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LIVE REPORT: Sounds From The Other City
Stuart Huggett , May 14th, 2015 09:30

Self proclaimed "soft Southern liberal" Stuart Huggett faces up to his fantasies of the North West at the Salford festival

Photo by Jim Fedrick

Salford, Bank Holiday Sunday. The General Election is five days away and on a Reality Party billboard above Chapel Street, the grinning face of Bez smiles down. While the goggle-eyed would-be politician remains a poster boy for Manchester and its music, the defiantly named Sounds From The Other City sets itself up in opposition to the weight of the locality's legacy.

Now in its eleventh year, Sounds From The Other City brings dozens of bands to the neighbourhood for a day of ramshackle, DIY celebration. Islington Mill serves as the festival hub, Sways Records have joined promoters Bad Uncle in taking over two of the railway arches near Salford Central, but the majority of the festival fills the pubs along either side of the perilous to cross Chapel Street.

Or rather, the remaining pubs. The sense of Greater Manchester as a region under rapid urban renewal is underlined by the parade of old and boarded up hostelries crumbling into ruin (Ye Olde Nelson, the Church Inn, the Black Horse Hotel) with "the citadel of media city shining bright" (The Fall – 'Quit iPhone') in the distance. The main drag has been landscaped with polished pavements laying flush with the bus filled street itself ("It's social cleansing," reckons Chris, our driver, bringing his Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow to the Faux Discx showcase. "They're killing off anybody who can't tell the difference between the road and the pavement").

Round the corner in Bloom Street, Mark E Smith's favoured Kings Arms survives ("It's Ed Blaney you've got to look out for" advises our football journo contact as we sit down for a pre-festival pint across the street in the Salford Arms. We're not sure if it's a tip or a warning). We pop over and find oddball psych songwriter The Bear Around Your Neck warming up in the bar. No Smith or Blaney but the presence of a Beautiful South silver disc reveals the identity of its current landlord, Paul Heaton.

Upstairs, the Kings Arms' vaulted theatre space has been given over to Video Jam's program of live film soundtracks, where we catch the spare digital pop of Metaphysical Human performing to images by BlackLab duo David Oates and Mishka Henner. Later in the day, the darkened room is stuffed when broody locals Hartheim play a riveting set to Man Ray's 1926 short Emak-Bakia. Still, naming your band after a Nazi euthanasia centre is as stupid in 2015 as it was when Joy Division took the same gamble.

A similar sense of dubious cultural appropriation colours Sways Records' ambitious undertaking under the railway arches. Titled 'The Ring Cycle' and split it into three subtitled parts ('The Gay Science', 'Ecce Homo' and 'Twilight Of The Gods'), its lifts from Nietzsche and Wagner don't seem the brightest idea in an election week. With musicians stationed at either side and either end of one low arch and the crowd in the middle, the plan presumably is for a continuous sequence of performances, but when we arrive there's merely an uninvolving prose reading happening while the bands sit around looking bored.

Back on safe ground at The Angel community centre's Creation Café (Hot Vimto: £1), the Faux Discx showcase is getting underway with a brittle, linear set from Tense Men. Grabbing a curry from the tirelessly cheerful café staff, we head outside, where the community spirit hasn't rubbed off on one passing, be-suited and bespectacled gentleman. "Just because it's a Bank Holiday doesn't mean you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT!" he yells at a DJ in the front yard, the can of lager in his hand vibrating with rage. Message delivered, he hails a friend across the street and reels away up the road.

Following his route at a safe distance, we reach The Crescent pub. Tucked into a sideroom whose distressed appearance mirrors the tumbledown fate of its neighbours, awkward Midlands survivors Lazarus Clamp are playing to a small crowd of the curious. Singer Michael Larkin is disarmingly candid, declaiming songs like 'This Is How I Cut My Own Throat' and 'Things Are Sticky' while Tom McClure's violin scrapes the sound red raw. Twenty odd years on the margins has made them as jagged as rusty nails and an arresting afternoon catch.

Things step up another notch when we enter the ski lodge like environs of The Old Pint Pot, hoping to see Shit And Shine. Unfortunately we've misread the timetable, even more unfortunately they've cancelled, but none of this matters as we stumble upon Scouse crazies Barberos instead. Clad in full body silver spandex, twin drummers face off against each other while another figure doubles up on two fuzz organs, conducting a rolling cacophony of rock thunder. Hollering in tongues and firing out rhythmic splurge, they're the free jazz Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and they're terrific.

Back in the Creation Café, Sauna Youth rip through new album 'Distractions' to another big crowd as the low ceiling lights up in Innerstrings' vivid colours. Standing on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of Jen Calleja shaking her way through the direct-hit punk of 'Transmitters' or 'Monotony' is like sticking your head into the 2001 Star Gate, just with polystyrene roof tiles.

We finally make it back into a bustling Islington Mill in time for Paper Dollhouse's headline set in the pink glow of the gallery. Despite the rowdiness of the passing crowds, Astrud Steehouder and Nina Bosnic are spellbinding, drawing out fine webs of sound from sparse guitar and keyboard. The sighing vocal loops of 'In The Sun' and 'Diane' are disorientating and unsettling but the highlight comes with the lone drumbeat and repetitive wordplay of 'Helios'.

We elect to forgo the Mill's after-party in favour of a dash back to the Creation Café for the tail end of Cold Pumas' silvery motorik, an excitingly haphazard DJ set from Hookworms and the lift home. Knowing that our zigzag path through the day is necessarily unrepresentative of the festival as a whole makes knowing if Sounds From The Other City is representative of the new Salford hard to judge. It doesn't match us southern interlopers' imagined sense of Greater Manchester but, the odd Marr haircut or tongue in cheek Moz impersonation aside, it's not in thrall to it either.