Great new Manchester based band…Wu Lyf

February 28, 2010

Wu Lyf

Fast-forwarding to a Mancunian future Wu Lyf (their name brilliantly stands for World Unite- Lucifer Youth Foundation) are a clandestine underground band furtively playing gigs in off the wall locations in the city.

Spiky youth with a frenetic energy and an air of mystery- they play tonight in Outlet in the city’s Northern Quarter which is normally a cafe but has been decked out as a temporary venue giving the whole gig a legendary underground feel. A feel that has been added to by a band that somehow maintains an intangible internet presence in this era of digital overkill- there is a difficult myspace to track, a clutch of tunes on youtube that feel they are going to get removed at any moment, some cryptic sloganeering on a facebook fan page all adding to a thrilling air of mystery.

The band itself plays self-styled ‘heavy pop’- a term which sounds great but gives little clue to just how diverse, intense and powerfully clever they are.

They obviously are very smart and very hip, the little clues lying around the internet hint at clever revolutionary minds working in hyperdrive- like someone like Ian Svenonious when he presented his Nation Of Ulysses to the world 15 years ago there is a new vocabulary and a revolutionary fervour to their music and their secretive self mythologising.

There is something very special going on in Manchester.

Infact there is lots of very special things going on in Manchester. Wu Lyf are just part of the disparate unrelated activity as the city fast-forwards to another future.

Whilst crumbling curmudgeons moan about the city trading on its past picking on the new Factory club whilst missing the point that its yet another space for musical adventures- another fine addition to a city with the most musical venues in the UK. What the anonymous gripers don’t ever seem to notice or flag up is all the new action going on in the city or ever even mention it even though its there right in front of them.

Whilst I’ve already documented the endless songwriting brilliance of Dirty North, the twisted genius of Fraser King and the clattering pop brilliance of Janice Graham, I’m also involved in a new label called Modern English that is busily releasing the great dark melancholic rushes of 1913, the dubstep stylings of Thallie and is about to sign a top young Manc band that was chewed up and spat out by a clumsy major label and I’m thrilled by every new twist and turn in the current musical plot.

Wu Lyf  are very young and very hip skinny youth who play with an intensity and passion that cuts through the hipster gathering tonight. The covert gig feels like watching the Velvet Underground in NYC in the late sixties or a mid eighties Roses warehouse party- an in the know gathering.

The band have managed to arrive here with their own unique sound that hints at the quirky bohemian angular stylings of early Factory bands with a dollop of Sky Saxon’s wonderful Seeds and a whole host of modern bands, of course they also don’t sound like any of these bands because the wonderful thing about them is that they have their own agenda and these references are mere signposts for the reader to try and get a grip of their sound. I’m a mere journalist and I’m trying to describe sound and give you signposts and I know that I’m wrong before I’ve started!

There is a chiming guitar that plays angular arpeggios in a stunningly original manner, a bass that’s obviously doing something very smart but is lost in the vocal PA, a brilliant drummer whose inventiveness creates a shape shifting bedrock and a singer who sits at a keyboard playing those bedding notes that give the songs the melting psychedelic of the Seeds genius garage rock, he also comes armed with this fucking amazing voice- pure soul power- the intensity and passion pours from the larynx and its making the band very, very special.

They twitch about on stage, thrilled at their own genius, impatient for the future, reinventing the wheel yet again.

Wu Lyf are fucking brilliant, yet another new version, yet another way to make music, yet another gang of teenagers with a shiny new attitude and a brand new beat.

Larry Cassidy/Section 25 RIP

February 27, 2010

Larry Cassidy/Section 25 RIP

In another tragic twist in the Factory records story, that has seen so many of its prime movers meet relatively youthful demises, it was sad to hear of the passing of Larry Cassidy- the frontman of Section 25.

I had known Larry on and off for 32 years since the days when we were fumbling around in the Blackpool punk and post punk scenes and Section 25 (named after the late Fes Parker- another Blackpool legend- when Fes had been sectioned because of mental illness) were the key band in town. They were organised and had invented their own sound- a deceptively doomy, powerful, stripped down, bass driven, dissonant, post punk that combined the nihilism of the times with Larry’s art school cool.

Section 25 were leagues ahead of everyone else in Blackpool (and an unacknowledged frontrunner in post punk) when the energy of punk was being channelled into new musical forms. Not only could they play but they had somehow invented their own sound- that strident bass driven, dramatic, moodiness that was perfectly captured on their Martin Hannet produced debut LP for Factory records ‘Always Now’. The band’s sound perfectly suited the Hannett sense of space and they were one of his favourite bands. It also came packaged in a brilliant sleeve from Peter Saville- arguably one of his best from the period- a stark black and yellow affair with a psychedelic interior which somehow mirrored the music with its stark exterior – a fold-out cover that resembled a match-book. and tripped out marble interior. It was rumoured to be the most expensive sleeve of the times.

The melancholic, powerful sound was too easily mixed up with Joy Division and whilst Ian Curtis was a big fan of the band and co –produced their first single “Girls Don’t Count”, in  1980 at Rochdale’s legendary Suite 16/Cargo studios Section 25 very much had their own sound. That was the problem with being on Factory- on one hand they got some sort of cult recognition on the other they were swamped by the success the JD’s which may have contributed to their first split in the early eighties after the release of their second album, ‘the Key Of Dreams’.

Formed in November 1977 by the two Cassidy brothers when Larry retuned from art school in London with his head fired by the possibilities of the early punk scene, their early gigs round Blackpool were stunning in their intensity. Larry and his brother Vin were a perfect rhythm section- Vin laying down the disco punk beats and Larry with those deceptively simple bass line and howling yelping vocals whilst Paul Wiggin layered up a wall of sound on his guitar- they were one of the best post punk bands but were sneered at by the press for some reason but the people who understood the post punk period knew that this was a great band.

I always remember Larry’s red and black striped bass and his charismatic stage presence- looking like a freaky art school teacher with issues- he was a good few years older than us and must have rightly thought we were all annoying scampering brats but he always shared his rehearsal space and would moodily pass on tips on how to be in band properly to us naïve waifs.

The Membranes eventually moved into Section 25’s Singleton Street rehearsal space- a huge echoey room that created the huge sound that we would utilise in our ‘Spike Milligan’s Tape recorder’ period.

In the eighties they reinvented themselves as moody techno with their song ‘Looking from A Hilltop’, produced by Barney from New Order being one of the best unrecognised songs from the era. It’s a fantastic song- a dark lament that you could dance to, sung by Larry’s late wife Jenny- it’s better than anything New Order ever did- and that’s saying something and was great precursor to their third album, ‘From the Hip’.

In 1984. The group fell apart leaving Larry and Jenny to compete their fourth album in 1988- ‘Love And Hate’ before they knocked it on the head for a couple of years a planned reunion was ended by the death of Jenny in 2004 before the band emerged again for gigs in 2007.

New Order’s Hooky himself (and also the great Jon Savage) recognised the genius of Section 25 and was always quick to big them up in interviews and always claimed they were one of the few bands to make money for Factory. He liked them so much that he even played bass for them on tour last year- I saw the show in Rochdale when we were putting the blue plaque up for Suite 16 studios- it was a great gig with Larry singing the words off a music stand- as eccentric and charismatic as ever and looking wizened but with a far more jolly demeanour than thirty years ago. We hung out and laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. I had bumped into him on a regular basis in the last few years- sometimes at sad occasions like Fes Parker’s funeral, sometimes at some Factory related shindig in Manchester- the last time I saw him was at a gallery launch in Manchester a few weeks ago where he looked perky and mischievous. It was always great to see him and I will miss his occasional presence.

Section 25’s records stand the test of time and they deserve to be re-appraised- please don’t put them down as JD copyists because they were anything but. They captured the darkness of the period and were psychedelic renegades with freaky music that they somehow shoe horned into a tough disco punk of their own- they were making this sound before Joy Division appeared and I know that because they were doing it on our local Blackpool circuit.

Another great lost genius- maybe Larry Cassidy’s sad death will wake everyone up to how great his band was.

Larry RIP.


February 23, 2010

Like some kind of giant organism Istanbul spreads over the hills by the sides of the Bosphurus seething with life. The streets are a full on hussle of energy with endless shops selling everything you can think of tumbling towards the sea. Driven by one of the most youthful populations in Europe this is a city that’s reinventing itself daily with a huge influx of deeply traditional Turkish peasants mixing it with the super modern open-minded Istanbul locals in a vast melting pot.

This is one huge super city with 16 million people and counting. All human life is here somehow co-existing in a crazed gamut of ideas both modern and ancient. This is a city where skyscrapers stand next to 1500 year old buildings, a city that straddles two continents where the locals talk of the ‘European side’ or the ‘Asian side’. In what other city can the 5 O’clock in the morning call to prayer blast out as the bars are just emptying, what other city can a devout religious love of god stand shoulder to shoulder with an expressive nightclub culture and a huge band scene. If in 2009 Berlin is the coolest city in Europe, Istanbul is catching up. And fast.

I’m on the European side in a packed club. Onstage the band are soundtracking this stunning city with its fusion of ideas and innovation. Baba Zula are mashing deep dub grooves with Turkish melodies played on the triangular Saz. There are two belly dancers and a whole gamut of melodies that make the group sound like they have one foot deep into a fascinating melodic history of their home country but also an experimental nous that matches prime new York noise twisters.

Istanbul is full of life.  In its astonishing sprawl with a fast forward of 21st century human culture from deeply devout Muslims to hip youth, the Hijab and the mini skirt walk side by side and all points of view seem to tumble down the endless streets. Some of the woman have the Hijab decorated in all colours- twisting the meaning of the head covering into new directions.

Istanbul comes with a diverse mish mash of styles from gypsy musicians to hi tech electronics played by an endless sprawl of local musicians. The music can be deeply traditional or bang up to the minute, there is a big rock scene, a fierce rap scene and clubs and bars that play all styles from elctronica to indie, the bars shut late and the Turks have a real lust for life.

Being the former capital of a massive empire, Istanbul-formally Constantinople- was built on top of some long lost smaller towns that in turn were built on top of other towns that date back 8000  years making this one of oldest inhabited areas in the world in the 4th century by Constantine who converted the empire to Christianity before moving his capital from Rome to the east.  After the fall of Rome Constantinople rose even further as the capital of the rich Byzantine Empire before falling to the Ottomans in 1453 in one of the key conquests in European history. This brief summation of its history give you a sense of the innate grandeur of the place- a city that may no longer be capital but still retains the faded grandeur of an imperial past that was a magnet for an endless musical influences that comes from being at the heart of a sprawling empire. The musics roots vary Islamic roots to the Byzantine’s deeply devout court music and religious devotional chanting whose melodies still infiltrate the modern folk bands to the strange new melodies that the Turks and the Ottomans brought to the city from their far away homelands.

Through its various rulers Constantinople old town which was centred on what is nowknown as Sultanahmet famous for the old 6th century church of Agai Sophia and the remarkable neighbouring Blue Mosque was famous for its opulent court life, amazing buildings and passion for knowledge and learning. For centuries this city was the peak of human civilisation and only fell behind in the last couple of centuries of the Ottomans before they faded out in the early 20th century and were replaced by a  republic instigated by Turkish national hero Ataturk.

This leading position meant that it was a magnetic point of focus for all kinds of cultures. With Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman music all being the key providers of those melodies that define Turkish music to this day. The city lies at a crossroads of culture the meeting point between Russia, Middle East, Europe and this crossroads is a busy junction of cultures and music mixing up and creating new flavours which like the local food are an amazing and never ending series of taste laden surprises. The music was further enhanced by the multi national communities that have lived in the city from the Jews to the Gypsys and Armenians to Poles and Greeks.

In the past ten years there has been a rush of new bands and ideas as a whole new modern Turkish music has arrived but it would a mistake to think that this was the while story. In the late sixties and early seventies Turkey had a great psychedelic guitar scene that has recently been rediscovered. Fusing the drones of psychedelic rock with the drones of the countries traditional folk sounds which they rediscovered made for an intriguing and highly effective mix.

The gypsy musics of wedding bands and local dances has become very popular and is a strong part of the musical landscape and this is a city where you can hang out in all night bars grooving to bleeps or check out the Whirling Dervishes- the deeply spiritual dancing troupes who dance in circles to the mesmerising, hypnotic music played by the small folk orchestra behind them. It’s spellbinding stuff.

Later that day in the maze of streets and bohemian bars and cafes behind Taksim Square there is a folk club on the fourth floor of a run down looking building. On stage is Selmer Selek and his band playing this amazing gypsy folk music driven by a wild clarinet- the band are in their mid fifties and sit in their suits looking oddly detached from the mayhem that is going on around them. The packed club is belly dancing in various states of drunkenness as the band’s clattering percussion and mystic melodic power fire the room. This is typical of the gypsy music that is very much part of the Turkish musical panorama.

Contrast this with the Turkish hip hop scene that has its roots in the Turkish immigrant community in Germany where the 3 million strong Turks voiced their frustration with their outsider position in the nation with raps exporting them back into Turkey with a powerful impact.

The westernised Turkish rock and indie groups still mange to twist their music with homegrown sounds giving them a highly distinctive air that makes this city one of the fast upcoming European musical powerhouses.

As I sit in the lobby of the Hotel des Londres near Istiklal Street in Beyoglu. Hanging out with Baba Zula enjoying the faded grandeur of the best hotel lobby in Europe with its dusty chandeliers, huge ornate mirrors and talkative African grey parrots in cages we marvel at this cities sheer energy and capacity to surprise. Looking out through the lobby window and over the never ending rooftops of the city both of us sigh at the fierce energy and grandeur of one of the best cities in the world.

amazing new bands at Oslo music conference review!

February 21, 2010

I am in a park in Oslo.

It’s about minus 25 and it’s so cold I can’t talk anymore. My mouth is frozen and my skin has turned into icicle-strewn leather and my eyes have that sort of icy glint in them that only Captain Scott could recognise. The park itself is full of sculptures of bizarre looking babies and weird death scenes made out of concrete.

It’s like Geigerworld.

At its centre is a giant penis looking pillar made up of concrete corpses. It looks like a horror film set but its not- it’s a public park. This gives you an idea of what we are dealing with here in this city.

Oslo is an interesting place. Its oil rich and squeaky clean, modern. Cold and dark in the winter combined with all that time and money means there is plenty for idle hands to be getting on with. Just below the surface there is something mighty strange going on.

Later that evening there is a band called Wardruna on stage playing ancient Nordic folk music bringing back the spirit of the Norseman with mainly old and historical instruments such as deer-hide frame drums and ceremonial drums, mouth harp, clove / hoof rattles from deer and goat, bone flute, goat and cow horns, Hardanger fiddle and bowed lyres.  Their debut album concerns the ancient Nordic script of Runes and when they record they use more unconventional inputs like trees, stones, water, fire  which are also employed to enhance the nature of the rune being ‘portrayed’.

This is clearly not boy/girl indie music and it does lead to some dark areas with certain members of the band having made some uncomfortable opinions known to the press in the past- perhaps in an attempt to shock and awe or perhaps in a moment of youthful stupidity- views that they may have now grown out of. Meanwhile the music is powerful, affecting and strange- a very dark folk music.

One of them used to be in Gorgoroth– the most punk hardcore of the Norwegain black metal bands but the music he makes now is ostensibly at the opposite end of this spectrum but its intensity and melancholy is as powerful and affecting. Wardruna are one of the most fascinating bands that I have heard for along time. They are like a Scandinavian version of Laibach- they have the same dark smarts and originality, the same sort of interest in European folk musics and a pre Christian heritage lost in the mists of time and create the same sort of intense internet debate about their politics.

They also like to record their albums in the outdoors and sound like no other band on the planet.

The gig is one of an endless glut of live music action over the weekend. I’m here for By:Larm music conference and it’s the best music conferences I’ve ever been to. Like every music conference in the world nowadays it has the wristband that gets you into endless gigs but unlike all other music conferences these gigs are actually worth going to- stuffed full of original bands with hardly any plodding indie adherence to the ’classics’.

Where else can you listen to the free jazz black metal skronk of the Shining or the charmed avante electronics of Kira Kira within ten minutes of eachother?

Instead of the tedious indie nightshift we get a band like the Shining who are just another in a long list of cutting edge Scandinavian music that all of a sudden make the current UK crop look, well, a bit traditional.

The Shining fuse the fury of the darkest thrash metal with a dirty honking sax like Coltrane gone hardcore. The room is packed stupidly full and unlike in the UK when the A and R brigade are looking for some cutesy indie ‘crossover’ here every one is in a lather over the most extreme band to appear at the whole festival.

And this is genius. The Shining sound filthy and furious. They have a raging noise hard-on. A life affirming brutal brawl of sound that makes you want to explode. They cover King Crimsons ‘20th century Schizoid Man’ and make it sound like the darkest, thrashiest anthem of all time and with that sax honking like the primetime Stooges when they toyed with free jazz then they sound genius. Their mainman came from a jazz background and the next night he is cranking away with his jazz crew, Chrome Hill, with a brilliant free jazz set that is mind-blowing- creating smoking atmospherics and proving that jazz is not a dead form.

Just how much talent can this freezing cold corner of Europe have!

Everywhere you look there is the dark art of metal underpinning everything. And not the old school gonzoid metal that makes a mockery of the term.

Altaar crush the black metal with thrash and ambient, Phillip Glass and John Cage and even have bits of classical in their sound and somehow sound both brutal and beautiful. It’s the light and shade in their music that is crucial and it’s the stripped down sections that actually hook you in the most- although when they get brutal they really do rock with a concrete intensity that is addictive.

Manhattan Skyline are fast and furious prog hardcore with a thrilling focus. They are almost in the tradition of the amazing local crew- the late and influential Refused- they take the stage in a blur of high-octane energy and demolish it.

There is also the straight edge thunder of Anchor, the polished fifties swing of Katzenjammer, the fantastically named Children and Corpse Playing In The Streets, the skuzzy punk rock n roll of the Cumshots who are huge here because of their frontman’s antics on national TV, the Crampsy shockabilly of Death By Unga Bunga, the marvelous merging of fantastic dubstep beats with Turkish and Egyptian street music of Easy & Toshybot and the post My Bloody valentine noise trip of Sereena Madeesh?

Icelandic duo, Kira Kira, are just a laptop and a trumpet and create soundscapes that are like lo fi collaged fragments of their bohemian world as the fragments coalesce and the booming rhythms kick in it sounds oddly hypnotic. Again deeply original, they are the kind of band you could never see at a UK music convention and this has got to change.

And these are just the bands I saw, I know I missed loads of good stuff. Do yourself a favour go to the By:Larm website and catch up! Also check all these bands myspaces out- go to google and have a good old dredge- there is some genius stuff there to be found!

I was at By:Larm to do some live onstage interviews with Geoff Travis- head of Rough Trade records who speaks an eloquent sense and proves that instinct is the pre requisite to running a record label and the garrulous ‘fearless’ Feargal Sharkey who is running so many initiatives at the moment that he could be saving the musicians in the UK from a lot of grief. As well as that I chaired a panel on bloggers v music journalists that was made all the better by having a really well thought out balance of panellists from Hype Machine, the best music website in the UK- the Quietus,  Stereogum and freelancers Olaf Furniss and Tim Barr on it representing all shades of opinion on the matter.

And to cap it all I meet one of four Norwegian crazies that I hung out with in Manchester 23 years ago. I met them after a Big Black gig at Manchester Boardwalk when they had nowhere to stay so we gave them floor space at Membrane mansions.

On the way home we passed the Conservative club and I carved a swastika into the sign on the club’s door with a knife. Unfortunately we got caught by the cops who for some reason thought that we were felt tipping the symbol so went back to police station and got soap and water and made us clean it off- it didn’t clean off of course and the cops lost interest and the swastika was there for years- the club probably liked it!

I hadn’t sent the Norwegian dude for years. It turns out he formed Turbo Negro a few months after our meeting- small world!

The Brits reviewed!

February 17, 2010

On the night that the charade of the Brits strutted its pompous carcass across our TV screens and Cheryl Cole mimed out of time in one of the most joyless, sexless pop performances in pop history- a performance that made Posh Spice seem like some kind of musical genius, The Courteeners played a low key warm up show in Manchester that was a million miles away from the bombastic, bullying of modern pop music.

Cole’s tuneless song was mimed appallingly and had a dance routine that sucked all the sex out of the soft porn industry that is pop with a gurning, crotch thrusting display that looked more like going for a shit than some kinda fuck-me- tease that it was meant to be. Cole’s song also featured a section of a tune by Manchester singing legend, Rowetta, which was included in a breathless display of corporate arrogance after Rowetta asked her not to use it.

The story is that Cole’s management had asked to use the Rowetta song as long as they could have someone else miming it- Rowetta, of course, said she would come and sing the part herself and was brushed aside by the arrogance of the big media pop machine who just used the sample anyway with a dancer miming to it! I guess you can understand their fear of a real singer being let loose in their pop charade.

It’s not Cole that anyone objects to- afterall everyone in pop is blind ambition and not much talent. Cole is a pretty girl who is living the 21st century dream- that shallow joyless world of celeb/paprazzi/football boyfriend/tabloid life.     What we object to is the never-ending machine ramming her down our throats and the sheer out of depth displays of her meager talent. Lady Gaga, whether you like her or not, strutted around the Brits like she was born to be a star, Cheryl Cole looked like she thought Posh Spice was the ultimate in pop talent.

The pop machine hogs 99 per cent of the media flogging its dead horses and wonders why pop is broke whilst 4000 guests stuff their jowelly faces at the banquet- it looked like the last days of Rome in there and was a million miles away from music…

Meanwhile in Manchester, hometown band- the much-loved Courteeners, were readying their second album with a low-key hometown show at Ruby Lounge. The atmosphere- already buoyed by Manchester United’s 3-2 away win at Milan in the Champions League was electric and the band were welcomed like they had won the cup themselves and didn’t relent for nearly ninety minutes where they played most of their excellent second album.

The irony of this is that the Courteeners will sell more records than the useless Cole and they do it in the old fashioned way by having a deep love of music and the ability to write songs and perform them, songs that touch people’s lives and mean something to people in way that the Cole pop machine (despite some excellent Girls Aloud singles) which is more about outfits and bad posturing never can.

Courteeners frontman Liam’s voice has that cool mix of swaggering confidence and heartfelt yearning that strikes a chord and it’s not just with the usual lumpy lads. Courteeners gigs are packed full of women- there is something about the band- a poetic ruffian artistry and sensitivity that strikes a chord with the girls and by extent the boys who get all arms-around-eachother- loved-up to the anthemic choruses.

Liam sings and writes songs that become part of the patchwork of people’s lives- the ups and the downs, the loves won and lost, the poetry of living in the north applied to deceptively simple songs that have big hooks and melodies that are full of heart and soul- all stuff that that the bombastic pop machine could never understand and deliberately keep out of their shameful parade- afterall those jowelly pigs who lock Rowetta out of singing on a live pop show and replace her with a miming dancer could never feel the sort of emotion and communal thrill of music like this.

The Courteeners upcoming second album is an ambitious triumph and their spring tour will see them assume their position in the pantheon of northern music giants.

Another victory for the people!

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