Thursday, 28 April 2011

Warehouse Project presents: Ape vs Metropolis, Friday 22nd April 2011

As Easter rolls around again and the Great British public take full advantage of the time off and good weather, there aren't many more fitting venues in the city than the Warehouse Project to take the partying to the next level. This second night of their annual Easter weekend sessions see Ape team up with Metropolis.

Arriving in the enormous main room, it is instantly obvious why people come from all over the country for these events - the atmosphere, sound and lighting are second to none. A surprise addition to the already impressive line-up, Artwork, takes to the stage to test the soundsystem's capabilities. Artwork is probably the least well known of the Magnetic Man trio, but no less capable behind the decks. His set is an eclectic mix of dubstep, garage and housey cuts and the audience take it all with equal enthusiasm.

Artwork's production partner Skream is next up on the stage. We know exactly what to expect and, as is standard, he never fails to disappoint. A particular highlight is a full sing-along, lighters-in-the-air rendition of his new release 'Where You Should Be'.

2am rolls around and we're in full swing. The tempo is about to max out and two of the best drum and bass DJs are in the building. Head honcho of Digital Soundboy Recordings, Shy FX, is first to the stage. Bringing his A-game to the table, his relentless mixing keeps the crowd on the crest of a wave for the entire hour - definitely one of the best sets I've witnessed from the veteran.

If Shy FX is King only one man can Ace him. Ram Records owner, and all round legend of drum and bass, Andy C is topping the bill tonight. It’s a flawless set with three decks on the go at all times, making it blatantly obvious why he is still regarded as the top dog after all this time. 2,500 ravers go all out for the entirety and are left begging for more afterwards.

At the end of the night the ravers shuffle out of the makeshift club, frantically chatting about the highlights of the night (Andy C for me) and plans for later. The Warehouse doors are now closed until the annual event restarts in September.

Words & Images: Gary Brown

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Architecture In Helsinki @ Academy 3, Wednesday 13th April 2011

The intimate location of Manchester Academy 3 plays host to Architecture In Helsinki who drop in as part of a whistle-stop-trip around the UK in their current world tour.

The group hail from Melbourne, Australia, and brand themselves as modernist pop merchants who offer original, fastidious, light and soothing tones conveyed via decoders, hand claps, brass and synths. A broad spectrum of their work is on show tonight, including their newest album Moment Bends, which is very much a slick slice of vivacious electro-pop that pulls the band forward and a tad away from their jolly indie-pop routes. The construction of heavily synthetic, decoder-driven choruses, although slightly different from previous LPs Places Like This and In Case We Die, still holds dear their astute, spacey twinkles. Glimmers of 1980s electronic acts Soft Cell and The Human League can be heard in grand, atmospheric choruses like ‘Escapee’ and ‘Everything’s Blue’, in contrast to their rather bouncy, leisurely rhythm; a modern day twist on the genre.

Treats like Moment Bends’ single ‘That Beep’ have the crowd tapping their feet and nodding their heads in appreciation. As do the flowing, bouncy exuberance in tracks like ‘It’5!’ and ‘Yr Go To,’ and the soothing, passionate intricacies of ‘W.O.W.’.

Cameron Bird on vocals delivers clear and crisp tones and is supported by Kellie Barnes, who complements him well via a mesmerising high-pitched accompaniment. The group bow out with conviction and euphoria courtesy of Londonbeat’s ‘I’ve Been Thinking About You’, which sends a wave of excitement through the venue; a fitting conclusion to an upbeat set and animated, receptive audience. In fact, the maturity of their sound and their development as a band has seen an admirable progression since their formation in the late 1990s and this is glaringly apparent tonight, with their tamer, more brass driven roots being less evident.

On a sour note, while there are some great tracks on show, the energy in Architecture In Helsinki's songs isn’t matched by the musical expression and onstage vigour that you would expect to go hand-in-hand with this type of music. They often look a little static and lethargic. As the face of the band, vocalist Bird’s crowd interaction is minimal; looking quite humbled and passionate on the mic, his impressive falsetto is not mirrored by his stage work. By contrast, keyboard player Gus Franklin is the bright spark, absorbing much of the audience’s glare; his rhythmic dancing and colourful expressionisms could and perhaps should be shared by his companions.

Grumbles aside, this is a fresh performance from an experienced band on top of their game at the moment; more than a moderate acclaim in an age of vast indie-pop group disintegration after one good album. What Architecture do is deliver a sheer brand of glee and jingle-jangly fairground playfulness that surprisingly has a wider appeal than to teddy bear loving children.

What they do they do very well, but you wonder whether if they are to progress any further then they must cast aside the playful happy school prom band sound and move forwards to begin a new chapter. After 10 years, Architecture In Helsinki looks very different from humble beginnings as art students from Melbourne, but maturity is shining through and they are taking positive steps in their musical journey.

Words & Images: Brendan McFadden

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Arts, Music & Events Preview, April 2011 (Part Two)

Earlier this month I wrote a few words to report on the aftermath of the Arts Council England funding allocation; specifically its effect on Manchester arts groups. A major casualty, the article stated, was greenroom, which has since announced its closure to the public from the end of May. So a fitting way to start off this second instalment of April’s should-attend events waffle is with a greenroom event. Wednesday 20th is the launch of Blank Media Collective’s final exhibition at the Whitworth Street producing house, Who’s Laughing Now?, which takes on ideas within taxidermy such as personification, lasting images, death and guilt; relevant topics given greenroom’s situation.

On a lighter note, Islington Mill hosts the debut screening of Manchester based Fritz von Runte’s project merging Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with David Bowie’s career output as a recording artist on the same night. That one will include a discussion about the film, Bowie2001: A Space Oddity, and the finer points of intergalactic references in Bowie’s music, while Thursday 21st welcomes another screening before a fancy dress disco.

Thursday 21st also beckons through another short stint for the Warehouse Project. The opening night is the pick of them with 2manydjs and Aeroplane topping the bill. More follows nightly until Sunday 24th.

Friday 22nd is another one at Islington Mill – a line-up composed of Scotland’s finest folkies. Fence Collective bring along Lone Pigeon and The Pictish Trail, while Song, By Toad Records cohort Jonnie Common offers a tune or a few in support. Red Deer Club Recordings, who’re co-promoting it, have some other worthwhile news: another Awesome Wells record (Carry On Awesome Wells), released on Monday 25th and containing wilfully askew bandstand park-fillers, whimsically oblique in its varied instrumentation and modern Animal Collective harmonies.

Back on track, there’s more to mention for the 22nd courtesy of Naive Melody residents at Charlie’s. Here’s a taster of their cosmic grooves.

Fast forward a little to Wednesday 27th and you’re met by a Bonobo show at Band on the Wall. See this if you can. Another gig the following night, Thursday 28th, is a Little Red Rabbit promotion in the form of Nick Cave sound-alikes Last Harbour at Sacred Trinity Church.

And so to the much-discussed Bank Holiday on Friday 29th. Without going too far into the anachronistically outdated reason behind the holiday, it has served up an enticing array of artistic options. Rotters Golf Club label ringleader Andrew Weatherall will take on the role of chief tune-selecter, mixing funky tech for Content at Joshua Brooks. Or there’s Mount Kimbie, who need no introduction to anyone familiar with this blog. Now Wave have booked them the Deaf Institute stage for the night.

More conjugally conscious are Islington Mill’s Off With Their Heads assorted festivities (including a tug of war between royalists and republicans) and an early afternoon Funeral Procession, a satirical stab at mourning the public services that have passed on in favour of archaic feudalism. Vive la République.

Moving onto Saturday 30th, Denis Jones headlines a show at Fuel Café, presumably partly as a warm-up for his Sounds From The Other City appearance, where he’ll be soundtracking a film on the Bad Uncle / HearHere stage. There’s plenty more besides; the festival has grown again, flexing more musical muscle down Salford’s Chapel Street.

Words: Ian Pennington

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Interview: Touring with Dan Haywood’s New Hawks

In this brief interview conducted during February 2011, poet/singer/ornithologist Dan Haywood discusses critical reception of his 32-track triple-disc record (released on Manchester’s Timbreland Recordings in December 2010) on the eve of several UK dates with New Mexico’s A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

“Defiantly individual” [24/7 mag], Dan Haywood’s New Hawks has already been reviewed as a “cult classic” [24/7 mag]; monumental and rich. Performed live the experience can go from elegant to dangerous in a hair’s breadth.

Matched with the North American duo, these 'Hawk on Hawk' dates promise a night of aural migration. Whilst AHAAH take inspiration from Balkanic eruptions, New Hawks maps a new Highlands - chasing the ghosts of folk, rock’n’roll and psychedelia; found or spliced into the Caithness/Sutherland areas of upper Scotland. As Dan explains, “it's a kind of country music without much human history to go on, made from studying what remains - and examines the severed links rather than perpetuating traditions like folk tries to.”

Here, Dan converses with Tom Bramhall about the project, some of the players involved and what audiences can look forward to at the coming shows.

Dan, last time we spoke like this, the record was on the verge of release. It's a few months on, some reviews have been written. How have people responded?

It was on the verge of release then, and it's still on the verge of something now. But of what, Tom? Of what?

The record has had a fair amount of press. Mostly positive, but it hasn't been much fun for us because the reviews are so often just regurgitations of the label press release. The art of paraphrasing is fit as a fiddle. We're not really learning much.

I assumed it would be tough for people to get a fast, critical turnaround on a project so (apparently) big, but that said - it's no excuse for sloppiness… Could you describe an ideal reader/listener response?

No. But things that our small number of buyers have said have been more illuminating to us than any 'official' verdicts. That's the beauty of spontaneity. They're lucky enough not to be watching the clock and scanning the press release for clues. And illumination is what I need, because the album's still a bit of a mystery to me.

Fans have spread their words on message-boards. Some great, sensitive responses. I like how they've rallied on some of the more far-out comparisons.

Well, some press comparisons have included Fairport Convention haven't they? Because it's faintly folky. We have the wick Mikey Kenney on fiddle, but he's very much his own man, as opposed to Dave Swarbrick, (who's a little over-rated). Superficial resemblances.

Yet to read anybody weave you into a contemporary context though - which surprises me. I’d anticipated some critical reception off the back of the folk revival-revival vibe - I'm thinking about books like Electric Eden, Sweers’ Electric Folk and Brocken’s The British Folk Revival 1944-2002, etc… Bands like Trembling Bells.

There's time yet. We'll get woven into the past. And then the music'll be posthumously contemporary... Or something! I dunno...

The album's partly concerned with folk music; there are new songs on there about folk music... Also experimental songs that emulate folk... But it's not trad and it's not even folk-rock in the traditional sense. The album's too restless.

Folk Roots magazine declined to review New Hawks because they thought it "outside their remit". Man, it's about folk roots!

But what do I know?

You're set to tour the Kingdom with A Hawk and A Hacksaw…

Yes. We do about nine or ten dates with them in April. Some as a small band, some with the usual larger set-up.

On the surface it looks like a nice marriage. The two acts could be seen to share some similarities. It feels like AHAAS are exploring Turk, Euro and Balkanic threads in much the way you're mutating Anglo-Celt, American and again, European stuff?

Yes, you could be right. I'm interested how the music will relate each night. I look forward to it, because AHAAH fans are broadminded adults; open-minded, because their music truly crosses over... I'm hoping we can let our hair down in front of their audiences. Occasionally I tone performances down. Out of fear, see.

What's the fear?

Just plain, old-fashioned fear.

The shows seem to go full spectrum. I've caught you comic and sublime, always dangerous - each night seems to offer a different interpretation of the songs…

Thanks. Yes, it's like an old sex gang trying to spice up its love life. Some of the songs are innately restless, and different sides just come out without any warning. And to complicate things further we throw in more deliberate rearrangements and some tricks. Often there's no set list and the rest of the band chase me around all night. Bill (one of the drummers) hates it. Mind you, I sometimes think he hates everything. We've never done the same set twice... so we're rarely bored. For the April tour I've told myself that we should perform each of the 32 songs from the album at least once over the ten days - in the spirit of equality and to try and keep things fresh. I suppose one of the better things about being commercially woeful is that we don't have to do the greatest hits every gig.

Dan Haywood’s New Hawks play at Islington Mill on 14th April 2011.

Words: Tom Bramhall
Images: Courtesy of Dan Haywood

Tom Bramhall writes for po)))nies

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Arts, Music & Events Preview, April 2011 (Part One)

This latest preview feature again hits after a small bite has already been digested. There’s plenty more to chew on, so without further ado...

Can you believe that it is four years since Prostitutes & Policemen’s first uptempo clubnights raved the Attic’s roof off? Well you can take your nostalgic disbelief with you tonight to Sankeys where they’ve listed the wacky mix-merchants Crookers atop an electro-ridden bill.

Another one for this evening – as well as tomorrow, Thursday 7th – is a film showing screened by Manchester Friends of the Earth. They’ve organised ‘The End of the Line’ in Didsbury to highlight over-fishing, followed by Pete Postlethwaite’s climate change insight ‘Age of Stupid’ on Thursday in Levenshulme. They’re asking a few quid per night.

Thursday 7th is a packed night all around. There’s the monthly An Outlet musical showcase Some Drum I Would Never Hear, which is pitched against a pair of art exhibition launch nights. New collective Underground Separation – art students at Salford Uni – promise a varied Soup Kitchen spread, curated across a broad range of disciplines within visual arts. And to evoke an audio mood Now Then Manchester favourite Paul Green has stepped in to soundtrack the space.

Across town BLANK SPACE has another outsourced exhibition adorning its insides; Perception/Deception is the title that No Such Thing Collective will be wrapping their creative arms around.

For Friday 8th Northern Groove are involved in the staging of Horace Andy, of Massive Attack fame, and his regular backing band Dub Asante at Band On The Wall. That’s not enough reggae? A second dose awaits on Saturday 9th. More for Friday, though, is offered by Micron and their booking of Kiki for funky Finnish frolics. They set up shop at Joshua Brooks, as ever.

In the DJing vibe, Piccadilly Records staff clubnight project Wet Play finds itself again in fresh surrounds, unsurprisingly given its sporadic, nomadic existence thus far. That’s Soup Kitchen on Saturday 9th, where you’ll find John Morales rubbing shoulders with the regular sound providers including Ruf Dug. Around a corner or two This City Is Ours bring the curtain down on their stay at An Outlet, whose neighbours would prefer the bustling clamour of their inner-city living space to be untouched by the relatively chilled-out beats of Blood Boy et al’s combined record collection.

Fast-forward to Monday 11th for some more visual mind food. This one’s Manchester FoE endorsed but run by Man Met Uni in the All Saints Building, who’ve picked out ‘Food Inc’ to tickle your optical taste buds. Back on the aural of the senses, 80s throwback Aussie indie ensemble Architecture In Helsinki’s tour stops off at one of the Academy venues on Wednesday 13th.

Thursday 14th is one of those inexplicably arduous nights in terms of narrowing down what to attend from a long list, as follows... Japanchester, featuring From The Kites Of San Quentin, Day For Airstrikes, Plank[!] and Trojan Horse, is an effort to raise money to help to support post-quake Japan; A Hawk And A Hacksaw at Islington Mill, supported by Dan Haywood and the New Hawks (keep an eye out for an interview to be published here very soon); Saki Bar’s Grand Reopening Weekend misjudges when the weekend is by starting up on a weekday with Reggae Thursdays; finally a factual one in Chorlton for those looking to align their house with a more environmental norm (or just save money through efficiency) – it’s a precursor to Saturday 16th’s Big Green Festival, both taking place at St Clement’s Church on Chorlton’s Edge Lane, where the theme is Bike To The Future (geddit?) and the best all female dance troupe in the UK, Spokes, will perform.

Deep breath. Friday 15th is one I’ll pinpoint a little better. Cutloose present Theo Parrish at the Roadhouse. Cosmic disco grooves aplenty. It’s Record Store Day during the following day, Saturday 16th, so if you’re keen then maybe try an all-nighter to beat the early birds into the inevitable queue outside Piccadilly Records. And ignore this fella (not that anyone’s paid much attention to the NME for a long time anyway).

More for the Saturday, you say? Here’s a couple: Carefully Planned reach ten in their All-Dayer series at Castle Hotel, while Eastern Bloc Records eclipses that milestone with a second instalment of quarter-century back-slapping at Islington Mill.

In other news, Sounds From The Other City tickets are on sale so catch them before the guaranteed sell-out (based on the evidence of all previous years), or get involved with the volunteering team to see the festival from a different angle and make a few new friends. The Imploding Inevitable Festival, a recent regular at the deed poll office, is another with a nod from Now Then Manchester; June 10th & 11th, Fell Foot Wood.

Chorlton Arts Festival has a volunteers open day on Saturday 16th – and make sure you pencil in 29th April as their deadline for The Flash Mob Writing Competition, organised by a group of Manchester bloggers - many of whom can be found on our Manchester Blogs section (left).

And in the immortal words of Columbo, just one more thing: have a little listen to Big Block 454 for some wah-wah funky tones, mellow acoustic oneirism and deadpan lyricism.

Words: Ian Pennington

Friday, 1 April 2011

Interview: From The Kites Of San Quentin

For those out of the loop of modern music, I’ll let you in on a badly kept secret: we live in a digital age. And so, post-peak era for the recorded product, it can sometimes be easy to forget when or if a musical collective has released the mellifluous fruits of their labour outside of the world wide web’s virtual boundaries and into the tangible wild. One such musical collective is Manchester’s From The Kites Of San Quentin (FTKOSQ), who’ve previously self-released demo singles through the bandcamp blogosphere but never held their music in their hands.

The internet, of course, is just the latest in a long line of double-edged swords to have directly resulted in a physical music sales dip and subsequent major label accusations of ‘killing music’ (take a bow, cassette ‘home taping’, CD ‘burning’, et al). It’s a recent history which Kites’ laptop mix-maestro and beat merchant Phil Bretnall, aka Blood Boy, spends little time mourning. “As far as the major label industry goes... good fucking riddance. At the end of the day, they are just a glorified bank so, as much as they can give you exposure, now they just want to get their hands on things that are rightfully the artist's, such as a percentage of live show fees and merchandise. So, we would never rule out a bigger indie, but I think in this day and age being as self-sufficient as possible is the way forward.”

Indeed the internet holds a definite benefit for the self-sufficient. FTKOSQ’s forthcoming physical release – a split single with fellow local soundsmiths Borland – is a step along a path that owes a debt to their early demos’ circulation through cyberspace. It has also opened a time portal back, in part, to an earlier recording norm; that of the vinyl: “we love the idea of vinyl releases. The CD has gone the way of the cassette, so if you’re gonna have something physical to go with your download then it may as well be wax.” So, while the download has become in essence the primary release route for independent artists such as FTKOSQ, distribution outside of the vast, yet oddly restrictive, internet bubble represents a stride forward. You can only reach so many people through your browser’s bandwidth and at an often limited sound quality, as recent Now Then Manchester interviewee Tullis Rennie – of the Concrete Moniker label – would attest.

To add that up, the summation of FTKOSQ’s ‘Chet Beaverbrooke’ and Borland’s ‘Clockmen’ (plus mutual remixes) equals output that’ll be rewarding; not only for both bands, but also for folks who may be familiar with one but not so familiar with the other, suggests Bretnall: “It's our first proper release and we just wanted people to hear what we are capable of, which was why the full track and remix format really appealed. Plus it means peeps into Borland will check us out and vice versa. We love the Borland track and the remix they did for us is just awesome.”

Not that FTKOSQ have been tethered to a keyboard in a locked computer room. They’ve been performing as a reduced line-up of three, forced by the departure of Paul (Phil: “We had to change things around pretty drastically, so that took a bit of getting used to, but we’re good now. Live is where it's at for us to be honest!”). Regardless, the trio have infiltrated the forefront of many local promoters’ thoughts by virtue of a delivery lazily comparable with Portishead, but more complex than any one reference point.

A recent gig at Kraak Gallery, supporting Trojan Horse’s album launch show, sees Bretnall’s dystopian samples, wobbly FlyLo glitchstep and shifting synths align with his fellow Kites in their labyrinthine progressions. Turgid lilts from the belly of guitarist Luke Bhatia’s substantial FX soundboard set-up duel with warped, drowning vocals effusively transmitted through the added depth of Alison Carney’s dual mic dynamism. The former an oneiric harness to the latter’s jolting immediacy. Theirs is often a maze with Kubrickian looming threat; trip-hop amidst the streets of a Hunter S Thompson deranged urbanism. While there may be the vague hint of Tom Vek’s ‘Nothing But Green Lights’ trailing in the Kites’ slipstream, the gears quickly change; pedal floored in a blurry night drive through reds, while distorted inhuman voices hazily plume the flight away.

Influences are increasingly a non-event given the eclectic scope of the average mp3 player shuffle – another defining point of the fast-paced internet paradigm. But they can be an indicator. Although varied, a couple listed in the Kites’ listening habits stand out for their status as the great outsiders, namely prog rock stadium-fillers Rush and Yes. As bands much-maligned by magniloquent music journo types (the former in particular considered an easy – and fair – target, unfairly, although gaining recent unexpected kudos from a certain Manchester-founded newspaper), the implication by association is clear; their sound is their own – if you don’t like it then lump it.

Such a mentality perhaps fires Bretnall’s bluntness regarding the appeal of independence as an artist: “complete control and generally making things more exclusive.” You could lump it, but the chances are you’ll like it; the slow builds of ‘Chet Beaverbrooke’; the escapist harmony overwhelmed by discord around the midpoint; the glistening sonic polish of studio practise (Phil: “Our track on the split was mixed and mastered by our old friend Andy Giblin. At the time, we just weren't that great at getting a good final mix, so he helped us out”).

All of which sits within not only a first for From The Kites Of San Quentin, but also for Gulf Records. The label is the joint project of Borland’s Rob Gregg and Dubai-based Dan Fogg, who unwittingly join a UK music spectrum seemingly commercially welcoming of James Blake as the nominated figurehead of spliced future beats and post-dubstep downtempoism. But the Gulf Records timing shouldn’t be considered an opportunistic reaction. There’s no need for an exaggerated ‘I was there’ moment, à la Sex Pistols at Manchester Free Trade Hall; the pairing of Borland and From The Kites Of San Quentin represents a separate take as part of, not following on from, a burgeoning, efflorescent electronic music niche.

Borland as a live act are on a hiatus, which makes it all the better that Gregg’s time is freed up to continue their presence with the Gulf venture. And FTKOSQ themselves are no strangers to side projects, promoting and podcasting regularly under the This City Is Ours (TCIO) guise. Bretnall is quick to express him appreciation of his Manchester electronica promoter brethren. “Hoya:Hoya. Full stop, man. Best clubnight in the country, hands down, and we’re lucky enough that it's on our front doorstep. Probably the most forward thinking bunch of people in the UK right now with a residents crew to die for. Also, Mind On Fire. They have been at it for ages now and we have done fair bit together. We did a party with those guys at Islington Mill last year as This City is On Fire – we were turning people away at midnight.” He goes on to champion Drumclinic, Hot Milk, Norvun Sundays and Hit&Run, along with another freshly sprouted record label, Broken Bubble.

Manchester is certainly offering an enviable electronic selection; the future is promising. As far as FTKOSQ’s future goes, the short-term is the split single on 4th April with Borland, a record that aside from Kites’ tune conjures up Borland’s ‘Clockmen’ – a steady Balearic dreamscape overpowering the clicks and flickers of percussive minimalism – and swapped production credits to each other’s work. A launch night at Centro accompanies on 1st April, while further ahead Bretnall is planning for TCIO the label: “we mixed some other tracks with Andy [Giblin] that we’re gonna be releasing as a digital EP over the summer through This City is Ours, with the album being the first physical release on the label towards the end of the year. The plan is to release it ourselves as a limited marble/coloured vinyl run with a download and some lovely artwork. Totally not cost-efficient, but who gives a shit?! We’re not looking at making money from the label; we just wanna recoup and help fund the next release.” And with a listenership interest piqued by what has preceded, this independent, like it or lump it ambition can drive FTKOSQ’s digital beginnings into an actual reality.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Ed Sprake, except image #3: courtesy of Trojan Horse