Sounds From The Other City

Various Venues, Salford | 3 May

The most immediately appealing aspect of Sounds from the Other City is that it goes by a name that actually means something. I’m not sure there’s anything particularly profound behind the titling of Latitude Festival, for instance, and the corporate sponsorship evident in the T in the Park and V Festival monikers fly egregiously in the face of what such events are supposed to be about. Salford, though, really is the ‘other city’; unlike plenty of towns of a similar size that hold city status purely because they have a cathedral, Salford has its own identity, setting it apart from Manchester. There’s obviously a twin cities feel to the pair – not unlike, say Minneapolis-St. Paul – but Salford is too often dismissed as a mere extension to its more illustrious neighbour, rather than an entity in its own right.

Sounds from the Other City has earned enough of a cult following to see it celebrating its tenth birthday this year; key to its success is the sheer variety of venues up and down Chapel Street, which provides an excellent base of locations. Islington Mill – a creative space in a converted industrial building, boasting art galleries and a live stage – is the real hub, particularly in the courtyard, which is overrun by bizarre fancy dress and, at one point, a raw chicken fight (good job Morrissey moved to the States, eh?). It’s the diversity of surroundings, though, in such a small geographical space – maybe a square mile or so – that’s the real triumph; local audiovisual adventurers Video Jam, for example, brought an experimental mix of image and sound to a tent in Bexley Square, in the shadow of the stunning former town hall.

There’s an art rave in the beautiful St. Phillip’s Church, which is no stranger to live events – the vicar, though, wasn’t on hand as usual to pull pints of his home brew. At the university’s Maxwell Hall, Bellied Gunaiko brought a bizarre – but compelling – style of heavy ambience to an audience seated in the round – think a less intense Haxan Cloak. First Chop Brewing Arm, meanwhile, perhaps takes the award for strangest set up. It’s a pop-up stage located in an industrial unit under a railway bridge, and played host to stirring shows from the delightfully noisy Happyness and Glasgow-meets-Bordeaux outfit Babe, who shrugged off relentless comparisons to Wild Beasts to do live justice to their fine debut record Volery Flighty.

The real highlights, though, were provided by locals, and not just the ones dressed as what I can only reasonably describe as space lobsters. At The Old Pint Pot, an endearingly old-fashioned student boozer, Kult Country assuaged difficulties presented by the lack of a raised stage with serene visuals that worked in striking contrast to their off-kilter blend of soaring melodies and garage-rock aggression. They seem to be taking forever to put together a full-length, but performances of this intensity are going some way to offsetting the wait.

Around the corner, the university’s ornate Peel Hall provides the arena for the grand finale. It’s set out like a lecture theatre, making for an all-seated affair, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as far as Bernard + Edith are concerned; their alluringly dark sound is best enjoyed with minimal distractions. Egyptian Hip Hop’s Nick Delap provides a consistently threatening foundation of beats and loops for Greta Carroll to exercise her considerable vocal talent over. As well as single-proper Poppy and gloriously enigmatic opener Eyes on U, they air a slew of cuts that you’d expect to feature on their upcoming – potentially Bella Union-backed – debut LP. There’s so much promise in their mastery of blending darkness and light; the day peaks with their set, which proved that you don’t need a ton of live instrumentation to create genuine atmosphere.

Headliners PINS, one of many alumni from local label Sways to feature today, are no slouches either, though; last year’s Girls Like Us felt a little half-baked, but it’s a different proposition entirely live. Deep cut LUVU4LYF marries real groove and tense guitars wonderfully – not to mention Faith Holgate’s howled vocal – but the yet-to-be-recorded Oh Lord runs it close. There’s a fantastic aggression to their live show that was largely absent from the album, and it spills over late on as a significant portion of the crowd surge to the floor for set closer Waiting for the End. Their on-stage urgency hasn’t waned since the record dropped last autumn, and made for a neat way to close another superb year for the festival. With so much artistic eccentricity on display in a city that occasionally – and so unfairly – gets a bad press, it seemed like a nice change of pace to wrap things up with nothing more than fast, furious rock and roll.

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Words: Joe Goggins

Photography: Alex Morgan