In The City: A Local Preview by Simon Jay Catling & David Edwards
Home presence has always been strong at In The City, previous bills acting as an accurate document of Manchester’s musical movements - for better or for worse. This year however sees local talent proving as exciting a draw as any on the bill, with all aspects of the city’s diverse and complex aural tapestry represented in the line-up, and in many cases showcasing for some of the region’s most committed DIY promoters. We’ll come to the latter further down the page but, first, new Drowned In Sound scribe David Edwards and I caught up with two of the local crop who, perhaps more than the others, are likely to make their presence felt this week. Brown Brogues and D/R/U/G/S are playing some six gigs between them over the three days, including a slot on In The City’s traditional ‘Unsigned’ section of the bill - the festival’s attempt at highlighting who they rate as the finest unsigned acts in the country.
Brown Brogues have been magnetically drawing sizable attention and column lines towards them over the past year, basking in the chaotic glory of their live performances and their frazzled, wide-eyed and delirious approach to rock music. Dredging nuggets of influence from the deepest recesses the past five decades, the two-piece outfit, comprising guitarist Mark and drummer Ben initially found themselves banded together as the result of, as they put it, “Numerous musical failings”. Their initial creation was something of a meeting of chance and circumstance. “B is really a bassist”, Mark explains. “He spent £1000 on a posh bass setup but we didn’t need a bassist so now he plays the £50 drum kit I scammed from some kid on eBay. Basically, we whittled everything down, including people and equipment to fit comfortably in a small car like my new 1989 Ford Fiesta and still be in a band!”. From this has developed an act who prove impossible to pigeonhole, but who instead extract the most potent elements from blues, new-wave, punk, grunge and garage and viciously crush them together into a phenomenal crescendo of uncompromising, wildly exciting sound.
Describing their sound as simply “Megasexy”, Mark goes on to explain their approach to live performances, which typically boil over into a frenzy of feedback, spittle and onstage vitriol. “We don’t like doing set lists”, insists Mark. “We both act like arsehole peacocks competing for attention.” And indeed, their influences for this heady brew are typically diverse and point firmly towards the anarchic and envelope-pushing stagecraft that the band are presently purveying. “I like the erratic and energetic presence of Mark E. Smith, John Dwyer and the shambles of The Black Lips”, Mark reveals. “But I also like the steadfast labour of Shellac and the super-tense twitches and yelps of Alan Vega”. Beyond the pointedly sharp attitude and references however, lies a focused and determined band fully committed to the art of live performance and respecting of the importance of conveying a kinetic, singular dynamism within their sound. “We stay close and in view of each other so the songs don’t become too structured and flat”, says Mark, before elaborating further that ”most of the time people react favourably”, and only semi-jokily “usually pick their favourite arsehole peacock.”
Mark and Ben are already gearing up towards a busy conclusion to 2010, playing shows with Crocodiles, Wavves, Spectrals and Milk Maid and building on their recent success (“We’ve got a load of new songs and should be recording as soon as we get a chance”). But Brown Brogues are already looking far beyond the here and now, broadening their horizons and bringing their particular message of triumphant insanity beyond the borders of the M60. “We’re booked to play with the Beets in January” reveals Mark. “Then we’re going travelling across America and should hopefully play a couple of shows, we’re waiting to hear if we’re playing at SXSW. Which would be Swiss.” Before then, In The City is their first major opportunity to push themselves into the face of the nation, something the band are clearly anticipating, though for typically quixotic reasons. “We’re not sure, but it’ll raise our profile to hopefully end up with a 1990 Ford Fiesta” deadpans Mark.
Whether they’re being “arsehole peacocks” or simply tearing up the pavements from under guitar music at the wave of a whim and the flick of a plectrum, Brown Brogues provide a perfect vantage point if you want an idea of the changing shape and textures of the Manchester music scene. If there is one thing they have in common with the city’s musical heritage, it is that they come from the same touchstone of classic, uncompromising style and performance that characterised so many of Manchester’s iconic figures. Yet Brown Brogues are of their own making, own definition and own sound. In a sense, they characterise the new blood and brethren gathering beneath the looming skies this side of the Pennines. For now they’re ours, tomorrow they may belong to the masses. And at that point, they may well have to take a look at upgrading that Ford Fiesta again. We’re going to need a bigger car…
Brown Brogues play In The City on:
13th October Soup Kitchen 10:40pm
14th October The Castle 7:00pm
15th October Trof NQ 6:00pm
“The only people here that we know here are [local promoters] the Now Wave guys and Egyptian Hip Hop. Linking place and music makes no sense whatsoever to me. Maybe it’s different for some lads on tour type band but I’d be making the same beats wherever I was from.”
Such an attitude is becoming common currency amongst Manchester artists; to be vocally attempting to distance yourself from the city’s ageing musical legacy is to stake a claim of authenticity, a validation that your sound is innovative, forward-thinking and unconstrained by the spectres of the past. There’s something wrong in that however; though by no means all, there are now a selection of artists and people so desperate to shout about their apathy towards Factory, the Stone Roses and ‘the old guard’ that they not only give the impression of worrying a little too much about it, but also run the risk of inadvertently being linked to the past they so rage against and becoming tied up in a catch-all category of their own (recent readers of the NME will know that it’s already been tried.)
As ever, the best music coming out from Manchester – as in any city – is being created by those who are either completely uncoupled from their surroundings, or who’re at least in sync with them on on their own terms only. D/R/U/G/S are one such group, and their programmer Cal’s opening quote is about as close as we get to touching upon any geographical or historical influences that may lie in his and live partner George’s richly textured electronics. A slightly more apt sign post would be the hypnagogic pop of America but then that feels like a weak association too. In a recent interview with Fader, Cal stated that “hip-hop is about 80% of what I listen to,” whereas my own suggestion to him that the repetitive pulsing foundations from which their warm drones flower partly remind me of The Field draws an equally enthusiastic response, “[The Field’s label] Kompakt is a great shout, they put out dance music no question but the songs are there. The only thing I had in my head when I started was to make some interesting beats without going for the massive bass sound. I also recently heard Future Sound Of London for the first time and I’m delving through their stuff.”
Generally disdainful in their view of dance music (“a lot of genre dance tunes bore me to tears to be honest,”) D/R/U/G/S are proud of their ability to straddle the line between making club fillers and acting thoughtfully as a live group; “When we play live we actually play, we don’t use laptops or anything like that. More than anything I want us to remain a band. The aspect of us actually performing the songs is something I don’t want to lose.” It’s another example of their tendency to drift just out of reach of any one dominant association, slipping out of a pigeonhole like a welterweight boxer would a punch; it’s a trait that extends to answering my questions too, remaining just about elusive enough to maintain intrigue. A question about the band name is met with the possibly tongue-in-cheek retort “We couldn’t decide on whether we prefer drug crime or knife crime so we went with drugs and slashes,” while they bluntly describe their own musical past as “being in other bands- but they were mostly figments of our imagination.”
What is clear is that the pair are deeply into what they do, keen for their music to be “recognised as more than just pounding dance tracks,” and with a strong will to pursue it without worrying about the goings-on around them. Manchester? “Manchester’s a weird place man, we don’t get involved.” This week though they’re going to have to.
D/R/U/G/S play In The City on:
13th October Ruby Lounge 8:40pm
14th October Band On The Wall 9:20pm
15th October Soup Kitchen 9:50pm
Pull Yourself Together, High Voltage, Some Drum I Would Never Hear… there’s a range of Manchester’s great and good promoters involved at In The City this year; we asked two of them to give us an insight into what we can expect from their showcases. First up, local label Akoustik Anarkhy head honcho Raymond Ray talks us through theirs and fellow locals Melodic’s Friday night offering.
“Akoustik Anarkhy approaches its 11th anniversary in the business of music and fun without fuss. The Manchester label is an established independent - over 50 releases old. The roster is petite but strong, covering Arazonian dustbowl, Krautrock, Mancunian guitar pop and rave damaged dance floor electronics. The once self-styled live party nights are now fewer with just four rare public invitations extended thus far, this year. Behind the scenes however the turn tables never stop spinning. For those with an interest in music beyond commerce, In The City's 2010 showcase of Akoustik Anarkhy and Melodic is simply unmissable. In the aA corner are rough and ready pop guitar scamps Beat The Radar and South Manc math/kraut instrumentalists PLANK! while their good friends from fellow Mancunian stable Melodic tempt Windmill out (possibly the most underrated songwriter in the UK) for some cosmic space explorations of the Neil Young/Mercuty Rev mould. Local experimentalists Working For A Nuclear Free City toast their wonderful new record ‘Jojo Burger Tempest’ and Sheffield indie-pop darlings Standard Fare also join the party. aA DJs will spin their normally ecelctic mix bag of sounds (electronica, psych, baroque, party classics, kraut-y grooves, disjointed rock and whatever else happens to be their bag). There will also be a jumble sale of aA and Melodic records at very affordable prices.
15th October Akoustik Anarkhy & Melodic Records at The Castle 7.10pm Plank! 8.00pm Beat The Radar 8.50pm Working for A Nuclear Free City 9.40pm Standard Fare 10.30pm Windmill
Next up, Red Deer Club’s Duncan Sime talks us through the history of his beloved label and who we should be paying attention to at his forthcoming In The City showcase.
“Red Deer Club’s initial incarnation presented itself as a live music night in popular Withington vegetarian café Fuel. I built the night and later the label on an ethos solely based on a love of music. Embracing the popular culture known at the time as ‘new folk,’ we quickly developed the monthly night into a flagship for the current scene in Manchester.
The Red Deer Club soon blossomed into a fully-fledged record label, flying the flag for Manchester and beyond with artists far transgressing the night’s latter genre ties and beyond. 2010 and beyond sees the label specializing in “hug-step, landfill indie and curve ball pop”, which to the less literary among us is just bloody great music.
Our showcase at The Castle is the first ever live show at the newly refurbished venue, and we’re super excited to have on three of our best bands from the label. Sophie’s Pigeons are a foot stomping, bass thumping, happy clap, pop four-piece making music that’s short sharp and sweet. Stealing Sheep are also wonderful, and In The City should cap a great year for them that’s seen two EP releases, an extensive tour of the UK and Germany, a string of festivals, and live BBC radio sessions.
Last but certainly not least, four-piece Young British Artists have gained fans from BBC Introducing’s Chris Long to 6music stalwart Steve Lamacq, the latter naming recent double A-side Lived In Skin/A Million Miles as one of his favourite records of the year.”
13th October, Red Deer Club at The Castle includes:
8.00pm Young British Artists
8.50pm Stealing Sheep
9.40pm Sophie’s Pigeons
All of the above, plus a few others from the region to look out for, are all included in this here below Soundcloud mixtape. For links to all websites of the artists playing In The City head to the official website.