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LIVE REPORT: Fat Out Fest
Noel Gardner , June 4th, 2014 15:01

Noel Gardner reports on a raucous weekend at Islington Mill, featuring Melt-Banana, Cut Hands, Nisennenmondai and more. Photos by Oli Smith and Robin Hill.

The second Bank Holiday weekend of May brings at least four things to Manchester claiming to be music festivals. Errant scheduling, or reflective of a city in rude cultural health? Well, let's just say that while a day consisting wholly of second division indie from 1991 unfolds, likewise people hanging around just to throw things at Macaulay Culkin and his pizza band, in a converted industrial building in Salford people bug out to hot sounds rather than clinging feebly to their lost youth.

Running to three days for the first time, this is the third Fat Out Fest since it debuted in 2011 – it took a break last year because its chief organisers were travelling. Like the previous two, it takes place in the Islington Mill, the industrial building in question: a multi-disciplinary art space where people live and work. For example, it's the creative homestead of Gnod, one of Fat Out's totemic bands. Gnod aren't playing this weekend, but several of their members appear in various guises. Unlike some of your shinier art spaces, there's ample freedom to make, or enjoy, a toxically loud racket.

The vibe is almost unnervingly good natured, an abundance of strangers beaming at strangers, and inebriation is, ah, not uncommon, but swathes of the lineup remain disciplined and measured. The first band I see on Friday, Minimal Bougé, are from Bordeaux and make rhythmically layered crypto-jazz-rock using steel drums, bells, tabletop guitar and hammily dramatic spoken vocals. Defying obvious comparison points – Einsturzende Neubauten and Enablers are about as close as I can muster, and, er, the steel drums make me think of Terror Danjah records – they are prime early head-nod fodder, and dead nice blokes as it turns out. (This is a recurrent theme in a highly inclusive festival.)

Nisennenmondai, one of two Japanese bands appearing this weekend, are more intensely drilled still, no wave repetition a la Mars taken to microtonal extremes. Twenty minutes or so in, they widely induce states of trance, and people dutifully dance. The return of north-eastern noiserock quintet Drunk In Hell flips the script wholly, stage dives and pumped fists the norm. Never a prolific live band to say the least, DIH have sunk into near-dormancy of late, but their Brainbombed pigfuckery and 16rpm Killed By Death inversions remain potent, like wholesale murder. Vocalist Stephen Bishop is – at this point – better known as the main behind Basic House and the Opal Tapes label, in which guise he curates a room of neato clanky techno on Saturday. His workrate is only outstripped by Charles Hayward, former This Heat lynchpin and enduring drum wizard. Assembling a scratch band of local jazzers, his Friday headline slot is his first appearance of many this weekend, and is rangy, free-spirited excitement.

In addition to Opal Tapes' stage, Saturday opens up the Mill's fifth floor (it was a mill, they built those things pretty tall) for some locals named Video Jam, who reasonably enough bring together live music and experimental video. This offers things like 2 Koi Karp, an aurally inscrutable sound art duo, combining with trippily edited wildlife footage for a raddled hybrid result. Back in the main room, Liverpool's Barberos create immersive thrillrides with synths and drumkits, not a country mile away from Oneida or OOIOO. They also do this while dressed in morph suits, but once offstage, remove them lest anyone think that a stag party has wandered in.



Run Dust, who follows them, is my discovery of the weekend, although with a few releases on Gnod's Tesla Tapes label, plenty of the crowd was probably hip to him already. Either way, his set of live hardware techno is absolutely blistering, pan-scourer acid lines and kickdrums cranked almost to gabber tempo at times. "Hailing the spirit of Nineties Aphex" probably reads like code for "fiddly wack nerdgasms" these days, but Run Dust – a German-based American called Luke, once of a band impolitely called Child Abuse – triumphs where hundreds of others crapped out.

Terminal Cheesecake, UK arsequake noisers of a late 80s vintage, have trodden the gig circuit enthusiastically since reforming last year, and smash it for a smashed audience. Not gonna lie, I can't tell you much specific about their set, other than that their guitar sound is thick and psychedelic as a toad sandwich, and latter-day vocalist Neil Francis (also of Gnod and 2 Koi Karp) is an arresting sprite-like presence centre stage. Headliners Melt-Banana contain multitudes: a primary-coloured pre-adolescent outlook, a complexity of composition understandable only by future races. Short, fast and loud as powerviolence, surreally friendly as J-pop, their current incarnation features pre-programmed drums which resemble nothing so much as late Nineties skatepunk. Fortunately, I happen to have a positively Pavlovian response to that beat, and moreover hope to be able to watch Melt-Banana do their thing a decade hence.

Sunday's programme is mindful of the Fat Out crowd's now-delicate state, albeit sometimes in a way which cruelly mocks it. The two auxiliary rooms offer fluid tagteams of improv and  general wonky weirdness, some of which is rather soothing (anything involving Kelly from Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides playing flute) and some of which peels the cap back (David McLean and Paddy from Gnod dueling on sax). Down in the main room, newish Milton Keynes group Suttey & The End Of The Worlds impress with lunging jazzbo nods to The Birthday Party and The Icarus Line, plus a vocalist whose onstage energy comes, he later claims, from annoyance at his vocals not being mixed properly. Finnish soloist Lau Nau quells chatter with loop pedal-based innovation and a song about a horse written by a man who won the Olympic gold for javelin. In 1948. Not exactly a duo who favour audience engagement, Nadja's enveloping, processed shoegaze doom requires you to don a (metaphorical) cloak of chloroformed cotton wool, after which they become a fine experience.

William Bennett, now trading as Cut Hands, arrives in time to clock the incandescent, inyerface synth/punk of Gum Takes Tooth. It feels like the sort of thing he'd glower at, but he seems to be enjoying it well enough. For Michael O'Neill & Dwellings, up next, the crowd fills out, and I for one only have eyes for O'Neill. His bag, angry street poetry in a broad Manc accent, didn't massively grab me when I saw it a while back – setting it against Sleaford Mods, the obvious but misleading comparison, was likely my mistake – but, helped by Dwellings' thumping backbeat, it clicks this time, and feels intense, sage and grimly funny. And while Cut Hands' percussive quasi-techno clusterbombs don't really lend themselves much to description in a live context, it goes down a storm with a crowd who've proved themselves more than up for a bit of a sonic shoeing. If no-one had told us that these were supposed to be "voodoo rhythms" or whatever, I doubt it would have occurred. After three days of Fat Out craziness, you just lean into the beat.

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