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 - https://gomid.bandcamp.com/
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 $$$ - Grief Stricken Listed Buildings
Grief Stricken Listed Buildings and the wider Another; Country $$$ project is created by Sam Shorter. His projects beforehand such as Strange Friends with Dane Smith (Ladylamp) were always guitar based, typically a band of 20 something year old people from Manchester, however this project is different.
Loss and or grief feel like the key elements in this release and this project with Sam losing his father last year and of course the physical separation we have all had throughout the pandemic. This album seems to effortlessly combine elements of Mogwai, GYBE, Mikachu and The Glitch Mob simultaneously, yeah I don't get it either.
Seamless electronics pulsate and create swarms of expansive environments in my mind with DnB breakbeats and childlike percussion. The track 'Community Garden' fits next to Fat Segal's 'Skins Theme' which soundtracked a generation. I think Segal's tune has now become a representation of adolescence and an angsty show for teens whereas Shorter's track takes on a whole new area of music incorporating a fast bpm, lost female vocals and harsher percussion throughout.
The first self titled track and second track 'God' both feel like lead up tracks to 'Community Garden' with a much slower, atmospheric feel to them, welcoming, drawing you into the glitchy, painted world of Another; Country $$$.
The Art Of Noises is a futurist manifesto wrote in 1913 by Luigi Russolo. Russolo argued that the human ear has become accustomed to the speed, energy, and noise of the urban industrial soundscape, furthermore, this new sonic palette requires a new approach to musical instrumentation and composition. He proposes a number of conclusions about how electronics and other technology will allow futurist musicians to "substitute for the limited variety of timbres that the orchestra possesses today the infinite variety of timbres in noises, reproduced with appropriate mechanisms."
That idea of the sonic palette has been perfected on this record by Sam. Every song feels like a place or someone you know. A kiss from a loved one, a shed tear or a raging speed chase. 'Glee Club' and 'B B' both feel like a panic attack and 'Heat Loss' feels like calming down, all are sad, all feel real. 'DULC' and "RIN' then both float you off into a neverland, almost like a physical reprise rather than an audio, just before the drop.
'Youth Pastor' keeps the raw emotion bursting open at the seams of the album. It feels like Sam has managed to squeeze all the sounds of Slint's Spiderland into one song whilst keeping on the same land that the rest of the album is in. Samples of sex, metal, sirens and screams pile on top of the overdriven, fuzzy misery that is the guitar chords under this track until cleansing and freedom comes to the playing. The simple audio change that comes in this track feels like a genuine change of outlook for the artists and us an an artist, with sampled reminders popping up like intrusive thoughts when looking in the mirror before the song abruptly ends before you know where to turn, what to do or what to feel.
Grief Stricken Listed Buildings is my album of the year....
Bayern Youth - Do What You Want
Daniel Broomhall AKA Bayern Youth AKA The White Hotel sound engineer AKA Lonely Dancer released the track 'Do What You Want' through Brandon Smith AKA The Singing Box with us on the M1 charity release back in September and after listening to the tracks a lot throughout the production of the project this was one of the songs that always got me going.
Daniel has always been an avid lover of club and rave culture to the point of creating a New Years Eve live rave music video to represent the new movement forward for the outfit. The track in question was a lost track from Daniel and we are so thankful that it could be us to put this stomper out.
The track is a club ready tune that should be played in any industrial appreciative clubs in Berlin with its dirty, crunchy percussion, crackling tape undertones and highly distorted vocals. It twists, turns and squirms under the weight of itself.
Algernon Cornelius - The Miraculous Weapons of Clarkus_Dark
Algernon Cornelius has had a long and illustrious career in music across the UK, appearing in many bands, putting on many bands and supporting so many others over many many years. In his illustrious career to date we have 46 releases as Algernon Cornelius and I've lost count of how many others under different pseudonyms and with others in a variety of projects, however The Miraculous Weapons is different. The formula has been found.
Combining the energy and emotion of DC punk bands like Bad Brains, the raw metallic feel and sound of RATM, the adverse production of Madlib and Quasimoto, the experimentalism of Madvillainy with a dash of Yorkshire humour and found sounds brings you this album. A sight to behold, from my favourite track 'Smol World', -a good standard to and fro hip-hip track- to the absurdity of 'Fire' and 'Beyond Time' which warp and extend the preconceived ideas oh hip-hop.
The one continuous thread throughout this release is the sheer intelligence of Clarkus Dark, the varied vocal styles, the emotive language used and then the ability to splice that into powerful music consistantly for 40 minutes. Tracks like 'How Good's The Funeral' show the full visceral capability of his voice and that it can be multi-dimensional, something that I'm not sure many rappers in the city -never mind the world- can and would do. Those choices to let emotions run wild through music are what touch me about this album, it feels real, raw and like it wants to chew me up.
Algernon created the beats, the multi instrumental tracks, writes and records the vocals for nearly everything you hear on the album -again a mean feat- but he does work alongside some fantastic other artists including CLYDE, Dr Konopinski, Roy Uluru and Isaac Amethyst, just to name a few. In the notes to the album over 200 people, groups and musicians are thanked and mentioned and another hundred praised for their poetry which makes this album feel like more than just music, it's a statement of intent, of respect and of awareness. An awareness of what words and audio can do, what they represent and the legacy that they leave behind.
Landscapes of chaos and pictures of serenity are all made available in this record, at points it just feels as though you are swimming (or drowning) in the vast open waters of Cornelius' mind. Harking back to the clear Vincent Von Doom influences, it is tracks like '(We Live Our Lives) In The Dark' and 'Anguirus Raids Again' that give this release a spiky contagious pulse through our bodies.
Cornelius' live performance enhances the emotions felt on this record. The person behind the music is gentile and warm whereas the persona you meet on the record and on stage is angry and wild whilst controlled and justified. The intelligence of this individual is the truly awe inspiring element of this album and you can reference their writing in their new zine Black Spring that puts their views into true focus.
I think Clarkus Darks' Miraculous Weapons are the people around him and this album celebrates that.
aya - i'm hole
Aya has finally graced us with her first full EP and god, it's good.
Sharp electronics pulsating with vigour and anger layered with vicious punk poetry sound like they're straight from 90's London, not 2021 Yorkshire/Manchester. Aya seems to seamlessly combine the contemporary femme vocal sounds of Grimes and Poppy with a gritty edge of industrious pop, especially when bringing Iceboy Violet onto the track 'emley lights us moor'.
The release as a whole feels like a hark back to childhood song making with the sincere and honest nature of the keyboard note choices that riddle the release giving me a smile. All the while you are being smacked by the breakbeats, the drill, the grime, the experimental noise and the off-kilter production of the whole package, especially on tracks like 'the only solution i have found is to jump higher' and that is exactly what aya has done, raised the bar...
The experimental scene is growing rapidly in Manchester and further across the country with artists like aya at the forefront representing new formulas, new formations and new possibilities in breaking down genres and splicing the sounds that make us move. Aya has even gone one step further by producing a 32 page book of writing, poetry and photography in collaboration with Oliver Van Der Lugt to fully flourish this release as one solid offering to the art and music world.
The reality is that 'i'm hole' has opened a new chapter in the UK's electronic scene that has been gatekept by the states. There is now the availability for more to come on this massive journey that they have paved for you.
Space Afrika (Feat Blackhaine) - B£E
This is an obvious choice for the best of the year but it is completely justified...
Currently you can't go anywhere without the mention of Space Afrika, Blackhaine, Fixed Abode, Rainy Miller and The White Hotel and without blowing my smoke their way I feel that this one track encompasses all elements of what we are talking about. Space Afrika's full album 'Honest Labour' is seminal, no words about it. Their inclusion of industrial, dancehall, hip-hop and ambient have pushed them to the top of DIY music across Europe and their work with local art radio show Dream FM has routed them in the minds of the local people too.
Alongside this Blackhaine has released 'And Salford Falls Apart' which has gripped the area by the throat. 'A cinematic drill noise' release as the Bandcamp declares, is exactly what it is. Tom wears his heart on his sleeve and creates an audio world of pain for you to step right into and weep, 5 tracks of industrial torture. Hurt that a lot of us feel being in the unloved North West in post brexit England. As well as this release Tom has had a very busy year teaming up with Kanye West on the new album 'Donda' where he worked on the choreography, this work alongside others has really bolstered the legitimacy of his art around the world not just in the 'DIY scene'.
On top of this you have Rainy Miller, accomplished produced, orchestral composer and arranger who has worked with all of the above along with label Fixed Abode and in-house DJ and engineer Croww. Millers' latest release 'A Choreographed Interruption' has done exactly what it said, it's been heard and it's caused ripples as far as the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo.
So, put those three together and a whole host of other fantastic artists to create the world of 'B£E'.
Whether they were clever or just worked with people I put in high regard I will never know but from video director Rory A Wood aka RAWTAPE to stylist Cal Mac, makeup by Alex Ogden Clark aka LipglossLezza and Dais Records, all involved in this project are fantastic and working towards a better city. We actually haven't even talked about the song yet have we? But to me that is the cultural importance of this single. In an interview with Fergal Kinney, CURRENTMOODGIRL aka Greta Carroll said “It’s definitely true that the Manchester music scene has finally moved on from the indie or punk thing into something that’s actually new and modern,” we have this single as a spearhead of that.
'B£E' is track 10 in album sandwiched with 18 others and stands out strong as the clear winner. The whole album ebbs and flows like a soundtrack to a late night walk through the seedy lines that split Manchester and Salford, litter shoved up against shop fronts and barbed wire lining the walls, it's scary and it's okay to say. There are a variety of tracks starring some fantastic cameos but 'B£E" is the one.
We open with a crossover of crunchy dub drums that quickly lay way for Blackhaine's vocal musing 'I'm a tryna get rich at the top of the map,' a quote we can all hold dear to our hearts. Rainy's quintessential strings add a layer of luxury to this minimal track that take it once again a level above anything else around, with dogs barking and an orchestral crescendo you feel as though you are being raised from the dark rainy streets of Manchester to a better place, maybe an easier one?
'Man a tryna get rich at the top of the map' I think they are going to do it....
'B£E' is my single of the year....