Friday, 26 February 2010

Nils Petter Molvaer @ Band on the Wall, Thursday 25th February, 2010

The tables scattered afore the stage set the scene; one of the ‘sit back and marvel’ variety. The experimental jazz vibe of Nils Petter Molvaer’s shows, coupled with the fact that he’s scored music for several films, means that the visuals on the screen behind the performing trio are as relevant as tonight’s music in setting the mood. For the opening soundscape is built in similarity to the initially blue aurora; the increasing intensity of NPM’s silhouetted image mirrors the grungy guitar and drums that gradually join the Norwegian's trademark trumpeting. Flashing psychedelics overhead alter to vibrant colours, as the sound simmers back down to soothing, clear-minded ambience.

These were the early steps of a 90-minute voyage through a vast range of musical styles. From minimal melody to industrial grinds; bellowing trumpet to effects-ridden echoes; synthetic house beats to the subtlety of a finger-tapped solo on a loose cymbal. The nerve and patience of the musicianship is mesmerising, but even these maestros are allowed the occasional slip – interruption of the aforementioned cymbal solo by a whooshing effects malfunction is met with good humour, punctuating the concentration during the intricacies of each series of progressions and fades. There is a freely flowing feel to the performance, yet control is maintained through every distortion, electronic manipulation and visual synchronicity.

An encore seems a tad superfluous to add to a set that has enchanted continuously for nearly 90 minutes, so the second ending is fairly underwhelming, given what has preceded. However, what did precede is testament to the expansive sounds that three people can create.

Words: Ian Pennington
Picture: Nils Petter Molvaer @ Moers Festival, Germany, 2006 (Oliver Heisch)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Album review: Tunng - ...And Then We Saw Land

An upbeat start to Tunng’s fourth and latest full-length collection ...And Then We Saw Land signifies their musical charm hasn’t been lost in the three year wait since Good Arrows in 2007. This time has seen former lead vocalist and co-founding member Sam Genders release an album and tour with side project The Accidental, before stepping aside from Tunng altogether. The remaining quintet then merged with Malian blues band Tinariwen for BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction show and a subsequent tour, after which they could be forgiven for shifting from folktronic focus.

Indeed, some post-Tinariwen collaboration expectation was for a change of style, but the record itself still balances acoustic charm with progressive glitches and gadgetry, and you get the feeling that it’s largely business as usual in that sense. However, thoughts of a new Tuareg-inspired direction are perhaps unfounded given that Tunng have always been their own band; it is their tendency to colour outside the lines of conformity that saw them as subjects of a genre created around them, after all. Electric-acoustic layering on ‘By Dusk They Were in the City’ and the chirpy ‘Santiago’ serve as reminders of the ‘folktronica’ trend, and ‘Don’t Look Down or Back’ displays the same knack for a shift from shimmering folk balladry to a Wilco-esque chorus often heard on previous albums.

So as successful as the Tunng with Tinariwen experiment proved, there’s no harm in going back to what you know, especially when what they know is how to excel in crafting delicate melodies around earnestly relayed tales.

Tunng release ...And Then We Saw Land on 1st March on the Full Time Hobby record label.

Words: Ian Pennington

Monday, 22 February 2010

Review: Jesca Hoop @ Deaf Institute / Thursday 18th Feb

"That was amazing... Really amazing" Those aren't my words, they're those of a friend who accompanied me to Jesca Hoop's gig at the Deaf Institute last Thursday. We're friends for a reason; we agree.

Playing in front of a home crowd (ok, second home. she's originally from California), Jesca was charming, amusing, charismatic and vulnerable in equal measures. Backed by a pair of female singers, a drummer/percussionist and a guitarist, the music from her second album Hunting My Dress was rendered in paired-down, hushed tones; at points rustic and creaky, calling up images of dusty porches and the classic American frontier, at others almost visceral, particularly during the chorus of 'Angel Mom', which once more proved the old adage that 'a little distortion goes a long way' (actually I just made that up).

Too often folk/Americana solo performers come across as po-faced 'artists', an attitude to which Jesca Hoop is a welcome antidote, dancing on stage, smiling and generally appearing as if she was having a good time, not to mention trading witty banter with the Mancunian audience, the likes of which I could only dream (I'm more of a 10 minutes later man, if you know what I mean).

Jesca also performed a few songs from her earlier album Kismet, during which the much publicised Tom Waits connection became more apparent, yet never so blatant as to devalue the songs themselves. It's an album I'll be getting a lot more familiar with very soon.

No doubt lazy journalists will lump her in with that one who plays the harp, but if you ask me they're worlds apart, and equally brilliant. If you get the chance to see her live, go.
Words: James Roome
Photo: Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Format presents: Rustie & Youngsta @ Mint Lounge, Wednesday 17th February, 2010

“Dubstep, is that the music that you like?” the seemingly omnipresent and ever exuberant MC Chunky asks the Format crowd. “Yes, yes it is,” they reply, in slightly drunker fashion. “Not really,” I say in my head.

I'll level with you, I'm not a fan of dubstep. 'Wub wub wub, wibble wibble, pass the ketamine, wub wub wub' pretty much sums up my experience of it thus far, like drum n bass that’s lost its drum.

Anyway, I've come expecting to have my eyes opened by the scene’s up and coming talent, London's Youngsta and Glasgow's Rustie. Resident Sitra gets the student heavy crowd bobbing along with Chunky's confident MCing leading the way, teasing the crowd with lines from We Will Rock You and getting a Mexican wave going. The dancefloor's filled up by the time Youngsta gets going and the crowd are enthusiastic, but I'm not impressed. It’s pretty dark and atmospheric, sure, and it becomes more beat-heavy towards the end of his set, but it’s all just a bit... dull.

Rustie, however, is a different proposition entirely. Giving the dancefloor a much needed 2am shot in the arm, he's more upbeat. Like fellow Glaswegian Hudson Mohawke, he's been influenced by mash-up, with snatches of samples popping up before being hammered back into place by sheer bass power and surging synths. At times his sound even verges on cosmic, trance and, dare I say it, euphoric, shimmering and twisting but always underlaid with driving dubstep and hip hop rhythms. It's a genuinely exciting experience and there's so much going on in his sound that even Chunky has to take a back seat for a while and content himself with a bit of octopus dancing. By the time Rustie comes to the end of his set, he's pushing the limits of the not inconsiderable Mint Lounge soundsystem with the sheer density of his sound, signing off with the towering ‘Cry Flames’.

I can't say I'm a convert yet but Rustie is certainly taking the genre in an interesting and new direction – moving it away from music for people with a taste for horse tranquilisers, which is undoubtedly a good thing for the rest of us.

Words & Pictures: Barney Guiton

Friday, 12 February 2010

Mucky Old Manchester: Central Library About to Disappear for Good


Manchester Central Library will soon be closed, and will remain that way for the next 3 years. During this time it will be completely gutted, its 22 miles of shelving packed carefully into moving boxes and its rare and unique archive materials handled cautiously into sealed containers.

When it returns to us in 2013, it will be "beautifully and sensitively restored" and will have grown "an adjoining, ultra-modern city centre community library"; a cyborg combination of faux-classical early 20th Century architecture and glass, plastic and computer.

Undoubtedly, Central Library is in dire need of a complete renovation. Walk in today and you'll note the blocky 1980s font above the ENQUIRIES desk, the scrawled graffiti, the musty smell and the horribly uncomfortable wooden chairs, designed for the early 20th Century flat, stiff back.

Currently, what Central Library is, is a snapshot of Manchester pre-IRA, pre-Beetham Tower, pre-Media City UK, in all its dilapidated post-industrial grandeur. And, despite Manchester's seemingly backwards-looking trend of late (see Urbis becoming football museum and the opening of Fac251), it is a piece of old Manchester that will soon cease to exist.

I urge you to go in, have a wander; before it disappears forever.

Words: James Roome

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Neck of the Woods @ Nexus Art Café, Friday 12th February – Sunday 11th April

What is community in the 21st Century? The question I’m asking here is the central theme of an upcoming exhibition at Nexus Art Café, organised by Blank Media Collective. On one side of the coin we live in a global village, with all the benefits of information, ease of communication and travel that this brings; advances in technology rapidly bringing us closer together. Whereas the other side of the coin offers a sense of community increasingly impersonal with the internet, e-mail and i-things.

The exhibition will include artists’ many angles of response to the premise, none more abstract than Lynne Heller’s exploration in the online world of Second Life, a concept seemingly anti-community in the traditional, real-life sense. But this is where the ‘community’ definition through art is all the more intriguing; where once you could paint yourself in utopia, now you can interact and communicate in such a world.

Others will display their thoughts on the lead question, including collaboration between Manchester-based artist Taneesha Ahmed and Alex Moore to present their own community named The Denmasons. The idea being that of a secret society akin to those you’d create as a child whilst building a den in your bedroom or back garden.

It all begins tonight (11th February) with a preview (6-9pm), and continues from 12th February through until 11th April.

Words: Ian Pennington
Picture, top: Ben Rose 2008
Picture, middle: Lynne Heller, Snow / Globes, 2009-10

Friday, 5 February 2010

Bag Thing

If you were to ask 100 people of a musical leaning what they think Manchester is missing (à la Family Fortunes), then somewhere in the answers is likely to be comprehensive and homogeneous listings regularly distributed around the city. For a short while Shipping Forecast made waves but they’ve since discontinued, and elsewhere there are only venue or scene-specific listings (Northernights springs to mind), so the void remains.

The creators of Bag Thing are hoping to fill that void. Their modus operandi is to build up a distribution network that includes all gigs, big or small, and hand out the flyers in a brown paper bag outside relevant gigs across Manchester.

Outside of the bag they have a website, featuring daily listings, cartoons and competitions with prizes of free gig tickets (for those signed up to the newsletter). In addition, there’s a hugely helpful playlist, which puts a sound to the names you may see on the flyers but never get around to listening to. Or, worse still, by the time you’ve got around to listening to them their Manchester gig has long since passed, and their next tour has already sold out. I digress, but you know the scenario!

Bag Thing have already promoted events at Deaf Institute, URBIS, Manchester Cathedral, Dulcimer, Manchester Camerata, RNCM, Night&Day Cafe, Nexus Art Cafe and more, but encourage anyone and everyone to get in touch with their events to help bring Manchester’s musical (and some generally cultural) offerings as a whole to a wider audience.

Words: Ian Pennington

Thursday, 4 February 2010

National Football Museum

This is Manchester, we do things differently

Towards the end of 2009 it was announced that the National Football Museum, complete with Maradona’s shirt from the infamous “hand of God” match among other sporting gems, was to leave its current home in Preston and move to Manchester.

While I originally saw this as good news for Manchester and its local economy, my mood soured somewhat when I realised the Football Museum would mean the demise of exhibition centre Urbis. It is now perfectly clear to me that the National Football Museum is bad news for Manchester.

The reason for my change of opinion is simple. Urbis could have been something really special, but it was not. And Manchester City Council stopping at almost nothing to secure the museum represents a backwards step, as Manchester looks set to fall back on its tried and tested image in the face of difficulty. “We’re a football city we are. We’ve got the museum to prove it and everything.”

I do think it’s important we realise that Urbis was not the greatest of successes, but the reason for this lies solely at the hands of the people responsible for promoting the museum in the city and further afield.

Since my first visit, I’ve lost count of the number of high quality exhibitions I had the pleasure of seeing. I can, however, count on one finger the number of times I saw the place anywhere close to busy. Yep, you guessed it: once. Urbis’ problem was people in the city simply did not know what it was and what was inside. Even though it stuck out like a bold thumb in the city centre, droves and droves of people walked by blissfully unaware of what was on their own doorstep. As a city that is trying to grow in stature worldwide, one string Manchester needed to add to its bow was a well renowned centre for art. With no plans for another building to house displays like those which did visit Urbis (along with Channel M – whose music department were also a beacon of hope in the city), it seems as though an uncut diamond in the rough has been ditched in favour of a shiny cubic zirconia.

Words: Golibe Omenaka

These New Puritans / Deaf Institute / Wednesday 03/02/10

These New Puritans shambled onstage at around twenty to ten, picked up their instruments and lumbered through a (roughly) hour long set, comprised mostly of songs taken from their excellent new album Hidden.

To say this gig was in any way enjoyable would be a stretch - the sound was uniformly dire, with Hidden's deep, pounding beats giving off ugly, crackly distorts where they should have been whole and punishing, and basslines which should have been subtle rendered in an ear-vibrating tone that could only ever be mildly annoying.

Add to this the seemingly under-rehearsed nature of the band, and some truly awful onstage instrumentation (imagine those lovely wind interludes on Hidden replaced by standard electric synth piano sound, then distort it), and you're beginning to understand the level of my disappointment with last night's performance.

The sound, that was just unfortunate, but the musical mistakes were glaringly obvious, particularly in 'Drum Courts - Where Corals Lie' during which the band lost their way completely, almost stuttering to a grimacing halt at a moment when the beautiful chorus melody should have soared.

The gig's saving grace was the percussion which, although at times distorted, was well executed, particularly during the intro to 'We Want War'.

The problem, it would seem, with the These New Puritans live experience, is the fact that they are missing a vital fifth member - the studio.

The support act were called worriedaboutsatan (thanks to Jon for pointing this out). This was pretty standard stuff, a duo seemingly in thrall to Autechre and Burial performing mildly enjoyable background music with no defining characteristics. Not bad at all, but not very good either.

Words: James Roome