live review: JAPANCHESTER
Review: Cath Aubergine
Photos: Ged Camera
Manchester Ruby Lounge 14th April 2011
Interesting how we hear news these days. On the morning of Friday 11th March I woke up in a cheap and TV-less hotel room in London en route to Bucharest for the weekend (anyone who has an interest in former Communist Bloc capital cities can read my 48 hour tourist guide elsewhere on this site), flicked on Facebook on the Blackberry to check for messages, and scattered amongst the collection of Youtube clips that greet me each morning thanks to insomniac and Stateside friends were comments like “Shit, Japan…” and “my god, those poor people”. Blink, flick over to the BBC; you know the rest.
A few hours later in another country, reconnecting with home via the tiny pocket screen, I spot a single line status message from the singer of a local band: “Benefit gig for Japan? Who’s in?”. Say what you like about the new world of online social networking (and I know some still sneer) but within the first day he had enough bands for two nights and the idea of a low-key fundraiser in some pub back room had been superseded. With their matching check shirts and beards fast approaching Josh T Pearson standard, Trojan Horse frontman Nick Duke and Ruby Lounge promoter Jay Taylor could almost be long-lost brothers and tonight they have every reason to be proud: by the end of the night there’ll be over ÃÂ£1000 heading for Red Cross disaster relief and they achieved this not by booking some well-known star, but with a line-up of the unsigned and underground. This is JAPANCHESTER, a present from grass roots DIY Manchester and look what we can do when we all put our minds to it. And on the bill, the sound of Manchester 2011: not Madchester, not Oasischester, not Factorychester, not the monolithic indie sound for which our city’s name is sadly still used as a byword in the less clued-up end of the music press, but a spectrum of wonderful and eclectic noises.
First on the bill, and a wise move to get people down early, is probably the longest established band here if somewhat elusive in recent years: DAY FOR AIRSTRIKES. Formed in 2002 the band has undergone numerous line-up changes and released two excellent albums, 2006’s “Widows” and last year’s “Into The Comet”, and with members past and present operating in many other bands across the city they’d probably give Pete “Rock Family Trees” Frame a headache. Loosely described as either a post-rock or a prog band, a typical Day For Airstrikes performance (not that I’m even certain such a thing exists) is the total antithesis of the po-faced, chin-stroking and deadly serious experience you get with some bands of the genre: it’s possible they have at some point played a gig without some daft banter and chaos but I’ve never seen one (and I’ve seen them a lot). The sound in between, though, is breathtaking. Loosely operating in a similar area to 65daysofstatic and Vessels but with more emphasis on melody, they deal in massive spiralling instrumental workouts and their grasp of dynamics is almost peerless. Progressive guitar solos lead into crashes of drums, delicate passages grow into great towering cliff edges and on a newer track – working title “Trans Hans” – some electronics adds a further dimension: on this evidence the third album’s going to be something pretty special.
above:Days For Airstrikes
The only band on tonight’s bill I’ve never seen before, THE GODDAMN ELECTRIC exist at the deafeningly loud and metal-flavoured end of tonight’s menu. With a band biography that reads simply “We’re just here to fuck shit up, less of the hairdos and more of the music!” they boast an impressive quantity of tattoos and a Motley Crue t-shirt (on the gravel-shredding singer) but musically they’re somewhere on the more rough and ready MC5 via AC/DC via Mudhoney side of things. Later in the set they shift into full-on Motorhead high-octane blues-soaked rock’n’roll and seem to impress quite a few people who probably wouldn’t normally touch metal with a ten foot pole – result! They note at one point that “the style of music we’re playing doesn’t fit in with everything else on the bill” but even if there is some truth in this, a showcase of the best of new Manchester that ignored the city’s thriving underground metal scene would be missing a trick.
Goddam Electric- picture by Ged Camera
Next up is our host, but this is no ego trip: ÃÂ TROJAN HORSE Thave supported the likes of Vessels and Kong (and are soon to support local undergound metal legends Beecher at their comeback gig) and with the release late last year of their self-titled debut album have firmly planted themselves on the “ones to watch” list of anyone who’s been paying attention round here. The band’s ethos is again a simply stated one: “We make Prog-Rock. It’s not about being pretentious, it’s about letting everyone know how good you are.” and on this point they never disappoint live. Onto a foundation that owes as much to 70s artists such as Yes as it does the more recent Oceansize-inspired sounds they layer odd little off-mic multi-way vocal breaks, more twists and turns than the Snake Pass, catchy bits of tune that last just a few seconds before exploding, fast-chopping time-signature shifts worthy of The Cardiacs and, on Nick Duke, a beard the British Antarctic Survey (and no, that’s not a band… yet!) would be proud of. A beard which he has pledged to the cause, with the audience invited to bid in an auction at the end of the set, the winner invited to shave the beard off live on stage. Do I hear twenty pounds? Thirty? Forty? Sold! Both auctioneer and winner bottle out at the last minute, sadly for the semicircle of photographers that have gathered, but the money is still in the pot and the get-out clause is that Nick is not permitted to shave or trim his facial hair for a minimum of six months – it could be a long, hot summer.
left:Trojan Horse- picture:Ged Camera
Also openly stating their 70s prog influence, even if its echoes are not as obviously apparent, are FROM THE KITES OF SAN QUENTIN. This trio are equally at home supporting 65daysofstatic in Academy 2 as they are playing underground future-bass nights, and are starting to pick up plaudits as one of the most exciting and forward-thinking bands in Manchester right now. This they achieve by fusing the complex structures of comtemporary progressive post-rock with the sonic palette of twitchy, bass heavy dubstep and half-buried samples – in itself a wonderful and adventurous concept, but add Alison Carney’s incredible vocals – part ethereal folk-sprite, part heavily processed ghost in the machine – and you have something that really doesn’t sound like anything else out there. And if their recorded output is fascinating and beautiful, then watching them live genuinely does bring in a whole new dimension as Alison and the mysteriously named Blood Boy and L.S.N. cook up beats and cimematic rushes from laptops and keyboards and a guitar which at no point during the set makes any sound conventionally associated with six strings. Their set is short, or at least it feels that way (I’m not the sort of person who actually times sets, having always rated quality over quantity) but probably crams in more ideas than the entire careers of many more traditional bands – and, crucially, sounds wonderful too.
picture:Kites Of San Quintin
I’d actually been watching PLANK! in London on the night the earthquake struck, when they appeared at an XFM-sponsored night at Camden Barfly – a fact which in itself is heartening to anyone frequently bored by the run-of-the-mill output of most “indie” radio as whilst this Withington-based three-piece undoubtedly have some cracking tunes, their intoxicating grooves have their roots in the sounds of Cluster, Tangerine Dream and NEU! (from whom they probably borrowed their capitals and exclamation mark, along with the name of legendary German progressive/experimental music producer Conny Plank). Formed a couple of years ago from the ashes of highly respected local bands Autokat, Burnst and Keith they make great fluid instrumental pieces which push the boundaries of what you can do within a guitar-bass-drums-synth set-up. They don’t really do stagecraft in the sense of direct communication with the audience – with PLANK! the involvement comes from finding yourself completely absorbed in the fluid, pulsating music and its drivingly danceable rhythms.
It’s getting towards the end now and with six bands on the bill it was never going to be an early night but for those of us not tied to last buses or trains there’s one more band to go. It’s almost certainly these logistics which see PATTERNS play to a rather depleted crowd as this young band – less than a year in their present form and name and still developing – are one of the most talked-about new bands in the city and quite rightly so. There are plenty of familiar elements in their sound: there’s the brooding rumble of atmospheric post-punk (of the Chameleons via Interpol variety) in the minor chords, yearning vocals and stormclouds of bass; there’s the rich lush echo of early-nineties dreamwave, and subtle and beautifully incorporated electronics which could only have come from this decade. Together it all sounds perfectly natural, and they have the songs to match.
As the last washes of synth fade out and the curtain falls on this great celebration of present-day Manchester we head back towards the merch table (where the proceeds from items donated by the bands will add to the total) and find Nick Duke looking as proud as he should be: as the situation in Japan moves from disaster relief to recovery the British Red Cross is sorting homeless survivors out with essentials to restart their lives, and the ÃÂ£1050 raised here will pay for clean water supplies for over a hundred families.
Part Two of Japanchester takes place on Easter Saturday, 23rd April, at the Roadhouse with an emphasis on the heavier and rockier side of the local up-and-coming music scene with the following artists taking part – that one’s ÃÂ£5 on the door and we have no doubt it will be another great night.