Friday, 25 November 2011

Preview: Nexus Night Café

Two years ago a friend and I found ourselves stumbling out of a bar in the Northern Quarter not wishing to go home but no longer able to find an open bar or particularly interested in walking about looking for a taxi and avoiding fights and vomit.

We were handed a flyer for a place down the road. Normally I'll take a flyer and then throw it away but I liked the vibe coming from this person and the flyer had a pretty picture. I’m very easily persuaded.

That place was Nexus Art Café which runs a Night Café on Saturdays, open from 2am to 6am. We were welcomed into the warm space, where we bought hot chocolate and delicious cake. We had a few slices of cake.

There were industrial sized rolls of paper on the floor and plenty of crayons and here we all were; adults, merry and playing like kids. 4am Scrabble, art installations on the wall and good music.

The Café has also been open weekdays from 2008 and holds regular community and arts events. The food is great. You can bring your own mix tapes and put them in the jukebox. There are books and games, regular art exhibitions, music and theatre.

All of this is run not-for-profit. It is one of the friendliest and most important venues in the city but funding cuts mean the Night Café has been running at a loss for over a year.

Please help Nexus Night Café to stay open beyond December by making a donation to the charity, either using the box at the counter or by contacting for further information.

They are also holding a fundraiser on Saturday 3rd December from 8pm 'til 6am. Tickets are £7 and available from in advance.

The event will see performances from PYJAMA PARTY, sublime songtresses HAT + EL, young whippersnappers BROUHAHA and late night DJ sets from FAUST, RK and GREENY.

They'll also be holding a raffle with some cool prizes, including a whole year of life drawing classes, tickets to Bright Club Manchester, a brew a day 'til 2013, a year’s membership with our jazzy neighbours Matt and Phred’s and vouchers for other NQ businesses, as well as cakes and boxes of delicious Teapigs tea.

If you care about Manchester and you care about interesting and exciting things happening where you live or if you just care about having somewhere to play board games and eat really good chocolate cake at four in the morning then go along or donate.

Words: Sean Mason
Image: Nexus poster

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Carefully Planned Festival 2011

The aptly named Carefully Planned All-Dayer has been a fairly regular occurrence over the past couple of years. Handpicking a variety of acts to take the stage, the brains behind Everything You Need first took up a whole chunk of Manchester’s daylight hours back in 2009 – and before that entertained Huddersfield. The modus operandi is merely ‘alternative’, which remains pleasingly vague and probably translates as: ‘a bunch of stuff you haven’t yet heard of’. This time around that equates to 66 acts scheduled across two days and four Northern Quarter venues.

My route through the above format isn’t the most extensive – in fact it’s a particularly small percentage of the total music on offer – but it gives a taster; a few bites from the festival buffet, bouncing between platters with an open mind and receptive palate.

For starters, I’m jumping in on day two; Sunday. Shen is downstairs at Centro, retuning his guitar as a mid-set adjustment on his debut show. The hawkeyed amongst a modest early audience have identified his cohort for the slot as the Dr Mahogany’s Goat Circus guitarist. He watches as intently as everyone else during Shen’s intricate acoustic picking combined with heartfelt lyrics partly aided by echo, before adding beats to a Bill Callaghan cover and incongruous bleeps to an anomalous set closer, which could be likened to Thom Yorke’s electronic tendency in the same way as Shen’s deep, straining vocal emotion to simple yet loquacious lines.

Sitting around for Mount Fabric entails a bout of high pitched Matt Bellamy-isms and a wilful reliance on effects pedals to add flesh to bone-shaking rhythmic skeletons. Following that, an exploration is in order. Inter-music prep at The Castle Hotel leads to a brief dalliance with the post-post-post-noise guitar-string mistreatment advocates Crash Of Rhinos; a popular choice whose curtain soon closes to herald a stroll to calmer climes down the Bay Horse’s stairs.

The Gardenelles’ classical folky vibe recaptures Sandy Denny and Vashti Bunyan through finger-picked tales related to Whitehaven’s episode of ‘Coast’ and its tinted specs of invasion reminisce. What is striking is the almost immaculate behaviour of an audience who receive songs with the respect the duo’s delivery deserves.

And that attitude remains (barring the occasional twitter or phone chirp) through Greta Santagata’s sparse yet involving compositions. The harpist sings in the languages of English, music, wonder, lust and her own personal diction as delicate chimes resonate, sandwiched between the face of anticipant stillness reflected back out by the mirror behind her.

With a fleeting glance back into Centro, where Decadence In Berlin are bashing out high octane thrashy punk numbers about the recession with a pleasing insistence on cowbell for percussion, my not-so carefully planned path through Carefully Planned comes to a close. An enjoyable path, although maybe next time I’ll take the event moniker’s advice and better prepare.

Words: Ian Pennington

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Liz Green Album Launch @ Kings Arms, Salford, Saturday 12th November 2011

“Welcome to Liz Green’s album launch party – I put the emphasis on party rather than slick gig...” These are the opening and warmly appropriate sentiments of George Thomas from support band on the night The Thomas Brothers. This is more of a celebration of the four years it’s taken for Green to release her debut LP, O, Devotion (through Play It Again Sam).

The Thomas Brothers open the evening’s proceedings with their upbeat 60s rockabilly with wonky edges courtesy of “astronaut sound effects” and occasional use of an old Ace Tone organ. The duo charm the room and have them in stitches between songs – “If you like watching rehearsals, you must be loving this.”

But the night isn’t about trying to win over a hostile crowd; it is a gathering of friends and well wishers all set on helping Liz Green celebrate her first full length release. And as such when Green does take to the stage she begins by downing a glass of rum to a chorus of “down it!” from the room.

However, for all the banter and general frivolity in the packed room, when Green opens with the a capella ‘Grinnin’ In Your Face’ it shows why everyone is here. Her idiosyncratic songbird warble causes the crowd to become listening statues before joining in to clap and stamp along bringing the song to a close.

Two songs in, Green’s band (who she affectionately names 'Team Me') join her on stage to begin a whole host of bouncy double bass driven songs with a slow 1920s sounding brass section that is always present but never overpowering. The only thing missing from the swirling jazzy sound is a stereotypical overabundance of finger clicking and toe-tapping.

Despite being a night full of warmth, rambling stories between songs and hand drawn storyboard explanations of songs, Green always brings it back to her record’s more sombre feel. “Enough of the hilarity; here’s a song about death,” is her way of introducing 'Hey Joe', a song about her half-man, half-bird imaginary friend.

Green is clearly in great spirits about finally releasing O, Devotion on a night which shows just how much affection and devotion there is towards her, both in the room and surely soon from a much wider audience.

The Set List

Grinnin’ In Your Face [Son House cover]
Dying Crapshooter’s Blues [Blind Willie McTell cover]
Ostrich Song
Midnight Blues
Displacement Song
Rag and Bone
Hey Joe
The Ballad of Joe and Oko
The Quiet
Bad Medicine
French Singer
Bei Mir Bis du Shoen

Words: Ben Robinson
Set list courtesy of Folly of Youth.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Interview: Air Cav

So far Air Cav have resisted the temptation to cash in on acclaim afforded them since emerging in 2008, choosing instead to hone their skill for heart-poundingly epic shoegaze compositions. The ‘Alliance / Branches’ single was tagged by Steve Lamacq as one of his five picks for ‘Hottest Records in the World Right Now’ and various analyses have alluded to Arcade Fire when searching for an appropriate simile for uplifting violin embedded within the alt-rock line-up. Unhurried and unfazed, the quartet have been biding their time, adding to that an armoury of tunes all tried and tested as part of an oft-applauded live show. Everything is now picking up pace – a new single ‘A Call To Arms’ was released earlier this month and the debut album entitled Don’t Look Indoors is set to follow on 5th December.

The album in question meanders from alt-rock’s choppy staccato to the engulfing reverberations of shoegaze which, with the presence of the undeniably soothing violin lines, embraces both the classical and contemporary. Serene yet stirring instrumental breaks belie the urgency of motorik marching beats and Chris Nield’s Brian Molko-esque vocal charges; it is a collection of contrasts cohesively soldered into shape. The band’s name (Air Cav is the name for an air-mobile division of the US Army) isn’t where army influence ends; from ‘A Call to Arms’ to ‘Alliance’, ‘So Others May Live’ to ‘Here Be Dragons’, there are military references aplenty, which violinist Sophie Parkes defines as “metaphor and a combined respect for war films – from the males in the band at least!” The record could be interpreted as a concept album; in the same breath, the architects could be interpreted as a concept band.

Released on the band’s own label, Crystalline Recordings, Don’t Look Indoors realises that promise with all the grandiose aplomb that you’d expect. Still the standout track, ‘Alliance’ is that rare musical adhesive that’ll stick to your inner playlist long after listening and it is accompanied by an often fearsome arsenal of fellow euphoric climbs. But the highlights aren’t necessarily always the besieging; ‘Exile’ and album closer ‘Glossary’ retreat to forge a fortress of melancholy, captivating those who enter its melodic gates.

Ahead of a headlining slot at Now Then Manchester’s first Antwerp Mansion showcase on 24th November, violinist Sophie Parkes spared some time to answer our questions.

Now Then: You were initially victims of the journo shorthand for melodic indie: ‘sounds like Arcade Fire’. Did you welcome this? What did you think about the reaction to your recording emergence back then?

Sophie Parkes: Well, as much as I love Arcade Fire, it seemed very simple to be able to equate ‘girl on violin’ with ‘sounds like Arcade Fire’ – I don’t think we would have had those comparisons had we not the line-up we do, because I’m not sure there is all that much in common. It’s one of those journalistic timeframes where everyone is caught up with the ‘big sound’; a decade ago, everyone sounded like The Strokes. Otherwise, I think we were really pleased with the reaction to our first singles: we had some really nice airplay, including Radio 1 and being made ‘Single of the Week’ on XFM. It’s always heartening to have that kind of reaction when you’re essentially doing this yourself; no manager, no agent, no label, no PR specialist and so on.

NT: It’s been a long time in the making since the first singles released back in 2008. What has been the hold up?

SP: We’ve spent a long time scrapping, rewriting... We weren’t going to hurry, as there seemed nothing to hurry for! It’s not like we’ve ever been involved in the hype machine or anything. We thought we’d take our time, get together a collection that we were pleased with and see what happened...

NT: Did you hesitate before including the early singles on the album, given the length of time since they were originally recorded, or were they too significant to omit?

SP: I don’t think we hesitated as such, just as we’re really proud of ‘Alliance’ and ‘Picking At The Bones’ and wanted to include them, but we did want to record them differently, with a different slant. So ‘Alliance’ is calmer, fuller, whilst ‘Picking At The Bones’ includes different backing vocals and more noise.

NT: What has the response been to the album so far and how do you feel about it?

SP: The reviews have started filtering in and they’ve all been really positive and enthusiastic so far – and some of our nearest and dearest are very impressed, and that’s what matters. We’ve also had some great airplay: Steve Lamacq has played ‘A Call To Arms’ to end one of his shows on 6Music and John Kennedy gave us a whirl on XFM, so it’s looking good.

NT: You’ve recently been taking support slots on Now Wave and WotGodForgot promoted shows... How have they gone for you?

SP: It’s really great to be able to support interesting, well-received bands from outside the UK and see what all the fuss is about. And, of course, they’re experienced promoters who choose great venues and really think about which support bands will complement their headliners, meaning that fans might well have an ear out for us, too.

NT: Which has been your most memorable live show and why?

SP: Well, there’s been several really. We were really lucky to head to Holland with our friends, Daniel Land And The Modern Painters, for a couple of shows and meet some really lovely people who we’ve stayed in touch with. We also put on our own Christmas gig a couple of years ago at the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel which was amazing; mulled wine, mince pies and music in a very ambient setting always goes down well! Then this year, Dave Haslam invited us down to play at the Manchester International Festival, which was really great, and we also loved supporting Ringo Deathstarr at the Ruby Lounge, just because they’re fantastic.

NT: Which records are you playing the grooves off at the moment and which of your peers would you recommend?

SP: I’m a big folk fan and I’m currently enthralled by a new female English folk singing collective called Lady Maisery who specialise in ‘diddling’, singing instrumental tunes rather than singing words. Chris is desperately awaiting the new Spiritualized album, following their performance at the Albert Hall last month.

As for other bands at the moment, we’re big fans of Driver Drive Faster, who we asked to support us at our Christmas gig a couple of years ago, and I love Caulbearers, too.

NT: Where will Air Cav go from here?

SP: Well, we’ve already got a clutch of new songs that we’re really chuffed with, songs that are sounding a little different to what we’ve done before, so we’ll be looking forward to playing those live and seeing how they go down.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photographs: Courtesy of Air Cav
Logos: Courtesy of Air Cav / Crystalline Recordings
Promo design: Craig Brown Beards Club Illustration

Air Cav headline the Now Then Crystalline Records show at Antwerp Mansion on Thursday 24th November. Foreign Hands and Ivan Campo will also perform; entry policy is pay-what-you-like, £3 suggested.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Denis Jones: Then & Now

Years ago, neatly tucked in alongside Humble Soul’s other local traditional folkies including Liz Green and John Fairhurst, Denis Jones was merely one part ‘electronic’ dabbler, while remaining for the most part safely concurrent with 21st Century folk & blues.

Ever since then, he has slowly but surely drifted out into a sea of spliced soundwaves and, in pairing with multi-instrumental beats merchant David Schlechtriemen (also of The Pickpocket Network, HoneyFeet and Driver Drive Faster), his soulful side is being rejected for something altogether more immediate. The quaint (if wrongly attributed) folk-tronica tag has long since been shed. Tracking his progress as a musician very much open to experimenting with his art, you can still sense the early learning in folk and blues, notably in tonight’s recognisable tracks ‘Beginning’ and ‘Clap Hands’, but Denis has used his accumulated coats of technological paint to embrace something far more hard-hitting, raw, visceral and primordial: dance music.

If you were to see him tonight for the first time, his abundance of facial follicles would seem more sonically apt alongside pre-shave Beardyman or moustachioed Andrew Weatherall than folk’s William Fitzsimmons or Iron & Wine. The audience are still heckling for the standouts of his first two LPs: “‘Elvis’! ‘Sometimes’!” they plead; “Judas!” you can almost hear them thinking. From David’s arrival partway through opener ‘Clap Hands’ until he departs again for ever-beguiling curtain closer ‘Beginning’, it is a deluge of electronic indulgence. During that time, some shuffle uncomfortably and reminisce about more intimate climes of days gone by, sat cross-legged in crammed south Manchester bars, but in realising his own musical present and future, he is steadily leaving that audience in the past.

Or is he?

Denis’ ever-developing brand of dance noise would most cohesively fall into the IDM category alongside the likes of Walls, Fuck Buttons and Ghosting Season. But Denis and David (or Tatetitotu, as they're tentatively calling the project) are unchained by genre and also retain a certain organic feel that some peers cannot boast. Their compositions are untethered to the workings of a macbook, generating a production less disguised than the others. Looped sample pads and a mesmerising array of gadgets seem over-complicated, but groundings are often laid by the more human elements. Denis’s acoustic guitar plucked with intricate precision; his vocal howls and hollers adding an entombing atmospheric intensity. In this sense it could be interpreted as in keeping with the bluesy roots.

And does a dance music orientation necessarily leave folk and blues behind? If the folk and blues leviathans of days gone by had access to the sound warping equipment that today’s sonic sculptors readily employ, would they too reshape and adapt? Indeed, they did adapt. John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters trailblazed with electric blues; John Martyn championed alternate guitar tunings; Don Van Vliet rewrote the recording rulebook in his secluded forest cabin (albeit a rulebook that few would willingly follow).

That progressive dynamism is as fundamental to the synthetic as it is to the natural. Indeed, the open-minded are shifting their feet to the Denis/David duo’s block rockin’ beats. The only sticking point would be that it’s not Denis Jones as advertised; it’s a wholly different racket. nods to John Fairhurst, Adrian Crowley and Alin Coen Band as reference points, but those are inaccurate and inadequate to his direction; every step he’s taken has been away from those peers. Which means that local promoters Mind On Fire are way ahead of Tuneglue. They saw the sonic signs more than 18 months ago by pitting him alongside the likes of From the Kites of San Quentin and xxxy on a bill topped by Mount Kimbie; next week (Thursday 17th November) they’re taking that a stage further by seamlessly coalescing him (plus David) with the supports for IDM electronic glitch tweaker Shigeto at Islington Mill.

And so to the future, which for Denis should include many more of the kaleidoscopic frames distributed on entry to this gig – albeit with more of a light show to hammer home his realignment in techno-musical technicolour. The specs, incidentally, are an apt side-story and one that lends credence to Denis’s strides into dancefloor-filling territory. Distributed on entry to the Deaf Institute, they build a hallucinatory experience with minimal effort, cost and after-effects; the silver screen is dabbling with 1980s 3D comebacks, so why not independent music? Many seem sceptical, but taking on the paraphernalia of Biff’s infamous Back to the Future crony means you’re only a short leap into the surreal away from a psychedelic Chemical Brothers or Orbital spectacle. Not often will this be used as a simile, but then it hasn’t been often that Denis has provided an encore with the ballistics of a D’n’B beats bombardment.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photography: Stephen Hicks
Poster: Mind On Fire

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Interview: Ghost Outfit

You may have heard Manchester buzz band Ghost Outfit causing a clamour on Wilmslow Road buses, in art galleries or on record; all very lo-fi, guerrilla, DIY so far. When Now Then’s Ben Robinson decided to investigate further, frontman Jack Hardman told him about the ghosts of the band’s past, present and future.

Hallowe’en was the perfect time for the aptly named Ghost Outfit to release their new single Tuesday through Sways Records – hand knitted ghosts and all. Early in its musical life, the duo comprising Jack Hardman and Mike Benson has been branded with the currently trendy ‘lo-fi’ and ‘DIY’ tags, but the poltergeist-loving pair is now trying to move away from such labels by setting sights on taking the distorted shoegaze noise-pop further afield.

“I understand why we’re called [lo-fi], you can’t exactly call the earlier recordings anything but lo-fi; it was kind of lo-fi by necessity rather than associating it with the genre. It wasn’t really an attempt to recreate that genre it was more making what we could with the equipment that we had.”

Ghost Outfit are part of the Salford-based Sways Records and have also been championed by local promoters Underachievers Please Try Harder and MCR Scenewipe. They have been associated with the lo-fi re-emergence in Manchester of late along with countless other distortion loving, budget-sounding bands, such as Sex Hands, Former Bullies and Milk Maid; a trend owing a debt to love of nineties American indie.

“I’d have to say it’s all stemmed from the re-emergence of that scene of bringing back nineties American indie rock. And I like the fact that a lot of Manchester bands are putting a completely unique spin on it – they’re not trying to recreate the sounds of these American lo-fi bands.”

Ghost Outfit fell into this ramshackle DIY scene through a combination of need and bad experiences in the recording studio as they were starting out. After that experience, Jack says the band are heading to the studio for a lengthier process with their sights on moving away from previous lo-fi efforts.

“We want to get stuck into something a bit lengthier because we’ve not done that before, the two EPs we put out before this single are online. They were all sort of compilations we did over the space of nine months, so we want to do a long EP; that’s our next call.”

“We’re actually talking about polishing off a couple of songs and then going down in a couple of weeks to start recording at the Sways studio in Salford. Because it’s their studio we can kind of do what we’ve wanted to do for ages which is move in and stay there for like three or four days while we live there and do all the recording then fall asleep and stuff.”

“With the old EP we had no interest in going into a studio because we went into a studio early on as a band – one of those pay-per-day studios – and we just had a horrible experience of it. So we thought everyone’s doing it DIY at the moment so we’ll give that a go. We took that and sort of pushed that as far as we could go whilst still trying to be pop and yeah it was great, we had a great time doing it, but because the scene at the moment is very heavily lo-fi sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the people who’ve worked really hard to get it to sound interesting and lo-fi.”

Jack insists though that the band is wary of finding themselves as part of a ‘trend’ for the sake of sounding a particular way. For their future planned recording sessions they’ll be aiming for a sound that’s “nice and live”. So expect to hear a slightly different Ghost Outfit sound in their next releases.

“People like Chad VanGaalen have really tried to use lo-fidelity to their advantage, but then you get people who are the other way around. Like bands who stick a microphone as low as the reverb and distortion in the room and play into their microphone and they’re done in an hour or something.”

“And there’s merit to that but at the same time it allows bands to sound really trendy at very little effort on their own part. I think we’re looking at disassociating ourselves from lo-fi completely, we don’t want go for a really slick sound just nice and live in the studio.”

Words: Ben Robinson
Images: Simon Bray (Music photography)