Sleaford Mods

15 May
Academy 2

On Friday 15 May, I was at Academy 2 to see the latest underground fuss. Sleaford Mods features Andrew Fearn, who makes the music, and Jason Williamson, who spits lyrics that recognise almost unpalatable political and social truths about life on the breadline in Britain today. Their music and attitude is punk, tangled with electronic, minimalist and hip hop beats. Listening to them gave me the same sense of relief I imagine I'd feel watching someone climb the walls to freedom from the confines of a straightjacket. Freedom from the institution of decades of shambolic British politics which has left us with the country the mods illustrate in a no nonsense, ‘wake the fuck up’ sort of way.

The lack of vanity involved in punk allows my soul to soar as high as the music that hit the roof that night. There's nothing like a mildly violent mosh pit of smiling drunken faces to ease away the week's stresses and torments. As Jason narrates the current smog of disillusionment, anger and pointlessness, we throw ourselves around the dancefloor. He minces, twitches, shouts and sweats psychotically around the stage, delivering his lyrics like a man who's late for a suicide pact. All the while, Andrew skulks around in the background, dutifully dropping bass lines and drum loops at the beginning of each bile-fuelled track.

Fearn joined Sleaford Mods three years after Williamson created the band, allowing the latter to focus on the lyrics. Together, they've released two albums – Austerity Dogs and Divide and Exit – and are set to release another, Key Markets, in July. My favourite lines include those in ‘Jobseeker’, a hilarious account of an appointment at the job centre – “Can of Strongbow, I'm a mess / Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression / Supplied to me, by the NHS” – and ‘Tied up in Nottz’ – “...Big up the riots!”

Sleaford Mods are aesthetically rough and darkly amusing with a profound undercurrent that resonated with us all that night – a shared understanding. My feet were bruised by the time they left the stage, but I was too wide eyed and adrenaline-fuelled to care.

Phoenix McAndrew

Nils Frahm

24 May
Albert Hall

Travelling over the Pennines for a gig is always a pleasure, especially when expanding your knowledge of good Manchester venues. The Albert Hall is perfectly rough round the edges for tonight’s performances – sets from Brooklyn-based trio Dawn of Midi and Hamburg-born pianist Nils Frahm.

The former is a difficult band to categorise. Built on unassuming instrumentation – piano, drums and upright bass – it’s unconventional use of that instrumentation that sets Dawn of Midi apart sonically. Stripped-back polyrhythms make you lose your place in time, despite a solid, cyclical foundation of acoustic bass, while pianist Amino Belyamani reaches inside his instrument to mute and manipulate the sound, producing slowly-modulating tones rather than notes. The result is a patient, restrained and highly percussive sound.

Opening with the plaintive ‘Ode’, from his newest offering, Solo, before moving onto synths and drum machines, Nils Frahm shows every side of his musical personality tonight, manning the controls of various instruments and merging tracks seamlessly. The frantic ‘Hammers’ is a particular highlight, with Frahm ‘doing a Keith Jarrett’ and following the melody with his voice, as is his introduction to the Klavins Una Corda, a small piano specifically designed for him, which at one point he plucks directly with his fingers. A custom-made, three-part pipe organ cuts an authoritative figure on stage and has the powerful sound to match.

But the pinnacle of the set comes with closer ‘Says’, building from a tiny, muffled arpeggiated synth and delicate key strokes to a swell of polyphonic sound and an ecstatic chord change delivered at just the right moment. The rapturous applause bouncing back at him as he says his goodbyes is almost as overwhelming.

Rightfully set to play a more regal Albert Hall at the Proms 2015 for 6 Music in August, Frahm deserves every ounce of attention afforded to him. Like all performers worth their salt, he holds the audience in the palm of his hand, mesmerised from the first note to the last.

Sam Walby

Sounds From The Other City 2015

3 May
Various Venues

Never mind the first bleats of a cuckoo signalling the start of spring. Much more anticipated is the first sign of the Sounds From The Other City urban festival, one that changes from year to year, always improving. Whilst music is the beating heart, whether it be DJs or bands, there’s also a range of visual, performance and aural affairs, which can make one wonder, ‘How are they going to do that?’

One specially commissioned event was the composition by a BBC Philharmonic Ensemble for the battle of Bexley Square, which featured ten musicians, including Sara Lowes, Liz Green and Laurie Hulme, someone who took on at least three different guises during the day.

Electronica was represented by the likes of Fieldhead, the duo of Paul Elam and Elaine Reynolds, whilst Banderos is an ensemble clad from head to toe in lycra, which must be sweaty as three drum kits are thrashed at in a manner much appreciated by the onlookers.

The choice of venues is just as important an ingredient in the overall mixture, always avoiding an identikit series of forensically cleansed events. So a church with sunlight (yes, the rain does seem to take a day off for this event) flooding through the stained glass can be found selling real ale to a crowd listening to Cale Tyson and Pete Lindberg, who relay a seemingly incongruous blend of country and western mixed with blues. The nearby Angel Centre’s blinds create a dark, moody interior that suits the threatening intensity of Housewives, while the delicious smell of freshly cooked food at the entrance creeps along the low-lying ceiling to all corners of the room.

As dusk settled on Salford, the flashing lights spilling out from the railway arches onto the derelict areas around New Bailey Street illuminate the way to the lair of Crab Nebula, curated by SWAYS Records and Bad Uncle. One of the rectangular areas resembled Jools Holland’s Later show, all sides used for performances to enable seamless changeovers. At one end of the bare brickwork a multi-level stage pitched poets alongside musicians, reciting lyrics against specially created music for a one-off performance entitled ‘Ring Cycle’. Among them was the tale of Kieran Stapleton, an innocent knife attack victim, retold to an absorbed audience, whilst bands such as the up-and-coming Mother await their turn.

Ged Camera

Above photo and background photo by Ged Camera.

Dot To Dot 2015

22 May
Various Venues

Everything about this year’s festival felt right: a host of amazing bands, live music into the early hours and, in true festival style, performance time clashes – Laura Doggett and Best Coast were playing at the same time – wristbands and genuine feelings of excitement, as the very heart of Manchester seemed to be beat faster in anticipation.

From the Cathedral to Soup Kitchen, 12 venues across the city provided homes to an auspicious showcase of both the Manchester music scene and some of the best live music currently available from all corners of the land. Dot To Dot is a proving ground, with musicians and bands going on to notoriety, such as Fun, Ed Sheeran and Courtney Barnett.

With so much live music across the city, musicians were taking advantage of every opportunity to deliver their best set. Anyone who was walking around Hilton Street at 10pm would have passed Walking on Cars parked up in their tour van, performing an impromptu rehearsal.

There was much excitement over Honeyblood, who played to a jam packed crowd at the Roadhouse. The Glaswegian duo had incredible stage presence, captivated the audience and played with raw energy. Ironic and bitter lyrics of a wronged heart coloured the air, leaving every person in the crowd smiling by the end.

In the intimate setting of Kosmonaut’s basement, local lads Gold Jacks proved they mean business, having recently signed to Scruff of the Neck Records and with their next single on the way. They delivered a stellar set, sounding like they’ve been playing and performing for decades. Bluesy rock’n’roll has a new champion. The crowd loved every beat.

London-based Fat White Family performed a set full of energy and sound that whipped the Methodist Hall into a frenzy. Responding to their mesmerising guitar melodies and lyrical chants, the crowd erupted three songs in with bouncing bodies, flailing limbs and bobbing heads everywhere.

There were many more great performances from the night, such as Saint Raymond, Dot To Dot veterans The Coronas, False Advertising and Best Coast, to name a few. This was a great evening of live music, a testament to the 10th year of Dot To Dot, and an excellent road sign of new music that we should all be listening to and getting excited about.

Mark Prime

Above photo by Mark Prime.