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:: Beat The Radar :: With That Knife :: Patterns ::
07 January 2011 / Fuel, Withington / Manchester
By David Edwards

We muscle our way up the stairs and into the upstairs room of Fuel Bar, condensation making acquaintance with the windows as we stand shoulder to shoulder; as crushed as the carefully written lists of resolutions being smoked, drunk and screwed away up and down the country tonight. Yes, it’s 2011: we are back. It’s only been three weeks but it felt like a lifetime…

Much credit is due to MCR Scenewipe for tonight’s showcase. God knows what tactics they employed (threats, bribes, free lollypops, the promised reincarnation of Jesus and Michael Jackson for a secret karaoke duet) but Fuel Bar is packed tonight. Those knowing Withington residents will hoarsely cry “But it’s quite small really”. Well, yeah. But the crowd is all the way to the back, spreading into the toilet corridor and the smoking balcony. At one point, I find myself at the back, cautiously perched with one knee on a chair while the collective young, weird and beautiful of South Manchester proceed to repeatedly stand on my anchoring foot. There is nothing quite like the masochism of a packed live music. If the Marquis de Sade was alive today, he’d be down the front at major concerts and festivals; revelling in the asphyxia and violently choking himself with an overpriced T-Shirt.

FLASH…BANG!!! What was that? Ah, it’s my New Years Resolution: “I must not continue to talk obscure claptrap in gig reviews”. Well that shot the breeze. Looks like we’re looking at 2012 then, before the sensible and sober David is revealed to the world. Possibly. It could go either way…

Beat the Radar have been spiking my interest since I first caught them one balmy summer night in Chorlton last year. One of the reasons I find them so intriguing is that their sound appears to be undergo a Darwinian Evolution each time I see them. From starting out with a sound more closely attuned with spiky, anthemic rock songs, they are seemingly hell-bent on stripping away their wasteful chromosomes and cultivating with a sound that moves closer to something fantastic with each passing gig. Tonight, they have morphed into a pared back combination of scratchy, flowing post-punk and new-wave, albeit with a modern demeanour: a touch of early Cure, the best bits of The Stone Roses “Garage Flowers” collection crossed with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They are starting to go a bit weirder and a bit more underground and I like it, it’s all good. Equally impressive is lead singer Jonathon Swift’s bass playing. When I last saw them in October, he was filling in and though his playing was fine, it was relatively rudimentary. Tonight, he crafts elegant basslines that combine melodic flow and punctuating drive through the heart of each song. My initial thoughts were “Christ, the new bass player is adding a lot to their sound” before realising it was still Swift playing. This should be a permanent move: it sounds great.

Cath had balanced precariously between a chair and a member of another local band in an attempt to capture the scene, not altogether successfully...

Combined with this keener, leaner musical stature, they still have some wonderfully memorable and cleverly constructed songs. From opener ‘Remember the Morning’ to the superb closer ‘I Hope I Die’, they bash hooks, melody and a tremendous understanding of choruses together into songs that rattle with promise. They are almost there, only a couple of weaker songs later in the set stand between them and being completely ready to stand up and announce themselves as one of the best new bands in the city. For now, the journey continues and the ride is proving more exciting than I could ever have envisaged.

At this point, I make an ill-advised trip to the bar downstairs and end up shoved precariously onto the aforementioned chair at the back of the venue. So as a consequence, I don’t get to actually see With That Knife while they’re playing. (Me neither - Cath & Camera) Which is a shame, as I’d like to put faces and shapes to a musical experience which is both curious and confusing. Their heartbeat is funk, driven on by the superb rhythm section. On top of this, there is various guitars bleeps and bluster while Owen Barratt keeps swerving quirky, odd melodies and lyrics around: a touch like Art Brut’s more wandersome outings, At The Drive-In or Foals on helium and hash. Initially, I don’t get it. It’s brilliantly played but oddly, the excellent musicianship seems to detract from the songs…it almost sounds too polished and you want to see some rust forming on the strings and vocal cords. From a position of frowning bafflement however, they gradually draw me back into the circle throughout their sheer skill of performance. I suddenly start realising that they have so many good ideas in their songs; clever breakdowns, stutters and stops, weird stabs of melody. It’s not always fully developed and it’s not always coherent. But underneath it all, there is a bubbling morass of creative energy and a drive to do something different that promises so, so much. The proof of all of this is in their penultimate track, where everything they do comes together perfectly into something oddly and beguilingly beautiful. It’s a sign-post to the future and a marker that this band could well be worth keeping a close eye on. I can’t pretend I wasn’t irked and confused at times, but I leave excitedly looking forward to meeting them again. First dates are often like that I suppose. Or maybe that’s just me…

I have heard a lot about Patterns, both before tonight, and when I finally regain my place at the front of the crowd to meet MM Live Editor Cath. You see, Cath has had a special place in her heart for Patterns for some time now. But for the moment, we both have a place in our heart for the Canadian Charcoal Pit kebab house, visible directly across the street from Fuel. It’s like some sort of food porn peep show. We can see everything: the drunken students, the spinning leg of meat. Heck, we can even see those weird little green chilli things. Funny, the things you notice at gigs. Then again, surely kebabs are the most rock and roll of fast-foods? Wrong in every way, you spend too much money on them but heck; it’s worth it for the rush. There’s something about them you just can’t get from a Big Mac.

FLASH…BANG!!! Oh, piss off, will you? I’ve already chucked my resolution in the bin for this year. You’re stuck with me now!

Patterns' drummer and a kebab shop

Patterns come on stage looking slightly cautious and nervous. By this point, people are climbing on the staircase wall for a better view. For once, the palpable sense of hype is accompanied by a genuine thickly-spun web of electricity in the air. Which is quickly justified, justified absolutely. Patterns are superb. They seem to be on a mission to cover as many grid-reference points of satisfaction that it is possible for a band to manage in one night. Their sound is tight, well-rehearsed and perfectly aligned, each member contributing what they need to and nothing superfluous. The resulting sound is full of resonating heartbreak and amphetamine-sprinkled love, sweeping around the corners of your mind. And there is room for contemplation too: despite the skittering drums and incessant bass, there is so much airspace within their sound to fly your senses through, at a private latitude and longitude. Their sound is difficult to pin down. There is a touch of early Interpol in their penchant for gorgeous gloom, yet their atmosphere is filled with so much hope and longing. And not only that, they have the songs. Drenched in layers of reverb, their songs have so much gravity and depth; never, ever repeating a trick or recycling what came before. Fuck me, they can even do the whole sing-along refrain thing. For 35 minutes, they transport you into a shape-shifting, amorphous parallel universe of. Which I mean as praise; high praise indeed. Patterns are like no-one else in the Manchester scene right now. They have a place, they have an opportunity. And judging from tonight, they have a crowd. This band could be something truly special.

There is nothing worse than getting the year off to a bad start. And conversely, there is nothing better than forcibly jump-starting the New Year with a bang and an utter belief in what’s to come. So for that; thank you Manchester Scenewipe. At a time of year that is typically barren and bereft of enjoyment, we had the opportunity to indulge in the pleasures of three typically quixotic local bands, each with their own agenda, promise and polarity. Don’t let anyone believe that the music of Manchester is still full of posturing lads with a Britpop fetish (we’ll leave that to Slough and Brother, shall we?). This is a very different city rising up from the foothills of the Pennines. Manchester is splintering off musically in a way that it hasn’t done for years. But they are beautiful splinters. And if you happen to step upon them one day soon, they might just make your 2011 the best year ever…

Happy New Year !

Beat The Radar
With That Knife
MCR Scenewipe

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