LIVE: “Babel Station Present: New Sensations”, The Castle, Manchester, 30th Sept

If I’m honest, drenched getting there, having come alone (because my brother said there was something called “The Football” on), and now sat at the bar on my own in The Castle sipping a Kraken & Coke, I didn’t have high hopes for the night.

I knew a couple of people who were playing, and I came to see if they could lift my spirits, and wanted to wish them well. When I caught sight of one of them, Jim, who had set the night up, he was clock-watching at the end of the bar. I was early, but the pub was about as quiet as you’d expect for an average rainy Monday. Not looking promising, I thought. I’ve organized a lot of gigs in the past, so I know how it feels to be willing people, powerlessly, to come through the door.

One or two others did drift in, and we wandered back to the gig room.

Elastik Bande

First up was three-piece group Elastik Bande, shaking the rain off us as they launched into a Pixies-like song called “Vacuum cleaner”. Just on the right side of painfully distorted, I really liked Elastik Bande, with their willingness to throw themselves into these jagged punk tracks, and force us to feel as much energy as they did. Perhaps my high point of their consistently frenzied set was the busy guitar work on “You’d make a good politician”, which sounded like Savages at times. A lot of Elastik Bande’s songs seemed satirical, and this was a style that would be ramped up by the band that followed them too, Furrowed Brow.

Furrowed Brow’s lead singer Richy so looked the part of a glam rock star that it felt like the tiny stage at The Castle was constrictive. This whole five-piece band in fact shouldn’t have been able to be held in that room with us. They should’ve all been off at The Ritz, baiting us to join their party. Take standing drummer Cristy’s violence – hitting one cymbal so hard it spun on its axis so it was useless, until Richy saved it, mid-vocal riff. This epitomizes how entertaining Furrowed Brow are: A little unhinged, and all the better for it. Songs like “My bone idle idol” sum up the fun at the heart of this band’s sound. “Bathwater” too, where Richy’s repeats “I threw the bathwater out with the baby”, sound like a glam version of Art Brut.

Furrowed Brow

By now I was starting to realize that this was going to be a great night, as did the growing crowd. Having set up the event, I was most excited to hear Jim’s own band, Babel Station, who came on next.

Babel Station produced perhaps the heaviest set of the night, not in terms of distortion or rage but intensity. Jim has played alone with just an acoustic guitar before at gigs I’ve seen, but this angry sound, made up of him and his two brothers, seemed like perhaps the best way to present his poetry and his music. At times they sounded like The Fall – at (admittedly rare) quieter moments, more like Silver Jews. The screech of Jim’s harmonica was the most cutting sound I heard all night. At the end of their last song Jim was switching between bent double and then arching backwards in cycles for a full two minutes. It was exhausting to watch, but riveting too.

Babel Station

Final act Slow Monk were a great way to show that there is more than punk to Manchester’s music. They started with a massive change of pace, without even drums on their first track, as two guitars and bass washed around the rooms delicately. It was clear immediately that they would be the most experimental band of the night, sampling and looping vocals to fill high frequencies, while the complex bass parts moved around them like something The Horrors would have very much appreciated.

Slow Monk

In my four years back in this city I’ve never known a music scene here. This is my fault and not Manchester’s. I’ve seen a lot of good bands and solo artists, but I’ve craved connecting with something where the energy of a night was greater than the sum of its parts. Last Monday night I could see just that – a fledgling scene of great bands joining up into start something new. It was thrilling, and I hope I get to see these people, and this nascent scene, again soon.

Words by Nick Parker.

Photos by Amy Griffiths (Insta: @amygriffiths98)

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