What to say about this year’s round of Neighbourhood Festival? It was eclectic. The programming was focused on a few particular styles of music, yet the acts and what they brought in their live shows ranged from highly conceptualised spectacle, cathartic solitude, breathtaking precision, to beautifully collective uproar – as well as steadily providing entertaining displays of enthusiasm and enjoyment, the shows delivered something fresh and diverse every time.
While each artist is on a different trajectory and at a different stage in their respective career, the festival really brought home the feeling of vivacity: in that, it feels like we’re experiencing a pivotal moment in underground and emerging music, the level of creativity hitting the market is at peak, and audiences genuinely seem to be primed and receiving the output. This fluency in non-mainstream music might the reason why Neighbourhood was definitively buzzing like the Manchester bee; the amount of people lining the streets queuing for a peek inside the venues probably reached an all-time high, the amount of bodies perspiring in those rooms felt like a prospering landscape, and just the actuality that from start to finish the event was bustling with activity, all day long.
The following reviews, below, have been compiled and written by Charlotte Holroyd (CH) and Jay Plent (JP). There is some overlap in places, but every word and difference in perspective is just as important.
Starting off in Deaf Institute (which now seems routine), Squid were playing to an overly-subscribed crowd, as the doors burst open it’s a case of squeeze in and get comfortable. Audio only. The Brighton-formed band’s brand of expression is loose, dynamic, and frankly a little off-kilter. Just the way we like it. A huge success. Don’t delay, seek out a live show and have a boogie. (CH)
Similarly in Gorilla straight afterwards, Snapped Ankles afforded an equally unique (and rousing) performance – a sort of eco-camouflage punk electronica. Moving from there to Yes, I caught an early afternoon set from Drug Store Romeos (recent Fiction Records signees). Overall the trio does marvellous work of texturising their individual sounds and parts, the intention of the music seems to be about creating atmosphere and mood (I struggle to read it any other way), collectively it melds together more as sound collage: mellow, drone-like and imminently sensory. There’s a charm to this in its DIY approach yet it still leaves a little to the imagination. I stand by my choice to invest thirty minutes into this band, I believe in the knowledge that the music they’re making isn’t as straightforward as a clear-cut definition, it’s certainly experimental in nature and flavour – and that’s always something to commend. It’s easy to write off something that doesn’t sit well in your head, something that’s outside of your comfort zone, and especially when experiencing something for the first time these thoughts do enter the brain but considering the excellence of their recorded output, I certainly veer towards fear of the unknown with this one. Ultimately the festival environment is built on the attitude that we go out into the unknown and experience something new, so thank you Drug Store Romeos for allowing that ‘something new’ to be your music. (CH)
Lauran Hibberd‘s live set comes across just as you’d expect (knowing the music first, that is): direct, on-the-nose, and gleeful. The distortion pedal gets a lot of use, making best practise of their given venue’s sunken, subterranean environment – Night People can (almost) be forgiven for its restricted stage views because the acoustics in there are perfect for hosting rock shows. Hibberd and her band play effortlessly, scrolling through numerous catchy renditions of recent hits including ‘Hoochie’ and ‘Frankie’s Girlfriend’ – the latter receives a unanimous woop from the crowd, eager at the prospect. The banter is on top form, Hibberd isn’t filtered, her mantra to seems to be ‘stream-of-consciousness unload at all costs’: “It’s hot up here. They say if you don’t sweat through your face, there’s only one way it comes out.” Knowing that, everyone in the room is able to feel as close to intimate as can be constructed in a cluster of strangers. “There’s more people here than I’ve played to this whole week,” she comments before beckoning her tour photographer on stage to take a photo as “proof” for her Mum and Dad (who’ve been financing the whole thing). The vibe is generous all round; Hibberd is happy to share, the music does its talking too, and the audience is given equal participation rights. Easy going fun, no take backs. (CH)
Locals Blanketman bring with them a touch of Manchester’s musical past and present, encapsulating post-punk and classic indie to an invigorating degree of rhythmic precision. Long-limbed theatrics abound a cacophony of tambourine, guitar, bass, keys and drums. The band is very synchronized and tight, while the vocals aren’t pretty or very distinguished it’s the type of music where we don’t care: feeling, emotion and purpose is what drives this music and a pretty vocal won’t change that. Their frontman delivers the fire of Ian Curtis, an intensity consumes his upper body movement which outstretches to his fingers, a figure of fast strumming. It’s a picture of a band playing live and in the room; making noise, having a blast, delivering their message. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best kind. (CH)
In a venue above a bar on Oxford Road, Sinead O Brien (recent Chess Club Records signee) makes her debut band performance in Manchester. Having played in the city previously but only in a solo capacity, this slot provided the perfect opportunity to witness up close the breadth of the poet/artist’s repertoire and visceral appeal. By far the most engaging performance of the day, O Brien’s ability to cast a spell with words goes way beyond the door of simple eloquence, her voice steers a brilliance of intellectualisms and existential questioning. It’s impossible to catch your breath when each track fills your lungs with sparks. The accompanying musical brigade of drummer and guitarist catch every direction to pass from O Brien’s hand or subtle eye motions, while the show is clearly well rehearsed it still manages to capture the flux of electricity – a kind of ‘in the moment’ synergy that only live can assimilate. Every moment is glorious and thrilling, visit her music on Spotify for a crash course in what makes this artist so unmissable. (CH)
Back to Yes, where Liz Lawrence has erected a laptop station and a small army of pedals to help bring her one-person show into dazzling reality. The songs sound just as vibrant as they do on record, capturing the millennial viewpoint in full 360 power pop splendor. Lawrence has a new album on the way later this month and many of those tracks were given an airing in this set; ‘USP’ is edgy, ‘Navigator’ is glossy, and ‘None of My Friends’ is the masterpiece. “I’m gonna be a billion things at once,” she sings in a chorus – and it certainly feels like a mantra Lawrence is living by. The amount of labour that goes into making the set run seamlessly keeps Lawrence busy throughout, but looking at the beaming smile plastered on her face while she dances around you get the feeling that she wouldn’t have it any other way. And it works. The crowd is pepped up too, attentive when they should be and supportive when the time is right. Lawrence has built up a repertoire and esteem through her various collaborations over the years, now in 2019, it feels like this is her time to shine. With a voice you can’t deny, we definitely think so. (CH)
In a poorly attended slot in Refuge, DWY goes straight for the heartstrings and vibe-strings. The artist is placed in a vulnerable space, not just because he stands centre stage, alone, but the songs inherently carry their own honest transparency and act as an exposing dialogue between his brain and ours. What is certain, DWY owns the stage – sometimes in a big way, sometimes in an introverted way, but no matter how, his voice carries every sentiment and every beat, harmonising with his own vocals and winning every moment. It’s also refreshing to hear a different sound palette; his music is beautiful, there’s no posturing or persona, just soul, feels and groove. We’ll remember this set in our minds as an exclusive concert for the few of us present. Thank you DWY, we appreciate you. (CH)
The inciting incident of Neighbourhood 2019 occurred in the packed space of Deaf Institute’s ever flock-wallpapered music hall. The cause: Squid, a Foals-y scattering of groovy beats and yelped vocals, backed by an ever-shifting backdrop of instruments. Unrestricted by traditional verse/chorus/verse structures, Squid put out a somewhat odd energy, at times seeming like a traditional post punk band, at others more akin to late ‘80s prog.
The aggression of the band hit its peak, oddly enough, during a drummer-less number. The drummer and lead singer stalked the stage like an angry beast, barking vocals and occasionally whacking a cymbal behind him. ‘So I can’t dance?’ he growls, and though the audience seem a little uneasy, they’re nonetheless on the edge of their seats (both figuratively and literally, since Deaf Institute has a sloped seated section at the back). Squid were far from predictable, and a fiery start to the day, albeit a little too disjointed in places to have songs with more than a fleeting impact. (JP)
Going into an artist like Snapped Ankles blind may seem, to those initiated with their brand of tribal forest-punk, like a naive mistake. A random bloke had drunkenly ranted at me about the band in a pub once, and that was really all I had to go on. But perhaps blind luck and drunken advice was the best thing to go on when seeing them, because nothing else could’ve better prepared me for the baffling display I saw.
First off, there are thick branches of wood attached to mic stands everywhere. Set decoration? Custom mic stands? Bullshit nonsense? I didn’t know, but I soon found out. Stalking out from backstage to a round of applause, the lumbering figures of the band emerged. More fur than man (or woman), these Where The Wild Things Are-esque creatures immediately set about confounding my expectations. The branches, as it turned out, were not props but instruments. Not dissimilar to a theremin, they emitted pitched squawking noises on being hit, and this, backed with tribal drums and thick greasy stinking basslines, made for quite the sonic cocktail.
And, like any good stage production with costume design, interactive sets, and an audience to entertain, the Snapped Ankles pantomime lurched on. One of the branches took a trip to the upper mezzanine of Gorilla to be hit occasionally by a bemused looking lady who, like me, didn’t seem to know what she’d gotten herself into (maybe that’s an unfair assumption, we don’t know what the elder generation like these days any more than they know what the kids are into). The wookie-looking band continued to play, with the vocalist’s rants about the forest, that were unfortunately barely audible, being the only guiding element through this bizarre spectacle. Some people dug it, moshing to the pure audacity of it all. Some people were lost, a perpetually confused expression on their faces. If the purpose of the set was to shock, it sort of did. If the purpose was to entertain, again, largely, it sort of did. In summation, the show was ambitious and bombastic, but let down by poor sound quality and an unclear objective. (JP)
Having infiltrated Manchester from Brighton in a van that was reliably assured to be a quarantine zone of throat infections and general illness, Orchards made short work of any concern for their welfare with a blistering, fun filled set. Giving off a chill ‘we’re that band your mate’s in’ vibe, Orchards’ sound called to mind Paramore crossed with Battles, if the former provided the songs and the latter the guitar tone.
Direct and unambiguous, their set put out not just danceable hits in the making, but convincing tension and musicality. The friendly, off the cuff tone of their lead vocalist made for an easy watch, and made her infiltrations into the crowd charming, if a little predictable. Night People served them well as a venue, with room to breathe and be seen, and there was a lot to see. The set had bags of personality, with tunes like ‘Peggy’ making for formidable dance-bait, and little sign of the illness cramping Orchards’ style. An easy going and fun band to see, and one who stood out as one of the most instantaneously likable of the day. (JP)
Far Caspian appeared fourth in my list of bands for the day, much like the book Prince Caspian of which they share a name (as in chronologically, don’t come at me with your hot takes on what order The Chronicles of Narnia should be read, the answer is chronologically, turn your caps lock off). A sophisticated feeling band, they suited The Refuge, a building tucked under the bowels of Manchester’s Principal hotel.
Glossy and refined, the songs gave off a feeling reminiscent of The War On Drugs and Morning Phase-era Beck, with a little Tame Impala thrown in for good measure. The guitars, soaked in chorus, sounded very smooth, as chorus-soaked guitars always do, and the peppy high synths melded with groove-centric drums made for a pleasing blend. At times dreamy, at other times a little same-y and unengaging, but generally Far Caspian made a good case for your attention. By no means a bad performance, but perhaps a little hampered by the lacking atmosphere of the venue. (JP)
What was intended to be a stop-gap between acts turned into a delightful discovery when Benee sauntered onstage, baggy clothes and New Zealand sass abound. Auckland, specifically, was where the band-backed solo artist had flown in from to grace us with their blend of sunny electropop. The music was a positive lift in the dark space, tracks like ‘Find An Island’ shining particularly brightly, especially due to the explanation by Benee that the title is a synonym for fuck off in Auckland. Though I can’t speak to the accuracy of that, it certainly lent a chuckle to the audience.
Sadly, they were met with technical strife, but they managed to overcome any lingering doubts once they broke out their slick material and, shock of all shocks in this modern age of soar-faced indie wankers, co-ordinated stage moves! Little hops in sync, the overpowering personality of Benee herself, and the tightness of the backing band, made for a charming and intriguing show that begged the question: what if everything had been working when they got onstage? They definitely left people wanting more. (JP)
The Bread Shed, like a Tardis, has a lot of space tucked away seemingly into nothing. And whilst many bands would struggle to stack this venue to the rafters, Heavy Lungs did it seemingly with ease. Utterly wild from the offset, their uncapped aggression sweating off them, the band were uncompromising and punk to the bones. They had a meatiness to their sound that any butcher or abattoir owner would be rightly jealous of.
Their new EP, Measure took centre stage, packing fire and fury into drums, bass and guitar. And, of course, vocals, the distributor of which was quickly lost in the thrashing mess of the provoked crowd. Not to be outdone, the drummer later made an excursion into the sea of faces too. Old tracks like ‘Stutter’ made a welcome, and highly applauded appearance, whilst newer cuts like ‘(A Bit of a) Birthday’ really pumped the nitrous into the crowd. Comparisons to New York legends LIARS came to mind, what with the blend of post punk and occasional electric sampling present in their sound. But Heavy Lungs bring a slant very much their own, all slack jawed howling and adolescent scrambling. They’re also up for a bit of banter, as I got into a bit of an Instagram repost war with them… (JP)
“The world exists, and so do I.” So chimed the sombre, yet hopeful voice of Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin, as the band, bathed in feverish orange light, cast a spell of wonder over YES’ dingy basement. What began as a desperate whisper ends in a triumphant shout, and that’s very much the mantra of the band’s music, sad at first, happy to the last. The music, in particular tracks like ‘Give/Take’ felt very personal, very intimate, and just a little unhinged.
Little throwaway details, like subtle count ins that start and resolve songs, and lines like “Don’t be a jerk” placed nonchalantly make for a detailed live experience. The feelings are familiar: wanting to be adored, wanting to be noticed, wanting to be respected, but they’re put across in this understated way that somehow manages to hit like a lightning rod of emotion, and it’s great. Porridge Radio feel like they’ve been the soundtrack to the world’s ills for a while, and yet they don’t sound weary, rather they sound composed and frenetic. They feel like they’ve been plucked from a warm summer memory and plonked onstage for your nostalgic fulfilment.
This energy continually ramped up as the show progressed, the drums increasingly violent, the backing vocals tumbling out like a thousand confessions made to close friends at 2am, three bottles of rum into the evening. Comparisons to Patti Smith and Kate Tempest, in the band’s wilder moments, were impossible to ignore, in the best way. Howling, shrieking, and then suddenly back down to earth, Porridge Radio were the biggest surprise of the festival, and should be watched with very, very great interest by all. Unassuming at first, but quickly captivating, Porridge Radio were one of the highlights of the day. (JP)
Young crooner Phil Madeley brought a short-notice set to Zombie Shack, managing to fill it out pretty convincingly. It was easy to see why; his old school rock ‘n’ roll vibe gelled well with the venue’s vibe. Acts like Palma Violets, Oasis and Jake Bugg were clear reference points for the stoner blues of Madeley, all of which was a welcome change of pace. With plenty of chunky riffs for all to enjoy, it was a strong set from an act starting out. (JP)
PINS; they certainly made an entrance. Looking fearsome in dazzling white attire, they marched out and launched into their first track with limited fanfare, but with plenty to prove. Their sound could be described as placid, crunching along confidently, Courtney Barnett-esque vocals mixed with clean-cut instrumentation.
But whilst the band looked the part, they did little to insight the enthusiasm of the audience. In part, they were let down by bad sound, with muddy buzzing mid-frequencies and not enough guitar or synths cutting through to make anything sound legible. But worse than that, their backing vocalists looked thoroughly unengaged, and though Faith Vern was trying to provoke a reaction, something about the show just wasn’t sharp enough to make an impact. (JP)
Few bands sound as party-ready as Red Rum Club. That being said though, YES’s Pink Room occupants were ready for a party. Those unfamiliar with the venue’s obvious but brilliant gimmick already pumped up by the simplicity of the idea (“OMG. No way, it’s actually pink. It’s all pink!” – genuine quote from someone who walked into the room ahead of me). But then the gang of Liverpudlians took to the stage and launched into a commanding set that took no prisoners and left no pint undrunk.
Blending peppy, early Arctic Monkeys song structures with spaghetti western horns is unprecedented, and its genius. It made Red Rum Club’s set explode instantly, like an adrenaline shot straight to the room’s heart. The band were electric. Not only was their frontman exuding all the necessary swagger for a band this bonkers, but the horn parts gave really big dramatic highs to the material, noticeable especially on their manifesto piece ‘Calexico’.
They were most certainly songs for dancing and jumping, but also not without some social commentary – “the TV said so” being a lyric that seemed oddly jarring amidst such debauchery-ready music. To add to all this, the band were tight as hell, full of great energy and catchy arrangements that made the end of their set feel all too soon. If Carlos Santana had a punk phase, it might’ve sounded a little something like this. A brilliant band with lots to offer punters. (JP)
Young, brash, and kicking some amount of ass, The Goa Express brought a different energy to the underbelly of Refuge. Their sound at times seemed driven by nostalgia for old rocker tunes, The Rolling Stones particularly from a vocal point of view. And yet at other times they seemed mellower, woozy even, drawing on noughties and ’90s influences, Britpop and so on. Regardless, the music, such as debut single ‘The Day,’ is very much three chord stomp tunes, lots of energy, disregard for authority, rinse and repeat.
Rather than just straight up rock and roll though, the band are trying to develop a sound of their own. The inclusion of synth lines and little hints of piano add a nice sprinkling of complexity, though they’d need to push it further to stand out. They impressed the audience though, and they could certainly impress much larger crowds with time. Potential abound for The Goa Express, ready to go anywhere they choose. (JP)
With Gorilla, as it was throughout the day, at bursting point for the most anticipated acts of the day, Sports Team sauntered out to the sure thing of a good show, and it was easy to see why. They kicked off instantly, not wasting time, no pomp or circumstance, letting the infectious energy of their performance speak for itself. A big band, the six of them crowded the stage and wowed the crowd.
There was a lot to love musically and visually, in particular the sedentary synth and tambourine player, standing motionless staring into nothing behind bargain bin service station sunglasses. What was he thinking? What was he seeing? We will never know. It worked well though, because he was like the totem pole that the band danced around, the audience their worthy human sacrifices.
The band reminded me of the frantic energy and wordy musings of Maximo Park. But there were plenty of other reference points, lots of Jagger-esque posing, sunny Circa Waves-esque guitar lines, and the reliability of a well-oiled, well-used engine. They also shared the tongue-in-cheek wryness of Bloc Party in their early days. All this to say that, whilst a mish mash of reference points did come to mind, at no point did it feel like Sports Team weren’t doing exactly what they planned. They barrelled through a breakneck set and left big smiles (and not a few moshpit-induced bruises) on everyone’s faces. (JP)
A band with a rare intensity, Just Mustard really impressed with their blend of misery rock. Sounding like a blend of Kasabian and Daughter mixed with some Hans Zimmer soundtrack work, the band built their tracks live with a tonne of subtlety and plenty of confidence. Initially, it was hard to make an estimate as to what they would sound like, as they began in such an unassuming way. However, it became quickly apparent that what Just Mustard lack in visual pizzazz, they make up for with formidable musical craftsmanship.
The music is tense, new sounding and very memorable. The tracks have a strong rhythmic backbone that really beefs up the angelic vocals. What stands out also, is the way they use guitars. Rather than merely chug along with power chords or knotty melodic lines, the guitars are used almost percussively, stacked with effects to give off spooky echoes and foreboding hits of sound. There are times when early Interpol is evoked, others when the intensity surpasses expectation or comparison. It becomes quickly apparent that everyone in the room is hooked, especially for the track ‘Frank’. With material this beautiful and performances this incendiary, Just Mustard have a fiery future on their hands. (JP)
Photo Credit (Featured image): Anthony Mooney
For more information on Neighbourhood Festival, head to their Website.