Sounds from the Other City 2015, Salford, 3 May
Salford's annual festival of new art and music marks its eleventh year with audiovisual collaborations, inspired new commissions, and even a homage to the area's political history
Eleven years and counting: Sounds from the Other City returns to once again transform Salford's central artery, Chapel Street, from grey thoroughfare to a hubbub of music, food and drink, and unspeakably good humour. As the crowds stream into and out of Islington Mill's ticket exchange – where one volunteer whispers to another, "Just so you know, there's only 20 tickets left!" – the sun finally pokes though, and the 'other' city's streets are awash with smiles and expectation.
Fitting it all in is an impossibility. Hopping from venue to venue, squeezing as much value from your £20 wristband as you can becomes a clashfinder-driven art form. There are stages overseen by the likes of Sways Records, Grey Lantern and Sham Bodie. Video Jam have commisioned a group of acts including Acre Tarn and Esper Scout to provide live scores for a series of short films, and Deep Hedonia bring the afterparty goodness.
Jupiter-C open the Now Wave stage at the Mill. With boy-girl electro duos ever more the weakened currency of an inflated market, it takes smart moves to stand out. Unlike Shield Patterns (who fill the 'secret guests' slot at Gizeh Records' residency at The Crescent later in the day), Ashiya Eastwood and David Kane eschew lyricism in favour of a dread minimalism. In lesser hands, the effect might be blank and stupefying. But Jupiter-C play smart with their trim soundboard, and their punishing beats, Kane's guitar and Eastwood's vaporous vocals model a stark brutality. Picture Crystal Castles doing The Ballads Album and you’re halfway there. Better still, Google how they got their name and it all starts to make sense.
Londoners Groves follow. Five lads with a vogue-ish, 'clean' indie-pop sound that's sent the usual outlets into varying levels of frothing, they could well send the cynical running for the doors. Keyboard-playing singer; grown men wearing white socks; bubbling, groove-led tunes... Check, check, check. But! There's something here for sure. Look up new single Send High and see if they’re less Keane and more Wild Beasts. Groves have a long way to go but they earn another look. A full, appreciative house seems to agree.
Around the corner at The Crescent (every venue is, ultimately, 'around the corner' at SFTOC), Tomorrow We Sail hold a packed room rapt. After a period of inactivity, the Leeds-based outfit have returned to the live stage following the release of debut album For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight last year. New material dominates their set and it sounds colossal. Lead singer Tim Hay, as ever, loses himself inside the tumult and Ella May Blake swaps keyboard stool for mic stand – a savvy move. If you can picture The Swell Season backed by Mogwai, and if post-rock folk-rock sounds like a good idea, catch up sharpish. Forget tomorrow: today we soar.
As ever with SFTOC, collaborations and one-off experimentation – often in untypical, temporary venues – add to the festival's unique flavour. Over at Vimto Gardens, Ex-Easter Island Head team up with players from the BBC Philharmonic for a new ensemble piece. The first of two performances brings an appreciative crowd to what is little more than a building site. It's stirring stuff, strings and percussion knotting together, minimalist but expansive – and fitting, perhaps, that amidst a swathe of regeneration, two distinct but sympathetic parties fuse old and new with such vitality.
Across the road in a large marquee in Bexley Square, Manchester's Red Deer Club label has commissioned a group of ten like-minded musicians to commemorate the 1931 march that saw 10,000 protesters assemble at the (then – now a block of flats) town hall as a result of government cuts. Mmm. Let's ponder that one for a moment. Led by singer-songwriter Liz Green, the collective also features Najia Bagi and Sara Lowes, whose dizzying prog-folk odyssey The Joy of Waiting is one of the highlights of 2015 so far. The enterprise is a literate and boisterous call to arms, and the fact that rehearsals began just a month before the performance is testament to the commitment and talent of a unique troupe.
Emerging Russian dream-poppers Pinkshinyultrablast pitch up mid-afternoon on the Hey! Manchester stage at a rammed St Philip's Church. Led by singer Lyubov, they go about scouring our synapses with infectious glee. If only more bands had the consideration and gumption to summarise their entire aesthetic within the confines of their chosen moniker. At times it takes a few (dozen) bars to distinguish certain songs, but no matter. Dropping this lot into such rarefied surroundings is like releasing a starving fox into a hen house.
It's nothing less than fitting, though, that topping Hey! Manchester's bill amidst the pews is Jane Weaver, one of the year's most unexpected but deserving success stories. Last year's The Silver Globe was a genuine word-of-mouth breakout, Piccadilly Records making it their Album of the Year. The buzz around the venue is palpable. The door staff nervously finger their tally counters. "One in, one out?" you can almost hear Michael Palin exclaim. "We used to dream of one in, one out."
Manchester has fallen hard for Weaver's sci-fi lullabies and tonight she's the day's hottest ticket, even if her between-song chat suggests she still thinks it's a set-up. "Thank you so, so much for coming," she says amidst whoops. During a pulsing Mission Desire, she drifts away, as if borne on the wind. We follow willingly. As ever, Sounds from the Other City delivers moments unique and magical, and it does so all day long, year after year. Long may it continue.