Music: They're all out of All Saints

Industry bigwigs may have cold-shouldered Sound City but it was a triumph for the indies
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The Independent Culture
"MAKE SOME noise, we're going on air for our last couple of songs." It's a request that became all too familiar during last weeks Radio One Sound City event broadcast from Newcastle. A plea from band to audience to turn the broadcast into the wildest party the listeners had ever tuned into.

Thus an apathetic Bluetones, an over-pompous Gene and a disappointingly clumsy Gomez - to name but a few - were all saved by the Pavlovian magic of the on-air red light; lacklustre sets alchemised into 15 minutes of shining performance by the promise of being blasted out of the nation's trannies, courtesy of the nation's favourite of course.

Not that the thousands of locals who attended the week of gigs, seminars and workshops needed any such prompting. As a region that is notorious for its hedonistic love of going out, it should have come as little surprise that Sound City was greeted with an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm, passion and energy.

Indeed it was these very qualities that marked out the independent, unsigned and unknown from the major industry players. A divide that was typified by the tone of the seminars. Where discussions based around the independent sector were underpinned by a sense of self-belief and positivity, the major industry people remained obsessed by the recession that has hit the music world this year.

Nowhere was this division more obvious than at the multitude of showcase gigs in the city's pubs and bars. For local bands, Sound City promised a flood of A&R people, promoters, managers and journalists. Walk into any of the many live music bars in Newcastle over the course of the week and you could find bands playing as if their careers depended on it.

However, the promised industry types were disappointingly thin on the ground. A direct result of the proliferation of similar events which have emerged in recent years, says Olivier Bahzadi, international A&R manager with Columbia Records. "Too many events have diluted the standard of bands. Sadly the industry starts to frenzy at these events and subsequently too many average bands get signed. This is what has happened over the last couple of years with everyone searching for the next big thing. The fact is, if they're at an event like this, the chances are they won't be noticed by the major industry who have a definite agenda."

In the current climate of downsizing, signing unknown guitar bands is certainly not riding high on their agenda. Expenses have been cut, jobs lost and - with the exception of pop - record labels are dropping bands with alarming regularity. As a result, last year's quest may have been for a new Oasis, but this year to be on the cheque book hit list you have to be the all new All Saints. And you'd be hard pushed to find them treading the boards of any pub in any city, let alone here, on the Toon.

Despite this Sound City was witness to a series of superb gigs. Fatboy Slim offered a frenzied set of big beat and northern soul to a crammed crowd at Northumbria University, none of whom needing any prompting. Faithless delivered their chemical soul to rapturous applause at The Riverside while Mary Anne Hobbs's Breezeblock Session played host to an astonishing display of guitar montage and sudden impact crescendos from Glaswegian Mogwai.

With Six by Seven, The Freestylers and local boys Solavox also raising the temperature a few degrees, the overall impression was that despite the so-called industry slump, creatively things are extremely healthy.

Sound City '98 may well be remembered as a recession session that the majors forgot to attend, but it could also be considered the event where the indies once again reigned supreme. The message being sent out to the unsigned bands being: forget trying to get signed, embrace the do-it- yourself ethos that fired both punk and acid house and form your own labels. If you are a part of the next significant street-level sub-culture, A&R men, managers, journalists and even Radio One are sure to follow.