The heat could be considered almost overpowering if not for the gentle breeze during this May bank holiday, where we find the fourteenth incarnation of Salford’s showcase of independent music. Sounds From The Other City sees a number of local businesses transformed – with the help of art directors Stina Puotinen and David Bailey – into Soundstown, a “Simpsons-esque” imaginary community. Personally, it felt closer to the world of Bob’s Burgers in spirit, but powered by pure whimsy, ready to be dived into and to be experienced firsthand. The huge number of ticket sales ensured that every venue came equipped with a sizeable crowd, creating a fun atmosphere across the whole festival.
The Egerton Arms is something of a Soundstown outpost, tucked out of the way from the major areas- Bexley Square, Chapel Street and the Retail Trading Estate. Today, it’s the Golden Balls Casino, albeit with some perplexed looks and reactions from local patrons. Starting the day’s proceedings we are joined by Laura Bailey’s Happy Place, a live radio broadcast which mixed laid-back beats and discussion on happiness with special guest indie rapper Abnormal Sleeps, showcasing his fantastic new single ‘Forget’. The discussion took a turn for the profound at times, with the expectations of being, or at least looking happy in the public eye and on social media, and the pressures this upkeep can have. The Happy Place maintained itself as a chilled-out safespace, simultaneously a world away from a festival environment but very much an integral element of the Soundstown philosophy.
Nearby, The King’s Arms – or more accurately, its Soundstown equivalent The Psychic Massage Parlour contained far darker, more intense music. Downstairs, one-man shoegazer Entha delivers a wall of guitar noise akin to Kevin Shields or The Telescopes, backed with processed, industrial loops and pads. A tone poem for a near-future dystopia, with twinkling neon melodies struggling to be free from the bludgeoning noise. A world away from Laura’s Happy Place. At the same time, something even darker is transpiring, delivered by the duo known as Godspeed You! Peter Andre. The black-clad room already packed out as the duo begin the flood the space with ominous chanting, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere of dense fog not unlike This Mortal Coil or the more gothic, experimental edge of the 4AD record label, with digitally-altered voices sounding demonic with repeated cries and screams equally parts commanding and pleading. Suddenly, the jackhammer beats take over, and Godspeed You! Peter Andre coalesce into a Downward Spiral-era Nine Inch Nails mesh of organic decay and technology-assisted power, dominating the stage and leading the crowd into dance.
Within the Invisible Wind Factory – sorry, The Jumbo Express N’ Press Laundry – Benjamin Duvall of Ex-Easter Island Head carefully sets up three instruments, an electric guitar, a bass guitar and an autoharp, all set upturned on brackets and prepared with found objects: knitting needles underneath strings, beads, nails and battery-powered electromagnets set just above the strings, gently rattling against them creating an incredibly delicate state of perpetual motion. Closer to an art installation than a gig, the intimacy of this performance was at first jarring to the audience, but gradually their volume subsided, almost hypnotised by Duvall’s creation, the sound evolving with the introduction of new pieces, such as a Buddha Machine and more found objects. Surgical precision would be applied to the instruments, ensuring certain strings would play particular harmonies and tones- the result is something free from the confines of the compartmentalised 12-note musical system, relying purely on the natural harmonics generated by the objects themselves, an idea celestial in scope.
At 5:30pm I find myself watching six people prepare to compete in a hot dog eating contest. Diamond Dogs, located by Pep Boy’s Autoshop in Soundstown, have created a monster: The Chili Onion Ring Of Fire Dog, an exercise in brutalism, challenging both the souls of the contestants and the structural integrity of the dog design. On paper, the consumption of a singular weenie is a straightforward job. However, Diamond Dogs have toiled night and day to build a dog that truly bites back. A bell rings. The crowd cheer on their favourites. Cheeseburger Crown shouts words of encouragement to his six rugged souls as various methods of consumption are deployed – some choose to disarm the dog, remove the jalapeños and onion rings. Others choose to plow straight through. As speed, rather than precision is the order of the day, the latter strategy may prove advantageous. One of the half-dozen throws in the towel – the heat, or perhaps the pressure, is too much to take. Two erstwhile dog-wranglers pull ahead of the pack as it becomes clear that we are down to the wire- a young man in a ball cap, and a blonde lady. One of these will be our dog-devouring champion. Time slows down as scraps are picked on, plates must be clean. Tensions rise. Cheeseburger Crown’s bell rings once more- having checked to see that no food remains either on plate or in mouth, our blonde friend is the champion. We have a weiner! Her prize- a free hot dog. An anti-climax, yes, but of course, the sweet taste victory was the true prize of the day, and it will surely taste better than any hot dog in the known world, as much as Diamond Dogs may try.
The Regent Trading Estate served as a secondary hub to the SFTOC, which several units changed into Soundstown businesses. Le Bump operated as a special enclave, featuring a number of up-and-coming bands signed by legendary indie record label Heavenly. One such band is Hatchie, an Australian four-piece seemingly straight out of the early 1990s with vintage college rock sounds. Their first time in the UK and with EP Sugar & Spice to be released at the end of the month, Hatchie took this showcase opportunity and ran with it as far as possible, offering a new generation of slacker anthems, carrying the torch left by the likes of Velocity Girl and Veruca Salt. The tight boy/girl harmonies and the laid back acoustic strumming underneath the clean, jangling guitar gave Hatchie’s music a summery shine, perfect for this environment. Playing material on their soon-to-be released EP and another couple of new songs, the band kept their audience dancing and singing along. Without a doubt, Heavenly Records are very much onto a winner with Hatchie.
Across to the facing side of the estate within the confines of Frank’s Gym, Horsey open lightly with a clavinet and clean, jazzy guitar. At first glance, Horsey, all 4 wearing matching gold lamé suit jackets atop a smoky stage, look like some apparition from Twin Peaks, a vision of a cabaret band from hell. This visual is backed up when the quartet open up, all crunching stop-start riffs and screaming, but with the lounge-act clavinet pinned underneath- Burt Bacarach on a bad acid trip. There’s a playfulness to Horsey, the strange mixture of acid rock and sharp, wiry post-punk colliding and forming, all the while underpinned with the swirling keys. Unfortunately, Horsey were plagued with technical issues, first delaying the start of their set but eventually causing the stage microphones to die completely. Although at first Horsey played to the crowd, jamming a little, but it became clear that the equipment was not coming back on. A massive shame.
Over at The First National Bank Of Soundstown (St. Philip’s Church), Finnish trio Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS? (best band name ever!) blast through their set of groovy garage rock- old-school Farfisa organ sound backed up with raucous punk firepower. JFAV thunder through their set, a gritty update of the classic 1960s beat groups the band are enamoured and endebted to- music that gets the whole crowd dancing like an episode of Ready Steady Go, and it’s easy to see why- infectious earworming melodies with classic pop hooks, combined with that unadulterated retro-styled beat. JFAV exude fun out of every pore, a carefree joy to behold.
Following on from JFAV would usually be a mammoth task, but it’s something that cult space-rockers Spectrum can handle with ease. Sonic Boom, formerly of the iconic Spacemen 3, has remained true to his original band’s sound- while J Spaceman went on to form Spiritualized, adding more lush orchestration, Sonic Boom retained the original spaced-out feel using just a guitar and keyboard and a plaintive, longing voice. Opening softly with Spacemen classic ‘Transparent Radiation’, the meditative 2-chord drone gently pulsing away- Sonic Boom’s vocals buried beneath twanging guitar. Spectrum is the aural equivalent of morphine- washing over you through your system, a wave and a rush causing the air to thicken, heartrates to slow and worries and pains to be momentarily obliterated by an icy euphoria. Playing a mixture of older Spacemen 3 songs and new material, Sonic Boom crafts out formless epics, sprawling out gracefully into the infinite.
A world removed from Spectrum were acid rockers Hey Colossus in the nearby Sheer Magic Salon (The Angel Centre). The sextet fired through in near-darkness with triple-guitar onslaught, monolithic slabs of heavy stoner rock, Masters Of Reality-Sabbath turned up even further with brutalising riffs combined with Iggy Pop-like yelps and growls from frontman Paul Sykes. As tight as they are heavy but without any of the self-indulgence that can often come with this style, Hey Colossus had the crowd eating out of their hands, turning the already-stifling room into an inferno as they brought the audience into a frenzy. Playing material mostly taken from 2017’s The Guillotine (but much, much heavier- sonically closer to the style showcased on Dedicated To Uri Klangers), the London six-piece seem unstoppable and it is clear to see why they were afforded one of the lucrative headline slots of the festival.
Words and photos by Liam Moody. Sounds From The Other City took place on Sunday 6th May 2018.