REVIEW: Alt-J, Money and No Ceremony/// play New Sounds Of The North

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This Friday in Manchester plenty of people have left the office and decided to begin their weekend by… well… heading back to the office. The city’s leading promoters, Now Wave, have curated a line-up of emerging northern talent to showcase on the first floor of a derelict office block.

 

 

With a bill topped by Leeds’ Alt-J and two elusive Mancunian acts preceding, – No Ceremony/// and Money – it’s clear they mean business.

Tonight feels like a secret gig that only the cognoscenti are privileged enough to know about. Quay House is on the outskirts of Spinningfields, a financial district, were it not for bouncers being incongruously stood outside the building we’d have no idea it was the right place. During the afternoon’s soundcheck a group of solicitors using the rooms upstairs actually came down to complain about the noise. It really feels like we’re sticking it to the suits in this subversive setting.

Any stilted formalities once associated with the space are long forgotten as Liverpool’s female three-piece Stealing Sheep take to the stage. Mixing a love of ‘70s psychedelica and freak-folk, their blend of acoustic melodies and three-part harmonies is captivating live. Becky Hawley switches between bass and keys vivaciously while drummer Lucy Mercer keeps things bouncing for an ebullient crowd. Highlights come via their Heavenly Records releases; ‘Paper Moon’ in particular gets a spontaneous clap-along.

Next up tension builds as the enigmatic No Ceremony/// get ready to play their debut show. The Manchester-based group retained anonymity in a now clichéd Wu Lyf way when emerging online earlier in the year. ‘Heartbreaker’ and it’s rasping heavy-synth and auto-tuned vocal combination caught the attention of many ears but how would it come across live? And who is in this mysterious act?

A three-piece take to the stage. Two guys and a girl perform a disappointingly sample heavy set. Strumming the odd note on a guitar here and there, they largely look uncomfortable while trying to nervously dance along to backing synths. It’s a dark sound with sardonic pop vocals. They teeter somewhere between Crystal Castles’ avant-electronica and Salem’s sinister witch-house. Maybe with more gig experience they could be an exciting prospect as they were nowhere near a fully finished article. It’s a real baptism of fire in the near full office, which might explain the fire alarm wailing in the build-up to Money’s set.

Facing the proposition of evacuation, the biggest cheer of the night comes when it’s silenced. A huge translucent screen backs the band with laser visuals projected on it. They’re a group all about atmosphere; delicate subtleties are juxtaposed with huge crashing crescendos. The boisterous revellers are silenced to a muted susurration as they become rapt by the journey.  It’s a cerebral set with incendiary visuals and deliquescent rhythms melting over the crowd.

‘Goodnight London’ is a beautiful moment, a softly sung track with echoing piano keys accompanying. It could be a lost moment from ‘In Rainbows’ or Foals’ Total Life Forever. Upcoming single ‘So Long’ stood out. It’s a slower-tempo number awash with reverb, and a tranquil feel. The laser visuals and iridescent rhythms of ‘Who’s Going To Love You Now?’ provide another anthemic moment too. People sway blissfully as the set comes to a close.

Headliners Alt-J have their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ gathering hugely positive reviews at the moment in anticipation of its release on May 28th and tonight they didn’t disappoint.  Sparingly used guitar patterns weave together to create a patchwork of distinct tones. Their inimitable sound is impossible to categorise, and gets things moving to a frenzy tonight. The band are clearly on fire but luckily the alarm stays quiet.  ‘Breezeblocks’ gets the biggest reaction – screams, arms in the air. If they can do this now imagine how it’s going to be once the album’s out. Everyone leaves happy after a marathon line-up, a good day at the office for sure.

words by Simon Butcher

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