In The City
It may well be that we’ve just spent 101 minutes in front of a quite brilliant documentary called Upside Down: The Story of Creation Records, but 2:54 are coming across very My Bloody Valentine in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. It’s one of the band’s first shows since sisters Hannah and Colette pulled together a full line-up (their fourth, apparently) and it’s the best thing we see all night. The sound is crap because that’s tradition at any ‘urban festival’ where bars designed for pub quizzes and light bites become make-shift venues, but it doesn’t matter – Hannah is a particularly gnarly grunge guitarist, massaging out Dinosaur Jnr. riffs; Colette’s Kevin Shields’, blinding mop couldn’t better suit the band’s power drones.
This is In The City, and that, what you’re doing now, is most probably a shrug. Years of extortionate ticket prices and crumby line-ups have long caused such a reaction to the country’s oldest new music showcase, but this year ITC turned nineteen and things have changed. The whole thing has been relocated to the city’s boho Northern Quarter, for a start, where the next venue is a crawl away and a nice place to be once you get there. As the cities definite arts district it’s baffling as to why the move has taken so long, although nothing confuses quite like the long-awaited introduction of ‘festival wristbands’, which means that anyone can now attend the live shows (although not the daytime talks, debates and conferences) for a reasonable fee of £29. And it is a reasonable fee. Organisers have relented their snooty ‘unsigned acts only’ policy, beefed up the line-up with the likes of Glasser, No Age and Mount Kimbie, and in doing so have shamed the weary looking bills of both The Great Escape and The Camden Queue this year. And what all of this means is that, unlike twelve months ago, the festival’s fifteen venues are comfortably busy. Noho certainly is as 2:54 grind on, and by the time we reach basement club The Ruby Lounge for Factory Floor a tonne of people have already beaten us there.
The bravest, stick out the entire, noisy affair, which gets louder even when you think it can’t be possible, but many slip off, deciding that this unrelenting, kraut disco is not made for the sober hour of 9:30pm. It’s a fair point, even if the trio would have struggled to deliver their apocalyptic noisescapes any better. It’s ferocious and animalistic and meticulous and mechanical all at once. In volume it’s uncomfortable, in tone mesmerising, but it’s impossible to not think that such an uncompromising set wouldn’t have been infinitely better off following HEALTH in the same venue twenty six hours later. Theirs is the highlight set of In The City – a collection of songs that wildly veer from aggressively rhythmic (‘Crimewave’) to surprisingly groovy (a rare appearance from ‘Glitter Pills’) to intelligently melodic (disco tracks ‘Die Slow’ and ‘USA Boys’), all played as if on-the-fly, while actually being scrupulously planned. We even get two unheard tracks – a Picture Planes adaptation that makes use of the kind of delayed guitar riff that The Edge would hang his Stetson on, and a ghostly number that suggests album number three will pick up where ‘Get Color’ eerily left off.
It’s French shoegazers Team Ghost that defy our “the venues are comfortably busy” observation the most, but, then, they are clashing with No Age who are playing next door at Night & Day Café. At Dry Life – another underground venue rather embarrassingly styled to resemble The Hacienda – things are quiet as the band take to the stage. In thrashing around they manage to attract quite a crowd by the time we leave to see T3ETH at Mint Lounge, though, even if they drown out their delicate electronics in doing so, which, on record, give the trio a heightened sense of emotion in the often dreary world of wall-of-sound rock.
T3ETH are having electronic issues of their own. “The laptop’s broken,” announces Ximon before an audience member volunteers to stand just off stage and hold a wire into a socket, allowing the band’s synths to bounce around the room while singer Veronika So follows suit and the band zip through a set of post new rave thrash. As always, it’s a lot of fun; certainly the most fun that this particular venue sees all week, the next best bit of Mint Lounge action coming from Alabama’s The Pierces, who are either the next Fleetwood Mac or the next Corrs, depending on how kind you’re feeling.
Also in line to be ‘the next…’ are Mammal Club (who play The Castle pub’s box room on day two) and Beaty Heart (who all but close day one where we started at Noho). The former are ‘the next Everything Everything’, minus the falsetto vocals and layered, smart disco pop riffs, meaning that they are perhaps more akin to ‘the next Bombay Bicycle Club’. Either way, they are inoffensive to the point of plain dull.
Beaty Heart do much better as they huddle together in a line behind a table to play tropical waves of noise like those that come from Animal Collective (that’ll make them ‘the next Animal Collective’, then). Again, the crappy sound can be forgiven – this time due to the playful spirit of the band who swap instruments and smile at each other between songs as if to suggest that music can actually be fun – but the sparse crowd is ignored less easily. Where did everyone go? Not to John Wiese’s show, that’s for sure. He’s playing to a bemused few stragglers at Night & Day, and one heckler who sees a brief gap between two sample-heavy sonic assaults as a chance to shout, “Play ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’!” Usually, this would be very poor form indeed, but with the Californian playing track after track of clanking tool-chest-falling-down-a-mine noise we not only laugh with the rest but hope that Wiese might actually be open to the request. It’s as avant-garde as the avant-garde gets. It’s anti-music. It’s probably highly intelligent, but it’s also a complete din. And yet it’s fitting that Wiese began making music the same year that In The City began promoting it in this way. Against all the shrugs, the pair are both here, almost two decades on, and one of them has finally gotten it very right.
By Stuart Stubbs
Originally published in issue 23 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. November 2010