Manchester Great Bridgewater Street
Gigs should be events.
Wu Lyf understand this. They know that the best gigs are a holy communion- a special event that will be talked about for years. Not for them some quick run through of songs in a piss stained, bog venue on a Tuesday night where only the most magical or insane bands can turn the vinegar piss into gold. Wu Lyf are on a mission and are a walking manifesto and they know that when they play it has to be special.
They are operating in the shadows. They give little away. Their story has just started. As they encroach the mainstream they will set light to a fire. Whether they become the big band or the catalyst band remains to be seen- either result is a victory.
From their early semi secret early shows at An outlet coffee Bar to this sealed off cavernous city centre street that runs underneath the old Gmex station and oozes the reverbing hugeness that so suits their sound and leaks Lucifer from its Victoriana this has been a carefully thought out thrilling trip.
Tonight’s venue is the perfect site for the Wu Lyf big breakout show.
It perfectly fits their idiosyncratic brief to close down a street in the centre of Manchester and cram well over 1000 people in there to check them out on the first big homecoming show in Manchester. It’s one of those gigs that’s half fierce fans and half check them out brigade. The band have been making a big noise in the past few months. They are the most talked about band in the UK and opinion is split. Some people are put off by the ”Ëhype’ but saying something is great in the printed word is not hype if it’s true. And Wu Lyf are that good.
They ooze feeling. Front man Ellery Roberts has a voice that is shredded with passion and the excitement of the now. You know when you see a young band who seize the moment, who capture the feeling perfectly in their music that it goes beyond the word. It goes beyond everything. It captures the crackle of the times. If you get this then you understand Wu Lyf.
Onstage tonight they are in the semi light, you can’t quite make them out adding to their semi visible mystique.
They have the gang thing. They look like they exist in the same pop universe or in the same Heavy Pop guerrilla cell. They walk the fine line between confidence and arrogance perfectly and they are not afraid of the storming the barriers. They have the music and the smarts to create their own bold tradition and the soul power to deliver it.
Any band that hints at the Wu Tang clan in their name and quotes SST Records and Minor Threat in interviews, call themselves Heavy Pop and remove themselves from the suffocating local Manchester music tradition has got to have the musical smarts. You can see it in their videos, their artwork and the Wu crucifix backdrop on the stage. Even the fact that their name is an acronym and stands for World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation is totally cool and proof of the way they have thought this through.
Ellery Roberts has the coolest current haircut in pop. These kind of things are important. A shaved up quiff sticks out stark as he stands in profile to the audience and bleeds pure emotion in a way that few northern singers have done for a long time. This is a pure unadulterated celebration of youthful idealism and the sheer visceral thrill of being alive- the light just pours out of him. The rest of the band are perfect as well, Joe Manning’s neo-tribal drums are so expressive- it’s great to see a drummer who avoids the easy beat and plays with the rhythms.
The songs roll and build up to huge crescendos. Tom McClung’s bass is super melodic, tumbling up and down with Evans Kati ”Ës guitar arpeggios, which are sublime. It’s all about the emotion and the music alone oozes a powerful emotive stuff that is really affecting but then you add on the vocals and the whole thing really comes together, soaring. Whilst Ellery is giving it everything with the singing he is also laying down the church organ which gives the music an almost clandestine, religious edge. It’s all quite moving and intense and a long way away from the irony indie or the dustbin indie of the 21st century. Sometimes you have to dream and you have to fly with the music and this kind of eyes clenched shut soul power music is perfect.
The band are operating in shadows for the gig. The stage is semi lit and they arrange themselves in an interesting pattern on the stage. There is no obvious frontman . Obviously the emotional power of Ellery’s voice is attention grabbing but he stands stage left sideways onto the crowd playing his keyboard in the gloom. It all adds to the mystique. The imaginary band operating somewhere just beyond the poisonous mainstream are freed from the shackles of tradition, going their own way. The bond with the audience is immense and the passion of the front rows is as powerful as I have ever seen. Of course the back of the gig is full of people wondering if it’s all hype or not but then any band who grabs the attention quick and speaks its mind has to go through this ritual.
Because they don’t belong to any tradition people are on a weird trip here. The band are not part of any subculture. They are denying the Manchester backdrop that so many younger bands have found so suffocating for some time. You can see their point. It’s a great musical history but why would you want to be tied into someone else’s history? Why would you want people to compare your every move to someone elses from before you were born. Their comments on this matter have ruffled a few pompous feathers in town but all the band have said is that they don’t particularly like Joy Division or the Stone Roses and that they don’t feel part of that lineage and that they prefer SST records to factory records”Â¦why not? ex Stone Rose Andy Couzens is stood next to me at the gig and loves their attitude, we agree that Ian Brown would love this as well. Fuck the past! Move on!
Is there some sort of musical driving test for Manchester bands? Do they have to like Factory Records? Wu Lyf may sound closer to a Factory Records band than to an SST band (SST was Black Flag‘s label releasing the Minutemen and bands like that). It’s also the maverick, underground spirit of SST that draws them in and also of bands like SST fellow travellers Minor Threat whose firebrand hardcore may at first be along way from the Wu Lyf sound but whose passion and intensity matches their own.
They are also attracted by the idealism of these bands. This operating outside the system that sees them turn down the major deals to set up their known label. Naysayers will point to their publishing money advance, but again this is not a test. There are no rules here. And that’s a beautiful thing- taking the publishing money is a Robin Hood moment- steal from the rich! or as they said ‘: Its all about the idea of self-sufficiency, where we don’t have to go to anyone, we can do it ourselves. We did the publishing and distribution deals, to facilitate that, so that we can carry on’
There is no manifesto Wu Lyf are getting elected on the passion of their music and their sonic sound. They respect these hardcore bands and are a take on their independence but only in the way that a 21st century British band can.
The gig tonight is a band going overground, blinking into the daylight in a perfectly pitched event. The gloom and the darkness of the boxed off road that runs underneath Gmex perfectly complimenting the melancholic passion of the band, the Lucifer they sing about leaking from the darkness of the Victoriana of the roof of the tunnel and the booming acoustics adding the reverb of their sound- the natural reverb they were so hooked on when they recorded their magnificent debut album in an Ancoats church.
They claim it’s three albums and then it’s over. It’s beautifully pure and that’s what youth and pop and music is all about and that’s why the people that love them love them.
The gig is a defining moment. Brinkmanship. This could be the start of something.