Sounds From The Other City: Celebrating The Idea Of Independence

John Thorp gets the low down on Sounds From the Other City 2015 from the two people instrumental in the festival's coming together, Mark Carlin and Rivca Burns.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 23rd Apr 2015.
Originally published: 22nd Apr 2015

Image: Sounds From the Other City

Now entering its eleventh year, Sounds from the Other City has a well earned reputation as one of the country’s most individual and ambitious festivals.

Stringing together some of the most visionary promoters in Manchester over the stretch of Salford’s Chapel Street, focused around Islington Mill but expanding to an eclectic and inspiring range of pubs, cafes, music halls and bespoke, one-off venues (watch the highlights video for last year's event below).

Sounds From The Other City Festival 2014 from Plastic Zoo on Vimeo.

Collaborations about between visual artists, experimental musicians and DJs, and the breadth of promoters, which this year includes Now Wave, Hey Manchester, Wot God Forgot and Wet Play, are actively encouraged to push things in as offbeat direction as possible. Fortunately, the 2000 strong crowd are usually more than up for it.

Although the team volunteering to make SFTOC extends to hundreds, Mark Carlin and Rivca Burns are overall responsible for steering the ship in surprising and amazing directions.

With less than a fortnight until the party starts, we caught an increasingly rare spare hour with the pair in the shiny surroundings of the new look Common to talk a decade’s worth of change, the weirdest things on offer in 2015, and why there’s perhaps nothing more inspiring than realising just how good you’ve got it...

SFTOC seems like a huge undertaking for just the day. When does the planning get under-way?

RB: We do have a short brief at the festival, about what needs to be better and what we’re planning to do again, but then in August we really get our heads together, and then at the end of the year, we start to meet with promoters.

For veterans of the festival, what are the bigger changes to expect this year that haven’t been seen before?

MC: The big thing for us is that we have some specially commissioned pieces of work, art and music. We’re doing something with ex-Easter Island Head and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. And that will be performed twice, there’s going to be two sittings of it, in a retail space in the new Vimto gardens complex. 

RB: That’s a space that has never been used, and will never be used again for music either, so we’re starting to step out onto the streets and find some new venues. So that’s one, and there’s some archways over on Trinity Way, that are totally uncharted territory where we’re starting from scratch.

MC: We’re back again at The King’s Arms this year, and we’re doing the tent in Bexley Square again, so it’s actually half and half now in terms of actual buildings and otherwise.

Who are the new promoters you have on board this year, and why did you gravitate towards them specifically?

RB: We’ve got a sort of super line up of new promoters on Bad Uncle’s stage, which is called Inception is like a festival within a festival.

Because we’re limited by how much space we can use on Chapel Street, so it’s great to be able to give as many promoters a chance, see what they do with their limited time and space, and hopefully develop things for future years. So involved in that there’s Beauty Witch, Tombed Visions, Super Smash Hit Records and Violent Femmes.

MC: It’ll be absolute chaos to put on fifteen bands in a day, but they’ll manage it somehow.

RB: And we also have Sways Record on, who in the past and present have been behind bands like Money and Bernard and Edith. And it seems strange we haven’t had them involved before, as between Islington Mill and them, that’s what Salford music is about, so that’ll be good. And there’s Sham Bodie, who do comedy as well as music, and they’re in The New Oxford.

MC: People can get tired of seeing band after band, so it’s nice to shake it up with a spoken word performance or so on. So at Sways, they’re not just putting bands on, they’re playing in three stages throughout the day. And Red Deer Club’s stage in Lexington Square is built around one piece of music and progresses throughout the day.

RB: We’ve always tried to encourage people to think around the edges as it were, but the people we have involved this year have just done that really naturally. They all know the festival themselves, and know it’s a chance to do something a bit different.

In eleven years, a lot of stuff has changed as the festival has grown, but in fundamental terms, what is it about it that’s remained the same?

RB: I think the overall ethos has very much stayed the same.

MC: We’re currently doing a website, featuring some history pages, so we’ve been looking back. And it’s always been about the area, which is very unusual for a festival. And about celebrating the idea of independence and people doing their own thing, and none of that has ever changed over a decade. The festival always feels like an interesting variation on  a very strong theme.

One element that I particularly like about SFTOC, is although I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily commercially ambitious, it is ambitious within it’s own overall remit, always looking forward.

MC: Absolutely, and I think what a lot of people don’t realise it there are other ways to be ambitious without just expanding in size or number.

It’s a question of how far you can go with ideas, and I think this year is the most ambitious yet in terms of what we’re trying to achieve with the amount of people we have involved, but the scale remains the same. To make it bigger would undoubtedly change the feel of it.

RB: The biggest learning curve we had was when we extended too far off Chapel Street. It didn’t really work and it wasn’t as creative as it could have been. We’ve had loads of ideas, for example, going to two days and so on. But what we’ve realised is that what we have is amazing.

MC: And the tenth anniversary was a really good one, so it’s good to look at ways for us to go from there.

SFOTC isn’t a festival that’ afraid to take risks. What’s an example of something weird and wonderful this year that wouldn’t see at any other festival?

RB: I think it’s got to be the big artist’s commission we have this year, after we did a big open call out. For the first time we asked artists what they felt they could contribute to the overall feel of the festival.

Off the back of that, we’re working with two collectives who are joining forces, called The Costumologists and The Faux Queens. They’re both from Liverpool, so they’re new to it, and they’re working together to create what they call a Microcosmic Delirium, which is going to be weird and wonderful and infect the whole festival.

That is exactly the sort of thing that I was looking for, an actual Microcosmic Delirium…

MC: And also, we’ve just confirmed Christeene (watch his 'FUK V29' below), for the afterparty with Deep Hedonia, and the concept for that is just incredibly ambitious, this sort of crazy talk show thing.

CHRISTEENE "FUK V29" from PJ Raval on Vimeo.

Deep Hedonia are very much in the spirit of SFTOC, but not originally from Manchester.

MC: Yes, and that’s something we’re also really interested in expanding, those connections we have with like minded people in the North, in Leeds and in Liverpool. So again, it’s not about size, it’s about who’s doing what and how they go about it. 

What are the afterparties planned thus far, at least for those who are still going?

MC: There’s Red Lazer’s stage, which is actually an all day afterparty, an all day rave. And then there’s afterparties at The King’s Arms with the Good Afternoon guys, who have hosted parties at hotels in Blackpool, and use weird spaces in Manchester. 

RB: They did a weird Christmas one at the Carlton Club last year, with an actual Santa Claus. You sat on his knee and got a gift while listening to Todd Terje records.

Like most people, I’m really looking forward to potentially seeing Jane Weaver perform at St. Phillip’s Church, that should work very well.

RB: Yeah, that’s an amazing record and I caught her on Radcliffe and Maconie’s show on 6Music talking about how much she was looking forward to it, so it should be a special show.

To close us off, give me a couple of bands or acts across the stages who in your own personal opinion, are going to prove unmissable?

RB: We’ve actually put together a Spotify playlist this year for people to check out, which is important as a lot of the lineup are relatively unheard of. LA Priest is standing out for me, he used to be in Late of the Pier and he’s just reignited that project. He has a brilliant promo photo too!

MC: The Ex-Easter Island head with the Philharmonic, as we mentioned earlier, I think that’s going to be a must see. And an act called Fieldhead playing for Gizeh Records at The Crescent, which is kind of deep, very minimal electronics. It’s a little different there from most stuff on the day.

RB: I’d have to say Barberos too. I’ve always loved their performances, and they’re just two drums and a guy on a synth, and they play in skinsuits, and they’re just insane.

MC: And Black Josh! He’s playing for Tru Luv. He’s a Mancunian rapper with a tune about Paul Scholes. The whole line up there is really interesting and unusual, especially in The Salford Arms, that will be interesting.

Riv: And Brown Brogues and Pins, forming a supergroup, should be very interesting.

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