Best of 2021

Writing a list of this years best music made in Manchester was really hard because there was simply so much of it, from industrial noise, hip-hop, avantgarde jazz, Malawian folk, american/soviet twins, blind collaboration and a group that are putting Salford on the map.

I'll say it bluntly, my consistent optimism has ran out, I no longer give time to things that don't really get me going and out of lockdown and back into the real life some things have become crystal clear. Some bands, some labels and some venues can fuck themselves. We in the Manchester DIY scene will still do everything that we do and I congratulate each and every one of you who are part of it, from the musicians, promoters, sound engineers, managers, labels, photographers, artists, distributors and printers, without you nothing would exist.

2021 started as a tentative year with the first quarter spent in lockdown and gigs didn't even resume until May. This both meant that we had a massive hunger and that some people had soooooo much time tucked away in their bedrooms, living rooms or practise spaces creating. This list is a congratulations to those people because we have 11 incredible releases that have blown me away this year.

There is always a heavy burden with being a 'Manchester band', you've literally got 50 years of pop music to live up to, and a lot of glaring eyes from elsewhere in the country. There is a sound, there is an expectation and then there is reality. In the past Manchester has definitely met it's cliché indie/twee means but this year feels fresh. Whether lockdown forced people to move around or Manchester's high rise architecture lured you in, there is a new demographic in the city. Experimental and Industrial music seem to be central to Manchester's DIY music in 2021, whether that be literal, in the choice of instrumentation, the stories that the music tells or in the world they create.

I have laid out 11 releases from this year that have shit all over anything that Scruff of the Neck have released or RGM have put on, regardless of how many number 1 releases they have, so let's begin.

(None of this list is in order because none of this is better than any others on the list, the running order follows the radio show alongside it.)

Kahreign X Shauna - Underdog

"I AM THE CAPTAIN!" Yes you are Kahreign!

'Underdog' was the fourth release of the year from Rhythm Lab records, the offshoot label of Reform Radio ran by Hannah O'Gorman, founder of STEAM Radio alongside Isaac, Iyun and Ellie. Their ethos is 'fostering collaborations between up and coming northern artists' and this track perfectly represents that.

Kahreign and Shauna had never met before working together on this track and this blind collaboration was something that the label were really promoting within their ranks to bring about something new and fresh to the world, something that other labels were not doing. Kahreign's Afro-House and synth-pop style brings her Zimbabwean heritage to the modern age with a cutting UK R&B style alongside her live Dj's DJ Vista and DJ Catzico. Mix that in with the guttural dancehall beats of Shauna Stapleton and you have a ready made radio hit.

Utilising African drums and a variety of layered spiky percussion the multi track vocals smoothly announce "I am the captain!" which cements this a statement of independence and power. Seeing Kahreign play this show live really got me dancing and the whole audience at the Rhythm Lab presents show dancing, even one audience member taking their top off and dancing on stage with the singer.

This level of community, collaboration and fantastic music is why I have started this list with 'Underdog', listen to it here -

Priceless Bodies - Split EP

Alphaville Records have been creating a community of alternative indie fans, which Manchester is crammed with, including bands like Swedish Magazines, Threads and The Vat Egg Imposition until this split. The split starts with an obvious choice for the label with twee garage impresario's Oort Clod, however it is the second side of the split that still leaves me with questions.

Priceless Bodies are a group comprised of the Pencz twin sisters who hail from Vancouver. Their music covers a spectrum of DIY industrial pop that feels like it closely references the Swans album 'Soundtrack For The Blind' which incorporates 808 backing beats with dissonant guitar and synths to produce a haunting tone that is one of a kind.

Imagine a Twin Peaks in house band. As corny as that sounds both the audio and visual elements of this group feel as though they would be set up in the corner of the main hall in The Great Northern Hotel and would robotically commence when a guest entered the room.

Their use of digital tech and sampling shines through in their live show where you can hear the use of knives and sleigh bells in the backing interwoven with angular guitar licks that draw you in to the warm vocals offered by both sisters. Use of found and field recordings gives depth to this release as well and a rhythm section which feels fresh and new especially the guitar on 'Small Beautiful Flooded Palace' sounds like a rip from The XX's first release or any of Jarboe's albums.

Listen to it here -

Marco Woolf - Francine, I

Marco Woolf's 'Francine, I'' is a breath of fresh air. It floats on a plateau of excellence from the start of the track Francine all the way through the 5 tracks to Modus Operandi at the close. Akin to the smooth jazz that Alice Coltrane introduced later in her career filled with spirituality and the light touch of piano and wind instruments which can be heard throughout this release.

Marco's Malawian heritage blends effortlessly with the modern British jazz movement to offer us a view into his storytelling whilst not bearing his whole heart. 'Let's Build This House' is where the EP comes to a careering crescendo with a thumping bass driven bridge riddled with Sun Ra style saxophone fills and Frank Zappa style off beat psychedelic guitar, this is when the goosebumps really start.

This feels like one of the most mature and considered releases Manchester has offered in some time. Marco's live performance bolsters all of these opinions by bringing a full professional band along with him including an in house favourite, Carmel Smickersgill.

Listen to it here -

GOMID - Ugly Boys Doom

A duo that sound like no other, no other music I've heard before or even content I've heard before, GOMID.

Founded by fantastic solo artists Iyun (LNTD) and Sam (Arctype) this project brings together their individual styles into one off kilter, minial dancehall track filled with hanuting vocals and silky synths. Their live set shows Sam utilising guitar, digital drums and a sampler to fill the entire show whilst Iyun screams, creeps and 'murders' the audience.

It's a track that sounds like it could be from the the new alternative hip-hop scene of South Africa with artists such as Stiff Pap and Cassper Nyovest pushing the scene into the mainstream. So it's a wonderful thing to have in the city with so many other African and Latin influences pouring out of artists like Obeka and Yelena Lambisha.

So far only 2 full tracks have been released but we hope to see a full release coming from them very soon! Ugly Boys Doom is available on their soundcloud but their Bandcamp has the two 'fully released' tracks which show how they are moving forward.

Listen here -

Mandy, Indiana - ...EP

It was just over a year ago that the band released the track Nike Of Samothrace that I played on the show and it blew me away, last month I played the Daniel Avery remix of Alien 3, I released the CURRENTMOODGIRL remix of Alien 3 as part of M and now I'm reviewing the album as a whole as one of the best releases of the year, wowee, can you tell I'm a big fan?

Harsh drums, guitar based experimental noise, power electronics and femme french vocals distorted and weaving between all of that goodness, I think we will end the review right there...

'...EP' shows the power of the modern European sound, which I have full confidence will go the whole way to a world tour with the power of Daniel Avery and Club Eat remixes that close this record. The three original tracks cover a wide range of sonic interruptions from avantgarde eastern bowl sounding electronics and thumping drums beats that open up the release under the name 'Bottle Episode'. Recorded in a large mill you can hear the dissonant space that the raucous drums create as well as the negative space that is left where you can hear distant piano and voices glisten through.

The next track 'Nike Of Samothrace' sounds like a track that never got put onto Sonic Youth's Ciccone Youth project with it's noise laden guitar creating a layer of red mist around me, fuelling some mystical power inside the listener until those raucous drums and electronics sweep you away once again.

It all seems to be such a simple recipe when listened in one go but one that creates excitement, rage and energy in all close to it.

'Alien 3' shows the more obvious elements of the band with 808 drums patterns and synth wave style electronics, of course, until the screeching slinky shaking guitar noise comes in. That's when the 808 and synth wave become a driving force for Valentine's vocals and Scott's experimental guitar to blossom all over this track with avant applause before the crescendo of harsh power electronics rips your face off, akin to all Boris collaborations with Merzbow.

Alongside the Daniel Avery remix of Alien 3 there is also one remixed by CURRENTMOODGIRL aka Greta which we released on the M1 project, this does feel like an amazing accompaniment to this release however Avery's version is ready for the dance floor immediately with Kavinsky driving synth building up to the break of minimal drums and harsh noise that take you straight back to a heavily layered verse again. Heads fucking going...

This release is fresh, experimental, brave, DIY and real, support them.

Klavier Gruppe - Medicine To Sleep Vol.1 & Vol.2

Another sodden child of the 6a6y 6 collective is Klavier Gruppe.

When interviewing the members and asking about this project Nuria said "We were all humans in the same room but I don’t remember what we did. I remember listening to it and laying down and breathing but then there’s an element of doubt to whether I did something or not. It’s all quite fluid and in the air." and Robin said "They (the recordings) were throughout like a 10pm till 6am stint in the studio, two days in a row. Whenever Jim comes back to Manchester we make sure that we get some stuff done. Miles was kinda taking care of the ambience with smoke machines and strobes."

So picture that, go on...

The collective have released many projects from Sonny Bliss to the upcoming Fopstar, Beau Mec and Satisfaction of Emnity. "I love it. It's so raw. I think Kalum (Do Your Best) really pushed us to get it out and if he hadn’t we wouldn’t have done anything with it." adds John.

The mystique of this band went a step further when SImon of Grey Lantern put them on to support Ex-Easter Island Head at The White Hotel and their set was full of strobes, strange brass instruments out of time and key and even a hoover playing.

This release fuels the freedom of experimental bands before like Throbbing Gristle and Einstrüzende Neubauten, the compositions of John Cage and the mysticism and human sacrifice of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. Regardless of the sonic harm these two releases can cause in their digital or cassette formats they must be on this list as they have become something more than a 'jam session', they are a welcome into the wild and twisted world made available by the individuals behind 6a6y 6 and the support that Do Your Best continue to give to the avantgarde music of Manchester's experimental underbelly.

Another; Country $$$ - Grief Stricken Listed Buildings