Compared to last year’s sprawling, city-wide Soundstown, the 2019 edition- the 15th iteration- of Salford’s Sounds From The Other City festival is a tight, distilled affair, operating entirely within the confines of the Regent Trading Estate (in hindsight a good decision, as last year’s scorching weather was instead far more mixed and somewhat unpredictable)- split across 5 stages, each area has been hand-picked and cultivated by prominent previous SFTOC collaborators, with the year acting as an opportunity to show off the very best each team has to offer.
Like last year’s critically-adored showing, the BBC Philharmonic have returned working with Manchester spoken word and poetry collective Young Identity- the 6-piece orchestral backing starts slowly, drawing the room into a baited silence as the words begin to flow until met with a set of processed beats acting as a springboard for the powerful delivery from the Young Identity members. The work is sharp, striking, and often poignant and haunting- the pieces range from unaccompanied prose (Ella Otomewo’s thoughtful piece regarding (multi)cultural identities) or stark tone poems backed with nothing but a solitary cello through to full orchestral flourishes – the players essentially acting as a real-time sampler for the harder-hitting material, such as Reece Williams’ ‘Scarred Knuckles’, suiting his more acerbic delivery and flow perfectly. ILL are a fuzzy, chaotic whirlwind of sludgy riot grrrl with liberal doses of post-punk-funk – guitars processed to the point of being completely unrecognisable as an instrument and the band careening on huge, crunching bass riffs. ILL are what would happen if you took Bis, Kathleen Hanna, Delta 5 and Butthole Surfers and threw them all into a blender with a lot of sugar – equal parts gawky and ferocious with a wicked sense of humour and theatricality from singer/keyboardist Harri Shanahan (“I didn’t get into RADA, can you believe that?”) – this no more apparent than with their gender-bent cover of The Stooges’ ‘Cock In My Pocket’, the original garage thrash transformed into a jerky disco-not-disco. Other highlights include raw, visceral upcoming single ‘KHO Disco’, for which the band are planning to make a video in a roller disco (one to watch out for) and ‘Bears’, with a sludgy 96 Tears möbius loop of an organ riff propelling everything along, just about keeping the song – and the band – from collapsing in on themselves as a mass of noise and giggling.
A monolithic hybrid of post-rock, shoegaze and Krautrock, Penelope Isles is a driving juggernaut perforated by the vulnerable, almost desperate tone of Jack Wolter’s voice as he, along with his bandmates including sister Lily, utilise droning motorik that act as a foundation for their version of Kosmische Music as well as downbeat crystalline jangle that borders on Chemical Underground territory thanks in part to the addition of some gently humming electronics, gradually taking over as their music extends out forever into the unknown.
Bristol four-piece Spectres harness screeching discordant feedback, forcing the sound to bend to their collective will. This is garage rock at its most primal, with songs lurching into being and taking shape and form along the way – if not for the hard-hitting drum work anchoring everything down and Joe Hatt’s vocals buried deep into the mire, this would easily degenerate into a live interpretation of Metal Machine Music, and all power to it. Spectres’ songs are grungy and ugly, filled with tension but once in a while, a cathartic release washes over- the expressway to yr skull fully open and ready to receive. Bursts of sheer noise sometimes fully overtake the song and cause the structure to submit entirely, but still retaining a level of caustic beauty.
A complete change of pace is found within the soft synthetic pads of Ménage À Trois, with a sound purposely nostalgic yet modern, idealised and stylised (more synthwave than vaporwave, but both are in there somewhere) – the marked artificiality of the music contrasting with the soulful, George Michael-esque vocals of Jonathan Flanders who fully entrances the crowd, hopping down from the stage to serenade directly. Ménage À Trois feel like a relic of pop exhumed, a crumbling VHS cassette of exotic holiday destinations, of hotel television systems, a cool breeze, the smell of the ocean, a half-remembered childhood vacation but the details grown fuzzy and unclear. ‘Paris’ is reminiscent of the OutRun soundtrack, bouncing along with a classic-but-not-kitschy pop groove, while ‘Thank You’, with its absolute earnestness and whole-heartedness, shines out like a beacon. It is in this feeling of earnestness, the genuine nature of the band’s style and music that allows the group, Flanders in particular, to transcend any feelings of kitsch that many lesser bands of this style may inadvertently sink to. Ménage À Trois are beloved by the SFTOC audience, even when the set grinds to a halt due to some issues with drum machines (it was genuinely difficult to tell if the band were relying on original equipment or digital emulations – which in itself feels like the point of the group, existing completely out of time, out of step), Jonathan leads the crowd with an impassioned impromptu singalong of Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston hit ‘I Will Always Love You’. Entrancing.
Working Men’s Club are indebted to post-punk in all forms: the angular danceability of Postcard, the intense claustrophobia of Factory, the keen pop melodicism of Pete Shelley- the Todmorden trio are true students of the game, showing their influences clearly on their sleeves and adding their own spin without feeling like a cheap rehash. Filled with a confidence and swagger well beyond their years, their music comes wrapped around chiming, jerky yet nimble guitar runs very much Talking Heads-like in style, the Northern English sensibility shines brightest when drummer Jake Bogacki steps out away from his kit and straps on a guitar, leaving percussion duties to machinery for ‘Bad Blood’- a colder, claustrophobic iciness haunted by the ghosts of Curtis and Hannett. Working Men’s Club are a band who are rapidly gaining eyes on them through sheer word-of-mouth and through playing amazing sets like this – there’s a good chance that they could be the next world conquerers.
Joyously infectious jangling indiepop courtesy of The Orielles springs to life immediately, bursting in with whistles and cowbells, deliriously happy with endlessly cascading riffs that feel utterly effortless- the happiness showing in both the crowd and the band themselves, who occasionally engage in some semi-coordinated dancing. The Orielles’ energetic college rock is a hit with SFTOC and with the wide world of music, as the foursome have been enjoying quite the cult following since the release of their debut Silver Dollar Moment last year. They play two new songs, interlinked by subject matter- the idea of liminal spaces: the first a dreamlike swoon, an otherworldly masterpiece; with the second an extended dub-infused jam, gradually turning into an all-night party at bells, whistles and shakers are brought to the fore, descending into a full-blown freakout. If either of these songs are an indication of The Orielles’ direction in releases to come, this will prove to be very interesting and rather exciting.
Cocaine Piss (this was a fun one to attempt to research at work) come out swinging with teeth bared, ready for a fight. The Belgian hardcore unit are fronted by Aurélie Poppins, who screams and screeches with pure vitriol over the band’s harsh unrelenting thrash- for last album Passionate And Tragic, the quartet worked with legendary noise rock/grunge producer Steve Albini, a perfect match for the band- often leaping down from the stage into the moshing throng assembled before her, screaming with unhinged aggression while watching over a very inclusive, welcoming environment. Songs rarely clock in over one minute, but played in such rapid-fire adrenalised succession that they barely stop, much to the joy of the crowd. Only once does the tempo drop down for My War-esque sludge ‘Body Euphoria’, acting as a brief reprieve before Cocaine Piss jump straight back into high speed.
Black Midi have grown in prominence as of late following a working relationship with Damo Suzuki, and considering very little in the way of material has been released by them to the public, this is an incredible feat to be closing one of the stages at SFTOC on the back of their incendiary live shows. Rapid-fire country guitar picking scrambles across fretboards, chaotic despite a gently lilting bass lines and calm drumming. With spoken word over repeated bass riffs, there is a definite similarity to another Suzuki worshipper Mark E Smith and The Fall- a mixture of rockabilly, Krautrock and free jazz very reminiscent of the legendary post-punk ensemble. The London four piece have managed to amass an impressive audience at SFTOC considering many will (myself included) will have heard precisely nothing from them or about them. A fantastic surprise.
Next year’s Sounds From The Other City festival will be back to the usual format, encompassing huge swathes of Salford, but this year’s edition has proven to be an interesting experiment, very much a greatest-hits of what the festival’s favourite collaborators are capable of unleashing on the sold-out stages. The 2020 May bank holiday weekend cannot come quick enough.
Sounds From The Other City took place at Regent’s Trading Estate on Monday 6th May 2019. Words and photos by Liam Moody.