It’s been a glorious summer for Manchester – the roaring success of the Manchester International Festival is still palpable around the city: both metaphorically and physically (however proud of it they are, they really do need to take those banners down soon) and the likes of Parklife, Tatton Park, huge stadium shows and Manchester Pride have shown that there’s still a genuine love for musical events around the North West and though we’re never quite going to be London, we certainly punch above our weight as a musical force in Britain today.
It’s also been a summer where we’ve witnessed some of the city’s best kept secrets going national – primarily the stunning and meteoric rise of M O N E Y who only a few months ago were being whispered about around the darker corners of the Northern Quarter but who are now riding high on the back of some stunning festival performances and one of the albums of the year in The Shadow of Heaven. It’s safe to say that we’re all delighted for them and with the likes of Dutch Uncles, Everything Everything, PINS and Savages growing increasingly more prominent on the national and international stage, it’s fair to say that the future is looking increasingly rosy for a city that continues to shake off its lad-rock tags like a particularly energetic, loose-limbed and colourful dog emerging from a lake.
And so we turn to autumn – a time of nights that are cold on the outside, but roaring hot in the gig venues of the city. Manchester comes alive in the autumn and winter time, as new bands emerge and begin to forge their roots into the cracked and dark brickwork of the old Victorian buildings. So in this month’s column we’ll look at a few bits of news, check out a couple of new bands on the scene, preview this year’s Warehouse Project and have a bit of a chat with Claire and Richard from the excellent Shield Patterns – a band I’m expecting to make great inroads over the next few months.
Ok, let’s go then!
The Warehouse Project returns – bigger and better than ever!
The Warehouse Project has become something of an institution in Manchester over the past seven years of existence and as it gears up for its eighth consecutive year of mayhem and mischief throughout the autumn and winter months, the line-up continues to grow more diverse and fascinating with the passage of time. Indeed, the 2013 line-up is quite possibly the most intriguing to date, with several absolutely mind-blowing nights of music scheduled over at Victoria Warehouse – within view of Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. Of most interest to DiS readers will be the Friday 11th October event featuring Modeselektor, Moderat, LFO and Pantha Du Prince, while equally impressive is Richie Hawtin’s progressive Techno alongside Nicolas Jaar’s beautiful, emotive minimalism on Saturday 19th October. The following weekend sees The Knife bringing their much-discussed Shaking the Habitual live interactive experience to Victoria Warehouse, while old-school purists will be in their element the following evening with Julio Bashmore, Laurent Garnier, Henrik Schwarz and Cassius bringing the party. But it’s the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of November that has Drowned in Manchester most excited. On the Friday, Rob Da Bank brings Bestival to Manchester with a stonking line-up including Hot Chip, Chic ft. Nile Rodgers, 2manydjs, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Horse Meat Disco, while Saturday 2nd sees Thom Yorke come to DJ, playing alongside Four Tet, DOOM, Daphni, Ben UFO and Joy Orbison. DiS will be attending both nights and reporting back on one crazy weekend in Manchester. If we’re still able to type that is… ;-)
Other highlights include the ever-brilliant Phoenix’s show on Saturday 9th November – their only remaining UK show of 2013 where they’ll be ably supported by the excellent Jagwa Ma and the quite wonderful Bipolar Sunshine – as well as BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix 20th Anniversary party featuring Sasha, Steve Lawler, Pete Tong, Yousef and Derrick Carter on Saturday 16th November. The Chemical Brothers head up a brilliant line-up which includes Dave Clarke, Bicep and Erol Alkan on Friday 6th December, while Flying Lotus drops into town on Friday 13th December, alongside Jamie XX, John Talabot and Zomby. Oh, and as you might have heard, The Prodigy are coming along for three dates on Wednesday 18th, Thursday 19th and Friday 20th December. A quiet few months coming up then…
As you’d expect with an event of this calibre and standing, many of the events are already sold out in advance but it’s worthwhile keeping an eye on the website calendar as tickets and returns can sometimes appear at the last minute. Full details of The Warehouse Project can be found here alongside interviews with Phoenix, Andrew Weatherall and transport information. Trust us; it’s a party worth coming along to at least once!
New Release One – Santiago Street Machine finally bring the party with their debut album!
Having been following them from their first gig at Night & Day in 2010, we’ve been waiting a long time for Santiago Street Machine to drop their first album. But now, after a smattering of excellent singles, they’re finally bringing out the fruit of their labours – entitled Spark – on Sunday 22nd of September. Drowned in Manchester has had a sneak listen to the record and it’s every bit as good as we were hoping: full of superb poly-rhythms, brilliant drum/bass interplay and ear-snagging keyboard and vocal melodies over the top. They’ve been one of the best live bands in Manchester for some time now and it’s great to see them spreading the word nationally – this is a band to watch in the next year. They’re having a launch party for the album on Saturday 14th September at FAC251 where they’ll be playing with support from Wet Pelican and ECHODECK, so come along and celebrate!
New Release Two – More exceptional stuff from Superstar Destroyer Records: Alpha Male Tea Party
For the heavier and more intellectual noise and maths-rock end of the Manchester market, you really cannot fault Superstar Destroyer Records. Putting out previous exceptional releases by the likes of Ninetails, Black Market Serotonin and Nowhere Again, they’ve hit the jackpot once more with the marvellously named Alpha Male Tea Party. Now pedants may point out that they’re from Liverpool but as the label is based here and there’s currently no Drowned in Liverpool column running, I’m stealing them! Anyway, they’re a great blend of scuzzy, dirty riffs, jerking insistent rhythms and heavy clashing drums, all backed with melodicism which implies a deep intelligence and softer centre. Their 5-track E.P – titled Real Ale and Model Rail: The Lonely Man’s Guide to Not Committing Suicide (of course!) is available from the Superstar Destroyer Bandcamp here where you can name your price for the download or buy the CD for only £5. An excellent EP by a brilliant band on a superb label. What’s not to love?!
New Band of the Month – Hot Vestry
Well, when I say new…they have supported New Order in 2012 at Manchester Apollo (which is a damn sight more than I’ve ever done musically) but it’s my column so my rules, and I think these guys are great. Sounding a little like a collision between Primal Scream’s heavy and cock-rock ventures with just the right amount of Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys thrown in, it’s full of energy and enthusiasm – having the confidence to change direction when it suits then and to vary their sound between various tracks without losing their individuality. Their new 6-track E.P. entitled Tell Me How It’s Done is available here from Shedhead Records hereand they’re due to announce Autumn tour dates in the next week or so – catch them when they’re near.
Drowned in Manchester meets… Shield Patterns
As people who have followed this column are likely aware, my musical discovery of 2013 has been the beautiful ambient washes and heavenly vocals of Shield Patterns – a band initially started as a bedroom project by Claire Brentnall at the turn of the year, but now taking huge strides towards bigger stages by virtue of simply being extremely good indeed. Now with Richard Knox playing alongside and signed to Gizeh Records with a tour of the UK supporting Conquering Animal Sound, things are moving from strength to strength for the duo. Ahead of the tour kicking off in Glasgow on the 5th of September, I met up with Claire and Richard in the beer garden of Dulcimer in Chorlton; where over a beer or two they told me all about the origins of the band, influences and how the current Mercury Music Prize holders came to be remixing their debut single…
DiS: To start with, how did Shield Patterns come about in the first place?
Claire Brentnall: Well, I started making this music December 2012 – I’ve been playing in bands since I was 18 and I’ve always been playing music in a group and playing other people’s songs. But it got to a point where I had these songs in my mind and I didn’t really know how they were going to come out! So from December last year I was living on my own and it became something I became a little bit obsessive about – I’d go to work, come home and then spend all night making songs. I became a bit of a hermit; I think my friends were a bit worried about me! (laughts) It was really fulfilling though - it was really good to get these songs out as they’d been in my head for some time.
Richard Knox: Festering?
CB: Festering! (laughs) That’s a good word! So I started gigging on my own initially but I’d always pictured it becoming collaboration - I hoped it would. Gigging on my own was a bit of an experiment – I didn’t really know what was going to happen. Because I’d decided not to set myself any limits in terms of instruments when I was making the songs. I wanted to make however I wanted. So initially, playing live was all a bit of an experiment. I was trying things with samplers, bought myself a keyboard – on finance! I played my first gig at Night & Day and Richard was there, so that’s where I first met him.
RK: So I went with the idea that I’d heard a bit of the stuff online and had a couple of recommendations from friends. And at that point, we were looking for a couple of new things for our label (Gizeh Records) and you were supporting my friends – Epic 45 – so went along early to see you. And I thought it was really good. So we had a chat afterwards and tried to get some ideas of what you saw the project as being. I remember asking at the time whether you had any ideas for more people to join – you could see the basis of it was there but it just needed fleshing out a bit. But then sometimes, with solo artists it can be a control thing and you don’t want anyone else involved which is obviously a completely valid way of doing it. But I could just hear all these other things going on in there. So we got talking and I was interested in it for the label, but we decided it might be cool for me to make some noises on it! We’ve not played a live show together yet but we’ve been rehearsing a lot and I’m not really doing anything extra apart from you’ve already wrote – filling out the sound and the effects. I think the songs are already quite realised from your own imagination and the way you’ve written them – I don’t think you need anyone to come in and write new parts, those things are already there. But I think it’s cool for two people to be playing that stuff: in terms of there being more interaction, more things going on and more things to watch. And I think that’s an important part of it, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment.
DiS: With mentioning the live shows and the development of the band, it almost seems like these upcoming shows are as much your chance to experiment with the songs as they are about showcasing them to new people?
CB: Definitely. I mean, I do really love playing live. But it’s been a whole other world playing on your own as opposed to playing in bands. Which is why I’m really glad it’s a collaboration, because you’ve got so much more room to pass things between yourselves and improvise – it can be that bit more exciting
DiS: One of the things I’m really looking forward to seeing is hearing what you’re going to bring to the sound Richard, it sounds really exciting. But the idea of the sound developing is a fascinating aspect of this kind of music. I remember seeing you play a really early gig at The Castle and though it was great, it was still very much a work in progress. Fast-forward to the Olaf Arnalds support gig you did six-weeks later and the change in confidence was remarkable! It must be very daunting to suddenly be suddenly the focus of the attention!
CB: Well, I’m quite a shy person naturally and I never really saw myself becoming a front-woman or anything like that! It is a bit scary but deep down in my mind, what I’m thinking is “I want to do this” and this gives me the confidence to get some balls, get on stage and experience something new in terms of performing. But it’s definitely been a case of finding my feet.
RK: What I liked about it is that when I first saw you play, I kinda liked the shyness. Because it allows the songs to hold their own – there’s no show. In which case, the songs need to be strong. And if they’re not strong, your attention will soon drift away. And what I noticed first was that my attention didn’t drift away – ever. Even though there was no show: it was just you playing the songs. But the songs are good enough to hold their own and that’s an important thing. And you are a bit shy – that’s part of your personality! But there’s so many artists with bravado and where the show is all about the performance. And whereas that can be cool, you come away without much memory of what’s gone on – there aren’t necessarily any songs there for me. And it’s completely the opposite with this; you don’t need that bravado bullshit because you’ve got the songs.
CB: I just wanted to get my music out there initially. But I think that the live show and performance will be very different. It’s been a learning process though. I don’t think too much about it, I just go into a bit of a trance and just play…each gig has been very different and I like that. So I think it’s going to be about finding the right place to go for each gig.
RK: One of the things we’ve been working on in rehearsals is the performance aspect of it: bringing our own lighting to shows, how we set up on stage and that aspect of it.
DiS: It’s interesting you say that as the atmospherics of the music are one of the things that first grabbed me. There’s so much going on in there but it’s layered in a way that’s incredibly, delicate easy to understand and relate to. I remember describing it to a friend as “Musical Feng Shui”…
RK: That’s certainly something we’re trying to work on and try to keep – filling the sound out but keeping that space.
CB: I think space is very important in music. Just to have that space to think, space to listen. I really like that and the stuff I listen to, that’s very important to me.
RK: In other bands I’ve played in – which is totally different types of music – one of the things we’ve always looked for is people who know when not to play. And that’s so important. Most musicians have huge egos and all they want to do is shred the strings. So it’s crucial to find people who understand how to let the music breathe and I don’t think we have any problem with that.
CB: It’s going to be really interesting as the music you make is very ambient, spacious and drone-like. I think that’s already brought a lot more to the sound in rehearsals.
DiS: I always have real difficulty explaining your sound. It’s ambient: elements of Thom Yorke’s solo material and Kate Bush’s work. Do you have any specific influences or anything you use to build a platform on?
CB: (laughing) I find it really strange when people mention Kate Bush, as that’s a massive compliment but I’ve never avidly listened to her! I’ve known the singles but until recently, I’ve never owned a Kate Bush album. But I’ve actually started listening to her now! But in terms of influences, I’ve never sat down and thought I wanted to make a song that sounds like anyone in particular. They’ve always just come out – it’s been organic. But in terms of stuff I like, I really like Thom Yorke, Bjork, Purity Ring’s album. Little Dragon. But allsorts really – I never think I want it to sound like anything in particular. It just happens. It’s like not knowing what your baby is going to be called!
DiS: What about yourself Richard, what’s your background musically?
RK: I listen to so many different things. But I suppose the music make is more in an ambient way: more modern classical and some drone-based sounds going on as well. I find that the music that comes most naturally. So learning these songs is something completely new to me – using synths and drums and things like that. So it’s a great new challenge for me. But I also feel that because I’m not so well versed in that, it brings something to it – trying to find the path to the notes. (turns to Claire) but we complement each other so well: you’re a much better musician than me but I deal more in sounds and textures. So combining the two things together is really nice.
DiS: So come September, you’ve got quite a bit going on. First of all you’ve got your debut single coming out – The Rule – followed by a tour with Conquering Animal Sound. Starting with the single, was there any particular reason you chose that track as your debut?
RK: It was my choice in fact! (both laugh) I think it was when we made the plan with the label, alongside the tour; we wanted to put something out around that. So our idea was to pick one of those songs as a starting point – to test the water. So with my professional head on, my thought was to take ‘The Rule’ because it’s a strong song, but I also don’t think it’s the strongest song. And I want her to keep the strongest songs for the album and the next single. But this gives a little taster of something that I feel encapsulates everything.
CB: I think the song itself is a dark sound. I really like it and I’m really happy and proud of it. It’s definitely one of the darker songs I’ve made and the music seems to be heading more that way. And it’s also really fun to play!
DiS: And impressively, you’ve managed to get Thom Green from Alt-J to do a remix on the single. Not bad going to get the current Mercury Prize winners remixing your debut single! How did that all come about?
CB: He’s just my mate! We went to University together; I did the same course as Joe, Thom and Will – we all did Fine Art together. And Gus did English. So I just asked if he fancied doing a remix and he said yes! It’s coming out as a B-Side with the single and they’re just some of the most awesome guys you could ever meet. And obviously they’re doing amazingly well which is so well deserved because they work really hard and they’ve made one of the best albums of recent times. And Thom’s really cool – he’s one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen and he makes really interesting beats and sounds. So the remix he has done is so cool.
DiS: With the Conquering Animal Sound tour, you’re doing a few dates. What’s the schedule?
RK: I think we’re doing six with those guys and one just us, to start.
CB: The first gig is actually a headlining gig in Glasgow!
DiS: Start off nice and easy, yeah?!
CB: (Laughs) Yeah! So it’s Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Exeter, Brighton, London. And it was going to be the Brighton gig on my birthday but it’s actually the day before so that’s a pretty good birthday! My family are from Brighton so it’ll be really nice – almost like going home! I’ve only really played around the North-West before so it’ll be really cool. And really interesting – very intense!
DiS: One thing I’ve always been struck by since I’ve moved to Manchester is how despite people’s assumptions that the city is full of Oasis clones and lad-rock fans, whereas in reality, it’s full of thriving minds and some incredible electronic music. As a new act starting out, how do you find it?
CB: It’s a good place. I find it massively welcoming – the Northern Quarter is such a great place to gig around and people are excited about new music and looking to embrace new music. (to Richard) What do you think?
RK: (to Claire) You’re interviewing me now?!(both laugh) One thing I was excited about moving over here from Leeds this year is having that fresh start and being in a bigger city. Leeds is cool but I’d lived in Leeds all my life and I was never really part of fronting the label – the bands were never really part of any particular scene. And I knew everybody but wasn’t really fitting with anything particular that was going on. And I suppose in a way we still don’t here necessarily, but it’s a bigger place with more opportunities. And one of the main things for someone like myself who has a label and a bunch of bands that people know…it sounds a bit weird but it’s also exciting for other people apart from me to have the label (Gizeh Records) here – a bunch of new stuff going on. And people seem interested to have the label here which is really nice for me. Because I was a bit worried about that in the beginning. But there are so many venues – that’s the benefit of Manchester. You can put on almost any kind of gig and there’s a venue to suit it. And so many people to potentially reach. And so far, everyone I’ve dealt with have been really nice. And there’s more press here as well – people like yourself at DiS and obviously The Skinny has just launched here, which you don’t necessarily find everywhere. Everyone talks about going to London as a place to network but I think that Manchester is the second best place for that. There are so many people here and doing stuff which is really nice. And there’s nothing like meeting people face-to-face!
DiS: Finally, though it’s obviously impossible to say, what is the rough masterplan for Shield Patterns over the next year?
RK: We’re working on that at the moment!
CB: We’re working on getting an album together...definitely an album.
RK: Probably the middle of next year. That’s the schedule at the moment. We just need to finish it.
CB: I’m just writing all the time as well. When I get any spare time between other stuff. General life stuff!
RK: The rough schedule is to do a single during the first part of next year. Play some more shows and get the album out. The next few months will be finishing the record, writing a couple more new songs for the record. Getting it done.
CB: And it’ll be good to lock myself away and get back to writing! I like having a deadline. A bit of pressure is good; I feel a bit anxious if I’ve got a song stuck inside and I want to get it out and finished. I’ll just have to wait and see – I’ve never had this pressure before with this position. But I’m looking forward to collaborating a bit on the writing side (looks at Richard)
RK: We’ll see!