As a bastion of the independent and a champion of the underdog, Northern Quarter mainstay The Night & Day Café periodically offer up their stage – a space of history shared by the likes of The White Stripes, Manic Street Preachers and Johnny Marr – to new, unsigned acts who are hungry to prove themselves and to gain a well-deserved, well-earned stock uptick in front or a busy, welcoming crowd.
Freshly off his debut EP release Episode 1, self-styled Alternative R&B singer Josh Ivell starts softly with sparse, ethereal synth pulses and smooth trap-style beats, his voice soulful and haunting with a smooth flow as phrases roll effortlessly into one another, broken up with series of falsetto leaps and stabs, notes held long before settling back into the groove. His style, downcast but holding a glimmer of hope, shines through over the molasses-like bass rumbles and time-stretched chopped-and-screwed sampling- particularly on ‘Am I Thinking Too Much’ and ‘The Lies I Told’, an almost-vaporwave take on northern miserablism with stuttering drum patterns that Josh passionately navigates, his emotive vocals often dissolving into the Nyquil-laced rhythms, becoming one with the laid-back soundscapes of his creation and washing gently across the audience.
Lancaster’s Lord & The Woolf, a studio two-piece expanded out into a live quintet, make their Manchester debut tonight following new single Etta’s Game and have the crowd on their side immediately through their infectious enthusiasm and high-energy performance. An angular, razor-sharp sound softened ever-so-slightly with atmospheric keys and intricate spiralling guitars, and rendered in full Cinerama by way of huge crashing drums, the core duo of Sam Lord and Joe Woolf play off each other seamlessly with tight vocal harmonies- the wide, easy smiles never fading from their faces evidence of artists fully confident to win over a new crowd and a new city- a task proving far simpler than first imagined. The music, a somewhat harder-edged but groovy evolution of garage indie rock, has Lord & The Woolf on the cusp of great things- they certainly have the talent and the raw charisma to match and the response given from Night & Day by the end of their set goes to show that the duo will be a force to be reckoned with.
The sedate sounds of elevator muzak sweep through the venue, morphing in a breezy piece of Shibuya-Kei, soaked in an otherworldly sense of nostalgia while maintaining an ultra-modern sheen. Good Boy Nikko, with their ‘vanilla-flavoured bedroom pop’, is a mesh of old and new with analogue synthesisers, guitars and bass working along with drum machines and vocoders, a duality of technology giving the trio’s sound a feeling entirely out of time and space: The Postal Service meets MACROSS 82-99. Showcasing tracks from new EP HELLO!, the light City Pop sound contrasting with song subject matter, ranging from stories of drunken karaoke bar invasions to the frankly genius ‘Mr Sparkle’ – which is either about the iconic washing detergent mascot/fishworks-and-manufacturing concern amalgamation, or about a Lancaster-based drug dealer. Whichever narrative you prefer, the use of sampling clips of The Simpsons and setting it against a slick piece of future funk is nothing short of inspired. After some prompting to ‘gamble!’ from the crowd, the band broke into a lounge-lizard cover of internet national anthem ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, the 80s Stock-Aitken-Waterman sound stripped away, the kitsch removed and replaced with a moody slow-jam, an after-hours cocktail bar ballad, while set closer ‘Friends’ channels Tame Impala with shimmering guitar work shows Good Boy Nikko have a crafty ear for melody and songcrafting.
All three of these artists will have to feel a surge in their momentum after playing this stage- all three made great impressions with the audience (remarkably busy for midweek) and each with new recordings available they are sure to have made some new fans tonight.
Words & Photos by Liam Moody.