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In the City 2008

John Robb reports back on music biz shenanigans and top new bands

Published on October 9th 2008.

In the City 2008

Once a year, the mad, the rich, the deluded, the lucky, the chemically enhanced, the free loaded and occasionally, the just plain talented, get to storm the Midland Hotel for three days of talking, partying, bullshitting and schmoozing. And all the while pretending in that rather quaint, olde British way that they're not really networking.

Yeah, In the City is back again and Manchester gets to puff its chest out with the UK’s premier music convention. Thank fuck that the late and great Tony Wilson and the lovely Yvette came up with the idea of putting the conference on in Manchester – giving the whole affair a distinctly down-to-earth, northern spirit that combines fierce debating and flashes of brilliance.

It's this uniquely maverick flavour that makes In the City the best of these conventions. The mixture of high-powered lawyers and hungry-faced local bands getting rat-arsed in the posh Midland bar (with its credit crunch-ignoring bar prices) is a mash-up that even the most creative mixer can’t cut up.

There has been lots of talk about building a statue for Tony Wilson but surely this heated debate and its attendant feast of new bands is almost the perfect memorial to his large legacy.

Tony was, of course, the spine of ITC. His energy and confrontational spirit lit up the debate and the panels. Smartly, the organisers decided to bring in a host to fill in for Tony – some task as Wilson was the supreme presenter, filling the room with his unique energy and debating skills. A surprisingly modest Andrew Loog Oldham was this year's replacement. The legendary ex-Rolling Stones manager virtually invented the notion of modern management in the early sixties and was the original regency-clothed dandy hanging around with gangsters whilst being the super hip whiz kid. Whilst he was at it, Loog Oldham laid down the very foundation of how rock n roll works.

He was flown in from his current home in Columbia, and his presence gave the conference an extra edge. The panels that he did with Sire Records boss Seymour Stein were treasure troves of fantastic war stories. The one-to-one interview that they did was like a slice of living pop history with an insane minutia of detail. It took 90 minutes before they hit a pop history period that most of the crowd remembered. And it was all the better for that.

The spectre of downloading and the internet drove many of the debates. The simple fact is that no matter what anyone does or what legislation is slammed on the table, grabbing free music from the internet is so widespread that labels are taking a big hit, and the cold chill of fear is at the heart of the whole industry.

The music business is always changing and In the City reflects this; the talk is of using downloads too. And moving on, it's pointless to whinge about the situation – it's like moaning about CDs replacing cassettes. Things change and it's time to look for inspiration from the most unlikely sources.

One of the best debates over the weekend was about the porn industry, which is at the forefront of internet technology, utilising the internet for its relentless pursuit of the wank dollar. Lessons can be learned by the music business (which after all is like some sort of semi-respectable soft porn industry) in how to use the internet for maximum effect.

The next generation are taking full advantage of it already – the technology may change but the song remains the same.

In the City had some big hitters this year. The secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Andy Burnham, gave an oddly likable and believable keynote speech about what the government might be able to do for pop music – before bemoaning the lack of varied music on the TV and asking for Top of the Pops to return.

In the City’s other legacy has been the endless parade of new bands that fill up the most unlikely bars in the city centre. Its history of breaking bands is well documented and sometimes it feels like everyone from Oasis to Coldplay to Placebo have played their breakout gigs at the conference.

Loads of bands appeared this year. More than I can ever remember playing before. And even if they were mainly indie guitar bands who defy reviewing because there are only about 100 ways you can describe indie guitar music, there were some stand-outs like fast-rising locals The Vortex.

They were quite brilliant with that sneering, tune-laden, wall-of-sound rock n roll that hints at Oasis but quickly swerves away with Jaxx’s powerful backing vocals giving Mike Price’s Manc twang another flavour. The fact that they also boast ex-Oasis guitar man Bonehead in their ranks hardly matters – he sounds fantastic and gives the band an extra lift.

Another fast-rising local guitar band is 1913. Their anthemic, hook-laden, guitar pop is going to make waves very soon. The super-talented and buzz band of the weekend were locals Jesse Rose Trip. Their soulful, powerful vocals, idiosyncratic and highly original music, and fantastic dress sense spit star power.

The skuzzy rock n roll of To the Bones has the prime-time bass-driven intensity of early Joy Division and the death-defying screaming thrills of pre-big time Nirvana. They are quite wonderful.

Little Boots, whose electro pop is thrilling many, have a really cool song that sounds like a nifty nick from old disco classic 'Ring My Bell'.

At least another 500 bands and musicians played In the City. The convention makes Manchester come so alive with music that it's impossible to see it all, so I’m still miffed at missing the wonderful electro pop madness of Daggers, and another long list of great new bands.

Back in the hotel, Jarvis Cocker gave a master-class on lyric writing which was as erudite and witty as you would expect. Johnny Jay moderated a panel where he was stunned to find out that local teen scene star, the 21-year-old Babycakes, has casually just paid off his mother’s mortgage with a new T shirt design.

Fans of his T shirts have flown to Manchester from Japan this weekend to buy his new design. It was launched at his Babycakes Chiptune Compilation Album Party at Ruby Lounge – this was where the youth of Manchester finally got to run amok in a venue…the T shirt hipster is the new rock star!

The last panel saw the likes of Seymour Stein, Loog Oldham and Alan McGee hand down the wisdom of their long music careers. They are all driven by the same sort of insane enthusiasm for music and its fast-changing surroundings, making this discussion thrilling to watch.

The fact that Seymour Stein, signer of Madonna and the Ramones, can talk as easily about music from 1952 as from 2008, and is enthralled by Babycakes T shirts, tells the real story of In the City.

This is where In the City really works: in the unlikely collisions between old and new, the veterans buzzing about the bands, the music that is the lifeblood of the whole event. As someone points out, as a musician you're only three minutes away from making it.

It's an optimistic note to end a conference dominated by the downloading debate, but it's a note that underlines the power of music. Despite everything – the credit crunch, the internet uncertainty, the Arma-fucking-geddon – the three minute thrill is still at the heart and soul of pop.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

hypebubbleburstOctober 9th 2008.

In the City?...MehJohn Robb - there's more to music than Manchester.

philOctober 9th 2008.

the vortex , i caught them at the academy amazing , then twice at moho and they blew the roof off, this band are going to be MASSIVE.

AnonymousOctober 9th 2008.

1913 ? surely some mistake by j.robb ! i was at that gig,the return of oasis again.local bands take note we are fed up with people reviving noel and liams music . 1913 very boring band !!!

FionaOctober 9th 2008.

Anyone who has 'issues' with bands having influences are clearly not acquainted with the history of music. It is ridiculous to make bad reviews for a band who are compared to Oasis and Primal Scream on a regular basis, when they were at the forefront of their genre of music. The Vortex are what they are and everyone with tickets at the sold out gigs are clearly not complaining - not to mention the growing number of supporters throughout the country, including some serious music moguls. They do what they do pretty damn well if you ask me!

AnonymousOctober 9th 2008.

paris riots, 1913, the vortex, all top bands, musics about opinions i guess but all this snobbery re originality, theres only so many chords and riffs out there, you can peg most bands as being derivative of some other band if you try hard enough. a great songs a great song. end of. its how you deliver that to an audience and they have that nailed on. and im sure i remember oasis being labelled as 'beatles rip offs' when they came out, they went on to do alright for themselves...

dannyOctober 9th 2008.

i met the vortex at in the city and they are top class. they dont care if people think they are to oasis, they love it. about time we had another great band from manc. serious though mate, i know the manc music scene and they are about to take off big time. some big names tippig them. not only that these kids a real rock n roll stars. iv not been this blown away in years , honest mate. u need to go see them. i seen the roses come through then oasis, ill put my life on these bein the next. if they stop getting arrested!!!

anonOctober 9th 2008.

unfortunately the set was cut short by the sound engineer (gimp!)i have been to a few of their gigs and i totally disagree with you- they don't sound like oasis at all, and 1913 are highly rated by many people who actually know what they're talking about, but hey....everyone's entitled to an opinion!!!!

AnonymousOctober 9th 2008.

1913?....Oasis? No way...www.myspace.com/1913official

polkadotparisOctober 9th 2008.

completely agree with anonymous - the vortex were all too oasis-like also - did john robb not make it to the paris riots? you missed out! original & completely rocked - remember that name!

marcoOctober 9th 2008.

polkadot paris - u are one big muppet, how can someone be like oasis when they have a completely different sound? the vortex are a top class band giving that something different

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