Friday, 23 November 2012

A Carefully Planned Festival #2

Just as we started lamenting the onset of bitter winds that herald the beginning of Winter, and dreaming back to the heady days of Summer festivals, up springs the second coming of the glorious Carefully Planned Festival in Manchester’s Northern Quarter to chase away those blues…
Offering ludicrous value for money (over 100 acts for £10?!) and the chance to catch some of the best of the UK’s rising talent, whilst soaking in the atmosphere of the hipster capital of the North West, this was to be one of the best weekends in recent memory.


Upon stepping into the Soup Kitchen on Saturday afternoon we are greeted by what would turn out to be one of the weekend’s most conspicuous characters, a hippy Gandalf-alike, proclaiming ‘THIS IS THE PLACE TO BE ON LSD!’. And it really was hard to disagree with him as we were treated to the instrumental workouts of PLANK! and Day for Airstrikes, who provided all the psychadelia we needed without the substances. The former prove a tour de force of prog experimentalism, theirBattles meets Yes by way of Garth Marenghi bombast helps clearly explain the roomful of people gathered by 4 O’Clock. Their cohorts showcase a more conventional post-rock sound, albeit executed with a great amount of shimmer, spine tingle and crush in equal measure.
Next up is the emo-tinged math of Arcs and Trauma, who are frighteningly talented for their age. Their set drags a little in parts, and they clearly still seek a definitive sound, but show a huge amount of promise. We can certainly expect to hear a lot more from them in future, having recently had a turnaround on their decision to make this their final performance, and it will be interesting to see how they mature. You never know, they could grow into a band of Quadrilles’ calibre, next to be checked out over at the delightfully minimal Kraak Gallery. Their performance is well-honed, and their brand ofKinsella twinkles meets British quirks wins hearts.
As a break from all things post-/math-, we took a little time out with the twee indie-pop of Just Handshakes (We’re British). They prove a charmingly incongruous warm-up for the all-conquering force of Brontide, whose performance tonight is earth-shattering. Oftentimes monolithically heavy, otherwise beautifully serene, and always razor-sharp – it’s inconceivable that this band could put a foot wrong, such is their ice-cool self-assurance. Faces are melted, expletives are bellowed in disbelieving approval at their unbridled musicality.
Probably a few too many beers consumed by the time &U&I take to the stage over at Gullivers, but what through the haze, these are the memories: a) they broke the bass drum skin and b) they were pretty good regardless (or at least seemed that way, I’m told I had a big smile throughout). By now though, it’s time to rest up for another day of awesomeness and so we set off for the night bus, both satisfied and eagerly expectant.


The hangover was thankfully appeased by the most appropriate start to the day, lounging in Nexus Art CafĂ© with a coffee, some homemade carrot cake, and barbershop quartet These Men, with their sweet harmonies and quaint ditties on topics including Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of Man City.
From no instruments, to the finest of instrumentalists – next up was This Town Needs Guns over at 2022NQ. Brought in almost immediately upon Stuart Smith’s departure, there’s not a hint of any setback with the arrival of Henry Tremain, who may well be the most polite man in music. In fact – whisper it – their new material sounds even better than their best material from Animals when played side by side this afternoon. Future release ‘I’ll Take the Minute Snake’ proves a set highlight, pointing towards a third full-length that combines the technical prowess of their second with the thrilling passion of their debut.
A rather different spectacle is that of multi-instrumentalist Juffage, who brings his chaotic, mad scientist approach music to Soup Kitchen.  The Leeds-based Chicagoan has no need for a band, playing each instrument himself as if following recipes to gradually build lush looping soundscapes. The beauty of his live show rests on a seemingly natural spontaneity, yet everything is executed with aplomb. His set may well have been the most ‘far out’ of the weekend, were he not followed by Ex-Easter Island Head over at Kraak. They tellingly introduce their set as a ‘piece of music’ before launching into half an hour of the least conventional ‘guitar playing’ ever conceived of – using magnets and beaters to tease out their brand of avant-garde drone. Not once is a string plucked or strummed. Bizarre, but hypnotically enthralling.
By contrast, they make Dad Rocks! look somewhat normal, which is quite the feat. After all, this is the guy who openly writes of ‘not feeling fit to be raising a kid who gets to suck on all the tits’ (‘Pants’). His set is undeniably engaging however, feeling truly fleshed out and fully formed with a 4 piece backing band.  Not even the rather noisier band practicing upstairs, nor all-round bouts of man-flu, could put them off their stride.
Shapes, over at Gullivers, are a little disappointing this evening. Their set worryingly drags on despite the festival length, suffering from the material all being a little too similar. However, they do throw themselves into the performance as ever, and the oppressive heat and volume admittedly does them no favours. On the other hand though, Glaswegians We Are The Physics are an absolute riot – their anarchic party punk on subjects such as 2001 Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic provides one of the most fun spectacles of the weekend. Just as with Brontide the previous evening, the dissimilarity between The Physics and tonight’s Soup Kitchen headliners, Tall Ships, somehow lends to our enjoyment of both bands. By the set’s end the crowd are whipped into a frenzy as frontman Michael M hands bass duties to a punter, allowing him to have his own slice of the party down at the front.
And so, we come to the end of the weekend, and a certain Falmouth-formed 3-piece are the perfect bang to go out on. There is a true celebratory feel to Tall Ships’ set this evening, this being one of two festival appearances in support of Everything Touching’s release and you can feel the love in the room from both the crowd and their various Big Scary Monsters comrades, who are seen exchanging hugs with the band mid-set. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that ‘Chemistry’ is a little sloppy, the band seem sincerely chuffed at the reaction they receive, and the set is otherwise flawless, from rousing opener ‘T=0’, through to the mass singalong at the end of ‘Vessels’, and finally to sublime album closer ‘Murmurations’. The sense as we spill into the bitter night is that this may well be one of the last times we get to see this band in a room so small – and that makes it truly special.
So, with plenty of MM favourites, some fantastic new discoveries, and genuinely warm vibes all round,  this was the mother of all DIY parties.  Props to the organisers, who very carefully planned, and more importantly, very successfully pulled everything off. In short, this was probably the best tenner we ever spent. And we can’t wait to do it all again the next time around.

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