So named after Lou Reed’s breakthrough glam-art album, Manchester’s debut Transformer Festival celebrates a cacophonous blend of the avant garde, junkie blues and noise rock within the red bricks of Victoria Warehouse. In homage to Warhol’s mind-splitting Plastic Inevitables, Victoria Warehouse is fizzing with the VU pioneer’s experimental vision, spitting out an impressive lineup of classic and alternative acts to sanguine crowds. Lo-fi musos JC Flowers, electronic duo Mueran Humanos and Canadian rock band Suuns shine on Stage 2, while Royal Trux, immortals The Fall, and no-wave veterans Swans agitate the main stage.
In a space often reserved for charity events and conferences, Victoria Warehouse has been distorted into an underground cave, tessellating between two stages and an auxiliary ‘digital funfair’ – a hip Blackpool slots, adorned with L.E.D screens and pixels that offers audio respite between sets.
On Stage 1, experimental rock cohort This is Not This Heat ignites the show with their thunderous soundscape. Stormy prog performances soak the air in S.P.Q.R and the band swims in this intense and focused sound throughout; Charles Haywood keels into glittering cymbals that crash over tolling vocals. Howling clarinet and boisterous drums spill into the crowd, culminating in a rapturous, haunting performance.
Drone rockers Loop are immediately forgiven a false start when singer and guitarist Robert Hampson launches into a blow-out spectacle with X. Lights in primary red and blues shoot like concords above the crowd, pirouetting to the band’s relentless grooves in X and X. For a venue often critics for boomy acoustics, Loop pummels its audience with punching guitars in this incredibly tight 55-minute set.
Lukewarm and dizzy rock ‘n’ roll from Royal Trux next; cult favourites Neil Hagerty and Jenifer Herrema deliver a pleasant yet rather satiated performance that doesn’t do the likes of their 1993 Cats and Dogs justice. Herrema’s crackling vocals jeer across the room in this recital that just oozes blasé. It’s enjoyable, but admittedly lacking some of the junked-up finesse which made them cult favourites in the first place.
Not-dead-yet Mark E. Smith is fourth on, sans wife and keyboard player Elena Poulou in this most recent of The Fall’s reincarnations (“if it’s Mark E. Smith and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall”). This is a hard, punctured performance, quenching an audience eager to see the wordsmith scratching at his post-punk classics. Throughout, an impassive Smith – looking worse for wear as per – staggers across the stage belting in his ubiquitous monotone – a rousing jolt into the night’s impending barrage of sound.
Long-awaited headliners Swans soar into their wrenching two-hour set, imparting ‘The Knot‘ to an audience utterly submissive to Michael Gira’s hammering orchestral tones, and guitars that swell inside a deafening eternity. Swans’ marathon performance of The Glowing Man is a heavy and euphoric climax to a day seething with zeal and grungy theatrics. It’s a promising start for Manchester’s newest experimental festival. But to get the best results, we all know that experiments must be repeated…
An announcement that Transformer will return again this October came just as fans had regained their hearing, heading back to Victoria Warehouse on 28th October, with headliners Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Transformer took place at Victoria Warehouse on Sunday 28th May 2017.