In the darky intimate bare concrete basement of the Soup Kitchen on Sunday evening a perfect union, or celebration, of Manchester’s subversive music scene, championed by Sways Records, and much treasured independent venues was realised. This equated to an impressive showcase of incandescent artists on the cusp of something vitally and inexplicably important to the city.
My repeat offences of clinging on to the ageing Peter Hooks and Morrisseys of the world may not be vanquished, but Sways’ outpouring of variety and excellence in the Soup Kitchen provided me with fresh hope and enthusiasm for the city’s musical future.
Independent Venue Week is the first of its kind, a noble cause initiated by I Like The Sound of That supporting small to medium sized music venues around Britain through a collection of one-off shows in eighteen nation-spanning venues.
Running from 28 January-2 February the event, supported by the likes ofPRS for Music and BBC Introducing, The Musicians Union and UK Music, impressively managed to launch a sell-out night at the Boileroom in the den of iniquity that is Guildford. If you can succeed in Guildford, you can make it anywhere, that’s why Napoleon failed don’t you know?
Co-founder of the initiative, Sybil Bell, stressed the importance of backing cherished independent venues:
“The struggle to compete with large, sponsor-backed venues makes it a tough and challenging time for independents. There's never been a more important time to highlight the importance of these treasured places; getting people excited about discovering new music up close and personal and reigniting fans passion for gig-going.”
Sunday night’s event at the Soup Kitchen looked to be just another date on the tour, but to those with their ears channelled in on Salford’s post-industrial depths would be well aware of the inimitable acts on show courtesy of Sways records’ curation.
‘Cultural regenerators’ they proudly label themselves, a bastion of enlightenment beyond the indie lad centric Gallagher fallout that Manchester has become. Under the stewardship of Ben Ward the label has cultivated a committed fan base for their less than conventional ethos and music, 2013 MIF performers MONEY the standout success of the city’s own Nouvelle Vague. In typically literate prose, possibly formulated by the label’s Minister of Propaganda Matt Boswel, Sways stated their intent for the impending gig to Tusk Journal:
“The best thing about modern Manchester is that it’s a place of transgression, with people and ideas crossing borders and boundaries. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, just where you’re going. This is a city with open arms, not the stale, lumpen corpse that some people imagine. Our record label was made possible because working class people from Salford met people from London, Lyon and a thousand other places and they set about making music, films and art without any sense of division or constraint. This is what we’ll be celebrating at Soup Kitchen.”
Underneath the soupy comforts above the Sways provided line-up included Francis Lung, Naked (On Drugs), Bernard + Edith with Kult Country headlining, but first up was the intriguingly fragile figure of Aldous RH.
While cutting an awkward and uncomfortable figure on stage, Aldous’ strangely absorbing presence echoed that of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, who flittered across the backdrop in Under the Cherry Moon,through a neo romantic charm of high pitched affection. Concocted with Aldous’ irritatingly drowned out vocals was a dreamy guitar afflicted with a traditionally funky sound and a base riff that demanded its audience to bob along with. The performance undoubtedly grew in stature, yet the performer’s insecurity endearingly ringed through as he plugged his new album with the catch “the artwork is probably better than the music.”
Beyond Aldous RH came Francis Lung and a stripped back set of isolation- just him and his guitar under the unnecessarily bright spotlight. Not dissimilar to his predecessor, Lung seemed a reluctant subject of the audiences’ gaze; a fumbled key change caused an outward apology for the man’s inward insecurities.
Unlike the polished pop perfection of his single ‘Selfish Man’ his performance was mellow, yet unafraid to expose a rawness needed to invigorate the acoustic set, ‘Jealous Guy’ a standout accumulation. By Lung’s underplayed climax the audience had huddled, cross legged, on the floor around the story teller, growing into his achingly sad songs.
If Francis Lung was a traditional interpretation of music then the Devil only knows what Naked (On Drugs) are. As jarring and divisive on the stage as they are off it, see my interview with the atrocity exhibition here. Commencing with ‘Akiri Dinosaurs’ the band launched at the audience like siren song of schizophrenic madness, their acclaimed noir single ‘Lee Ann’s Skin’ quivered into a louder stoned down rendition.
Lead singer Sebastien Perrin tormented the audience at the front with his convulsing dances, manically paranoid stares and suitably French attire, Flares on leg and Buckfast in hand. The noise, like a swarm of bees, somehow amounted to organised chaos- guitarist Luke hunched of his guitar as if beating it into submission, Sebastien in his own surreal world and Dave blowing his Saxophone hard enough to make him pass out. Only Naked (On Drugs) bass player Dave (another one) remained grounded, playing along as if oblivious to the madness around him.
Physically drained and mentally distraught following Naked (On Drugs), it was a welcome relief to hear the alluring beauty of duo Bernard (real name Nick) and Edith (real name Greta Carroll). After touting their polarizing precursor act as “the best in Manchester ever” Edith began filling the room with her dulcet tones. Over the hypnotic minimalism Edith cut a creature of beauty draped in her kimono, it’s folly to define what or where the brilliance in their music lies, but it’s unquestionably fantastic. Comparing Edith to a 21stCentury Kate Bush would be improper, yet there’s little else I can describe to convey the engrossing majesty of it all, their soon to be released Poppy EP is an enticing treat.
Finally Sways’ headliners Kult Country emerged, the most polished of the lot they sound ready to break through the glass ceiling and grapple with mainstream success. Good old fashioned fiery guitars worked in tandem with energetic frontman Yousif Al-Karaghouli to induce the frenzied crowd into a mosh pit- this is what independent music and venues were created for. As much as I desired to write more about Kult Country my hedonistic needs for beer and contemplation of Manchester’s musical future left me in a fuzzy haze about the whole night. Sorry guys.
As the floor cleared and the music subsided it was clear that I’d witnessed something key in ‘Manchester’s renaissance’, my repeat offences of clinging on to the ageing Peter Hooks and Morrisseys of the world may not be vanquished, but Sways’ outpouring of variety and excellence in the Soup Kitchen provided me with fresh hope and enthusiasm for the city’s musical future.
Cultural regeneration has begun.
Black and white photos courtesy of Preston Is My Paris
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