NOW WAVE At The Apollo With Battles AND Caribou
Manchester Apollo 4TH June 2011
photos by Cath Aubergine (apart from Manchester Apollo picture by Now Wave)
It was sometime in late 2008 when the flyer was stuffed in my hand outside a gig somewhere – a new live music club night in town is always going to grab my attention and this one looked pretty exciting. “Celebrating the now not the then,
This ethic is central to the club night and can be seen in the live acts lined up to play. By booking only bands and DJs that are new and pushing musical boundaries, many of which have never played in Manchester before, Now Wave really is bringing you the sounds of the near future.”
Lofty ambitions for sure, but with one of my favourite bands Holy Fuck lined up for one of the first shows they seemed to know what they were talking about. And looking back now at the launch of Now Wave, we can see that on another date in that initial run, supporting Pivot (as they were then; now PVT), a little-known London band called The XX. Yet to release their debut single at that point, two years later they won the Mercury Prize.
The rise of Now Wave was equally impressive. Within a year of that first flyer the young and enthusiastic duo had forged a reputation which lived up to their early manifesto – sometimes you hadn’t heard of the bands they were promoting but it was always worth going because you could guarantee that a few months (or, as the speed of new band buzz accelerated towards the end of the decade, weeks) later many of them would be all over the internet. With an understanding that exciting and boundary-pushing music isn’t always made by the under-25s, Now Wave’s schedules also found room for veteran pioneers such as Silver Apples and the late Gil Scott-Heron. Each event is promoted with a strongly branded poster whose design is as contemporary as it is collectable – ironically for an organisation with no interest in nostalgia there will probably be exhibitions of the things in ten years’ time, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve pinched a few off venue walls (only after the event, mind). And crucially, they’re not tied to any particular location, allowing them to be as creative in their venue bookings as they are with the artists. Now Wave pioneered the use of Salford’s glorious St Philip’s Church as a live venue; they put pop oddballs Mystery Jets on in Manchester Cathedral, The Walkmen in Oldham Street’s Central Methodist Hall, and Everything Everything with a chamber orchestra (and indeed an underground artist called James Blake supporting, literally days before everyone and their uncle was heralding him as the sound of 2011) in the Royal Northern College of Music.
And now they’ve got their hands on The Apollo. Yep, Manchester’s flagship venue, all three and a half thousand capacity of it. The twin headliners of the event, Battles and Caribou, are more commonly found at Academy 2 sort of level but it’s a tasty package overall – some high-profile electronic artists pack out a bill stretching from 8pm til 3am whose tickets were initially on sale for just ÃÂ£20, only a couple of quid more than the going rate for a standard gig by a touring American band at this level – the sort where they turf you out at eleven. Yes, it’s outrageously ambitious. But that’s Now Wave for you, nobody ever got anywhere just sitting in their comfort zone…
When we arrive there’s a man on stage behind a massive stack of electronics and a grungey curtain of hair. He might not look like much but STAR SLINGER is currently one of the most cutting edge musical alchemists in the country right now, and although he was originally from Nottingham he’s made Manchester his home. Listening to a Star Slinger set, in which he manipulates samples live in real-time, is a bit like having a load of distorted pictures shoved in front of your face very quickly: you’re half way to recognising something and then it’s gone. Especially as he seems to delight in dredging up snippets of an 80s that largely happened before he was born – electro-funk, late-period disco and (in a move that proves very popular with the Apollo crowd) large swathes of vocal sample from Musical Youth’s “Pass The Dutchie”. No, seriously. Given that Darren Williams (as it says on his National Insurance card) has had to fill a good 40 minutes more than he was booked for after the next act fails to show he does a damn fine job of it, before his table is carted off and the Now Wave pair spin a few tunes during the stage changeover. They’re still looking slightly nervous at this point. They’ve no need to be – granted the place wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams when we turned up about half ten, but just under an hour later the audience for Battles is their biggest in Manchester to date, and Now Wave’s too, with the downstairs nicely full and a good few upstairs too.
They’ve taken out all the restrictions tonight – a ticket simply gets you into the building; if you want to go and sit up in the Circle for a bit you can, just find yourself a seat. I find myself briefly in the front row overlooking the balcony, and suddenly remember last time I was in this spot, watching Orbital – oh, years ago now – a show that remains one of the greatest I’ve ever seen in the Apollo, alongside Kraftwerk in 2004. I’ve seen a lot of guitar bands here too over the years, and I don’t know why it is in this most rock-based of venues, but it’s been electronic artists that have really made use of the space. And another name’s about to be added to that list.
BATTLES – a kind of experimental post-rock supergroup comprising long-serving Helmet drummer John Stanier, guitarist Ian Williams who was in Touch & Go band Don Caballero, plus Dave Konopka who wasn’t in any particularly famous bands before – first emerged to widespread acclaim in 2006 with their album “Mirrored”, on Warp Records, which seemed to be pretty much universally cricitally acclaimed. Personally I never quite got it; saw them a few times live, but it all seemed just a little bit too serious and po-faced and borderline jazz for my liking, which is always a danger in the world of post-rock or whatever you want to call it. Most of this however centred around the band’s fourth member, the (very obviously) classically trained Tyondai Braxton (I always struggled to even look at him when they played live because of his muso gurning) – and as the effective lynchpin of the band his 2010 departure could have spelt the end. It didn’t. More a new beginning.
The trio launch their set with “Africastle”, the opening track of their second album “Gloss Drop” (out this very week, 6th June) and the difference is remarkable – they look genuinely happy to be here playing their music, and the crowd throw the good feelings back to them tenfold. Pretty much all of the set is drawn from “Gloss Drop” and it’s lighter on the fiddly complexities but heavier on the beats and feelgood factor that its predecessor. More post-pop than post-rock, if such labels mean anything at all. And having lost their only vocalist they’ve had to get really creative: guest vocalists invclude Yamataka Eye from Boredoms, Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead, and… Gary Numan? In something close to a genius move, Battles have drafted in the godfather of pop-industrial crossover to front a kind of pop-industrial crossover tune (“My Machines”) – and whilst he can’t be here in person tonight he, like the other guest singers, appears performing his lines on a couple of person-sized (ish) video screens behind the band. This might sound a bit rubbish on paper but coupled with their pretty minimalist stage set-up it’s actually very effective. As they bring the set to a close the Apollo’s massive spotlights flood the crowd revealing a sea of appreciation.
After they’ve finished, PEARSON SOUND (also known as Ramadanman, and indeed David Kennedy) does an hour of cutting and mixing and sampling – his is a decidedly eclectic world where hip-hop and jazz feature heavily in the source material, and some of his mixes are crafted on great big 12 inch dual turntables, you know, like what those disc jockey types had when we were young and it were all fields and you could lave your front door open and… sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. The Apollo. Look, it’s pushing 2am now, you can’t blame the mind for wandering a bit, can you?
CARIBOU is another big draw, having finally hit paydirt in 2010 with the highly regarded album “Swim” (about his 6th or 7th or more, not including EPs). An academic mathematician from a family of such (his real name is Dan Snaith; look them up on Wikipedia and see if you have the first idea exactly WTF any of their specialist areas are even on about – I don’t, and I’ve got a Further Maths A-level) it’s certainly an interesting career path he’s chosen, but as a stage performer he’s about as engaging as… an academic mathematician. He and his three collaborators face inwards, their instruments gathered in the centre, as if they’re having a practice not playing a gig. Still, the set – much like “Swim” intself – is a grower, soon shifting away from the sort of faceless bleeps-and-percussion that makes you (very briefly) wonder if the guitar-worshipping electrophobes have the tiniest bit of a point, and into gloriously uplifting electropop that sees the Apollo packed, dancing and happy right up to the 3am curfew. That they couldn’t hold a candle to Battles isn’t really their fault – few bands could have done tonight.
And Now Wave? Well, it’s one thing to have big ambitions; quite something else to pull it off so successfully. Got to hand it to them really. Wonder what their next big idea will be?