15 November

Recently, there’s been a film, titled simply Northern Soul, garnering praise about the Northern Soul musical movement in the UK. It’s an affectionate look back on the style, with attention to detail and enthusiasm for the music that still continues on. Having attended an event more recently than during the heyday of Wigan Casino, and seen the sharply dressed attendees slide across the boards of the Ruby Lounge, there’s a close similarity with the so-called ‘psychobilly’ players.

The core of those present at Gullivers for this Darkside Manchester presentation may not see 30 again, but there is a healthy smattering of youngsters, in some cases the offspring of the older punters, who are thoroughly enjoying themselves. This isn’t the type of event that one just drops into on the off chance that it might be enjoyable. Well, not if the razor sharp creases in the attire are anything to go by. Someone has even baked a cake to celebrate her birthday and is sharing it out amongst the gig goers. This is very much a musical community occasion.

The bands know this as well, such that they are on first name terms with some of those in the crowd. Frenzy may be a three-piece, but everyone knows Steve Whitehouse, Steve Eaton and Adam Sevoir.

It’s not often an upright slap bass forms the central point of the sound, but they seemed to be breeding on the evidence of this occasion. Large and ungainly they may look, but Whitehouse manoeuvres his with ease without missing a slap. One minute he is on the stage, the next he is halfway down the room, twisting and turning to the gleeful enjoyment of onlookers.

It may be a niche sound which has limited appeal and is seldom heard on the radio stations, but for those who follow the atmosphere it’s much loved and treasured.

Ged Camera

Review photo by Ged Camera.

Ben Frost

14 November

Singular strobe and go hard. Then empty. Australian-native Icelandic-resident Ben Frost seems to always go from one extreme to another with no remorse, building up sonically and visually like a violent airport takeoff then suddenly landing on a comet, sounding like Rosetta’s Philae sound recorder capturing hard particles hitting neutral particles, if you want to get topical about it.

Greg Fox, drummer (also of Guardian Alien, Zs, Liturgy) and collaborator on latest album A U R O R A, lends the live setup some thumping consistency and a shred of humanity. Albeit they may as well be auditioning 21st century surrealism as it moves into World War III marching band mode, full-on berserking into a matrix battle dumping out into emptiness and isolation. Promoter Hey! Manchester’s choice of venue seemed dubious at first, but the minimal bunker that is Gorilla is maybe what it needed for such a feat.

It’s an industrial wasteland madder than Mad Max, an achievement possibly the closest to which Mike Patton and Masami Akita’s Maldoror project has come, but without the battling intent.

There doesn’t seem much point thinking track lists when you’re taking in Ben Frost live, constantly lurching around from one impossible space to another. Finally, glitches and clicks give moments of paranoid and fidgeting respite, until the asthmatic growls and wooden ship creaks familiar from 2009’s By The Throat turn to barks of beasts deeper than Aphex Twin’s seminal ‘Windowlicker’.

By the time recent single ‘Venter’ splits apart the sound system, it seems like Frost has sapped the life out of everything around. But he’s not purposefully that kind - a temporary cut-out had actually been a technical error.

There’s something fundamentally oppressive in all this musical looseness. It’s all about as funny as a six-year-old kid running around in a toy drummer costume to get maimed by a landmine. Clearly there’s little room for humour, but that’s all well and good when our onstage antagonist strips down to a vest like a Victorian acrobat.

Sam Bass


1 November
Albert Hall

Eagerly anticipating a venture into Manchester’s most ambient venue, Albert Hall, I knew in my bones that Lamb’s return to home turf would be something special. This former Methodist church is a stunningly impressive site in its own right, with stained glass windows, carved ceiling and wooden pews overlooking the stage. It’s a sacred site refreshingly not drenched in religious symbolism, the perfect place for fans to congregate. Combine this architectural grandeur with one of electronica’s most enigmatic duos and you’ve got all the makings for a mind well blown.

With typical poise Lou Rhodes took to the stage, dressed in all white like a goddess straight from Grecian myth. Alongside her were bandmates Andy Barlow, always oozing the bravado of an Ibizan DJ (albeit a lovable one), and Jon Thorne, hopping onstage sporting a heavy duty cast on his leg. This accessory was a result of him splitting his Achilles tendon during their first gig in Brighton, one of the top three most painful experiences besides childbirth or kidney stones. Suffering for his art took on a whole new meaning with a two-hour long set ahead.

Kicking off with the seminal track ‘Little Things’ from their album Fear of Fours, the pace was set with a masterly mix of old and new tracks. Shifting between grimy basslines, twitching beats and the spiralling simplicity of sampled string quartets, the mood was chameleonic, absorbing and unpredictable. Songs from the new album BackSpace Unwind, like ‘Nobody Else’, ‘In Binary’, ‘We Fall in Love’, ‘What Makes Us Human’ and ‘Doves and Ravens’, were interspersed with the crowd-pleasing cornerstones of the Lamb legacy, ‘Gorecki’ and ‘Gabriel’. Magic moments were aplenty, including an explosion of spinning light around the space as three disco balls were used to surprisingly cheese-free effect during ‘As Satellites Go By’, and a ridiculously raunchy remix of ‘B-Line’ with the challenge set by Lou to ‘out-raunch’ Brighton.

What’s fascinating to watch when Lamb play live is an exquisitely balanced tension that’s always present in the music. Tamed into powerful latency is an undercurrent of humming, crackling and spontaneously exploding energy harnessed in an invisible Tesla coil of momentum. By the end of the gig Jon had given so much to the muses of moment that he lay on his back, still playing his electronic cello, in obvious agony. What more can we ask from our musicians?

Stefanie Elrick


Recommended by Now Then

6 December | Castle Hotel | £6

The Scandi-tronic trio have been here before, supporting Jon Hopkins at Gorilla. This time they're stealing the limelight while locals Acre Tarn attend to the warm-up duties. Link.

10 December | Antwerp Mansion | £4

A ska, reggae and punk themed line-up has been assembled in aid of the UK homelessness charity, Homeless Film Festival. Manchestska and The Uplifters are among the entertainers. Link.

10 December | Sacred Trinity Church | £8

It looks like 10 December is the day for charity fundraisers (see above). It looks like International Human Rights Day will be the reason in this case, but should human rights issues be contained to one day of the year? They should take heed of Joe Clark's issue 13 article advising socially conscious groups to stay in contact in order to avoid needlessly splitting audiences. This one features a mix of spoken word and music. Link.

14 December | 4pm | Roadhouse | Free

The ever-reliable local music showcase that brought you GoGo Penguin long before they set Mercury temperatures soaring returns with a festive flavour. Expect pigs in blankets, mince pies, chess and maybe some stonking live music thrown in to bundle. Link.

18 December | Art of Tea Cafe | £6

The eternally cheerful hip hop folky heads up a show of pre-Xmas jingles down in the Didsbury tea house, with support from former Johnny5thWheel&TheCowards pop bluesman Richard Lomax. Link.

31 December | Islington Mill | £20+

Predictably, the Mill is on the money when it comes to its NYE plan. Ninja Tune's The Bug is joined by Flowdan on the mic to justify the ticket cost, but you'll be amply rewarded by the venue's various affiliates whichever room you find yourself in. Link.