Hats, party streamers and old school 3D-looking glasses hanging from the ceilings; the multi-coloured and jolly Costumologists and Faux Queens who have been infected with a “microscopic P-A-R-T-Y virus” that feeds off “musical tones and good vibrations” dancing around the streets of Salford and some guy making electronic sounds with a fork. It’s the wonderfully unpredictable and occasionally chaotic Sounds From The Other City, back for its 11th instalment.
This year it’s made up of 13 venues, with Islington Mill once again the festival’s logistical and spiritual hub. Yet what is telling is that this year, a housing development on the city’s main Chapel Street has lent a major hand through sponsoring the festival and also providing a venue.
Not only does this show how the area, once made up of unsightly derelict brownfield land and buildings, is beginning to flourish, but also the impact the festival has had on Salford: each passing year, something new springs up round here, with new venues underneath the viaduct leading away from Salford Central station popping up and pubs that were once no-go areas with signs on doors saying “25 and over only” now welcoming all with open arms and loud beats. It seems the festival is now seen as a key pull factor for bringing people into the city.
It’s very easy to get sucked into an all-day drinking binge when it comes to SFTOC. Very easy. The fun with SFTOC is usually in the wandering from venue-to-venue, pub-to-pub, drink-to-drink. This year one took a somewhat different tack and decided to largely stay around St Philip’s Church, home to Hey! Manchester‘s stage. This had arguably the most impressive line-up, including the likes of PINS, Zun Zun Egui and the seriously hyped Russian shoegazers Pinkshinyultrablast. Time to grab a pew on the balcony, a pint of Ava and settle in.
Texan Cale Tyson was the first act seen inside the mid-19th century Anglican church. Country through and through cowboy hat and all, Tyson has received a lot of attention in the US from major publications. It was understandable to see why: there’s something reassuringly traditional about him. Honky Tonk Moan has that sort of lo-fi, classically languid feel to it that reverberates rather softly around the church. “I can’t believe I’m playing a song in a church,” he says, before continuing into some equally typical country riffs, his voice reaching those country highs and lows you recognise in an instant. Yes, very pleasant this. Contrasts with the madness going on in and around other venues no doubt. Also strange but amusing to see someone sing country while stood alongside ribbons and ribbons of gold glittery stuff.
Before Pinkshinyultrablast, there’s a group in front with their own Clashfinder spreadsheets marking out the day. Never know what to think of this; on the one hand it shows the strength of the line-up that people are bothered to plan their day meticulously, yet on the other there’s always something about wandering and stumbling into something unannounced and in the spur of the moment. Perhaps just as well to be organised here, though, because they’re operating a one-in-one-out just before Pinkshinyultrablast: seems word has gotten round. They’ve been all over BBC 6 Music, their debut album Everything Else Matters being their Album of the Day back in January.
A band with this name are cater made for this festival. This may well only be their fourth ever UK appearance but they aren’t showing any nerves; singer Lyubov looks well at ease as she coos her way through the My Bloody Valentine/Ride/shoegaze melodies that, once again, nestle well within the church’s many walls: earlier single Umi shimmers, Lyubov almost approaching Elizabeth Fraser territory with her vocal. You can definitely see what the fuss is about here. Could prove something of a coup getting these to play here.
PINS are divine. Watching them live is always a pleasure. Tonight, they’ve team up with Mancunian/Wigan garage rock duo Brown Brogues, who have developed quite the following in these parts, to form something of a supergroup. We’re at one-in-one-out again. They’ve even given out hymn sheets.
At first you wonder if this sort of supergroup tact will work but you needn’t: it does easily, with My Birthday jolting you into life. What especially catches you is the drumming of PINS’ Sophie and Brown Brogues’ drummer Ben: you can’t beat a spot of simultaneous, double-drumming. PINS carry that riot grrrl intensity (they’ve just supported Sleater Kinney) that makes you want to jump around and dance in equal measure (which almost everyone is doing), while Brown Brogues are nonchalant, full of confidence and making a fantastic racket that is anything but churchlike. After this, the rather inelegant but highly-apt term “shit hot” comes to mind. It doesn’t too often.
Zun Zun Egui have had an excellent time of it recently. Recent new album Shackles’ Gift has gone down very well and that confidence carries forward here. Lead singer Kushal Gaya beckons the audience to come towards the stage from the off and launches into these sort of religious sounding cries, which get the audience going, before launching into their blend of funk/world music/post-punk that again got most off their feet. Again, the beauty of this is that it couldn’t be more opposed to what you’d ever hear inside a church, as recent single African Tree proves. Infectious.
Thanks in at least some part to SFTOC, Salford is becoming colourful where once it was largely grey. It’s the best advert Salford can have aside from the BBC and The Lowry up the road – and it’s not like they’re deep in the city, either. Because of its location, SFTOC shows you a glimpse of the real Salford, one that is evolving and becoming rather exciting. Salford is by no means perfect by any stretch and still has its problems. Yet you come away wanting a part of it thanks to this growing and much-loved all-dayer.
Find out more about Sounds From The Other City here.