Tuesday, 31 May 2011

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

Beyond another Bank Holiday, we’re now knocking on the door to summer. And in Manchester’s own meteorological way, its showers and sunshine indecisiveness is making us all well aware of this. Don your water proofs, shorts, flip-flops and/or Wellies for a stroll through the next fortnight or so of events.

First up for any calendar month is the 1st so the Chicago noiseniks Disappears’ gig on Wednesday 1st seems as good a place to start as any. The psyche-drone supergroup comprises the drumming dexterity of Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, a tangled web of reverb and the Gulliver’s stage for the evening.

Skip a day to Friday 3rd for a selection in the suburbs. Wilmslow Roaders might favour Fuel Café’s rock oriented line-up of Day For Airstrikes, Easter and Emperor Zero, hosted by the ever inventive independent music vloggers Manchester Scenewipe. Alternatively, the Blowout promoters’ latest Chorlton’s Irish Club captures include warped 80s electro throwbacks Water Signs.

Caribou and Battles headlining the same show is quite a tussle for attention, but at least Now Wave have allowed them enough space to do so with it taking place at the Apollo on Saturday 4th. Support is too long to list, but think Hoya:Hoya vibes and you’re in the right ball park.

Put your thinking cap on for the latest First Tuesday discussion and debate courtesy of Manchester Salon; the topic to brush up on is The struggle for democracy in the Middle East and Africa. Head to the Shakespeare pub on Tuesday 7th if you think you have more of a solution than major politicians or their mouthpieces in the mainstream media.

After that mind-melter you might need something to relax the senses, so take advantage of the arts students who’re now nearing their long summer holiday and feel ready to showcase their work. The first of two in this preview is on Wednesday 8th at Kraak Gallery, where adorning the walls will be The Manchester College’s Parallax photography exhibition

If you’ve been pencilling the other events in then get the permanent marker out for this next one. Hot on the trail of our last Now Then Manchester show (...ish) is another venture into the realm of live music and spoken word, this time in collaboration with the leftfield arts taste-makers at Doodlebug. Performances for the first of a monthly Thursday slot are sitting in the TBC column, but think along the lines of esoteric music punctuated by spoken word; Dulcimer in Chorlton on Thursday 9th. [NB: We've postponed this to a later date, hopefully within the month of June, but otherwise we'll be starting the stint with a Broken Bubble label showcase on 14th July. Watch this space...]

Catch your breath and steer towards Fuel again on Friday 10th for the monthly Debt Records acoustic dabbling, before a weekend rubbing shoulders with excitable revellers amidst the tents, sideshows and empty pint pots strewn across Platt Fields for the 48 hours of Parklife Weekender. Expect Beardyman, DJ Shadow, Mount Kimbie, Kode9, James Holden and Grandmaster Flash to prove highlights of a festival that never fails to bring sunshine with it, even including the Madferret days.

One more who might’ve tipped that line-up over the edge and into a spectacular abyss is Tom Vek, who’ll make a reappearance even longer overdue than Now Then Manchester events. Instead he’ll be at the Ruby Lounge on Monday 13th, which is a date shared by Merril Garbus and her wildly capitalised alter ego tUnE-YaRdS’ trip to the Deaf Institute.

Part two of the aforementioned student arts displays is one by University of Cumbria MA scholars at CUBE on Tuesday 14th. Born from interpretations of philosophical texts, this one’s another photographic assortment under the title of Touching Space. Or, if you’re more into preserving natural environments than seeing snaps of them, there’s always CityCamp, which is launching itself to those who shares their ideals ahead of a Manchester sustainability festival in September; Northern Quarter’s Noho bar.

Closing in on the month’s halfway mark is the recently renamed ad rehoused Imploding Inevitable’s choice of live music for Dulcimer bar’s Wednesday 15th; alternatively for town dwellers, there's another helping of Soul Sessions headed up by Beggar Joe, which has also rehoused to Oxford Road's Revolution bar. Then Thursday 16th is one for Little Red Rabbit’s Fuzzy Lights who entertain at Salford’s Sacred Trinity Church, with Red Tides lending support.

Words: Ian Pennington

Monday, 30 May 2011

Chorlton Arts Festival: Dislocation Dance @ St Clement's Church, Monday 23rd May 2011

I love pop music. I have always loved pop music, even before I understood what it meant or where it came from. When I was a teenager, I loved the dominant sound of the day – britpop. The first album I ever bought was Moseley Shoals by Ocean Colour Scene. I listened to The Longpigs, to Oasis, to Blur, (take a breath), to The Bluetones, Echobelly, Cast. When I was a little bit older, I began to listen to their antecedents – Paul Weller, The Jam, The Beatles. The fucking Beatles. To make it to the Beatles, I had to battle through, past or around Space, Menswear and fucking Suede. Well, it was worth it when I got there.

Unlike many people who are interested in pop music, the house in which I grew up was not particularly musical, or at least it was not soaked in the sounds of Western pop. My parents listened to Bollywood playback singers, more so in the car than in the house. My father’s favourites were, and still are, people like Mohammed Rafi, while my mother preferred the female singers, such as Lata Mangeshkar. So it was only much later on that I heard Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen, and began to trace historical influences less obvious than the simple Beatles – Smiths – Stone Roses – Oasis trajectory.

It was at that point that I began to get into post-punk, listening to the bands that had been emerging around the same time as Factory; associated with it, influenced by it or subsequently influencing it. I was attracted to the darkness, the misery, the exposition of a beaten post-industrial landscape created by Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher. Of course, this misery was often clothed in upbeat melodies, and many of the songs were love songs. But they were not flippant, they did not ignore where they came from, they were mired in it. There was no attempt to escape it, nor to festishise it through explicit reference. It simply was. You could hear it in the reverberations of the singing, in the strained guitars, in the muffled - not quite defeated, not quite defiant - anger. Songs like Hand in Glove by the Smiths and, of course, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division are perfect examples.

I had never heard of Dislocation Dance before reading through the programme for the Chorlton Arts Festival. It bills them as experimental jazz punk, and describes them as having been initially signed on the same label as Buzzcocks, before signing for Rough Trade at the same time as The Smiths. A bit of further research has informed me that they were friends with the Factory crowd. They were once flown back from a tour of the USA by one Anthony H. Wilson, after a mishap with their original tickets left them stranded there. This has all built up a picture of something really quite exciting. So I’m excited.

I arrive in the hallway of St Clement’s Church, with the partition doors still closed while the band sets up. We can hear them sound checking, and they sound a little more conventional than I had imagined, a little more bubblegum. But that’s OK. It’s quite possible to be happy and heartfelt, or saccharine and ironic, or for the soundcheck songs not to be representative of the whole set. There’s any number of explanations, so I don’t think too much about it. I look around me and see a crowd that makes me quite happy to live in Manchester. Not a group of hipsters eager to impress, but mostly people over the age of thirty. I wonder if some of them remember the band from the 80s, or if some of them actually know or knew the band personally. There are also a couple of children under the age of ten, whose parents I assume are here too.

So the doors open, and we file into the church. St Clement’s is a beautiful building, dimly lit tonight to create a lovely warmth. The band is set up in what I think is known as the chancel, in front of the altar. The evening sun shines through a stained glass window above, showering them in shimmering blues and reds. We sit in the crossing, surrounded by shadows.

Ian Runacres tells us they will start with softer tunes before getting on to the heavier stuff. So they kick off, with Phil Lukes singing the first three songs, while also playing ukelele. He has a deep, rich voice that fills the church and seems to work well in the absence of the bass guitar for these songs. Jon Board plays trumpet and (I think) French horn to add some texture. This is enjoyable pop, with a touch of the wistful, and reminds me of Teenage Fanclub.

For the next few songs, Ian Runacres takes over on vocals and Lukes replaces his ukelele with a bass. This creates a real change in the sound, as Runacres’ voice is higher-pitched and his range a little narrower. The songs lose that wistful touch and seem to vacillate between self-indulgent and glib. Some are both. A song called Shinjuku Junction has the lyrics, “Shinjuku Junction / East meets West / We see the best of all around us / The best meets the rest.” I begin to see where certain aspects of britpop came from. His voice is not unlike Ian Broudie’s and some of these tunes remind me of The Lightning Seeds. I fucking hate the Lightning Seeds.

I begin to contemplate what it is that I love in pop. Whatever it is, this is not it. When Lukes takes over singing again, I begin to wake up a little. His voice has a greater resonance that seems to penetrate real feelings, whereas Runacres’ seems to bounce off them. He introduces one song, “Like most of my songs, it’s about my misspent youth.” Misspent how? Why? I don’t feel that this music is attempting to breach the superficiality of the imagined experiences of our youth. And pop music can do that. I know it can do that, I have seen it do that. I came here tonight expecting to hear these guys do that.

Not all pop music analyses, not all pop music describes, not all pop music is about pain, or is qualified by pain. But it does have to engage. At least make me dance, make me tap my feet. Tonight I’m not engaged, I’m floundering. Runacres seems to be enjoying himself, which I’m heartened by. But this seems to be a reminiscence of something for him and his band. It sounds pleasant enough, but it is ultimately unedifying for those of us who do not share a history with him. It is tame. While Lukes seems to mean it more, his ultimate lack of conviction is belied by his introduction to The Ruins of Manchester: “It’s not my fault, it’s just a song.”

This is not angry, nor is it impassioned. It is certainly not experimental. It is a kind of plodding pop that carries no meaning for me. One review I found of their work in the 80s described it as “background music for the foreground.”

Pop music can do more than this.

Words & Images: Piyush Pushkar (Piyush also writes the Doctor Magiot blog)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Chorlton Arts Festival Launch featuring Badly Drawn Boy, Thursday 19th May 2011

Congratulatory backslapping is rarely a spectator sport, but the oratory build-up creates a swelling of pride in the precinct's populace, who're later led through Chorlton Arts Festival's newly opened metaphorical doors by the subsequent strums of an elevated Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy.

Gough initially completes a Chorlton FM radio slot before volunteers, contributors and organisers are thanked in various short speeches. And onto the night's performers. First, a schoolgirl dance troupe's R'n'B dance mix tests the soundsystem, which in turn awakens the decent-sized early evening audience.

Despite operating under a thinly veiled disguise of ‘special guest’ until the morning of the event, Badly Drawn Boy, one of the three patrons of the festival (the others are John Thomson and Carol Ann Duffy, since you ask) is an obvious choice to draw in the crowds. His warm, homely reflections know how to twang on the heartstrings of reminisce, although his lofty presence intermittently loses audience attention.

For the man himself, it must be surreal; standing mid-balcony overpass – acoustic guitar in hand, microphone afore – faces glaring upwards almost in celestial worship. Positioned below, the amplification rises up to him. The sensation must be one of flying atop the soundwaves to tour the rooftops of his hometown. Or perhaps it just affords him an alternate view of the chipped lurid green precinct decor.

Regardless, the Chorlton resident talks us through a tour, of sorts, stopping off between songs to indicate locations relevant to the occasional ditty. Chorlton Cafe is evoked by ‘Journey From A To B’ and Born In The UK’s title track due to the album’s cover photo, while ‘Is There Nothing We Could Do?’ was written in response to Gough's own soundtracking of The Fattest Man In Britain, which features an amble down Wilbraham Road. There isn't a 'local landmark only' policy in set-list selection though, as 'You Were Right', 'This Electric' and 'The Time Of Times' also resonate past the shop windows.

He’s keen to state the reason behind his bird’s eye view. {this way:UP} is the National Lottery and Arts Council funded answer. The project also explains why you’ll see artwork in high places through the town until the end of the month, although as far as I can tell only Gough himself warrants a skyward glance at this particular precinct positioned point of the festival.

Words & Images: Ian Pennington

Friday, 20 May 2011

FutureEverything Presents: Steve Reich @ RNCM, Thursday 12th May 2011

Ideas. Theories. Labels. There’s a scene in Annie Hall (or is it Manhattan?) in which Diane Keaton describes Ingmar Bergman as "too cerebral." Woody Allen does not understand how she can use this word to describe why she does not like a piece of art. He does not grasp the argument. Surely, the more cerebral a piece is, the more it challenges the systems and patterns which hold your perceptions of the world together, the better. At the risk of sounding somewhat like a Cameron Crowe movie, this can only work if the piece still speaks to its audience; if it has ‘soul.’

We started the night with Steve Reich up on stage himself, with percussionist Simone Rebello, performing ‘Clapping Music’. The word ‘minimalism’ means many things to many people, but no one could possibly argue with labelling this as minimalist. Two people, up on stage, clapping. No instruments other than their hands. It was composed in 1972 and must have been incredibly original at the time. But tonight it reminded me of Stomp. Sure, it challenged one’s sense of rhythm and, sure, it must have been technically incredibly difficult to perform, as one clapper claps one phrase repeatedly while the other shifts one note every few bars to become increasingly out of sync, before returning to being back in sync. And while that is technically impressive, I spent much of the piece just wincing at the possibility that one of the clappers might make a mistake and step completely out of sync (whether or not many of us would have noticed is a moot point). To bring Cameron Crowe back, this piece did not speak to me.

The second piece was ‘Cello Counterpoint’, a piece written for eight cellos. It can be played live by eight cellists, or by one cellist with the other seven parts pre-recorded by the same player. Tonight, we had the latter, played by David McCann. Again, I found myself thinking that the idea of playing live with a recording of oneself would have felt completely alien for many classical musicians when Steve Reich started to experiment with the idea in the 1980s. But hip-hop artists had been doing it for several years by then. And now the technique is employed in many different genres, and has been added to through the use of pedals and other instruments used to make recordings and loops of oneself so that one can create textures previously not possible as a solo artist. So why then do we return to Steve Reich for this idea? I found myself wondering about the cache of being an accepted part of the classical music canon, and whether this was the reason we still cared about Steve Reich and his innovations. These techniques that are now so widespread within the world of popular music, are they not somewhat gimmicky when transposed back the world of classical music?

And then I melted.

Finally, the angular phrasing, McCann’s jolting movements and head-nodding, the anxiety-inducing disharmony hit me. Yes, it spoke to me. And finally, the ideas, the theories mattered. I began to consider why it is that I had initially thought the piece would have been better had all eight parts been played live. What is it that would have been different? Obviously the sound would have been, but the feel would have been too.

Eight people playing one piece is the coming together of those eight people, to try to achieve some kind of harmony. Even if the piece is as disharmonious or filled with angular tension as this, the eight players create that tension together, after starting out as eight separate entities. When one person is playing, he/she starts out as one, and branches out to fill many different possibilities at once; a musical representation of the multiverse. The effect on McCann was visible; it felt as though he was not just playing with himself, but also against himself. There was a Sisyphean element of competition to the performance. Heartbreaking because he could never win.

The third piece was ‘Eight Lines’, performed by the RNCM Chamber Ensemble. On stage were two pianos, two string quartets, two clarinets, a bass clarinet, a flute and a piccolo. The pianists played separate but repetitive phrases, overlapping at times, while the others played repeating phrases that faded in, out and back into the tune. The overall effect was astounding. While each player or group of players repeated its own phrase or allowed it to grow sequentially, the sounds of the others around it caused it to seem to mutate, so that a single phrase or idea was reinvented. Its purpose, place and effect within the whole piece was reinvented without it having changed itself. John Adams said of Steve Reich that, “he didn’t reinvent the wheel so much as he showed us a new way to ride.” This sentiment was embodied within this one piece, as Reich repeatedly showed us new ways to listen, new ways to hear.

The final piece was ‘Different Trains’, performed by the Caecilius Quartet. This was a piece written for the Kronos Quartet, a meditation on Reich’s childhood sitting on trains across the USA in the 1930s and 40s, and on the fact that had he been born in Europe, those trains could have been taking him to concentration camps. It starts out as a quite jaunty piece, quite comical actually, quite appropriately for a reminiscence of one’s childhood. There are recordings of announcements from railway stations, a clipped “from Chicago,” or the elongated, “from Chicago to New York.” I say comical, because the tones of these announcements were then mimicked by the players on their instruments. It was a kind of mockery and an homage, both of the musicality of the announcers, and also of the call and response musical model.

We seamlessly moved into the second movement, where the recordings being played were no longer these benign sounds. They were air raid sirens and harsh whistles. Again the players responded with similar sounds, but it was no longer amusing mimicry. The sounds were adding up synergistically to create an overarching sense of fear and panic. I shifted around repeatedly in my chair, unable to find a comfortable position, a position in which I could sit back and be anaesthetised by the music rather than enervated.

Finally we reached the third movement, returning to the American train announcers, “Chicago to New York.” Somehow the call and response was no longer so amusing. It felt vapid, empty. I felt gutted, drained. But edgy.

And then it stopped.

Steve Reich may have invented minimalism. He may have invented, or at least discovered, the technique we now call phasing. He may have “shown us a new way to ride” and he may have done so more than once. His work is certainly cerebral, but what we saw tonight, is that the man has soul.

Words: Piyush Pushkar (http://doctormagiot.wordpress.com/)
Images #1 & 3: Simon Bray

Thursday, 19 May 2011

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

We’re now deep into festival season with Sounds From The Other City and FutureEverything (look out for our Steve Reich review in the next few days) already having passed us by. But the festivities, along with the weather, are just warming up; here’s what to look out for in the closing days of May.

Tonight (Thursday 19th) at 6pm is the launch of Chorlton Arts Festival (CAF) in Chorlton precinct, as artwork created in line with the {this way: UP} theme will be unveiled by special guest, Chorlton resident and CAF Patron, Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy). BREAD Art Collective have positioned the artistic contributions in unannounced locations through the town; above eye level to provoke shoegazers into a varied view. Amongst the art portrayed will be a preview of a project co-curated by Doodlebug and Alexandra Arts, which takes a lead from JR’s Inside Out socially cohesive guerrilla art by asking local schoolchildren to take and pose for portrait photographs while considering what the area's parks mean to them.

Friday 20th is the first day of action at Friends of Mine’s three-dayer in a Cheshire field (FOM Fest 2011), which boasts Walls, From The Kites of San Quentin, The Fall, Toro Y Moi, Jim Noir, Working For A Nuclear Free City, The Longcut, plus plenty more besides.

All the while Chorlton Arts Festival will be ongoing until the end of the month; best to check their listings to pick out a selection of the live music, spoken word, literature, DJs, comedy sketches, visual arts, drama and participatory improv.

Retro soul maestro Bill Withers is the subject of a night in homage to his recording career at Soup Kitchen on Sunday 22nd, featuring recent documentary Still Bill, live performances (not by the man himself, albeit) and DJs. More music follows on Monday 23rd in the form of Three Trapped Tigers at Night’n’Day Café; the avant garde noise merchants have been booked in to top a bill ahead of Tall Ships by the ever-progressive and ambitious promoters WotGodForgot. That is unless you’d prefer the alt-folk dabbling of Hey! Manchester of a Monday evening; in which case they’re offering Juliana Barwick’s solo choir dreamscapes at Kraak Gallery, with past Now Then Manchester interviewee Najia Bagi providing support.

One for environmental activists next: Kindling Trust has organised a get-together for otherwise disparate groups all striving for similar goals. The Bull’s Head pub on Thursday 26th.

And soon enough there’s another Bank Holiday weekend. Wet Play and Hoya:Hoya are vying for attention on Saturday 28th; they have Deep Space Orchestra at Kraak and Brainfeeder’s mind-melting Lorn at Roadhouse respectively.

The standout for Sunday 29th / Monday 30th is Eurocultured, nucleated along the New Wakefield Street bars and inclusive of another veritable multinational line-up. The headline-grabbers are Scando-techno sextet Slagsmalsklubben, Israel’s Balkan Beat Box and the effervescent performer David Thomas Broughton, but fail to explore at your peril; Mind On Fire, Doodlebug and Hoya:Hoya are amongst those flexing curative muscle, with Naomi Kashiwagi, Aardvarck and Vieka all confirmed. Not to mention the must-see live street art.

Monday 30th is also the day to catch another festival: Dot to Dot.

Words: Ian Pennington

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Post War Years @ Deaf Institute, Monday 9th May 2011

First up are openers, The Louche FC, who, on tonight’s evidence, are not a 5-a-side football team, but an intriguing gloomy shoegaze 5-piece. Their expansive guitar driven rock swells around the room, topped off by passionate female vocals that begin with the lyrical theme of death, but continue with a far more pop driven accessibility. A very exciting prospect, who are already attracting attention from those on high.

Next on is Golden Glow, whose repertoire averages around the plodding indie realm, all rather reminiscent of The Dears. When it does pick up a bit there are hints of Bloc Party and although there are signs of promise, the whole thing feels a bit underwhelming.

Where excitement was lacking before, we find it in abundance upon the arrival of Post War Years. Greeted onto a stage filled with boxes of trickery all linked together with a tangle of wires, the expectant audience is treated to a showcase set consisting of only new material. Whereas often in this scenario one is left gagging for one of the old hits, Post War Years deliver an amazing cacophony of fuzzy synths, frantic drums beats, soul shaking sub bass and an array of bleeps, samples and soaring synth melodies, completed by three part vocals that sail atop the washes of sound.

Whereas older material hinted towards the noodly guitar lines and brass stabs of Foals and Friendly Fires, new tracks display a far more cohesive song-writing approach; more reminiscent of Yeasayer, but without the weirdness. The final two tracks of the set are simply huge tunes, filled with hooks aplenty, catchy melodies and so much trance groove you can’t help but want more. Tonight Post War Years have displayed a collection of songs that will surely attract a whole host of new fans and, with the second album due in the New Year, hopefully catapult them into the limelight.

Words & Images: Simon Bray

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Sounds From The Other City 2011, Sunday 1st May

This year’s Sounds From The Other City (SFTOC) festival sees that elusive guest not immediately associated with previous Bank Holiday Sunday afternoons in the Chapel Street locale; clear skies and sunshine. The blustery, extrinsic seaside breezes are forgivable given the lengthier-than-ever linear perimeter near the River Irwell (wind direction permitting).

The Islington Mill hub is the first stop on everyone’s SFTOC journey but with so much booked in to see it’d be hard not to plot your own unique path from there. First step along is a quick dip into the ground floor gallery space where Sonny Smith’s abstract ‘100 Records’ exhibition is housed. The jukebox centrepiece holds all the aural results of a project that has imagined, designed and storyboarded a century of conceptual musical acts. Browsing the end products of record sleeves and biographies, it’s easy to see how the lines of fact and fiction may have been blurred, while a satirical angle could lament the aesthetic roots and reasons behind musicians’ practise, as opposed to music for music’s sake.

Scheduled as festival starters, but over 30 minutes late on the HearHere / Bad Uncle stage, Dr Mahogany’s Goat Circus have a useful template for diminishing any such sardonic cynicism. A fluid sextet filed under jazz/world, they set the benchmark for the United Reformed Church’s Soundtracks From The Other City premise by composing beside a film, Baraka, which features scenes of expansive landscapes, terraced Asian paddy fields and a choreographed seated dance. Although unintentional, there’s an appealing audio/visual synchronicity early in the set as images fixate conga drum-led eyes, but the grip is loosened as they drift between songs, such as the Doors-esque rhythms of ‘Stomping Foot, Clapping Hand’, and interconnecting improv.

From then on there’s a sense of déjà vu as the aural weapon of choice is the sampler. The Mind On Fire curated Salford Arms begins with synth/drum duo Vieka’s glitch-hop under distinctively enunciated vocals (think caro snatch or From The Kites of San Quentin), who’re hampered a little by unwanted amp feedback and lead in with coin jangling samples similar to Pink Floyd and MIA. The subject of money is an appropriate topic for another band reliant on synthetic sound snippets, Money, who embellish atmospheric guitar effects with backing visuals of their own. Lyrical content with a mortal preoccupation is enhanced by a tortured delivery akin to The Walkmen’s records, while thudding bass à la Joy Division permeates the misty introspection.

Waiting next to the nearby grassy verge is a testimony to the eclectic nature of the festival. The Rhythm’N’Blood Mobile dubs lo-fi saxophone over bluesy tape recordings including ‘All Along The Watchtower’. Rumours have it that he lectures at Salford University and serenading passing punters as a one man band with a backline of four mini amps strapped to a trolley is an endearing hobby.

Where do you go from that? As it turns out, Day For Airstrikes is where to go. Back at the United Reformed Church, DFA are backed by Rita, Sue and Bob Too; managing to pinpoint a climactic ending as the film pauses with the male protagonist in mid-air, leaping towards a bed with Union Jack duvet. Planned or otherwise, it works well (and can be listened to here). And they’re another succumbed to the lure of sampled structures; replacing post-rock guitars of old, but maintaining their same slow builds towards apocalypse. A stark contrast to Veí, whose downtempo sampling orchestra transforms the Salford Arms into a meeting atrium for hollow glockenspiel clacks, disparate ivories and lonely strings.

Too much perambulation would seem wasteful, which is exactly what strides down to Peel Hall conspire to be as Willy Mason’s lure is strong enough to force a one-in-one-out scenario at which the queue doesn't look promising. One punter describes the show as “underwhelming”, but that really depends on your expectation ahead of the performance of one man and a guitar. The next stop certainly isn’t underwhelming. Easter have been causing a stir amongst post-rock purveyors and some good old-fashioned axe duelling belittles the need for rhythm guitars as instead intricate noodling harnesses the roaring feedback.

Another genre shift back to laptop connoisseur Neko Neko. His squelchy electronic samples solder to Moby-esque ambient soundscapes, while submerged progressions of swooshes and minimal percussive stabs sink indolently before giving way to melodic harp twinkles.

Denis Jones then tackles the Soundtrack stage; an improv whizz in his natural habitat. Opting for a simple film tracking ball bearing movements, Jones also opts for simple, steady loop layering patterns with acoustic guitar undercurrents and gradual introduction of electronic manipulations. The occasional recognisable songs, the typically soulful ‘Clap Hands’ being one, are supplemented by onstage collaborator David Schlechtriemen (aka The Pickpocket Network), who adds a disco remix monotony to the live compositions; the pair facing each other with gadgetry primed, evoking Fuck Buttons or worriedaboutsatan.

The finale is littered with uptempo electro of various persuasions. Capac at Salford Arms and Islington Mill festival-closers Anchorsong and D/R/U/G/S all sail aboard the good ship synth, navigating a sea of processed beats, while sandwiched between are Fixers and Rainbow Arabia. Firstly, Oxford’s Fixers take on a soundtrack to looped cuts from Mariah Carey’s Glitter by pounding their combined keys, and yet more samples – this time directly influenced by the post-Animal Collective acclaim boom. If SFTOC is an indicator for the sounds from all other cities bubbling under the mainstream radar then there’s plenty more sampledelica (?), samplecore (?), to add to this generation’s synthetic symphonies.

Apt then, is Rainbow Arabia’s headlining jaunt at the Old Pint Pot. Signed to revered German electronic music label Kompakt, the Afrobeat disco duo show themselves to be infinitely more energetic than a jaded and weary crowd; vocoded vocalist Tiffany Preston gyrates between elevated archways as her husband Danny operates a mini electronic orchestra. It’s an engaging spectacle for the Pint Pot’s poky viewing confines, which you’d expect given the endorsement from youtube-bothering politico MIA.

Words: Ian Pennington

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Deerhoof @ Club Academy, Tuesday 3rd May, 2011

As I descend into the basement, I feel tired, edgy, and actually a little bit morose. Vague memories of the excesses of the weekend haunt my consciousness.

Deerhoof emerge without much ceremony, and seemingly without much charisma. The drummer takes a seat to the right, unsmiling singer stands to the left and two guitarists in the centre. And they start playing.


Art rock, math rock, experimental rock – in its quest not to be cliché, it can become exactly that. It can become frustrating, it can become obvious. But this, this is urgent, it is erratic, it is beautifully inconsistent. Greg Saunier’s manic drumming is filled with power, but not rage. It is perfectly controlled in its exuberant abandon. It does everything you expect a lead singer to do – ebb, flow, reach out, draw in, pause, return.

The pauses. Again and again we pause and then re-emerge from the pause, slowly, quickly. If a singer was to lead such changes of rhythm, direction and pace, it would be nauseating. Led by Saunier’s drumming, they are exhilarating.

So what is the singer doing? Satomi Matsuzaki’s inexpressive face is accompanied by an inexpressive voice, but high-pitched, dreamy and reminiscent of Japanese pop. With her comically energetic dancing opposite the mesmerisingly energetic drumming, I initially don’t realise the importance of the guitars. The boys in matching T-shirts, John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez, are powerhouses of melody and bass. Their variations of rhythm and pace are less obvious than Saunier’s on drums, but equally affecting – some sudden, some evolving, some graduated. Some subtle, some less so. Their playing is jagged at times, while other riffs seem to draw from influences as broad as Hendrix, Steppenwolf and the sweet sounds of bubblegum pop. And of course, metal. Metal hardened by Saunier’s virtuoso drumming and softened by Matsuzaki’s unreadable voice. Urgent, erratic and wonderfully inconsistent.

Before their final tune, Saunier stands to make a speech thanking the support band, Milk Maid, for playing at short notice, and thanking the audience for coming. The cadence of his speech is stilted, filled with pregnant pauses. He speeds up, slows down, plays with the sounds he is making and the effect they are having on us. His speech mimics how they play, but less expertly. Deerhoof are playful, droll and full of ideas. Their set is a maze of compositional complexity created from the sounds of pop and rock.

Urgent. Erratic. Wonderfully inconsistent.

Words: Piyush Pushkar [Piyush also writes for Doctor Magiot]
Images: Courtesy of In House Press; photography by Sarah Cass

Monday, 9 May 2011

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

Thanks to Sounds From The Other City (review to appear very soon) and a subsequent hectic week, another preview has missed a large bite out of the month. But no longer must you wait!

This evening (Monday 9th) Post War Years stride the Deaf Institute stage with earnest indie pop, then tomorrow (Tuesday 10th) PVT make a prompt return to this city with support from From The Kites Of San Quentin and The Narrows (see penultimate and final paragraphs).

Soon after that, FutureEverything hits hard with a variety of live music (previously under the FutureSonic moniker) and plenty more besides (hence the Everything alteration). From Wednesday 11th ‘til Saturday 14th, the Now Then Manchester pop picks are Gang Gang Dance at Ruby Lounge (11th), Steve Reich at RNCM (12th), Das Racist at the Roadhouse (13th), King Kong Soundtracked by Sunday Best linchpin Rob Da Bank - and with support just announced from Veí(13th) - and Martyn / Daedelus / Kyle Hall at Jabez Clegg (14th), but you’ll seldom leave any FutureEverything show disappointed.

In the ‘plenty more besides’ column, the Handmade fair at Victoria Baths on Saturday 14th is a standout. It includes a fanzine convention organised by Shrieking Violet, Antony Hall’s physical oscillators and Fablab workshops. You’re better browsing the official website for more info on the whole four days...

Outside of the main FutureEverything programme is a one-off for Concrete Moniker’s The Electronic Exchange, who’re taking on a full band format in the Umbro Design Space HQ on the Friday. The following night at the same venue is another worthy option; Mind On Fire curating a record label showcase.

Saturday 14th holds a couple of other cards up its sleeve; spoken word specialist Kate Tempest’s funky backing band Sound of Rum have been booked in for a Deaf Institute show, while Contort Yourself return to Ruby Lounge with DJ Funk in tow. Tough choice.

The deadline for your Manchester Art Crawl submissions is Sunday 15th, so keep that one in mind. It’s a Manchester International Festival fringe event and is welcoming of “all visual, audio, digital and time based artists of all career stages. All non artists wishing to deliver ideas in a contemporary art context (information available via website),” so say the organisers, who’ll consider shows proposed to be staged from 2nd to 16th July.

If you’ve already submitted your proposal, mellow your body while sharpening your mind for a Sunday afternoon Scrabble Club showdown at Deaf Institute. Best to brush up on those match-winning two-letter obscurities before you go.

Onwards to Thursday 19th when Hit‘N’Run welcome back previously lauded Submotion Orchestra for a quick return to the Mint Lounge. Friday 20th at Islington Mill is hard to say no to; a free gig featuring Google-unfriendly Baltimore curios Thank You. Unless, that is, you’d prefer to attend a thought-provoking (and very relevant) greenroom theatrical show by Michael Pinchbeck named ‘The End’.

More events to follow later in the month, including Chorlton Arts Festival (which launches on Thursday 19th).

Bandcamp is proving more and more popular in cutting out the bloodsucking major label middle man and a couple of local tips on that bandwidth are The Narrows, whose single went live last month, the Well Weapon Records alt-indie compilation (and art fanzine) and Broken Bubble, who’ve been prolifically been distributing more than their fair share of high-quality ambient glitch-tronica; most recently with Macka’s bittersweet twinkly callousness Piano Works.
And finally, recent interviewees From The Kites Of San Quentin have challenged laptop remixers to rehash their upcoming single ‘Stoopid’.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images #1, #5 & #6: Courtesy of Well Weapon Records