Date: 1st May 2011
Reviewed by: Miz DeShannon
Just about every man and his dog is putting on a festival these days. They're creeping out of every orifice in cities, villages, country homes and parks around the country. Some are good, some are bad, some are smitten with bad toilets and mud. But a safe bet for reasonable weather, cover from any impending rain, and good food and facilities is Salford's Sounds From The Other City.
Each May Day in Salford SFTOC takes “the kind of shows that usually bless the trendier venues in neighbouring Manchester” (Salford is Greater Manchester's second city - not in a heirachical sense though) and turns the ever-regenerating area into a buzz of music and art. One big day-long creative party, SFTOC brings together a host of promoters from both cities, such as Hey! Manchester, Now Wave, Trash-O-Rama, Wot God Forgot and Mind On Fire, and throws them out to the pubs, cafes and even the churches of Salford's Chapel Street area.
Behind the Festival is a team based at Islington Mill; a hive of activity including everything from screen printing studios, exhibition spaces, and a huge music hall, which has hosted gigs including Elbow, Delphic and Zombie Zombie, and art installations from The Soup Collective and Future Works. This year saw what is supposedly SFTOC's most exciting programme to date, with ex-Slits member Viv Albertine, Willy Mason, D/R/U/G/S, and Those Dancing Days alongside a plethora of new local buzz acts like Young British Artists, Frazer King, Money, and Brown Brogues.
After trekking (all of a 15 minute walk from Piccadilly) to the Mill in a Wizard Of Oz style wind for registration, I found the courtyard was filled pretty much from opening time with punters enjoying falafel, reggae, live t-shirt printing and the regular Sunday vintage market. There's such a laid-back happy hippy vibe to the place all the time, it's hard to think that anyone could feel out of place here - and it's absolutely typical of the Festival itself.
Inside the newly refurbed ground floor space was a great exhibition from San Franciscan artist Sonny Smith (of The Sunsets), blasting out tunes from his hand-made jukebox. The 7” records included in '100 Records' were all designed and made by a range of musicians, with the actual music playing having been made by him. I think it's the most interactive installation I've seen in there, and upon every return to the Mill the space had a handful of giggling scenesters pushing buttons on the jukebox and laughing at the ironic and imaginative sleeves displayed on the walls.
Then the usual programme clash malarkey ensued, with decisions between whether to see previously tried and tested acts in a 'different' space, or to take a punt on some of the more unusual names on the running order booklet... and believe me, there are some interesting ones around at the moment.
One of my first acts of the day, Wode (Paradox - 5:45 @ The Angel) was a bit of a shocker, with the previous acts of the day at that venue having been mellifluous acoustic and poetry acts. After some technical issues set them back nearly half an hour, the two-piece blasted away at a set of what can only be described as black metal. Fans of Meshuggah and Napalm Death would have loved it. As my friend Sam exclaimed, surprisingly, the kids did – there was a two-year old nodding his head whilst being carried by his mum and an eight-year old outside doing similar impressions.
A quick run down the road next, to see Plank! (Bad Uncle & Hear Here – 6:00 @ The United Reformed Church) who've been getting some great acclaim lately. And unsurprisingly, as they're one of the few vocal-less acts I've seen who keep me interested for a full half-hour set with their immense basslines, prog drumming and crazy, spacey guitar and synth sounds.
The very beardy Trojan Horse (Fat Out Til You Pass Out - 6:45 @ The Rovers Return) follow a similar prog rock ilk, but with vocals. Well, vocals of sorts at times - tracks like 'Mr Engels Says' are kind of ranty. A very niche sound, and not for the faint hearted, but again they've had some successful shows in Manchester so it'll be interesting to see how their brand of rock goes down elsewhere.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum are The Kill Van Kulls (High Voltage – 7:00 @ St Philip's Church). Single 'Fool's Wish' is one of the catchiest I've heard in a while, following in the footsteps of new chart luvvies Hurts in some ways. They've got that recently popular 80s sound going on, but with an amount more substance, being a full band.
Following them were The Good Natured (High Voltage – 8:00 @ St Philip's Church), another electro outfit, female vocals a little like Florence & The Machine at times. Great stage performance from the front woman, but I was never keen on that slightly screechy sound.
As a bit of respite from shouting, I ran to catch a smidgeon of From The Kites Of San Quentin (Mind On Fire – 8:15 @ The Salford Arms) and the beautiful sounds which bring to mind a Drum 'n' Bass version of Portishead. Gorgeous, dreamy vocals, over producer-led programming and guitar noises. They've never failed to impress, and were one of the big hits of the day.
Again jumping across the musical spectrum, I headed to see rock 'n' rollers The Suns (Helmets For Men - 8:25 @ The Crescent). This five-piece from nearby Chester play retro songs reminiscent of Jonny Cash, The Monks and Dan Sartain. They've some very clever guitar playing, bass like a 60s garage band, and a surly lip-curly singer who was actually very sweet between songs and had the whole room dancing. Another great performance.
The running about was getting a bit much by this point, so settling for the University pub seemed most satisfactory. On my arrival, Replicas (Wot God Forgot - 9:00 @ The Old Pint Pot (downstairs) failed to impress though; two girls accompanied by a Bontempi keyboard making sounds a bit like Band Of Horses guitar parts, but with a slightly monotone vocal lacked interest at any point sadly.
Best go for something reliable next then; cue Young British Artists (Postcards From Manchester – 9:30 @ The Old Pint Pot (upstairs), one of the latest acts to break out of Manchester to do some well-received gigs across the UK. With a slightly Editors-esque vocal, I can't really find any 'hooks' in their songs, but it's not always about a great guitar riff; these guys are very fast yet atmospheric, and quite fuzzy and heavy sounding live. The packed room showed just how popular they are, totally enjoyable.
Another act who've been getting some good press lately are Patterns (Wot God Forgot - 10:00 @ The Old Pint Pot (downstairs)). Now this lot baffle me somewhat – every time I've seen them they sound different; first they were sharp, telecaster indie, then quite mellow as on their EP, and this time it was perfect for me; melodic electronica with lots of heavy bass. Following them has been like being stuck in a musical Goldilocks story - let's try every option.
Last call for one of the buzz bands of the day, apparently endorsed by M.I.A, was for Rainbow Arabia (Wot God Forgot - 11:00 @ The Old Pint Pot (downstairs)). More melodic electronic music, a bit like Crystal Fighters with that chanting female vocal that Warpaint do. Great start, full of tribal drumming and harmonies, but it got a bit monotonous after half an hour.
Amidst other time-keeping confusion I sadly missed Action Beat (Mind On Fire - 11:00 @ The Crescent, moved from The Salford Arms) who were moved to another venue and apparently blew the crowd away with FOUR drum kits on stage. Their act always changes, turning every performance into a total surprise, they could have two kits at one gig and five guitars at the next.
With their stage running an absolutely massive hour late (which was more than likely some planned stunt to create even more hype) D/R/U/G/S (Now Wave – 12:00 changed to 1:00am @ Islington Mill) had a queue half way around the block and the Mill was on one-in-one-out way before midnight. Having seen D/R/U/G/S at In The City last year; thumping beats from a laptop and a brilliant light show, it's definitely one for the clubbing contingent rather than the musicians of the festival, hence the fact it was such a late stage time. But that was me done for the night... another brilliant year at Sounds From The Other City.
The ever growing scene around Islington Mill is actually quite an eclectic one, which was really nice to see, as well as the whole community around the Mill contributing and getting involved. There was the usual stack of teenage scenesters there for the day of course, but music lovers of all ages and all types showed up throughout. I just hope the two year old who watched the black metal at tea-time wasn't too disturbed for bed.
Photo: Sophie Williamson
Tickets are no longer available for this event