The Mancunion

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Festival: Sounds From The Other City

Samuel Ward is transported to the mythical world of Salford for Sounds from the Other City


May 1st 2015



Wow. I mean, really? What. A. Day. When was the last time you could say you pulled a party popper from the pouch of a tinsel-spurting xeno faux queen? Or formed half of the Clifton suspension bridge before being interrogated by a police officer with a horse for a hand? And no, acid flashbacks don’t count.

In all seriousness, I feel that’s what SFTOC is all about—stretching culture into a surrealist playground where creative imaginations can run wild. 2015’s playground took inspiration from all conceivable corners, with the most diverse range of performances I’ve ever seen in the space of 12 hours.

The adventure, of course, starts at SFTOC HQ (Islington Mill), where people densely flow between food stalls, art installations and live music—a more conventional festival dynamic. However, the old mill-turned-non-profit artist hideout ditches conventionality as soon as one enters through the jungle of streamers and emerges to towering chimney stacks and a dingy underground gigging hole spewing Groves’ synth-laden grooves.

photo: Mike Hughes

Photo: Mike Hughes

At wristband collection, signing up for a free ticket to the Ex-Easter Island Head/BBC Philharmonic Orchestra collaboration is a no-brainer. The crash mat-seated performance, taking place in the unfinished apartment block that is Vimto Gardens, bridges the gap between modern and classical by melding the contemporary compositions voiced by the orchestra with methodical and slowly developing traditional movements beat out by the mallets and guitars of EEIH.

photo:Mike Hughes

Photo: Mike Hughes

And, like the orchestra’s performance, I notice almost every set throughout the day seems precious—each unique and unafraid of being individual. This instinct to stand out is, quite strangely, what unites the festival and its atmosphere. For example, immediately after quickly brushing by The Battle of Bexley Square, an outdoor stage hosting musicians equipped with original works commissioned for the festival, I somehow stumble into the backroom of the New Oxford where Sham Bodie, Manchester’s finest comedy/music/chitchat show, has a girl screaming about being a human fridge (Quippodrome). The accidental and sheer change in contrast is just hilarious and remains a constant theme throughout of the day; whether it’s going from soothing folk soundtracking outdoor pint sipping to a girl throwing yoghurts at people, or chatting to randomers and sampling the festival’s relaxed atmosphere right before having a priest recommend you the best booze in the church, there’s tonnes hitting you left right and centre.

After being led by a euphoric parade of Liverpool’s Faux Queens/Costumologists’ Micro Cosmic Delerium collaboration, essentially electro-fanatics dressed head to toe in tinsel with green and pink skin, to under the New Bailey Railway Arches, we see yet another Groves (different band) playing harshly reverberating grunge whilst dressed in pretty summer dresses. The flurry of pompoms, bright pink hair and shiny limbs that erupts upon the distorted guitars is nothing short of fabulously apocalyptic.

Other notable performances include Zun Zun Egui’s infectious rhythms in St. Phillip’s Church and Sways Record’s ring cycle, consisting of approximately six acts occupying six stages playing cyclically around the interior of another of New Bailey’s Railway Arches. Think of it as a live mix of bands, with the music slowly rotating around the room transitioning between acts, drifting between howling euphoria (Mother) and dark soundscapes (Kyogen).

photo: John Lynch

Photo: John Lynch

By the time the night rolls around, the vibe has noticeably shifted. With the darkness comes a difficulty in distinguishing between the Salford Arms’ function room and Warehouse Project’s room 2 as D/R/U/G/S transforms the cosy watering hole into a dark pulsing sweat pit. Silverclub also take to First Chop Brewing Arm to unleash their live acid house inspired extravaganza. Lasers trace the curved roof of the renovated railway arch and the band hurls the crowd through their impressive dance-orientated repertoire without stopping for a single breath. The relentlessness of this final set easily penetrates the onlookers and the place goes off, setting things up for the final afterparty.

With the other stages now closed, the focus now returns to Islington Mill’s underground space where Christeene holds the drunken raucous mouth-gag of the after show. I would be lying if I said I knew what to expect: A punk/terrorist drag artist rapping next to two very-almost nude dancers hanging off the roof with their arses out. The crowd are going absolutely nuts for it—yet another curveball and yet another spectacle.

I admit, by this point, 12 hours of heavy drinking have taken their toll and I leave, feeling somewhat defeated, at around 3am. But with the short stumble back to my normal life in Manchester, music echoing over my shoulders, I realise I have accomplished so much more than what is usually capable at other day festivals.

And of course this is all down to SFTOC allowing me to do so, by just throwing so much at you—the quality and range of production, artists and atmosphere—it’s up to you how much you take in. One can quite easily sit back at a single stage and let the festival’s careful programming wash over you or conversely you can try and sample every single damn thing encompassing every imaginable form of entertainment, something akin to some Inception-style other dream life where you feel you’ve experienced 50 years worth of stuff upon returning to Manchester and don’t recognise half of your friends’ faces. For me, I definitely took the latter path and even now I’m still getting used to civilian life. Next year I think I’ll take a totem…