It’s a turn up for the books! The hottest May bank holiday on record for Sounds from the Other City in Salford, a one-day festival that is usually a bit soggy.
The smell of suncream hangs in the air at the Regents Trading Estate, an industrial site around the back of the Islington Mill, where Dim Sum Su is serving up delicious bao buns and salt and pepper fries to fuel people ready for a day out in Sounds Town.
The 14th Sounds from the Other City has been conceptualised by art directors David Bailey and Stina Puotinen as a cartoon town, “somewhere between Pee-wee’s Playhouse and The Simpsons”. In Sounds Town, each of the venues has been reassigned a comedy identity and staffed by cartoon characters. The festival is officially opened by Mayor McCheesy, a man in a red string vest wearing a hat - and a skull cap - that looks like a cheeseburger. The mayor later judges a hot dog eating competition and the doggo show, where the wackiest contestant is a taxidermy fox attached to a skateboard, competing against real live dogs wearing colourful rosettes.
The line up is Risograph printed on a beautiful “Sounds Town Gazette”, with a map in the centre that nods to American diner place-mats. Festival attendees wear “I heart Sounds Town” badges making them easy to spot among the regular bank holiday drinkers also roaming Chapel Street.
Art has always been a central part of Sounds, but this year ticket-holders get a chance to make the art for themselves at the Sounds Town Academy of Painting and Decorating, an immersive show by creative producers Onwards!
Hopefuls are recruited by Spacey Emin, a drag queen dressed as a paintbrush, and ushered into a waiting area where they are given ponchos and shoe covers ready for the tasks to come. By the end of a series of paint-based “exams”, strangers are working together to draw pictures of the festival using paintbrushes wedged in their elbows, toilet brushes and hand mirrors, grinning in their plastic sheets.
In another warehouse, Laura Misch is enjoying the weird acoustics. “I like to think venues are their own instruments,” she says, as the reverb gets a boost from the sheet-metal walls. Misch is a songwriter and saxophonist from London who uses MIDI controllers and synths to create experimental, jazz-influenced recordings. Today she is accompanied by equally trippy visuals across the back of the stage.
On the Heavenly Records stage opposite, Hatchie have come all the way from Brisbane. This is the solo project of 24-year-old Harriette Pilbeam, whose four piece band of both acoustic and electric guitars create an eighties, baggy sound reminiscent of The Sundays and perfect for the weather.
Islington Mill was once the centre of Sounds, but the festival sprawls across Salford, venues changing every year. Cranes and scaffolding mark the skyline as we head over a bridge to the Pep Boys auto shop, a pretend garage in a printing press, to see Duds, the darlings of the Manchester scene.
This enigmatic outfit, dressed in a uniform of denim shirts and brown shoes, play furiously fast post punk, with dancing baselines punctuated by staccato notes from two trumpets and yelps from singer Giulio Erasmus. The performance stops abruptly when the bass player impressively manages to break a string. You’d expect nothing less from the first UK signing to Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer’s label, Castle Face.
Spectrum, the solo project of Spacemen 3 founder Pete Kember, closes the Hey! Manchester stage at St Philip’s Church, with a particularly meditative set of electronic loops and ambient melodies, while visuals unfurl across the stained glass at the back of the stage.
Then it's back to the Old Pint Pot, a pub on the canal, to catch WH Lung. This local “recording project”, much hyped on BBC 6 Music, play driving, Krautrock-inspired pop songs that sound a bit like Hookworms. As the bands end, the sun sets on the weird and wonderful inhabitants of Sounds Town, the ultimate homage to a Salford changing fast but anchored by its artists.
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