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

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