Review: Sounds From The Other City 2019

Sounds From The Other City (SFTOC) has deservedly built a reputation for uncovering your new favourite band. The hottest secret this year though laid hidden in unit 5. It was quite simply two toilet cubicles that could only by reached by crawling under the tentacles of a 3D octopus. It wasn’t a glamorous secret but one I passed on to friends as I moved between stages.

Yeah the bands are great but it’s these kind of idiosyncrasies that make SFTOC what it is. Within minutes of arriving yesterday and taking a seat on the hay bails, a woman stood up and removed her tights to reveal her bare bum, only to put them back on a few minutes later. A friend dressed as a police woman nearby shouted ‘put your fanny away’  into her megaphone. Yep I was at SFTOC alright.

There was one big difference this year though, their fifteenth or as they were branding it their ‘Quindecennial.’ Rather than spreading across 18 venues down the much-changed Chapel Street, now synonymous with the cranes and the soon-to-be-filled apartment blocks standing overhead, SFTOC took place in the self-contained Regents Trading Estate across four industrial units and one gazebo-covered stage. 15 promoters – you get the idea now – were asked to pick just two acts each, resulting in the smallest SFTOC yet.

Other than the sparsely decorated stage one, the art directors – five of them in all – did well to add character to the concrete-clad industrial units. Planets swung from the ceiling, sequins blew in the chilly wind and hypnotic visuals entranced from screens behind the acts. 

The bands lived up to all the eccentricities unfolding around them. Bella Union signees Penelope Isles blinded us with their spellbinding haze. They looked nothing like a new act forging a road to stardom but rather like a couple of mates that have played together for decades. All four were happy to let one another indulge in their playing, resulting in a number of mind bending instrumentals. The sweetest moment came though with a nod from the keyboardist/singer that signalled the support staff to present the guitarist with a 25th birthday cake. She proceeded to lift it aloft to the happy-birthday-singing crowd before taking a huge chunk out of it. 

The highlight though were Black Country, New Road. The wonderfully esoteric London six-piece blend saxophones and cellos with the more obvious guitar, bass and drums. The sound that results is bristling and discomforting, leaving you in a state of uneasiness. Watching them unleash their chaos is a sight to behold. The saxophonist often just observes, looking from left to right before turning to his band mates and counting them down like an obsessed conductor.  The singer though is the primary force, particularly when he becomes fervent, even terrifying, as he lets go a torrent of words. With Black Country, New Road it feels like the ship is going down but you honestly couldn’t care less about the impending death that awaits you. 

The night closes with the screamo of Finnish band Cocaine Piss, and the equally mystifying and enamouring Black Midi. Yep there may have been problems along the way – the beer running out, the never ending toilet queues for the people who didn’t know the octopus secret – but ultimately SFTOC’s Quindecennial was a roaring success though I remain excited for a return to the original format next time around. 

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