If you haven’t heard, or read my review of the Sways Records curated event at the Soup Kitchen on Sunday, there’s a renaissance, an upheaval, resurgence, a ruddy insurrection occurring in Manchester’s music scene, driven by the “culture regenerators” at Salford’s Sways Records.
“it’s not unnatural to do something odd, to us it just seems normal, we all listen to pretty bizarre music”
One of Sways enigmatic prospects is the intriguingly named Naked (On Drugs). Slithering in from the dankness of Salford’s post-industrial mills with the single ‘Lee Ann’s Skin’ the band have found themselves on NME’s radar for Best New Bands’ Songs 2013, The Guardian’s inexhaustible Band of the Day and with a recommendation from the Sabotage Time’s that their single is “not the sort of song that Vernon Kay would play at his Christmas table”.
Amusingly irreverent notions that Naked (On Drugs) “sound a bit like Scott Walker ODing on klezmer” or “exactly like Nick Cave trying to schmooze his way out of a K-hole” would imply the group reside in a decadent squat, immersed within a self-induced state of irrevocable insanity, incapable of spluttering anything beyond frightening gibberish.
Yet these haunting preconceptions are laid to rest upon meeting the quartet for a pint in the Northern Quarter’s Kosmonaut - no drugs and with clothes on, the group are what guitarist Luke describes as “just common twats”, not the feral monsters the music paints them as. In fact the group are misconstrued by their ironic name as Luke explains, “I know we have a name like Naked (On Drugs), but believe it or not we’re quite against the image of drugs and alcohol, the actual rock n roll image. It’s a pathetic, stupid image to portray”.
The group was originally forged out of a fortuitous meeting in Manchester between exiled duo Luke Byron Scott and vocalist Sebastien Perrin, escaping “culturally starved shit hole” Bletchley (not Milton Keynes) and “dull” France respectively, before the additions of Dave, Luke’s long time friend, and Dave 18 months ago confirmed their official line up.
A combination of haunting noir distortions and soiled foreboding wallow in tracks ‘Death Dance and ‘Akari Dinosaurs’ making classifying or likening the group to anything else an impossibly irrelevant exercise, certainly not ‘normal’. Luke cites their own unique interests as key; “it’s not unnatural to do something odd, to us it just seems normal, we all listen to pretty bizarre music” while Dave cites his experience in rallying against the “franchised and manufactured” city and sounds of Milton Keynes as crucial in their off the wall brand of music.
One thing that certainly doesn’t influence the band is the ghosts of Manchester’s prized musical past, quickly dissociating themselves from The Smiths and Joy Divisions of the world; “we’re not Manchester musicians, we’re just a bunch of musicians who happen to be in Manchester based here”.
The group are keen to avoid being pigeonholed into Manchester stereotypes and talking about the past, Luke bluntly sums up the band's feelings on the matter: “Manchester needs to shut the fuck up about itself.
Another of Manchester’s institutions that the band is quick to distance themselves from is the overwhelming student population and their contribution, or lack of one, to the new arts scene: “Students have fuck all to do with the Manchester music scene, I’ll tell you that explicitly. Students can go fuck themselves, don’t go to our shows, we don’t want them. They’re more interested in going to a shit dance night that’s gonna play hits from the 90s, early 2000s MTV base”.
“Luke and Sebastien are the production house, they write the material. For a live situation we flesh out those productions to a live set up, the material is all there, it’s all about accentuating and making it a lot better. The material recorded is completely different to how it’s presented live, almost like two bands; personally I love that element about playing in the band”.
At the Soup Kitchen on Sunday, as part of Sways curated event courtesy of Independent Venue Week, Naked (On Drugs) unleashed their alter ego stage presence, exemplified by vocalist Sebastien’s disfiguration from his quiet self to a manic existence characterised by paranoid alert eyes and dancing that would make Ian Curtis wince.
Their songs too take on a new jarring life as saxophones and clarinets accompany the regular medley of instruments, wailing as if in agony at the oddities they’re blowing out. Dark and cantankerous the band is polarizing live, leaving the audience unable to judge in awe or cower from the menacing delights ahead.
Naked (On Drugs) burgeoning career and interest comes as part of the wider ‘Manchester Renaissance’ within the arts, not solely musically, with Sways Records at the forefront of spurring on a new generation. Salford based, but run from Levenshulme, the label is the brainchild of Ben Ward whose contribution, personal and financial, to the exciting new wave of fresh talent in the city cannot be understated as Naked (On Drugs) champion:
“[Ben] he’s got the balls to go and look for new music and give it a shot, he’s pissing people off because he’s doing it without any money behind it, loads of money behind Sways his bullshit, we’re all paying for it and he’s paying for the releases. We believe in what Sways is doing and that’s why the bands are there.”
"If there’s going to be an arty revolution in Manchester then Sways is gonna be at the heart of it."
Sways’ most publicised success has been the ethereal beauty that is MONEY (see my review of their MIF show here), they may have moved on to major label Bella Union, but there humble beginnings on Sways have helped put the Salford label on the map and paved the way for Naked (On Drugs), Bernard + Edith, Francis Lung, The Louche, Ghost Outfit and Kult Country amongst others.
Following on from the success of ‘Lee Ann’s Skin’, Naked (On Drugs) are already half way through recording an album with ambitions to sack off their secondary jobs and realise dreams of a European tour. That’s the plan at least, certainly not set in stone as it’s all news to bassist Dave; “I’m never aware of what’s going on, I just play bass”.
Their music and views aren’t the predictable, cosy and mundane niceties of mainstream popular music, its darkly enthralling, distinctive, noir that leaves a wretched and sleazy ringing in your ears, words and music alike, giving Naked (On Drugs) the potency to be cult favourite amongst the apostles of Manchester’s Sways inspired resurgence.
Listen to Naked (On Drugs) and Sways other acts here
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