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:: The Twilight Sad :: Charlie Barnes :: D/R/U/G/S :: Dr. Mahogany's Goat Circus :: Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides :: The Louche FC :: Veí :: Breton :: Vondelpark :: Girls Names :: Creep :: Anchorsong ::
01 May 2011 / Various Venues / Salford
By Cath Aubergine

The sun is shining on Salford for what we're told is the first time in the history of Sounds From The Other City, and Islington Mill is a hive of activity as Now Wave make the final preparations to their flagship stage and early arrivals check in at the wristband exchange or grab a beer in the garden. Down the road at the United Reformed Church things are rather less organised with DR MAHOGANY'S GOAT CIRCUS's set time been and gone before the room's even been set up. Mind you, it's a pretty ambitious plan from Bad Uncle & Hear Here: bands will be performing soundtracks to film clips - and as anyone familiar with the fine work of Bad Uncle over the years will be aware, the bands themselves are rarely your conventional pop set-ups. The Goat Circus, as we'll call them, have lots of wood (long horn type things, percussion, you name it) and their chosen film clip is an excerpt from Ron Fricke's 1992 cinematic document of landscape and life, "Baraka". Over its long-panning images of nature and studies of tribal ceremonies they play a loose and semi-improvised-sounding melting pot of progressive jazz, Latin rhythms, strong Eastern vocals, sax, flute and anything else that comes to hand - it's a far cry from your latest hot electro act or indiepop band, but SFTOC has them, too. Always more eclectic and experimental than most of the other wristband venue-hop all-dayers it's good to see the success of this one, now in its seventh year, hasn't tempted them to rein in the outer edges.

Church #2 of the day is Sacred Trinity. MIE Music, which seems to be largely the work of one man called Henry, has been operating in Manchester and Salford for around a year and specialises in the outer edges: still, PART WILD HORSES MANE ON BOTH SIDES exist at the outer edge of even his repertoire: usually described by terms such as "avant-primitivism" and free jazz this acclaimed Mancunian-French duo make creations that even regular dabblers into the world of ambient / sound art (that'll be us, then) find rather impenetrable. He (Pascal Nichols) uses his voice and drums to make splintered percussion more akin to the sound of rain on a tin roof than rhythm in the 3/4, 4/4 sense while she (Kelly Jones) plays a small gong and adds feather-light freeform flute. Not for everyone, sure (not for most people, to be honest) but SFTOC and MIE are to be applauded for affording a taste of this netherworld to those interested by other sounds but who wouldn't generally know where to start.

Onto Church #3 next (via the wonderful new chippy conveniently located next to the United Reformed Church, which will over the course of the next few hours become the festival's unoffical but recommended caterer) - St Philips, where the incredible Charlie Barnes (above) is opening the High Voltage stage. As we have convened with another part of Team MM here who hasn't written about Mr Barnes' wayward pop adventures as much as I have, we'll just say he sounds every bit as fantastic as Charlie Barnes playing in a church should, even if he does admit to being a little tired after a heavy night at Live At Leeds including some "beating up children in Pulled Apart By Horses' moshpit". Ah, so that's who it was... Right, where next then?

With the upstairs in the hands of Postcards From Manchester and the downstairs Wotgodforgot, The Old Pint Pot is not unexpectedly rammed even at ten to six. THE LOUCHE FC, upstairs, are the ones with the crowd - they've been making a lot of waves on the local scene of late with the truly wonderful idea of playing tunes that could have escaped from Phil Spector's Christmas album through effects that could have escaped from Sonic Cathedral. With the river sparkling under the balcony in the late afternoon sun it's a lovely scene and part of me wishes we could just stay here all day...

We don't, of course. The Salford Arms is in the hands of Mind On Fire collective and thus is almost a festival within the festival. Now back when SFTOC first started, this was the sort of rough pub where some of the traditional clientele, faces as red as their Manchester United shirts, would either sit perplexed by or openly verbally abuse these otherwordly visitors from "the other city". I'm pretty sure this was the pub that was hosting a regular's Welcome Home From Prison party (cake, bunting, the lot) in the back room while bands played in the front. Like much of (this end of) Salford it's rather gone up in the world since then: fossilised cheese rolls replaced by three variants of Tibetan curry and when I order a vodka and coke they even ask me what type of vodka I want - this has never actually happened anywhere outsde of a specialist bar. Anyway we're here to see VEI - not a famous name. but one regarded by many in the know locally as one of the finest electronic musicians in the city.

Hunched over his equipment, face hidden behind thick curtains of black hair, he has that wonderfully understated presence of all the techno/electronica greats, and what comes out of the speakers over the next half hour is wonderful. Beautifully undulating chiming melodies and long swathes of synth-string wash are rattled by the percussive clicks and pops of glitchcore as he folds the sounds into sometimes unexpected shapes. There are phases that edge towards the fully abstract and others which tilt at danceable techno, but overall the effect is something closer to a cinematic piece, futuristic but never inaccesibly so.

Heading back to Islington Mill (we won't mention which Manchester-based star artist we had to actually assist with finding the place) the Now Wave session is in full swing with BRETON. Now we caught half a set of theirs at In The City last year and thought they were rather good ("Foals with some artily out-of-focus projections") but this is quite different: they seem to have mutated (with the addition of a couple of extra members and some black hoods they never take off) into what sounds a lot like an off-the-peg hipster band: laptops - check; rather gratey vocals - check; choppy guitars - check; punk-funk-disco beats - check; a few techno bleeps - check. They're alright though. There's a great chilled-out party going on in the courtyard anyway complete with Pimms bar ("back by popular demand!") and falafel wraps being served from a shed next to the "live" T-shirt printing stand: this place always reminds me of those great semi-squat venues you get in places like Holland where going to watch music isn't made to feel like just another commercial transaction. Salford should be proud of it.

Talking of Holland, VONDELPARK is a massively popular park in Amsterdam which makes the musical artist of the same name damn hard to Google - even harder because the artist in question has an internet profile that makes Islet's look prolific. This could be why they're not featured in the SFTOC website's preview pages: guess we'll just have to hang around and see what they're like, then. Turns out they're operating in a similar sort of area to our own Patterns (whom we've had to miss at Wotgoforgot's stage today, sadly, on the grounds that we see them all the time and there's just too much else on) - lovely floating minor-key melancholy atmospheres with shoegazey melodies, effects-washed guitars and rich electronics. This is even spacier, though; out towards the shifting dreamscaper territory of "Goodbye"-era Ulrich Schnauss. The sort of music you can just lose yourself in, especially if you've been out venue-hopping for two days and are starting to feel the effects of all that hiking... Heavens only knows why their otherwise typically blurry/artistic background projections show a football match at one point though. (Crystal Palace were involved, couldn't catch who they were playing or why it may be significant; maybe it isn't).

The King's Arms is equally well-populated when we arrive in time for Belfast visitors GIRLS NAMES (definitely no apostrophe, we've been advised by our contacts over there whose recommendation we're following). They make gorgeous understated lo-fi indiepop with vocals recalling the young Edwyn Collins, and great compact little three minute pop tunes with sturdy driving post-punk foundations of deep bass.

A quick dash back to St Philips (we've lost count of how many times we've covered this stretch of the A6 today) and we've bagged a front pew: following THE TWILIGHT SAD's masterful performance in Leeds last night there was never any doubt we'd be here to see them again. Starting with "That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy" we're straight back into their disturbing world like the last 24 hours never happened, and the acoustics of the church serve to amplify their power beautifully: "I Am Taking the Train Home" with its unsettling rumbles has never sounded bigger as singer James Graham casts a shadow across the ceiling from the low spotlights. A couple of songs down, he decides to address his congregation: " We are all gathered here today... to watch some moody Scottish wankers... oh shit, wasn't going to swear...". Like yesterday the finish the set with "And She Would Darken The Memory" and if they sounded massive coming through Leeds Metropolitan University's huge speakers then this is truly something else, and James is as ever lost in the moment, grappling around the altar steps (and making a sacrifice of a pool of his lager) as the drums crash like the thunderbolt some might say they've earned for making music this dark and troubled in a place of worship. When the lights come up we are, for the second time in two nights, wondering how anyone can follow that.

Back in Islington Mill timings have slipped and Brooklyn's CREEP are doing decent enough post-trip-hop electronics as the place starts to fill - most of the other venues are calling time on live music and the rest of the night will be spent in the company of electronic beats. ANCHORSONG finally takes to the stage at midnight - a full hour behind his scheduled slot - an incredibly cute little floppy haired Japanese lad making energetic repetitive minimalish techno, creating it all live using a keyboard and sampler as if in defiance of those who consider such music to be little more than button-pushing. And whilst it may not make a massive difference to the sound it does make him very engaging to watch. Almost as much as the bloke with a neatly coiffeured moustache, blue wig, white pvc miniskirt and sort of tabard top emblazoned with the words "Faggot Power" who's dancing on a bench...

It's getting late. The Twilight Sad have found the beer garden and James turns out not to be scary and intense at all, offstage, telling us how the church staff had been slightly concerned during soundcheck that the band's wall of sound could blow the windows out. Most of the other bands seem to have found their way here too, along with as many punters as can squeeze into the Mill's main space, for a brilliant weekend-wrapping live set from Manchester's hottest techno artist D/R/U/G/S. Far more dancefloor-oriented tonight than previous live shows we've seen or indeed the home-listenable modern trance of his imminent debut single, the kid we used to know as Callum Wright (host of some of the most debauched South Manchester house-party gigs of a few years back; if you fancy a trip into the MM archives try searching for "Anteater" 5th February 2007) is very much in control of this space. We don't see much of him, shrouded by smoke machine, but we don't have to as he captures the spirit of the warehouse raves that dotted the country around the time of his birth and injects it with 21st century rhythms and ghostly samples. Mr Faggot Power is by now vogueing on a speaker and the Now Wave promoters look quite justifiably delighted with their late night party; sometime around half one in the morning we concede defeat and drift away from the best Sounds From The Other City to date.

A good time was had by all, then? Most; not all. A few dissenting voices mention that they only actually got to see four or five bands for their money and that some venues were so overcrowded that you couldn't really see the band at all, but this is the nature of such events: maybe we have just been lucky. Choices had to be made - we passed on what we're told was an excellent set by From The Kites Of San Quentin as we get more chances to see them live than some of the visiting acts (they'll be supporting PVT at Ruby Lounge soon, for example) and we're still not sure how we managed to forget to go and see Liverpudlian electronics maestro Capac; we missed Frazer King due to our inability to read the timetable properly and we were sad to have to swerve Veronica Falls' headline set at the King's Arms to ensure entry to Islington Mill before the crowds. However we never failed to get in and see someone we wanted to because of queuing - and no, unlike some wristband festivals SFTOC does not grant queue-jump privileges to press and media, a policy with which we at MM agree wholeheartedly. Not only would it be damned unfair for someone who has paid for a ticket and waited patiently to see a popular act getting bumped out of the way, but I also believe that it's impossible to report meaningfully on events unless you experience them in the same way as everyone else. Maybe the no-queueing was simply down to my having really dodgy music taste: we hear Willy Mason played to a full house up at Peel Hall. Overall though we feel congratulations are in order for everyone who was part of this organisational miracle: same time next year then...


Dr. Mahogany's Goat Circus
Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides
Girls Names

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