The walk from the bright lights of Manchester is short, and if the signs didn’t tell you so, you’d still think you were in the rainy city. For many it may as well be a different country, with Urban Mancunia seemingly frightened to step outside of its Northern Quarter comfort zone for any length of time. Whilst some would shy away from the risk of doing anything away from the usual haunts, Sounds from the Other City is a festival that absolutely revels in its outsider status, an obvious link to the new music is around to champion. So whilst Maps festival took residency in some of the more bizarre venues dotted around Manchester, a whole other world of sound lay just over a canal.
As with any festival, the weather seems to conspire to dampen the hopes of a carnival atmosphere, but whilst the threat of rain doesn’t ever really show up, the bitter cold does. The walk to collecting a wristband is immediately brightened by some ArtYarn knitted animals hanging from a tree – a blue octopuses’ awkward smile cancelling out the grim numbness of the fingers.
After huddling around for a wristband, it’s time for the first band of the day. Using the excellent SFTOC special edition of Shrieking Violets as a guide, The Angel Centre is found with enough time to browse through Salford ‘Zine Library’s collection whilst taking in the slightly bizarre surroundings. Wonderfully, there have been no efforts made to conceal the fact that Girl Mountain is playing in what is essentially a canteen. Indeed, as he opens up his set, people take the opportunity to grab a late lunch, whilst the workers openly look bemused at what’s going on in front of them.
Consisting of one man, a synth and a whole lot of presets, the room is filled with a cacophonous racket whilst the crowd slowly swells. Girl Mountain is far from the easy listening that you might want to ease you into the day, coming across like a more brutal, sociopathic Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. As far as statements go it’s pretty daring, and after half an hour of feedback, fuzzy synth, distorted vocals, stilted rapping and a claim to be sponsored by Sanitary pads, the set is ended with the refrain of ‘I’ve not got cancer/I’m just thin’.
Down the road at the Old Pint Pot, the locals set about watching the football whilst the masses crowd on the floor above for the start of the most hyped line-up of the festival. There’s no room to move as Dutch Uncles rip intotheir set. They might look as though they’ve been dragged backwards through a charity shop and have some of the most bizarre dancing around, but they’ve got the tunes to back it up. In the flesh is where their quirky math-pop really comes to the fore, all angular guitars and falsetto vocals. Showcasing new material, the band have taken huge strides from their earlier work and understandably, the cramped crowd seem to love every second.
The gamble on seeing the enigmatic Wu Lyf on the same bill means that the chance to see Jo Rose is the ornate surrounds of St. Phil’s Church is pointlessly missed as it’s announced the band have cancelled, so the opportunity is taken to visit Old Pint Pot’s downstairs and have a listen to The Cavalcade. Shamelessly dream pop, it’s difficult not to fall for their swirling sound. Their debut album due later in the year could be one of the more exciting releases of the summer.
Despite the many drawbacks of purpose built gig venues – the lack of soul, purposeful sense of identity and overpriced drinks – they do have some advantages. The queue for the toilets as Tim and Sam’s Tim and Sam band with Tim and Sam opened their set would’ve killed for a decent amount of grotty cubicles. In every other aspect, the church surpasses pretty much any other kind of venue you could imagine, and the acoustics mean that Tim and Sam’s wondering instrumentals sound like they’ve found their home.
After nipping off for some chips, it’s up to The Crescent for a delicious vegan cupcake and The Graveyard Shift. Coming on around 20 minutes late, they batter the audience with easily the loudest performance of the day. There’s some rockabilly in their sound, but they built their own unique, ramshackle house on a bluesy base. The only thing guaranteed at festivals is that set times will conspire against you, and just as the band get into their stride, it’s time for Divorce’s set for Lamb and Wolf. The five piece absolutely dominate the floor of Islington Mill with their fierce reinvention of noise metal. The relentless Juice of Youth is an obvious highlight, but it’s a flawless set that gets a few people jumping and the rest nodding along.As the sun goes down and the chill intensifies, it’s back to Bring on the Dancing horses at the Old Pint Pot for Egyptian Hip Hop. Chronically overcrowded, the bouncers are called down to keep order by the time the band start playing. Looking like a collection of friend’s younger brothers, in amongst all the blogs and NME articles it’s easy to overlook the fact that they’re actually incredibly talented. Proficient on several instruments, they alternate between the breakdowns of a major rock band and the experimental posturing that has garnered them such a following. Instead of getting swept away by the praise, it seems to have grounded them, as they put in an engaging performance that the teeming queue at the door are desperate to be a part of.
Whilst internet bloggers have been all over Egyptian Hip Hop, Islet have purposely stayed away from online. Having only recently started their own website and still without the industry-standard MySpace, they’ve got their following on the back of a series of emphatic live performances. Blessing Postcards from Manchester’s stage, they’re unlike anything else on the bill – or, indeed, anything else in music at the minute. At one point a member of the band takes a rattle, saunters through the crowd and cowers underneath the stairs for a couple of moments, before rejoining Islet on stage. It’s weird, but experimental is what they do, and brilliantly so, being primitive and tribal whilst keeping tuneful. Above all else, it’s a feat.
Headliners downstairs at Islington Mill, word about Chrome Hoof has really got out. The sorrow of a one in, one out policy is compounded by the band themselves, dressed in sparkling silver robes, passing by on their way in. Admittedly, they sound as astonishing as you’d expect a nine-piece experimental orchestra to, but even their otherworldly noises can’t detract from being at the back of a crammed venue and the gnawing pain in the feet. 8 hours and 9 bands later the walk back to Manchester commences, but not without constant reminders of what a spectacularly individual concept sounds from the Other City is – a few hundred people crowd around a Manchester Scenewipe street show whilst knitted artyarn bombs cling to railings. There are many festivals that tread similar ground, but none of them come close to doing it with the deftness and personality that Sounds from the Other City has in buckets. If 2010’s edition is anything to go by, it’d be a crime to miss out next year.
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