Musical re-inventions don’t come much more drastic than that of rapper turned crooner Ben Drew (aka Plan B aka Strickland Banks) who tonight plays host to an evening of retro-soul at Manchester’s Apollo. Liam Bailey prepares the crowd perfectly for the main event with his deep husky tones, performing a short set of bluesy tunes including the raw and beautiful ‘It’s Not the Same’, and soon to be hit single ‘You Better Leave Me’, demonstrating exactly why he’s tipped to be the next big thing in contemporary soul.

The Vaccines have been tipped to be one of the biggest bands this year – even featuring in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 – yet it has been hard not to be sceptical of their success due to the contacts they apparently have at their disposal. The vocalist Justin Young used to be flatmates with Marcus Mumford and the guitarist, Freddie Cowan, is the younger brother of Tom from the Horrors, which could suggest that they have the potential to be another over-hyped pop outfit. However, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? suggests that they also have the talent to compliment their address book.

After 2008’s insanely popular In Ghost Colours, Cut Copy were always going to struggle to follow up with an album that packed the same punch and ability to fill the dance floor. The Australian quartet’s third instalment provides us with a more serene landscape in which, whilst still maintaining the summertime bounce and sunshine appeal of old, also offers a more experimental insight into the path the band may now take. After due consideration, this path appears one I do not want to hear much more from.

As the show started, and timid guitars gathered together to create a melancholic atmosphere, a fellow spectator echoed my thoughts and turned to ask: “Is this Wolf People?” Yet undeniably, it was. This minimal, almost shy entrance was immediately juxtaposed by the introduction of the anthemic ‘Silbury Sands’ and a raw, guitar-based aggression was installed. At times I found myself returning to the heavy rock heaven of the early ‘70s and, dare I say it, a slight tinge of Led Zeppelin was evident in certain moments, as towering guitar riffs and booming bass lines resonated throughout the jam-packed Deaf Institute.

As expected, The Warehouse Project returns this Easter, dragging us in our droves to get up to all kinds of mischief until the very early hours of the morning. Headliners include the French techno DJ Laurent Garnier, Steve Angello of the Swedish House Mafia, dubstep producer Skream, as well as further regulars to the Manchester scene Andy C and Shy FX.

It’s a wild life for us music journalists, constantly rubbing elbows with the stars. Nearly every week, we’re barraged with requests to meet the pinnacles of musical excellence. Imagine such treats as interviewing the occasional fill in keyboardist of a local rising band, or chatting on the phone with somebody you’ve been assured is next year’s big thing; we’re just too lucky. Occasionally however, outside of busy journalistic hours, your glowing aura of musical obsession helps you stumble upon an amazing chance meeting and it’s at these times you remind yourself why you bloody love music.

News of the eagerly anticipated final Streets album release has excited fans, hearing claims that Mike Skinner had returned to the high standards of ‘Original Pirate Material’ and ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free.’ Once again Mike Skinner has produced a fresh and impressive album, reminiscent of the early work that made him the success he is. Many feel that it is definitely not his best album, perhaps third in line, and I would have to agree. Whilst this may seem harsh, this still gives Computer and Blues ample high praise.

Bugged Out! has been at the cutting edge of electro since its conception at Sankeys in 1994. However, the drought of bodies at the door suggested that the excitement surrounding electro-house at the end of the last decade had finally subsided. Luckily, the night left a convincing impression of where the future of this sub-genre may lie.

Christmas Day 1999 was a day of contrasts for me. On one hand, I finally got a PlayStation and a BMX scooter, which made my nine-year-old head explode. I’d have been happy with these, more than happy in fact, but there was another present to open, which had a distinct, CD shaped look about it. “Great”, I thought to myself. I’d just started getting into music and I was happy to think that my sister had noticed my growing interest in AC/DC, Motörhead and Metallica.

Apparently, if Swedish songstress, prolific hipster go-to girl and all-round drama queen Lykke Li “ever got as big as Madonna”, she “would want to run away and die”. As charming as this news is, her message, loud and clear, is that the Top 40 simply isn’t for her. She doesn’t need chart figures or sales numbers, especially not when she is producing material on the level of quality of sophomore effort Wounded Rhymes.

Tonight was always going to be about Reel Big Fish though and with this gig being one small part of their massive 20th Anniversary World Tour, it’s pretty much a given that what will ensue will be rather spectacular. That is, if they can get the microphones to work. With the gig already delayed by a tense 10 minutes, the lights finally dim and no time is wasted as ‘Sell Out’ strikes up, sending a surge of skankers into bouncing their way closer to the front.

The Creole Choir of Cuba’s invocatory, cultural whirlwind of a performance at the RNCM left me both astounded and invigorated; grateful that at least in other parts of the world there are musicians who stick to their roots rather than becoming over-produced and losing that raw ‘spirit’ of music. The Creole Choir is not simply a group formed to showcase the outstanding natural talent of their individual voices, they fervently fight to depict the plight of their ancestors who were bought from Africa and forced to work in slave conditions in the sugar and coffee plantations of Cuba.

The second of four Easter weekend nights at the Warehouse Project sees the return of a series of bug names.
Skream is back after an appearance with Magnetic Man in October and with huge new releases under his belt including the recent collaboration with Example, ‘Shot Yourself In The Foot Again’, and his remix of Cassius’ ‘I Love You So’, be sure to expect a memorable set of chart-toppers, dubstep favourites and everything you need to party to.

2010 was the year of the auto-tune. With the increasingly popular Glee, the controversial use of the plug-in on X Factor and a Billboard number one album from Ke$ha- it’s everywhere. Yet, we forget that 15 years ago, international superstar Cher brought it to the forefront of musical technology, creating almost a revolutionary new sound with her hit ‘Believe’. Today it has created problems of “over produced” sounds, with untalented stars being given an easier pathway to success.

Not often does a night split itself into extremes as much as this. Opening act Hammers start the night painfully dull for such a crushingly heavy band and, whilst anything but dull, following act Iron Will’s haphazard set leaves you wondering if it is deliberate that they sound so incredibly out of time from one another. No surprise then that they announce to the waiting crowd that they are looking for a new drummer.

Let me first begin by stating that I like PJ Harvey. I like concept albums. I like history. And I like weird, plinky music. If these things are not true of you, you may not share my enthusiasm for Let England Shake.

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