Skip to main content

11th June 2024

Sour Grapes Records’ ‘Meltchester’: Mancunion music community at its finest

Manchester’s own Sour Grapes Records brings Meltchester to town again at Projekts Skatepark
Sour Grapes Records’ ‘Meltchester’: Mancunion music community at its finest
Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

It is somewhat difficult to describe how wonderfully wholesome this day is – the fated day of the year when Sour Grapes Records put on ‘Meltchester’.

Despite billing some of the heaviest bands around, on first arriving, Projekts Skatepark was positively full of beaming grins. Kids in ear protectors had free roam of the various concrete ramps and ledges, as folk of all ages and genders sat around merrily with bottles of Brooklyn Pale Ale. Tucked away in the corner was T’arricrii, a street vendor catering to the crowd with delightful Sicilian food. As soon as we arrived, all everyone could say was how good the arancini balls were. So far, so good.

At around three o’clock, as the crowds started to fill in, the first band of the day took to the stage. Pseudo Raft Foundation are as bizarre and interesting as their name suggests. They’re a wonderful blend of various misused genres – from glam rock to indie pop – making a stark contrast to what Sour Grapes are typically known for.

Kicking things off with a delightful, synthesised drone, a scroll was unveiled – a decree of some kind. It may have been a musical manifesto to shake the world in its current state, but as they were the first act on, and this was the first song, the microphones were a little unbalanced. Making out what their decree was became a little tricky.

Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

The set was a fun blend of 60s psychedelia, Blondie and all of the brilliant camp of the Rocky Horror Picture Show or Meatloaf. Lead singer Grace’s vocals were a glistening blend of Debbie Harry and Kate Bush, floating atop a glamorous, psyche-blend that Temples would be proud of. Their only single to date, ‘Sir Frocke’ was the strongest of the tracks they played – a vibrant debut.

Next up were All Girls Arson Club, who, after a brief line-check of just guitar, drums, and a few ‘las’, sauntered onstage. With their opening statement, they set the tone: “Hi, we’re All Girls Arson Club, and we’re here to promote health and safety… I don’t see many helmets being worn here!”

Theirs was an awkward, skittish, minute-long version of punk tunes, entirely stripped of pretension and arrogance. They seemed to share the same sense of humour as Half Man Half Biscuit, writing egg punk-ish tunes about everything from friendship, to ‘Kath and Kim’.

Their set may have been organised around one note, and there are limits to how much you can get out of just guitar and drums. But oh, was that one note good, and entertaining enough to fill a fabulous half-an-hour set.

Gold Cup were the next act to grace the stage. A simple yet effective punk outfit, whose infectious tunes would rival most in the three-chord thrashing world, Gold Cup are a regular in the Grapes’ rotation. Starting things off with a growling bass throng, the band kicked into gear and in doing so, seemed to pull the first dense crowd of the day. Theirs was a brilliantly concise set; orchestrated feedback, chanting backup vocals and melodic, fuzzed-out solos. Clearly, the group have taken a leaf out of Devo’s book, conducting themselves in a mechanic manner to great effect, the lead singer’s spindly frame setting the tone for the rest.

Their set was a clear statement of intention. The band are no strangers to cutting to the chase, as can be seen with the likes of their singles ‘The Numbers’ and ‘Gold Winner’, which they played to perfection.

At this point, people were filtering in in bigger numbers, as glasses of white wine seemed to emerge out of thin air. As Gold Cup’s set came to a close, nearly every concrete ramp in front of the stage became occupied, punters huddling around arancini balls and bottles of pale ale.

This paved the way for the Scouse punk group Yobs, who announced themselves accordingly. They were a punk band with a real-world bite; one that permitted only the brave to get close to the front of the stage. As they emerged, the lead singer lurched himself into view donning a white balaclava, which was quickly discarded.

Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

The manic thrash of their energetic punk seemed to transform these men onstage into frenzied dolls, pulsing to the beat of their own drum. Fizzing beer into the crowd, jutting and thrusting his mic stand about, the lead singer had an air of punkish masculinity to his growl. All intentional, I am acutely aware…

Just as quickly as they’d begun, they were gone, leaving another fifteen-minute pause for the crowd to recharge, before the main event of the local acts reared their heads.

Waxhead are something of a poster-boy group for Sour Grapes Records. They led the line of local acts on the Meltchester bill, and for good reason. The five-piece seemed to draw in a crowd who had emerged out of the woodwork specifically for them. Starting with just a count-off, they were off like a shot.

The group ran through a few tracks off of their Salt Fat Acid EP, as well as their first release, ‘The Worm’ – a scrambling track dragged along by its frenetic drums and crazed, wah-swept guitar. The live band are a different beast to their recordings. The lo-fi, squelching production on the likes of their newest single ‘Back Hand’ took a backseat, as between the five of them, Waxhead thoroughly filled in the sonic blanks.

In amongst the stabbing delay sounds flying left and right, the odd rockabilly-esc guitar part would trickle in. The synths cut straight through the mix like a knife through butter, filling in each silence to keep the energy going. The odd ray of light would rear its head in the set – a keyboard melody here, a groove-led bass fill there. Most of all, the band were focused on keeping the raw energy up.

Waxhead’s version of a mosh pit was something of a black hole, as punters were sucked in with feedback – dragged head-first into a joyfully chaotic frenzy. Wherever he is in the world, if the Oh Sees’ John Dwire witnessed this spectacle, I am sure he would be proud.

Once Waxhead had come and gone, we entered the portion of the festival where the ‘bigger’ acts came out to play.

Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

The first of these acts with a significant discography behind them was the Toronto-based Hot Garbage. The minute they walked onstage, it was evident the group had been around the block. There were no questions about the band’s image, as each member donned a pair of sunglasses. Their motoric, krautrock-inspired sound seemed to inspire a sleazy, dance-hall atmosphere in the crowd, lured in with moody vocals from lead singer Juliana Carlevaris.

The group’s magnetic rhythms made for a nice break from the thrashing guitars of previous acts, as they combined plucking, sawtooth synth sounds with a strong marching rhythm.

One of the most perplexing names on this year’s Meltchester line-up was the Mexican band, Mengers. Having made their acclaim in the underground Mexican noise-rock scene, Mengers have also plied their trade on the infamous KEXP airwaves in Seattle, before somehow ending up playing beneath an overpass in Manchester.

For Mengers, loud is the word. While the drummer served his purpose, hammering out a staccato rhythm to keep the musical whole tied together, the guitars were where this band truly shone. Thick, treacle-like layers of distortion radiated off the stage. I’m sure it could’ve been heard from miles away. Melodies would repeat and persist until each musical motif was nailed in. Each member of the band seemed unbothered in a way only certain exotic rockstars can get away with. To be that nonchalant with music that loud is a skill only a few can truly pull off.

Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Arguably the main event of the festival was Los Angeles’ Frankie and the Witch Fingers, and from the minute they emerged their energy was palpable. Having flown over from state-side for the second year in a row at the behest of Sour Grapes, the group were evidently excited to be back in amongst the skate park rabble. The band were an even blend of Oh Sees and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, taking psychedelic queues from all over the shop in order to create a mesmerising whole. Their set was an even blend of thick, liquid fuzz sitting right alongside melodic keyboard lines; extended jams that never got boring.

The one thing that struck me about the group was how much they were having fun. The four of them were ecstatic to be playing for the Sour Grapes community. That community then responded by letting their best and brightest (from hardened moshers to even members of Waxhead) crowd-surf to nearly every song.

The energy seemed to drip from the ceiling of the underpass, as used and loved skate-shoes hung from the rafters by their shoelaces. The scene looked, smelt, and felt organic. Not one thing kept people in the festival. People were free to come and go as they had been all day, but the music on show trapped the crowd there in a pure sense of chaotic joy.

When the final act of the day emerged onto the stage, the crowd had begun to thin just a little, and the music softened up appropriately. There was no better act on paper to bring in the darkness of night than Night Beats. Night Beats provided a nostalgic, Hendrix-infused brand of psychedelia, with all of the soul-sensibilities of Isaac Hayes’ fabulous cover of ‘Walk on By’. As their set progressed, some among the crowd had begun to trickle out – presumably to Big Hands for Meltchester’s advertised afterparty. Those who stuck with the group were treated to a brilliantly versatile performance, as the three musicians onstage made the absolute most out of their clear talents.

I have personally been aware of Sour Grapes for some time now and have highlighted their label as something Manchester gig-goers should really explore. What I had failed to realise prior to today, however, was what a strong and wonderful community they’ve built up. Even though the music may have been aggressive, the atmosphere was not.

Meltchester proved to be everything you want and need out of a local festival.

Jacob Broughton-Glerup

Jacob Broughton-Glerup

Jacob Broughton-Glerup is a music journalist and avid music fan from Sheffield interested in all things lyrical and odd.

More Coverage

Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi is circling around the Post-Punk cul-de-sac

Now that Fat White family have returned with ‘Forgiveness Is Yours’, lead-singer Lias Saoudi has a lot more to say about post-punk, lyricism, and being a Londoner

Peter Bibby – Drama King: A tragic and unpredictable opus

Infusing the classic songwriting of Dylan and Springsteen with Australian wit and dive bar narratives, Peter Bibby’s latest album constantly surprises

Tenacious D live in Manchester: The metal bring the fire

Jack Black’s rock-comedy project Tenacious D stopped off in Manchester on their ‘Spicy Meatball’ tour, performing to 20,000 fans at the AO Arena

Alive! Festival 3.0: Students’ Union solstice takeover lets the light in

Alive! Festival took over the Students’ Union for the third time, with the student-run event expanding its horizons over five stages featuring bands, DJs, talks, comedy, gameshows, and a Silent Disco