2018’s edition of Off The Record underlined the festival’s fast-growing reputation as a key catalyst for spreading the awareness of and celebrating new music, with the conference taking place throughout the day on Friday 16th November and artists performing way into the night.
The format features acts selected by national curators (with 2018’s edition including Everything Everything, Rob Da Bank, Huw Stephens and The Orielles), yet presented in an intimate festival format – adding to the sense of excitement that this is the chance to see potentially big-name artists of the future whilst their talent is still at its freshest. It certainly seems a recipe for success, as OTR sold out for a third year in a year row, with more artists, panellists and locations than ever before.
After all, not only does OTR provide a platform for a variety of artists, but upholds the importance of independent venues – with the gigs taking place across eight Northern Quarter locations including Night & Day Café, Jimmy’s and Band on the Wall. That the tucked-away AATMA and The Peer Hat were also used this year is worth mentioning; as two hard-working, personable venues with a real DIY ethos certainly worth upholding.
Thought-provoking panels and workshops during the Friday daytime already set the tone for 2018’s festival as particularly aspirational, forward-thinking and innovative. These included ‘Northern Revival’ – discussing the continuing success of emerging acts in the North of England, moderated by Dave Haslam and featuring the speakers Sally Dunstone (XRay Touring), Emma Zillmann (From the Fields) and Chris Hawkins (6Music). ‘DIY vs Indie vs Major’ was another highlight, focusing in one some of the industry’s big tensions, chaired by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike and including the guests Julie Weir (Sony Music), Cath Hurley (Modern Sky UK), Mark Orr (LAB Records) and Tony Ereira (CPWM/Hatch Records).
So what were the highlights? With acts starting from 6.30pm onwards, there certainly was plenty to see and an eclectic evening in store. Babe Punch at The Peer Hat made a strong opening impression, with a gritty pop-punk edge, rapid-fire drumbeats and bold energised intensity to their sound, unafraid to challenge social tensions and turbulence, as their song ‘Control’ suggests.
Then it was from The Peer Hat to The Castle, which welcomed an early evening set from hotly-tipped Thyla – a Brighton based four-piece delivering deft dream pop with a majestic momentum. This included long-crafted tracks turned up to the max, thanks to assured vocals and rich, rolling instrumentation which built a whole listening experience within the room: probably one of the last chances audiences will have to see this band in such an intimate venue. Having already shared bills with the likes of Slaves and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, it seems that Thyla is going from strength to strength.
The Night & Day Café was the next venue visited, and probably the busiest of the evening. Rock ‘n’ roll revellers Avalanche Party began just after 8.30pm, bringing a different dynamic compared to the pop-influences experienced earlier in the evening – instead serving up a heavy, guitar-gutsy sound seething with garage influences and even erring on the edge of the metallic. The band bristled and swayed through a series of sonically seething tracks, turning up the intensity with resonant riffs and plunging bass, the build of noise seeming to push lead vocalist Jordan Ray forwards in a half-stripped, dripping drive of energy. Both sound and staging which makes an impression.
An inherent difficulty of placing an evening of diverse live music across eight venues however, is that attendees may not manage to see all the acts they would like to – or find themselves leaving sets early, which did lead to a disjointed feel at some of the gigs. On the other hand, this did capture the adventurous ethos of the event, emphasizing that new music is all about discovery, difference and delving out of our comfort zone.
A venue I had particularly high expectations of was Band On The Wall, with the acts there curated by Everything Everything. Although it seemed relatively quiet, I heard positive things from people about the previous performance from MDP, and managed to catch a section from SPQR – brilliantly eccentric art-rock, the wackiness wielded well through crunchy guitars and energetic vocal volleys.
Next on the bill were vwls, a duo I originally spoke to here – and proving their existence, despite speculation in the previous interview that they may not exist at all. As was the case when I first saw them live (at The Peer Hat, in an evening presented by Tilted Fiction Promotions and AnalogueTrash), I remain intrigued as to how two people create such a profound, multi-layered and crucially interesting sound with such synchronicity on stage: playing it all themselves.
They opened on ‘cITRON’, alluring washes of accumulating instrumentation topped with the warm fuzz of a guttural vocal… all before plunging drums and gripping guitar drive in, taking the audience on a type of exploratory journey through sound, as well as a dynamic stage show where the duo jump between instruments. The obvious chemistry between the two was conducive to a rising energy within the room, the sort which had people swaying ever-closer to the stage – from standing to dancing, which is no mean feat. Even during a bit of technical turbulence in the vwls’ cover of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’, they both brought it back round with those rich resonant layers which let the experience roll back and forth for the listener like being immersed in a wave… continuing through till the finish. The kind of creativity which makes you smile.
It was this intensity, innovation and musical experimentation which underlined to me the importance of festivals like Off The Record – celebrating crucial new music and sharing with us the bands that will build our future.
Photo credit – conference insert: George Harrison
Featured image [Avalanche Party]: Nathan Whittaker
For more information on Off the Record, visit their Website.