LIVE REVIEW: Neighbourhood Festival 2017

Neighbourhood Festival returned this October for its second extravaganza of musical assortment. Seeing in performances from big names like Peace, The View, and Rat Boy – and also lending a leg up to a new wave of exciting artistry, with acts including IDER, Indoor Pets, and Yonaka all making their own first impressions. The event ran without needless queues for the most part, allowing a mass of festival goers to swarm freely across Manchester’s outer corners (even if the rain-soaked pilgrimage made this a difficult task).

Reviews by Jay Plent (JP) and Charlotte Holroyd (CH).

The Howl & the Hum plays an early set in Deaf Institute – we must note here that the room is surprisingly crowded for such a time, the fact didn’t go unnoticed by the band as a sure vote of confidence, “Hello so many of you.” TH&TH makes good work of their time, translating their darkly mesmeric indie into a living, breathing entity of great compassion and feeling. Noticeable nods to the National can be made, but we’ll never grumble about that, it’s a style that is evidently resonant and we think TH&TH persevere and produce a sound true to their own volition. ‘The Only Other Living Creature in the Desert’ compels a Josh Homme howl against indie rock quirks. Calling a bellowing rasp of guttural release, their frontman simmers intensity to piercing belts of middle voice. An affecting performance from a band highly tipped for the majors. CH

Bringing a spiky rage to Neighbourhood Festival, Witch Fever came across as a band not accustomed to caring about the opinions of their critics: they were certainly vocal about the negative press a recent video of theirs received. As such, it would be pointless to defame their efforts on the basis of taste, as irrespective of whether you like their blend of heavy metal and punk or not, they’d carry on regardless, and good on them for that, honestly. Witch Fever offer a loud, entertaining show for fans of Savages, Pussy Riot and Metallica, and their set at Neighbourhood was no different. There were screams and howls and treacle-thick guitar tones, and plenty of audience participation, especially when their lead singer lowered herself into the crowd to let out a frenzied scream into her microphone in the middle of them. Though their performance was certainly intense, the friendliness of their demeanour in between songs was a surprise, and a jarring one at that, rather breaking the illusion of a furious, empowered punk group, and it made the band’s persona feel contrived. However, they have to be commended for their sharp musicality, energetic show and commitment to the craft. JP

Following the Howl and the Hum were Caro, a favourite at BSS, a band that never disappoints with their eager musicianship. Skittering time signatures assure plenty of ambiguity but placed side-by-side with pop hooks and elegant songwriting, the band has a leading arsenal. For a set which the band “nearly didn’t make,” due to bassist Andrew dislocating his shoulder in a skateboarding accident, they managed to pull through an excellent thirty minutes, with the brilliantly rehearsed Hugo filling in on bass. ‘Cold Comfort’ still remains one of the main draws, and combined with set closer ‘Eyes on the Ground,’ it’s an unbeatable takeaway. I think a more driving ebb directed towards the middle of the set would’ve helped the band heaps, in regards to continued engagement but nonetheless, good on Caro for pulling through at the last minute. CH

Three-piece bands of all eras fall into one of two categories: those who play to their strengths, and those who do not. Do you play up to the restrictions of a three-piece arrangement, or ignore them in search of something grander? Well it’s sort of an irrelevant argument, because The Orielles kind of do both. In the pillared basement of Sound Control, they really came out winning, wowing the crowd with tightly-written indie tunes that varied in pace and technicality, but also seemed to expand beyond the music beyond the limitations of its type. Swirling, delay-soaked guitar leads mingled wonderfully with thudding bass and drums, keeping a tight groove going whilst also delving into a rich pool of psychedelic swagger. The band had control, TOTAL control of their audience’s hearts, every stab of rhythm (particularly in the final song) a perfect balance of anticipation and reaction. And they felt authentic too, they didn’t feel like a band unaware of their strengths, but they had a modesty to them that was endearing without seeming false, another tricky tightrope to walk. A warming and entertaining performance, with plenty of flavour for anyone, of any taste, to enjoy. JP

Amsterdam’s Pip Blom offers a kindly change of pace with their scrappy garage pop and punk mentality. Shared vocals and blissful melodics allows for the thirty minutes to fly by; songs including ‘I Think I’m in Love’ and ‘Babies Are A Lie’ throw tantalising shapes into a performance of smartly prowess. Hints towards the Breeders and Dinosaur Jr. can be found throughout. CH

Of the bands that were unknown to me prior to Neighbourhood Festival, Estrons were the biggest and most welcome surprise. In a packed room, hot, sweaty and full of enthusiasm, Estrons stood above them, both physically, and in my mind, metaphorically, above a lot of other mid-tier alternative groups. They were a phenomenal live band full of great performers, with songs ranging from the angular truisms of ‘Make A Man’ to the all out hurricane of ‘Glasgow Kisses’ and ‘Drop’, they were jaw-droppingly entertaining. As a guitarist myself, I have to give particular props to the tone of the guitar instrumentals: sharp, clean yet aggressive – a rare treat for a live show these days. If it’s comparison you want, think Paramore with depth, think Modest Mouse merged with Chaos Chaos and The Strokes. Every member of Estrons was fiery and captivating. All their songs were accomplished and brilliantly executed. A band that you need in your life. I certainly do. JP

In Sound Control’s upstairs room, October Drift plays to a moderately packed crowd. Urging a less challenging listen, the band steers through the hits (‘Don’t Give Me Hope,’ ‘Cherry Red,’ ‘Robots’) and makes sure work of their fuzz-fuelled carnage. Making full use of their stage time and space on-stage, the band prowl across each song, and take to the barrier when the time comes for a more intimate connection to be made. October Drift always delivers a stunning show, and the Neighbourhood debut proved no exception. CH

A new addition to the Neighbourhood venue roster comes this year in Oxford Road’s Refuge, a space that is as opulent as the building in which it resides. Inside we find Nathan Ball and his band for their first Manchester show (ever), it’s astonishingly busy but equally understandable considering the mass appeal of the music. Ball’s feel-good indie pop hides much deeper lyrical depth than you might first like to think, tuned to languid reverby guitars and driving stabs of drum, it’s an easy listen too. Resting in the realms of the Jamie Lawson’s and Dan Croll’s, Nathan Ball does his best to differentiate, the breakaway full band jams are the real bread and butter. It’s what takes Nathan Ball from just your average singer/songwriter fair, to an elevated platform. Gelling poetic intensity with real live chops – maybe this is one of the reasons why the crowd seem to dote on his every word. CH

IDLES undoubtedly felt celebration was in order. And for a political band in troubled times, any cause for celebration is worth exploring. In this case, the bassist’s birthday was cause for one guitarist to play in mere undies. Bold. Anyway, regardless of the amount of midriff on display, IDLES also laid bare their political motivations, slamming out punk banger after punk banger, each one seemingly in response to the NHS, the Government, Poverty or any other issue of the day. They even got snarky at an audience member for booing at the mention of Germany: “Come on it’s not the ’30s”. Subtlety was off the table, clearly, but it wasn’t needed; having subtlety at an IDLES show would be like trying to eat soup with chopsticks. They howled, they leapt about on stage, they were defiant, sharp, and damned good fun. Nothing quite beats a bit of punk fury to quell a troubled soul, and they clearly had a fucking good time proving that point. JP

Off the back of their critically acclaimed debut album, FLYTE brought their unique brand of restrained bravado to the ’70s décor of Deaf Institute’s music hall, which fit rather well with their Beatles-y swooning. When it comes to live shows, FLYTE are in a class of their own. How many bands can you think of that would get away with a 3-minute Acappella track in the middle of a set, and have it received with thunderous applause? FLYTE pull it off because they’re sensationally talented, have fantastic songs, and have voices as rich as Donald Trump bathing in melted Lindt chocolate. ‘Victoria Falls’ opened up the show, a perfect beginning with its blend of choral vocals and edgy guitar lines. Fan favourite ‘Cathy Come Home’ was a delightful sing-a-long, and the synth swells of ‘Echoes’ was, as always, a delight. Flyte have very little to prove until they inevitably drop album two, and right now they’re lapping up every drop of their well deserved success. JP

Billie Marten plays Gorilla as an unusual pit-stop off in Manchester between tour dates, playing songs off her well-received (and most impressive) debut album ‘Writing of Blues and Yellows’. The singer looks lonely up on the large stage but proves performing comes naturally. Marten provides a mellow calm, one that is to be savoured and enjoyed – although this proves to be a difficult rule in action at a festival which primarily champions the heavier plugged-in side of performance. Nonetheless, Marten handles any hurdles like a pro, and she isn’t dealt the smoothest card (with friction congregating from one impatient heckler and a heavy dose of mic feedback shaking the room). ‘Heavy Weather’ is the piece-de-resistance, groaning guitar creeks misty melody over delays of vocal inflection. Also airing a coolly assured glimpse of new material, Marten cleverly leaves us to wait once more, in bated breath, until the next time. CH

Walking into Underdog already feels like a party when Fling is on the other side of the door. The Bradford band are in full swing when we get there; for a set that showcases tracks like ‘Just a Dog’ and ‘Lookin’ Outta My Window,’ it’s fair to say that the band has its quirks and a proud sense of originality. Infusing rustic charm to tropes of indie rock, and sleaze akin to that associated with Fat White Family, Fling do tantalise a provocative sound. The performance is full of bombast also, with their frontman owning a flamboyance that can only match the wacky elegance of Mick Jagger himself (alongside a hint of ramshackle cheekiness a la Bruce Forsyth). Proving to be one of the best live shows of the day, it was a gig worthy of being housed in a larger venue. CH

From stage dives to fights, Strange Bones’ set was chaotic to say the least. The band seemed to have taken inspiration in their stage attire from A Clockwork Orange, which may explain the ultra-violence of their stonking set. Bodies, be they the crowd or the band themselves, surfed and hurtled all across the place, and the music was just as wild and exciting. Did you want slow, thoughtful ballads? Tough, Strange Bones brought massive riffs and mosh pits instead, and did the punk tradition proud. JP

Sound Control continues throughout the day to be a melting pot for young bands – which is only typified by the appearance of London-based whenyoung. A neat three-piece that mixes ethereal vocals and pop precision, with shimmering guitars and ‘90s-calling fuzz reminiscent of Elastica. They draw a fair crowd and continue to captivate with tracks like ‘Actor’ and ‘See How They Run,’ the men of the group dress in custom red and blue boilersuits, while singer/bassist Aoife Power brings some class in a fitted red pant suit. For the most part it’s fast paced and energetic – a great treat for anyone looking for a new band to fall deeply into. CH

In Revolution on Oxford Road, Joel Baker shares a bunch of his most soulful tunes and intimate writings to a meagre crowd (this might have been different had it not been for the number of significant clashes that plagued the same stage time). With conversational lyrics and plenty of on/off stage banter, the set is nothing but enjoyable. Baker has an irresistible candour and bags of charisma, which can only be taken in an endearing way – his natural stage presence reflects his passion, and ultimately is a sign of his professionalism. All the songs are written from a personal place; some are sad, some are happy. Particular note should be taken of ‘Further Than Feelings,’ for its a song which has travelled his career, in addition the tracks aired from his recent ‘Bag of Dreams’ mixtape are equally profound. CH

HMLTD bring in the muso crowd and a brigade of peer love (we spot INHEAVEN, Black Honey, whenyoung, and local venue owner Jimmy Craig in the audience). HMLTD are like no other on the billing and as crucial to that fact, the music they cultivate is often just as polarising. Many come and go within the first ten minutes of play but all who stay are in it for the long haul. ‘To the Door’ remains the standout; charging in on oddball twangs and fortified by a delicious unpredictability, HMLTD gift Tarantino the space age. CH

Thank you Neighbourhood Festival, we look forward to seeing you again next year.

For more information on Neighbourhood Festival, head to their Website.

Featured Photo (Peace): Priti Shikotra
All live photos (excluding Billie Marten) credited to: Priti Shikotra
Billie Marten: Charlotte Holroyd
Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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