Al-J – photo by Peter Rea


As part of the annual audio/visual festival Future Everything, Now Wave have brought us to a disused office block situated next door to The Opera House, to see no fewer than six (that’s 6) bands. We’ve become accustomed to dirty industrial warehouses and basement venues in Manchester, so this is a refreshing change. Office parties at work will never seem the same again. This gig is sold out.

The venue is essentially just a long white room on the 1st floor with polished flooring and pillars. Black curtains line the sides, blocking out the still present sun, allowing the impressive lighting setup to take full effect. They’ve spared no expense.

PINS kick things off at 6.30pm after a lengthy soundcheck. The 4 girls have gone for a Siouxsie and the Banshees look, with straight-cut fringes in either jet black or shocking white. Nerves slightly sully the image, and a few mistakes are noticable, but the potential here is obvious. ‘Shoot You’ and ‘Eleventh Hour’ are highlights (the latter has a stunning video). There’s a lot of hype around this local band at the moment, though I feel they still need to grow into their chosen onstage persona.

Band number 2 are local duo Great Waves, they appear to have brought a few friends with them, who attempt to create an atmosphere by wooping and jumping around. The singer lets out a wolf howl while stood infront of a projected moon. His vocals sound very Mancunian, like early Ian Brown with a hint of Damon Albarn. The build up is something of a slow drone, intended to put you in a trance. The tempo seamlessly fluctuates, although there’s isn’t enough here to grab my attention.

I pop out for a burrito.

Stealing Sheep are next, they’re a trio of friendly looking girls who play unpredictable prog-folk with harmonised vocals. The drumming is too random and inconsistant for me to get into, though it proves a hit with all the short girls with short haircuts, who have gathered in front of the stage. Synch chords borrowed from The Cure, and spooky American gothic guitaring promise much but don’t hang around for long enough. The crowd are motionless and just stare straight at the stage. Conversations at the back become too loud and a few ironic drunken dancers venture forward to inject some life.

The venue appears to be full now in anticipation of No Ceremony‘s set. The first two tunes are very promising indeed, a slow and deliberate 4/4 beat over post-rave synths and seductive female vocals bring about some dancing. But regrettably the set goes a little wishy-washy and downbeat. If they’d have gone the other way and stepped it up a notch… or even carried on with what they were doing, it would’ve created a proper club atmosphere.

Money – photo by Peter Rea

People are getting more and more drunk. A mesh screen is positioned at the back for Money and smoke is pumped on stage. The between-bands DJ set seems to have been running for a long time… it takes around 15 minutes before I realise the siren sound during the hip-hop set is actually the fire alarm. There’s a long delay and the end of the alarm brings about much rejoicing.

Projectors in front and behind the mesh screen create a visually stunning effect. The band members are immersed in the imagery, building tension and releasing it with thrashing guitars and angst vocals. They’re like Wu Lyf, mixed with Arcade Fire and occasionally, Chris Isaak. I can’t really hear the vocals during the quiet moments, in fact I can’t really hear much at all during the quiet moments. It’s like The Cinematic Orchestra’s album ‘Ma Fleur’ (I think). They’re more impressive when they’re loud, because I can hear them. The shimmering guitar cuts through the deep beat and bass beautifully. They’re a band that I would like to see again, under different circumstances.

So to the headliners ∆ (alt-j). Someone in the crowd shouts “I bloody love triangles”. They made an instant impression on me when they received an airing on BBC 6 Music last summer. I saw them support Wild Nothing and then Ghostpoet at The Deaf Institute a few month’s later – their effortless kooky stylings are leftfield, but come naturally to them. This is genuine, distinctive stuff, which is possibly why they are becoming so popular.

Distinctive, how? The drummer used to play pots and pans. He’s since found the cash to purchase equipment that does a better job, but the skiffle sound, along with the cow bells and shakers, goes a long way to drive the style. Vocalist Joe Newman sings in a high-pitched, wry fashion. Each instrument, the keys, guitars, percussion, are all arranged beautifully and can be easily picked out at any given time. A refreshing change from the wall-of-sound psychedelic rock that’s coming at us from all angles at the moment.

Their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ isn’t out until a week on Monday, but the crowd confidently sing along to favourites ‘Breezeblocks’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Fitzpleasure’, much to the delight of the band. New material is warmly embraced, the sound is perfect, the crowd are rowdy…  bathe us in blissfull melodies and then plunge us into dirty, grinding, powerful beats. The vocals bring you up and the synths drag you back to earth. Smiling to yourself and rocking contently back and forth are unavoidable.

Alt-J – photo by Peter Rea

They admit Manchester crowds are always good to them… something of a home from home. On this evidence, maybe they should set up a residency here? When a collection of disparate parts come together, and it just works, the result can be pretty special. Start queuing for the album.

Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.