Myself and the Shoegaze Brigade touched down in Manchester early, ditched the vehicle for safe keeping and headed out of town. Our mission -which we had already chosen to accept – lead us to the Victoria Warehouse and a rendezvous with our newly accredited Cosmic Cadets. Our task, to get them through twelve and half hours of solid mind melting music, assess their skills and hopefully see them make the grade as field ready Psychonauts. Cosmosis ’16, Manchester’s own psych/urban festival, compromising of five stages – Air, Earth, Water, Fire, Aether- set among a sprawling, cavernous warehouse complex, would prove to be more than ample testing ground.
Programmes scanned, beer tokens scored, a rough plan was hatched and we headed for festival openers Black Delta Movement – from ‘Ull. Been a seasoned veteran, I’d had the pleasure of seeing these boys more than a few times before, so it is good to report back that not only did they provide their usual high calibre set of Black Rebelesque tunes, but they’d also ramped up the ampage with the introduction of an additional, suitably nonchalant, drummer.
Seeing that the cadets were happy, I made a short step sideways. From Earth to Water. Rhys Bloodjoy. Head to toe in black, hooded (or should that be cowled ?) Bloodjoy more than flirts with the darker elements of the psych genre. An array of effects pedals, loopers and DIY custom guitar combine to bring us sounds that aren’t just close to the edge, they’re balanced on it with one foot over the precipice.
It was still early, But we’d already lost sight of my recruits. Confident in their training, and hopeful they were still relatively sober, I wasn’t too concerned, I knew, or at least hoped, that they’d been paying attention in class, and would make the right choice. Catching an all too brief glimpse of Brahma-Loka, I left the confines of the smaller stages to enter the main hall, which, especially compared to the other spaces, is huge.
Lola Colt look at home. Gun O defiantely leads from the front, prowling between band mates with that big cavalry drum of hers, as we are treated to the days first real display of the excellent, acid enhancing, truly psychedelic backdrop. A vivid, lurid, cosmic vortex, interacting with the players on stage. Genuinely far out. Easily filling the massive stage, and getting the airing they truly deserve, the band relish the space and give one of the stand out performances of the day.
Having despatched the Shoegaze Brigade to pursue their own path, I re-grouped with the cadets stage front, my trust in their training was assured, but as Lola Colt drifted away I was curious to observe their next move – the lazy option; grab another drink and an easy cigarette outside. – the better option; seek out more music…
The thought of seeing post-punk luminaries Wire on a small stage was too much to resist. It would appear almost everyone in the buildings agreed and we were left with exactly that – the thought of seeing Wire on a small stage. At one point I’m sure I caught a peek of Colin’s hat, but the room was so packed, we had to console ourselves with the adage that legends only need to be heard, not seen !?#@!/!
One of the best and equally as frustrating, qualities of festivals with multiple stages lies in the endless opportunity to catch as many live bands as possible, which also means you are faced with more than a few dilemmas of who to and who not to see. In the first real test of our trainees metal, they quickly came up with our next move. Heading upstairs we made our way to the Aether stage for a trip into the ethereal world of Baba Naga. With nothing more than a slight variance in their vibrations, Baba Naga produce a wall of sound that, combined with the lights, permeates your mind and turns the small stage area into the ante-chamber of a sonic temple. Or maybe I was becoming too engrossed in the performance, allowing myself to be taken too far in. So, I moved away from stage front, and rather gentlemanly gave my space to a couple of young ladies. I turned to my Cadets, and for the first time asked for help. I required something heavy.
All the talk and hype surrounding Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats had given promise that they were not be missed, and that they would not disappoint. Believe the hype people. This band play hard, and they play loud. It’s a diabolic mix that see’s much hair been flung, riffs been , er , riffed, and a fine display of shoulder squaring, guitar sparring as the two main protagonists face off center stage. The tripped out visuals go into over drive as the band hover between full on 70’s stylee psychedelic heavy rock and the more acid drenched sound of the late 60’s.
All the cosmic energy, lurid lights and head melting vibes were fine for the vets, but it was close to getting a bit too heavy man, for our newly graduated troops. They still had their jackets on, and little to no sweat had been spilled. We needed something hot, steamy and sensuous. So, we rolled some cigarettes and made our path away from the main building and over to the Fire stage.
Up close and intimate is often the best way to enjoy a gig. Up close, intimate, been bounced around and dowsed in beer is a sure fire sign that the people around you are also enjoying the gig. The jackets were off and the gaskets were set to blow, as Saint Agnes, the lovechild of Lola Colt’s Kitty and boyfriend John, ripped into the Cosmosis crowd with a whirlwind of dirty rock n roll blues. For the first time today, we witness hired muscle been posted on the barriers stage front. This, if nothing else, should be taken as testament as to how hard this band have the punters rocking. Sparks of a sensual nature fly between the lead duo, as caution is thrown to the wind and they lay down a set that leaves many hankering for more.
Hitting the half way point – yep all this had happened and we were still only half way there !!! The executive decision to score food beer and more cigarettes was made. As we hung round outside, we witnessed people taking vows to become vegan forever, vegetarians eating meat for the first time in years, girls sharing cigarettes, people making friends ( and quite possibly some friends making people) as well as the first real casualties of the evening been carried out by medics. The overall vibe -good to beautiful. The hot dogs weren’t bad either.
Now the time was upon us for what for most was the main draw of the day. The Brian Jonestown Massacre were on stage and the grand hall was packed tight. Anton Newcombe appeared to have lead his band on stage slightly before his technicians were ready. For a few brief yet tense moments, they were subjected to his ire,as he crouched at the side of the stage taking over the responsibility for his own set up, barking for the correct setlist before leading us into a sublime, beautifully laid-back expose of his finer tunes.
BJM are genre defining masters of their own game, and tonight see’s them drive the nail home. Joined on stage by Tess Parks for the haunting Anemone,they provide an undeniable highlight for the entire day. Someone challenges me to sum it up in one word – well here you go, how does’divine’feel ? It would prove to be a set that was hard, but not impossible, to at least equal, let alone beat.
Bucking the trend, I leave my entourage to their own devices, and give Sleaford Mods a miss. I pull myself up short at the Water stage to catch Esben and the Witch, who are already mid set. A packed stage front threatens to leave me without sight of the band, so I abuse my journo’s creds and take up position on the reserved side of the barrier stage left.
Hard to define, the Brighton trio are laying down some entrancing percussion that makes it difficult for me to draw myself away. But I’d promised my self that I’d settle a score I’d had hanging over me for a while.
I rolled another cigarette and beat a hasty retreat to the Fire stage for, allegedly, Manchester’s best kept secret; Underground Youth. Despite owning copies of five of their albums and a couple of singles, I’d yet to see them live – so was unable to truly call myself a fan. All that was soon to end. Parking myself right on the barrier I amused myself watching a friend and her mates dancing rather intoxicatedly whilst trying to make sensible small talk. In almost darkness, the quartet that now makes up the Underground Youth struck up. A multi layered assault on the senses, they live up to all expectations. Olya’s stand up drumming of the floor toms is a pure joy to behold and the whole thing is as visually entertaining as it is aurally satisfying. But, alas, once again I have to draw myself away mid-set (does that now make me a half fan ?) for over on the Air stage, a band I can truly attest to being a fan,are about to blow Cosmosis into the cosmos.
Safe in the knowledge that both the Shoegaze Brigade and the Cosmic Cadets would be close by, I waded my way through the crowd and made my way to the front. The Brian Jonestown Massacre would normally be impossible to follow. But this was no normal event. By some stroke of genius the Cosmosis team had pulled off a masterstroke. The Jesus and Mary Chain and BJM may not at first appear to be easy bed fellows, but tonight at least, it made perfect sense to have them share the same stage.
The brothers Reid enter the fray.As always, William is almost hidden out of the way at the rear, as his sibling takes the centre spot in that, casual, laissez faire way, that belies the fact that this one of the most influential bands of the last thirty years or more. “Hello, we’re The Jesus and Mary Chain, and we’re gonna play you a few of our songs.” Oh, well – go on then. I am admittedly biased towards this band, but it’s hard to deny how jaw droppingly good they are. Ditching the psychedelic, for their own Psychocandy backdrop, April Skies leads us into selection of familiar songs that, have been around for what seems like for ever, but still feel as fresh and dangerous as the first time I heard them. Noticing how the lights have the potential to become quite spectacular, I retreat to the balcony for the overhead view. Although no one challenges me this time, the one word that springs to mind is short sweet and straight to the point. WOW!
As ‘Some Candy Talking’ plays it’s usual trick and has the hairs on my neck stood to attention, the lights make for a spectacle that is far beyond expectation. A captivating performance closes with an elongated version of ‘Reverance’ and leaves me struggling to this day to find reason to not call this anything but perfection. (See. Told you I was biased).
It could have ended there and then. But there was still more to be had. A mad dash to the Earth stage to catch what was left of Ringo Deathstar once again saw us staring at the back of many heads trusting that there was actually a band before us. Despite been out of sight, the heavy shoegaze washes over us, brandishing subtle hints of the Velvet Underground and lends itself well to the surroundings, ensuring that they would not be out of mind.
I rejoin the Cadets at the bar, as the Allah La’s bring proceedings to a close with their dictionary defined take on psychedelic rock. A young man baring a striking resemblance to Lou Reed a la Sally Cant Dance, struts his stuff with a couple of females who writhe and gyrate around him. Despite copious amounts of alcohol,and far too many cigarettes, my young charges we’re still standing. Vaguely coherent in their ramblings, they still managed to confirm that a very good time had been had by all. We had hit the point where the musics over, and we turn out the lights. As we spilled out into the Manchester night, I grinned with pride as I watched my team of young Cosmic Cadets hit the streets as fully fledged Psychonauts. Mission accomplished, myself and the Shoegaze Brigade made our way to the vehicle and drove across the Pennine spine into the awakening dawn.
Thank you and well done Cosmosis – it was truly Cosmic, man !
GALLERY: click on any pic to see full size.
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