Sounds from the Other City is a one-day independent music festival set up by Maurice and Mark Carlin seven years ago after they decided they wanted a platform for promotors to showcase the best new artists emerging from Manchester and beyond.
Having established its pedigree by hosting ‘career-changing performances’ from Marina and the Diamonds, The Ting Tings and The Whip, I felt that this year I needed to check it out.
For me, listening to new music and planning who I want to see is all part of the fun of going to a festival; I’ve even been known to go as far as colour-coded spreadsheets. So, true to form, in the run up to SFTOC I listened to as many of the artists as I could, devising a list which included Verity Susman, New Hips, Withered Hand, Au Palais, Butcher The Bar, Molly Nilsson, The Kites of San Quentin, Ghost Outfit, Easter, Keep Shelly in Athens, Walls, and (finally) Maria Minerva.
Well, that was the intention; my meticulous list-making failed to take into account the effects of numerous beers, delayed running times, bumping into friends, and generally everything else that happily goes along with being at an all-day event.
I began in St. Phillip’s Church, on time to watch Withered Hand, but because the venue was already running half an hour behind schedule, I saw the whole of Dancing Years and only half of the act I’d come to see.
No matter though, for Dancing Years provided an excellent and unexpected performance. “Father” won the award for best song of the half hour set, with the line “Father I know I’m not the best son, because I always make a mess” holding poignant resonance beneath the church’s stained glass depiction of the crucifix. I managed to catch the first half of Withered Hand, but had to leave before ”Love in the Time of Ecstasy,” in which Dan Wilson is at his lyrical best.
I headed over to the cavernous, grungy Islington Mill to see Au Palais, who are a two piece from Toronto (via London). Their music is electronic pop with dark overtones and sinister, nonchalant vocals. I felt that they would have benefitted from a later slot; the crowd were really getting into the title track of their latest EP Tender Mercy – a subtle onslaught of a song that just keeps pushing – and had they been on at 10 rather than 5, the crowd’s Red Stripe bop would have turned into fully fledged shapes.
Speaking of beer (and at Onward, Manchester we so often are), Islington Mill had a lot to offer. The selection behind the bar was respectable, and in the courtyard there was a stall featuring some gems from Dunham Massy, amongst others. I really appreciate it when venues give a bit of thought to what punters are drinking, and it cheered my boozy heart to sip on quality real ale while getting down to some top music.
After Au Palais there was a break in my schedule, and it was time to replenish my energy levels with food. So it was on to one of Salford’s best kept secrets, the Kong Won Express.
To call it a restaurant would be a bit of a stretch. The neon pink interior could only hold twenty-five covers max and the colour co-ordinated plastic chairs don’t really lend themselves to a fine dining experience, but trust me, this is the best Chinese food to be found in Greater Manchester. I shared the Four Treasure Rice and Szechwan Pork and Pancakes. Both were succulent and well-flavoured and the knowledge that they deliver to my postcode can only be bad for my overall health.
Refuelled, it was on to The King’s Arms to catch Molly Nielson. I arrived a little late, weighed down with a happy belly, and clearly half of Manchester wanted to hear Molly’s dreamy, DIY, bittersweet stylings. I had to do some quite shameless queue jumping in order to get into the gig, but it was worth the sideways glares and quiet grumbles to hear “Hotel Home” live.
Having sated my appetite for what could good-naturedly be described as 90s instructional video music, I walked back down Chapel Street and stopped off at the New Oxford to sample its wide selection of draft beers.
As someone who falls into the category of festival spreadsheet fanatic, and who likes to know exactly what she’s going to listen to and when, I sometimes have to remind myself to freestyle it a bit. And for the most part, it’s generally a gamble worth taking.
The New Oxford was playing host to a selection of spoken word performances, and I arrived just in time to catch Les Malheureux (Sarah-Clare Conlon and David Gaffney) perform a series of short stories that comically twisted subjects from potato smiles to class divides to dress down Fridays and set them to honky keyboard music against a backdrop of PowerPoint projections. It was a thoroughly funny half hour and I was very glad I caught it.
Post-Les Malheureux I tottered down to the Creation Cafe, along the way taking in the disparity between recently installed blue-stripped pavements scattered with sleek geometric benches and the burnt out offices and bricked-in pubs of Chapel Street. I arrived in time to watch the crowd raucously jigging to the last couple of Frazer King numbers before settling into the set of Crumpsall four-piece Easter.
From there it was back toward the city centre and The Black Lion for Walls, who I saw supporting The Field at the Deaf Institute last year, but who are well worth watching again. Unless, that is, they keep you waiting for over an hour.
Of course you can’t expect a festival with no less than 18 stages and more than 80 acts to run without any hitches, but by this point I’d been drinking since 2pm and was beginning to flag. I listened patiently to Dam Mantle, an accomplished Burial-inspired techno artist, and waited another half hour for Alessio Natalizia and Sam Willis to connect an infinite number of wires, as well as check instruments and projectors before they began their set. Two tracks in though I realised that it was time to call it a day.
I headed back downstairs, just in time for the main bar to call last orders. I bought one more drink and stood about, sipping on end-of-the-night pints and swapping notes on who had seen what with friends before slipping off into the night, and the chaos of Manchester city centre on a bank holiday weekend. It had been a good day.