Live Review: Sounds From the Other City Festival, Salford – 30.04.2023

Sounds from the Other City is Salford and Greater Manchester’s annual festival of new music & art. It was created for music lovers by music lovers and has been a firm underground favourite since 2005; delivering a unique annual event that champions local promoters and celebrates the off-kilter beauty of Salford, the oft-overlooked ‘other city’ to Manchester.

A creative scene is constantly moving and with a line-up booked by a revolving collective of promoters, SFTOC has served as an annual snapshot of the Greater Manchester scene, taking place in the pubs, churches, studios, warehouses, and ‘in-between’ spaces of Chapel Street. The festival has hosted early-day performances from artists as diverse as James Ferraro, Marina, Alt-J, Slowthai, Hannah Peel, GoGo Penguin right through to 2017’s Mercury Music Prize winner Sampha, BBC Sound of 2018 nominee IAMDDB and 2019 Mercury Music Prize nominees, Black Midi.

This year’s line up is as equally eclectic and having none been since before the pandemic hit, BSM has ventured down to check things out.

One of the stages I am most intrigued about is offered by Alphaville x FAIR PLAY. Alphaville is a celebration of the overlooked legends of yore and a driving force behind the development of some of the most exciting new bands of today. After six years in Leeds, they made Manchester home in 2019 before launching Alphaville Records in 2020 and putting on a stream of incredible events and releasing records to boot. FAIR PLAY is an all-day festival, taking place across various venues in Manchester, that prioritises providing a fair playing field, an equal opportunity for all and a communal, collaborative event. Featuring a diverse lineup that’s fair and accessible (inclusive of genre, gender, sexuality, race and beyond), they welcome musicians that are dubbed as ‘alternative’ in all its multiple forms and house them under one event.

With that in mind, I start the day at their stage with The Early Mornings, a Manchester trio how now call London home. The band share a love for both jagged guitars and pop melodies, drawing influence from bands like The Breeders, The Raincoats and The Velvet Underground. The interplay of bass and guitar over succinct drumming is narrated by vocalist Annie with a poetic nonchalance so powerful the crowd are instantly sucked in. They are the perfect band to start things off, a dose of sunshine on a wet day that life spirits and set the mood for all that is to follow.

The Early Mornings

Staying at the same stage, next up are Cowtown, a Leeds trio who have been making music since 2004 and are now five albums deep. Their energetic set spans their back catalogue, with pacey riffs, bass keys and motorik drum beats. They channel Gang of Four and Devo, but with a pop orientated slant that gives them universal appeal. The room is full to busting for the duration of their set and as they draw things to a close, only two bands in, punters are very happy with how things are going.

Next it’s over to St. Philips Church where the stage is set by Heavenly Recordings x Strange Days. Heavenly Recordings, since it began, has always gleefully pursued its own path, at its own speed. Back in 1990, its first handful of releases perfectly captured a Technicolour Balearic summer in Britain – but before pigeonholing could take hold, the label signed a frenzied four-piece punk band from the Welsh Valleys and a country group from Camden Town. Strange Days have been promoting the best new and exciting artists in and around the city since 2014 and worked with a range of acclaimed international artists as well as pioneering the finest homegrown talent.

Eyes of Others have been described as making ‘post-pub couldn’t get in the club music’. Actually, though, it’s the sound of the small hours – The Blue Nile lost on the dancefloor at an Optimo night; John Martyn working magic with drum loops and Logic; Suicide washed up on the shores of Portobello Beach. They mix melody and harmony in a way that’s captivating, with a vocal style adjacent to Everything Everything and an overall feelgood vibe that infects the room as it exudes from the stage; beautiful music in a beautiful setting.

Eyes of Others

Fivefour Studios is home to several events, room 1 being the one of most intrigue, curated by Now Wave x Yes. Now Wave have established themselves as one of the most important independent live music and club promoters in the region. Their ethos has always been to provide a platform for the most engaging new acts from across the musical spectrum, as well as putting on shows by ground-breaking but hugely established artists. Yes has been with us for just over 4 years, but in that time has become an institution amongst all ages of music lovers across Manchester. Open 7 days a week, with action across 4 floors, it’s been home to a host of memorable moments.

London quintet Butch Kassidy create walls of sounds which share an affinity for improvisation, minimalism and metal tendencies. Its post-rock at its most explosive with swirling visuals only adding to the intensity, they without doubt win the award for the most immersive. They captivate from the first to last note and although not for everyone, they pack out the cavernous space with ease.

Butch Kassidy

Back to St. Philips its Nightbus, a last-minute stand in who are most welcome. The Manchester trio only formed in 2022 but have already been making waves. They make an eclectic range of music, with inspiration being drawn from post punk, alternative and electronica. The standout track from the set is without doubt their nod to Joy Division, latest single ‘Mirrors’ which was released in March. They perform to such a high standard, on such a big stage, you wouldn’t know they were so fresh to the scene. Only more good things to come from these guys we predict.

Ut are one of the most intriguing bands on the line up. Founded by Nina Canal, Jacqui Ham and Sally Young in NYC in 1978, they originated in the downtown No Wave scene, inheriting a collision of rock, free jazz and the avant-garde to explode the rigidity of convention. Their presence has attracted quite the crowd and its no surprise, as their raw power and sheer drive is straightforward, yet unmistakable. Standout tracks include the blistering ‘Confidential’ which features early and sets the tone for the rest of the set which is delivered with a level of professionalism and elegance that is unmatched across the rest of the line-up. We are treated to ‘Sham Shack’ as an extra/encore offering, an incredible number live which is reminiscent of the scene they developed in and yet all their own. They leave the stage to rapturous applause and every person present, knows they have experienced something really special.


Concluding proceedings on the live circuit for this writer are London’s The Umlauts. A trans-European, multi-lingual, art-school, post-punk, techno-inspired, über group/circus-troop/diaeresis, The Umlauts gel together a matrix-like myriad of influences to create a beguiling sound that’s the sonic equivalent of freely throwing paint at the canvas and seeing what happens. They present tonight as an eight piece, with a sound so large the warehouse can barely contain them. Opening with fan favourite ‘Boiler Suits and Combat Boots’, the beat laden track sets bodies moving and foots tapping to its infectious countenance. The theme continues throughout and whilst traversing various languages, they entertain the crowd with dry humour. You only have to look round the stuffed room to see how much people are enjoying it. Another stand out track is ‘Um Politik’, whose intricacies could easily be lost in the space, but through clever manipulation of sound it maintains its gleam.

The Umlauts

As the live bands draw to a close and night draws in, the crowd have their pick of DJs and afterparties to see them into the early hours with something to cater to every taste. SFTOC has once again delivered, with a diverse, unrivalled line-up that all involved can be proud of. Long may it continue, until next year then…?

Earlybird tickets for 2024 are on sale now, get yours here

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