The Narrows & Vei – Live review

The Narrows + Vei
Manchester Ruby Lounge 16th September 2011

A slow, heavy heartbeat is pulsing though Ruby Lounge’s speakers, washed in swathes of spooked synth and overlaid with clicks, pops and crackles.

This darkness is worlds apart from Manchester’s traditionally favoured upbeat and danceable forms of electronic music, and it’s the work of man called Vei. A mysterious character; probably carrying some Goth DNA – sometimes seen walking around Salford in a long black coat; tonight he bends low over his equipment as if he doesn’t want to be seen at all. Lit in deep red and rarely acknowledging the presence of others, it feels as if we’re watching him through a two-way mirror as he conducts sonic experiments in his private lab.

The soundtrack is never less than engaging, though; synth sweeps give way to unsettling little piano phrases, the heartbeat to a hollow thud, then it all starts to grow again like a gathering storm. By the end there are lush orchestral waves and techno rhythms, but Vei remains the sort of music to lose yourself in as opposed to jump around to.

Interesting, then, that The Narrows chose him to remix their single. They, too, exist on the fringes of Manchester’s music scene – again, their basic blueprint of “electronic pop with guitars” is a pretty familiar one round here, but their methods and ingredients are rather more original and inspired than most. They are also completely fucking crackers, as becomes clear before they even take to the stage for this their biggest hometown headline show to date. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Feelin Groovy” would be a pretty bizarre choice of walk-on music at the best of times – then the spotlights start flashing slowly like a low-rent Blackpool Illuminations and the music jumps and glitches like a chorus of disturbed sheep. Singer Phil Drinkwater is on stage by this point, staring out into the crowd (which is a pretty good turnout, it has to be said, considering this band is technically still “unsigned”, whatever that means in this day and age) in a slightly menacing way. Adam Hynes and David Battle stand either side of him with their guitars and indie hair; there’s a strong visual identity here that works well with their stirring, cinematic music. Like they’ve thought about this, made an effort.

There are so many more reasons, too, why The Narrows are one of the brightest new bands in Manchester right now. They do electropop, sure, but the kind of electropop whose 80s parentage is that spooky intro to The Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin” as opposed to the bouncy dancey kind. Phil’s synth has just one setting – Maximum Melodrama. They bury his vocals somewhere just below the surface, which means that you don’t always catch it all but what you do hear is intriguing; he’s definitely not just singing generic nonsense. And in between songs he says things like “We were going to do a cover of David Guetta featuring Akon but… it’s shit, so we’re going to cover Serge Gainsbourg instead” (true – at least the Gainsbourg bit!) and “I’d like to dedicate this next song to Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, because he’s a cunt.” (They’re are not afraid to be political – a position that’s pretty rare in modern music outside of the traditional loose fields of rap and singer-songwriter stuff). And if all that wasn’t enough, the set ends with Phil battering the very life out of a drum kit someone’s left on the stage – it can’t be theirs as they don’t have one – with a look in his eyes that some more God-fearing types might well interpret as demonic possession. A definite contender for most exciting new band of 2011.

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