockers, FRONTIERS. They’ve been compared with Interpol and I can understand why but they are faster than Interpol and have a vocalist sounding not too dissimilar from our own, Pete Shelley. Delivering driving riffs and a full rock band sound the crowd seem pleased as they show their appreciation after their last song. Keen to experience another new venue I hop up to Mint Lounge to catch Gypsy and the Cat, but they’ve cancelled! How rude?

With a sulk on my face I head down to the Night and Day and catch JAPANESE VOYEURS, a female fronted hardcore rock band by all accounts. Thrashing drums and screeching guitars flank the Lou Rhodes styled singer as they deliver a cacophonous onslaught into the ears of the crowd. A little on the heavy side for my liking, I wait around anyway for PULLED APART BY HORSES, who seem to have got the balance just right. Hard enough to be interesting but not so hard it would put people off, it isn’t just ‘metal heads’ enjoying it in the crowd. Chainsaw guitar riffs and rapid drums, I imagine this is what Nirvana would’ve sounded like if they’d have invited Nick Oliveri to join the band, back in the day. Self propelling and machine gun like rock have the fans jumping onto the stage to sing with the singer, and partake in a little light stage diving. A truly exciting finish to my second night, I’m very much looking forward to seeing these guys again.

Stephanie Grimshaw *disclaimer* who is this Adam fellow and why does he appear to have been stalking me last night? : )


From The Present To The Future - ITC - Thursday 14/10/10

So as I arrive at the epicentre of the In The City conference being staged in the plush surroundings of the City Inn Hotel for my first foray into covering this prestigious event, a swarm of delegates and wristband holders have descended upon the breakout area to essentially watch a selected number of people listen to music. At first it doesn't sound too compelling but when you witness the individuals involved for STEVE LAMACQ'S ROUNDTABLE debate which is being broadcast live on 6Music, you can sense why there would be such an interest.

Photo by Ged Camera

With Steve's guests being Guy Garvey from Elbow, Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order fame and Journalist/Broadcaster John Robb, it is essentially a heavyweight line up of local personalities coming together to discuss and rate new music which turns out to be an interesting and incisive hour. There are some humourous moments, in particular involving Mr Garvey who proclaims that the new Gorillaz record may even make him dance, and to combat any worry over the making of the new Elbow album he just turns to 'heavy drinking'. Along with the sight of Peter Hook smelling John Robb's hair and trying to be as diplomatic as possible when reviewing Bernard Sumner's latest collaboration with Hot Chip, it is a lively and strangely compelling debate and a good start for what lies ahead...

With many venues to choose from within such a small area, it is an excellent choice to hold the event within the Northern Quarter as there is never that far to venture between artists. For the first act of the evening I decide to mooch down to the builders site that is MOHO to catch BERLIN BERLIN who are an electronic-influenced 5 piece with songs that continue to build up to waves of harmonious choruses and for the most part is an impressive mix. Clearly influenced by the dark 80s synth sound, At times they come across like The Sunshine Underground at their most intense with a melancholic feel to their electro-rock which can be compelling. With a charisamtic frontman they appear to have a lot of ideas just waiting to be unleashed and it will be interesting to see how they develop.

From MOHO I venture over to Ancoats and to the ideal surroundings of Band On The Wall to check out one of Cath's highly reccomended artists, the brilliantly named WORRIED ABOUT SATAN. There is a strong turn out for a duo who mix together beautiful dub moments and heavy beats to create a wonderful display of electronic music that you can't help but move to. The ambience of their chilled sounds are offset by a visual backdrop of falling leaves and water bubbles to deliver an epic experience while the guitarist with bow in hand only adds to the mood. When the beats come crashing in, they do so with incredible intensity and they blend the two styles together so effortlessly. Similar in parts to Aphex Twin, the duo offer an impressive display of electonica which left certain members of the audience to proclaim "Was That It?!" when they pack up after a very short half hour blast.

A change in tempo was in order so it was back down to Stevenson Square and to NOHO to catch a young band from Nottingham called FRONTIERS. Sounding somewhere inbetween early Interpol/Editors, the 4 piece delivered a strong and raucous shot of indie rock which drew an impressive crowd. Their influences certainly shone through and were epic in parts as the flailing guitars and pounding drums gave way to some nice reverb-led moments. Currently unsigned they certainly have potential and on the back of this performance they are another act to look out for.

After passing Shoshin once again take over Oldham Street with their blend of dub/punk attracting a loyal gathering, I head into Dry Bar Live to witness what turned out to be the highlight of an already successful evening in the form of CRYSTAL FIGHTERS. They offer a brilliantly insane mix of dirty beats, varied percussion instruments and shouty vocals to create an impassioned display of electro rock that is chaotic but without ever falling out of tune. Along with typically flamboyant costumes and hand gestures, they come across a bit like MGMT on speed but without the egos. A big crowd turned out to witness what should ultimately be the start of great things for this exciting combo.

From one chaotic mix to another as I hop next door to Night and Day and enter to what has clearly been the biggest crowd of the evening so far as PULLED APART BY HORSES are slaying the venue with their brand of heavy riffs and screaming vocals. There is something compelling about witnessing such energy and enthusiasm as the band make an almighty impressive racket. They deliver a tight performance and their riffs are effective enough to get the head bopping and the feet stomping, though i leave the moshing to the kids down front. Being tipped for great things, it may not be too much longer before they start trying to dismantle bigger stages so for now, the intensity on display here is to be admired and ultimately enjoyed.

From Night and Day I just had time to race back to where the evening began and catch what i could of 1913 at MOHO. Taking everything that is great about music from this city and mixing some nice synth ambience, the local lads offer an excellent display of anthemic rock and impassioned vocals which turned out to be great way to end what has been a superb mix of artists on offer at ITC tonight. My only regret was that i was unable to catch the rest of their set as they seem destined for greater things and with Steve Lamacq in the audience nodding his head in approval then lets hope they are picked up soon.

Thanks for the memories, Here's to more of the same on Friday...

Adam Wheeldon.

Egyptian Hip Hop: Gullivers Midnight

Bob Dylan stares down from the wall of Gullivers. One of his lyrics strikes out at me: "The lampost stands with folded arms, it's iron claws attatched". It seems to sum up a lot of the crowd stood here, stoney faced, stern & ready to strike if you breach their aura. Evidently they've been drawn here by the buzz & the NME references, a chance to display their peacock feathers. Now I have no issue with cool, people who tug on the zeitgeist with a genuine love for what they follow. But I don't get that impression tonight. I see a beauty pagent, catwalked across the faded carpet of Gullivers. I know I keep reiterating this point time and time again but it keeps on irritating me. It isn't someone approaching their 30s being grumpy. It is someone who loves music and honesty being continually peturbed by the profound stupidity of so many people. What was the Bloc Party lyric? "There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall / All the young people looked the same"

Anyway, Egyptian Hip Hop...what are they? Fundamentally, they are a very good, well structured, intriguing band. They explore a wire-strung journey through dub, groove & Scare Reggae in a way that coagulates into an eminently listenable, quixotic & pleasurable blend of sound. However, there is one thing they ultimately lack. And that is A-Calibre songs. Good sound and arrangements are one thing. But songs....SONGS form the cornerstone of any band. And beneath the sheen of publicity, the coiffure-crowd & the admittedly acomplished playing, they only have one or two songs that genuinely fire the pyre. They deserve their welcome, their rolled carpet. But as a long-term project, I'm unsure of whether, to quote one of the city's immortals, they are "etched in stone or just scratched in the sound". Time will tell, time will guide. I'm still walking and waiting for something to make me believe in the neon scriptures.

Outside, a fine rain is falling. I head back towards The Ruby Lounge and find myself in conversation with Catherine AD and her entourage (by this time, I have discovered that her EP contains a cover of The Magnetic Fields "The Book of Love". I am officially besotted). What then follows is a bizarre interlude where, as a native of Manchester, I find myself placed into the role of "Kebab Man", taking it upon myself to lead this bunch of musicians and artists to the nearest takeaway. So off I dance along High Street with Catherine and her group behind me, like a pied piper in a crush-velvet smoking jacket. I find them a good takeaway, we order pizzas, we have a nice chat and then I leave them to it. It's a suitably surreal way to end the evening but a seemingly fitting one. I'm discovering that In The City is less a collection of random bands and more of a true event, a collective and a sharing of thoughts, tips and minds. There is something wonderfully thrilling about dashing across the Northern Quarter trying to catch different bands. And all the time, you feel you're balanced on the razor-edge of something genuinely new, something happening right here and now.

This is why I came to Manchester, this is why I call it my home. I feel right here.


David x