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:: Santiago Street Machine :: The Narrows :: Gallops ::
29 March 2011 / Night & Day / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

Late again. Arrive at Night & Day to find Santiago Street Machine rocking and raving up an energetic little electro-storm. Heavy on the techno bleeps and even heavier on the drums they're welding soulful gritty pop tunes to monstrous beats in a way that's possibly not suited to an early-doors Tuesday night in a venue that doesn't quite draw the walk-in crowds it once did. This is dance music - no, not "MTV Dance Chart" music but music with catchy tunes and frenzied rhythms that's screaming out to be danced to by a late-night up-for-it crowd: festival bookers, get on this band. And you can't go wrong ending a live set in a hail of floor drums high-speed samba party, can you?

The Narrows - photograph by Gwen Jones, with thanks

Trying to find new things to say about The Narrows when it's all of five days since the last review: well, it must count for something that they're the main reason we're here. You don't willingly go and watch a band twice in a week unless they've got something going on, do you? So what is it? It's all sorts of things. It's the way Phil stands gazing into the middle distance in overcoat and tie like he's about to give a lecture, while Adam and David twist distorted guitar solos around his Pet-Shop-Boys-on-a-bad-trip synth. It's the way new single "Initials MM" somehow slips from high melodrama into rich (if rather dark) electropop. It's the way they echo how ostentatious and ambitious and downright weird Pop was in 1981 without actually sounding like anything that was around then (or much else). And it's the fact that they'll say "This is for everyone who marched on Saturday" - "this" being the towering, angry and gloriously embittered "Poll" which finishes the set - in an era where bands still seem to shy away from politics despite the country currently being subjected to the biggest butt-fucking of most of their lifetimes. Dissent hasn't sounded this good in a long time. Phil, Adam and David: your country needs you!

Seem to remember about six months ago (although they were first covered here at MM way back in 2008) lots of people were talking about Gallops. But the buzz shifts so fast these days that - well, maybe people are still talking about them, just not enough to come out on a Tuesday night, or maybe the in-crowd have moved on from instrumental post-math-prog (this band has a track titled in binary code...) or whatever you want to call it. They probably never really liked it anyway, all those jarring dissonant sounds. And yes, Gallops do jarring and dissonant pretty well, but then they scatter pretty little synth tunes all over it. Their stagecraft in the conventional sense is round about the zero mark, but that's fine - there's plenty enough going on in the sound. You have to be pretty bold (or just mental) to stick both Fugazi and Vangelis on your influence list, but there's a point about three tracks in tonight where they genuinely do sound like this deranged cocktail. Other tracks edge closer to Vessels territory, all explosive drums and intricate guitar detail, or head off on a Day For Airstrikes prog-athon, but the electronics makes for a nice little twist.

They're very well received by the few people left in the venue - it's just a shame for them (and indeed for us; music like this gains a certain intensity when it's being played out three feet from your face in a hail of sweat) that it is just a few. It's possible that the seven quid entry had something to do with this: even for the most avid supporters of new music and however great all three bands were, it's still seven quid for a relatively unknown (in the grand scheme of things) visiting headliner and a pair of local supports. Experience has shown there's a kind of psychological cap of a fiver for this kind of bill, which is probably what the same show would have cost at Ruby Lounge or the Roadhouse. Right now in Manchester there are more venues than there have ever been competing for a smaller pot of disposable income and it's quite likely that a few won't survive - it would be a terrible shame if for the sake of a couple of quid per person, some of which would probably end up back behind the bar anyway, this place - which was serving the needs of music fans back when others were still music shops and record label offices and dodgy pubs - became one of them.

Santiago Street Machine interview is coming soon, watch this space...

The Narrows
Santiago Street Machine
Gwen Jones Photography

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