[sic] Magazine

Friends Of Manchester Festival – Saturday 30th January 2010

Spread across six stages, two neighbouring venues and about twelve bear-soaked hours, the second annual Friends Of Manchester event boasts the cream of local unsigned talent, as well as throwing in some more established and geographically-varied acts to provide the requisite bang for your buck. And on a cold Manchester day that would later return to snow, where better to be when last year’s event properly launched superlative bands such as The Joy Formidable?

Anxiously waiting for one of Manchester’s best kept singer-songwriting secrets Kathyrn Edwards to kick start the afternoon, disappointment sets in when her cancellation is announced at the last minute. Those that saw her performance at Ukefest (a celebration of all things ukulele) last year knows what it means to miss this rising star. Though with five other stages to explore there was little time to sulk.

The Mandigans quickly filled the void, successfully jerking through a tight but predictable set of The Maccabees / Foals-type material. Intricately competent and with a flair for commercial hooks they finish with a breathless, close-if-it-wasn’t cover of The Mystery Jets’ “Two Doors Down”.

With barely time for a new pint, next on the same stage are New Street Adventure . Sadly, their unremarkable indie-rock, replete with funky bass grooves fails to capture the attention. This is perhaps explained by the curious feeling of listening to covers of The Jam as fronted by George Michael.

Optional Wallace

The performance that local regulars Optional Wallace turn is a beefy one this evening. Supporting their politicised rock with aggressive guitar, militaristic drumming and loose, low bass, they let the music do the talking, each member showcasing their individual talents in turn. The noise they emit fills every inch of the vaulted space with concentrated riffs, shifting rhythms and crashing choruses leaving more than one crowd member mumbling “Placebo” and “early-Manics” in quick succession. “Nobody listens, nobody cares” they emote in exasperation. Those present are not inclined to agree.





Comprising of Keith and Autokat members, Plank! attack their lengthy instrumentals next, and like students of Oceansize their intricate soundscapes are built around driving bass, drum peels and a few krautrock-ish synth loops and pulses. They hit hard, but miss a vocal in order to take their sound into overtly viable waters.

Like Vivian Girls and Brilliant Colors before them, PENS are a lo-fi all-girl three piece, but have in the past had to endure severe criticism for supposedly being unable to play. There is an art to making effortlessness look cool though and tonight these girls almost have it nailed, even down to the immaculately and no-doubt styled laddered tights. Their three chords are fed through perfectly functioning equipment, but the noise that comes out is impressively fucked, so much so to deservedly win them the audience here.


Their minimal garage-pop pleases with traces of girl group harmonies and a suggestion of C86 appreciation. The fast and infectious tempos crash and it all duly sounds like its taking place next door. The vocal flits in and out of something resembling tune and is smothered in distortion. It’s a pity the haters got to PENS first because essentially they’re an even-lower budget Dum Dum Girls and their upcoming Manchester show at Sound Control is selling tellingly fast.

Nevertheless, and perhaps to prove their ability, the girls enjoy a game of musical chairs mid-set, and to the gentle waft of frying onions from downstairs, the drummer becomes the bassist, the bassist the guitarist and so on. PENS ultimately may have little to work with but tonight they work it well.


Former Bullies

It would seem that musical chairs is a popular sport tonight as Former Bullies are next in on the act. Bedecked in Blues Brothers shades, this two-piece open with Phil Spector’s drum patterns and quickly devolve into an agreeable lo-fi slacker set. It’s a bit of a shambles, they know it, we know it, but that kind of makes it fun. Their loose rhythms are satisfyingly echo-y with toe-tapping results and the pair switch stick and string duty half way through. This aside, it’s perhaps all a little one-dimensional but flat sonics are clearly the goal and they score accordingly.

Dutch Uncles bring a little professionalism to proceedings on the main stage a little while later. Their well-rehearsed togetherness oozes charismatic direction amid a sea of tight jiving denim. Blending juggernaut riffs with an insatiable groove, their front-man contorts like a malfunctioning robot. They attack from both indie-rock and dance angles simultaneously, creating a hybrid not unlike the much celebrated and now dusty punk-funk movement.
Dutch Uncles

Brimming with confidence, Dutch Uncles to a man skittle around the stage lost in their own jitter, synth on top of drums on top of bass. With these varied rhythms and tempos, as well as the night’s second biggest crowd behind local favourites The Answering Machine , they seem the most likely prospect on offer of “doing a Delphic” anytime in the future.


Indie-pop’s very much alive these days and it seems like the best dressed band of the night exlovers are keen to be its dour standard bearers. In line with the quiet jangle of Belle & Sebastien and Veronica Falls, they also notch up a curiously creepy cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and switch away from type and into a furious Metric-gone-rock outfit for their strong finale.





Young British Artists

Much-touted local indie-rockers Young British Artists return the evening’s focus to the second stage and command a larger crowd than their last Manchester gig, which unfortunately for them coincided with the second leg of the recent derby game. Opening with an impressive level of feedback and backing it up with du jour fuzz washes, YBA instantly tick a lot of boxes. Employing a Stokes-style vocal lethargy only strengthens their case. Surging melodies get mired in spine-tingling lo-fi aesthetics. Explosive at times and meandering elsewhere, they may well find a very profitable balance in the future if allowed the time to develop.

The final port of call proves the evening’s most profitable however. This reviewer’s only sojourn into the second venue is instantly rewarded. A palpably excited crowd gather in the smallest room Friends Of Manchester has at its disposal.

The Witches

Have you heard these guys before? I’d stand back.

Ignoring the warning, Manchester’s true best kept secret take to the stage. They’re aptly back-dropped by a hellish fire-and-brimstone painting from the university’s art department. The plague of professional photographers everywhere else present are now nowhere to be seen and The Witches rip it up from the first second.

Their brand of hardcore, psychedelic garage-rock sludges out of the speaker stacks quickly and aggressively. It’s a mixture of out of tune riffs and mind-baffling druggy feedback that crystallise into thrusting rockers. It’s disorientating and wild and it deservedly earns them the biggest cheer of the night.

The Witches

Some tale-enders close the evening on each stage to inevitably varied success, playing to increasingly dwindling audiences as the revellers drift into the night searching out dancefloors and deep-fried satisfaction.

The wise amongst them leave part-deafened to face the dead no doubt awoken by the might of The Witches’ racket, and awoken in them in turn is likely a resurgent belief in Manchester’s return to the musical fore. The halcyon days may arguably still be behind the city, but its friends are very much putting its back on its feet.




Listen to Kathryn Edwards

Listen to The Mandigans

Listen to New Street Adventure

Listen to Optional Wallace

Listen to Plank!

Listen to PENS

PENS – Album Review

Listen to Former Bullies

Listen to Dutch Uncles

Listen to The Answering Machine

Listen to exlovers

Listen to Young British Artists