Off The Record 2019


‘New Music Festival and Conference’ Off The Record is returning to Manchester for its fourth edition this Friday. It’s a one day event (apart from the networking drinks on Thursday), taking place over different venues across the Northern Quarter, such as Jimmy’s, Night and Day Café and Soup Kitchen. During the day, attendees can attend an industry conference, which this year features the likes of Sundara Karma or a Song Writing Workshop with Fickle Friends, among others. From 18:30, over 30 artists will be playing short sets in the different venues. The festival aims to introduce upcoming and mostly unsigned artists and help the festival goers to ‘discover their new favourite band’.

Sadly, I had to pass on the conference, even though I found it really interesting last year. Instead, I straight go to Gullivers to collect my wristband, and stay here to see Springfield Elementary. The four guys from Manchester put on an energetic show, their sound is ranging from psychedelic rock to punk with captivating riffs. I am especially intrigued by their somewhat experimental side. It is only halfway through their set that I notice the big but simple DIY banner next to the stage, fitting in with their nonchalant vibe.

For their last song, vocalist Billy Goodwin get rids of his guitar and is now able to dance even more than before. In the very end, he even gets off stage to sing and shout at everyone in the front row, and they seem keen on it – on the whole gig in general.

The next gig I see is Mancunian rap crew Voodoo Black at Band on the Wall, consisting of three rappers and a DJ. The venue is rather empty but that doesn’t stop them from delivering a really fun and good performance. All of them are flowing really good on their chilled old school beats. Their singing voices are on point as well, as they prove with their partly sung and catchy hooks. There is no pretentiousness either, the guys on stage seem laid back and are bantering between their tracks. The crowd is feeling it as well and is moving along to the beat. I really like what I hear and wish I could stay, but decide to leave to catch the next band.

The Sandemans, an indie band from Perth, Scotland, are performing at The Peer Hat. The venue is far from packed, unlike the small stage which, with the five band members, seems a bit crowded. Most of their songs have a proper indie rock sound with punk vibes here and some pop vibes there. Especially singer Dean Whyte is very engaging and enthusiastic as he’s dancing on stage as much as he can within the given space.

For one of their songs they’re switching to an acoustic guitar but the sound engineer seems to have some difficulties with it, so we have a short break. When everything’s sorted again, The Sandemans reward us with a slower paced song with heavy britpop vibes. The guys’ performance is very lively and enjoyable, but again, I’m leaving during the last song to head back to Band on the Wall.

Nile Marr (yes, Johnny Marr’s son) and his two bandmates are on now. Their newest danceable indie pop/rock single, ‘Part Time Girl’ was only released in September. Even though Marr repeatedly tells the audience that they haven’t played live in a while, they haven’t forgotten anything. Marr’s voice is clear and he’s got no problem hitting every note. With catchy melodies and classic riffs, their sound is something between indie rock and pop. Although the bassist seems a bit uneasy, their overall synergy says it all: it’s a very skilful and enjoyable set. Marr seems humble as he charmingly thanks everyone for coming and enabling this gig. He’s also bantering between the songs, creating a chilled and fun atmosphere. He really seems to care about his audience, as halfway through the set he tells the photographers that they should clear the front of the stage for the fans since they’ve ‘taken enough pictures and there’ll be no more surprises’.

I return to Oldham Street where Nina Cobham has already started her set at The Castle Hotel. The rather small venue is about half full and a bit cold, which might be why Cobham is wearing a big jumper. The 17-year old from Manchester is singing while she’s being supported by a guitarist. As soon as I enter, I am struck by her lovely voice, which harmonises perfectly with the soft guitar tunes. All eyes are on her, but she’s singing with her eyes either closed or focussing on the guitarist. I am fascinated by the slow dream pop tunes and relatable lyrics dealing with love and relationships. At some point, more and more people come in and it gets a bit loud which is always annoying, especially when the music is so calm. After the fourth song, Cobham announces that they have gone through the songs quicker than in rehearsal, and that the next one will be the last one. We get to experience another beautifully melancholic pop song before she thanks everyone for coming and ends the gig.

I then see Mali Hayes across the street at Gullivers. The singer is supported by a band of four on guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard. Hayes has a beautiful strong and yet smooth voice, which harmonises perfectly with their jazzy neo-soul sound. There are only a few people in the audience but more and more are coming throughout the set and are visibly enjoying Hayes’ music and are dancing to the mellow tunes. Seeing Hayes performing her latest single ‘Stay with Me’ is really great, it evolves in a somewhat faster paced dancy tune suiting the atmosphere very well.

The last act of the night for me is Nadia Sheikh and her band back at The Peer Hat. She’s the vocalist and plays one of the guitars. The Londoners are doing indie/alternative rock with pop punk vibes and Sheikh shows her talent especially with the songs she sings softly rather than aggressively. The band plays their newest single, just released earlier today, ‘Break Free’, a slow indie song, beautifully sung and blended with excellent guitar riffs.

The next one, ‘All Done’, is a completely new song which they have never performed live before. It convinces with an outstanding bassline, and again, her remarkable voice. The crowd is vibing with the band and for the very last song, Sheikh even gets an audience member to sing the song with her. Everyone gradually joins, which is quite a delightful goodbye.

Again, Off The Record has managed to put a varied range of promising young musicians on stage. It’s always a bit difficult to see every set you intend to see, especially considering the walks from and to venues, but that’s just how it is. In general, it didn’t feel as packed as last year, but all the artists and attendees seemed to enjoy the event. I was especially fond of Voodoo Black and Nina Cobham and will definitely keep my eyes peeled for upcoming gigs and releases!

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Dahlia Owusu

My decision to leave Germany and move to Manchester was most definitely influenced by my love for music and going to gigs. I came here in 2018 and am now studying English and Journalism at Manchester Met. When I’m not at a gig, you’ll usually find me reading or in a café.