September 25th, M3 7LW, felt like a reckoning of the heights of contemporary experimental music that Manchester had produced in recent years. Culminating in one place for the first time again after a long hiatus of shows, a change of lineups and a new feel to the whole scene.
The Preston based label Them There presented a selection of some of the truly best alternative sounds in the nation from Bunny Hoova, J B Glazer, Otis Jordan and Hyperdawn. With the White Hotel as a backdrop this felt like a show that ‘actually’ meant something.
Bunny Hoova opened the nights proceedings with a new lineup, this to be the first of many shows with this new and impressive lineup that had only been together a month before the show.
Donna has recently teamed up with the esoteric collective 6a6y 6 on the new project Fopstar and subsequently members Robin Williams (Sonny Bliss, Klavier Gruppe, Handle to name a few) and Sam Frost (itsnatevendahk) have filtered into the full lineup alongside long standing member Carmel Smickersgill (Liverpool Philharmonic Ensemble, Marco Woolf, Fretwork).
Renditions of tracks from the 2019 album ‘Longing’ were updated from the live drum sound to the now digital/keyboard style with industrious precision offered up by Williams and accentuated by Frost’s smooth bass tone. Reverberations of Donna’s jangled guitar and sultry vocal tone washed over the crowd throughout the show to welcome a new dawn to what felt like a new band.
After seeing Donna play with a variety of different artists over the years this feels like they have now found the perfect porridge mixture. However the simple fact that there was so much choice to begin with highlights the diverse creativity of this cities musicians, virtuoso or amateur.
After the calm welcome to a plateau of excellence was completed by Bunny Hoova we were quickly introduced (or not) to J B Glazer soaring high in The White Hotel rafters inside the DJ booth. His mixture of mutant dancehall and experimental abstracted sounds offers something that felt very at home within the venue, even though he is based down in London. So much so that I firstly thought the venue had put on their standard ‘cool’ playlist, only to be pleasantly surprised at Glazer’s live mixing from the booth.
The gig marked the same date as Glazer’s latest release ‘Ico Tye 3’ released by local experimental record label Do Your Best, ran in a variety of Chorlton bedrooms. The release was originally made as a singular piece composed in lockdown and originally released as one singular track. This rerelease (with supporting clear cassette) ties together the somewhat sparse feel of lockdown with the richness of nature some of us felt over that period. The melancholic beginning of the album is quickly met with the better known industrial beats we love by the second half of the release.
Both the Do Your Best release ‘Ico Tyre 3’ and the ThemThere release ‘Divine Glint Music’ truly showcase the raw talent of this artist, from drum machine manipulation to sampling old collaborative works. These musical events could be heard throughout the night outside of the live bands.
Next up was Otis Jordan, someone who had really made a name from their live performances. Born in Manchester but based in Glasgow, this artist feels raw and natural, sprawling and weaving like poison ivy up a building, beautiful but leaving you in a state of disarray.
Murmurs throughout the crowd mentioned their name and really bolstered my excitement to witness a group I personally had never heard of before and I was not disappointed. Providing me with Tudor feeling folklore that a besotted town crier may bring to the people of a remote village, twisting percussion and acoustic guitar harmonised with electronics and vocals to capture a moment I don’t experience often. Bliss.
The Otis Jordan album ‘Dodger Point’ released by Them There in 2020 sold out on its first run and then sold out on its second, I feel like that stamps the testament of the fantastic nature of this group. I’m not sure my words will truly do their live performance any real justice…
Immediate J B Glazer beats swallow up the room again as customers release themselves from the last performance and realise they now NEED a smoke. One woman leaves the main room with tears in her eyes and cries ‘that was beautiful’.
Eyes turn to Michael and Vitalija as the crowd prepares themselves for a true showcase of modern classical composition in a new ‘Contemporary Neoclassical’ format, or is ‘Experimental Neo-Classicism’ or even ‘Industrial Romanticism’. Whatever you want to call it, it’s called Hyperdawn. This is who I was truly most excited to see this evening.
Hyperdawn offer something different but something I truly recognise and feel comfortable with. Both members are composers and conductors and see this project as something bigger than just them, that is felt throughout their work. Their debut album ‘Bleach’ released by Them There in 2019 was a genuine triumph and saw them take their live performance across the world, to the US, Canada and around Europe.
Their studies into classical composing and arrangement have led them to fully understand a variety of instruments from modified electronics, vocal effects, homemade instruments and a reel to reel recorder (played live on stage). Just setting up these varied instruments was a sight to behold.
When watching a performance I always naturally try and work out what artists are doing on stage and how they make the sounds that I’m hearing but this an example of when I’m out my depth. The inclusion of these truly individual instruments and equipment really comes across in the ethereal performance unfolding in front of you. Before the show I had a quick chat with Michael about the machines he uses and to put it simply I didn’t understand a lot of conversation but one thing did come across. These machines are unreliable, they break, 2 of his 3 broke very recently, and what happens on a performance he cannot fully control.
That lack of control is what makes Hyperdawn a fantastic musical project in my eyes. Their hyper (haha) -intuitive minds allow them to hypothetically curate music and put the elements in place to allow them to do what is in their minds. Much like how Brian Eno created ambient music by simply programming a selection of electronics to play harmonics and polyrhythms of C whilst he sat back and watched his ideas unfold by themselves.
Their performance in whole was a tentative but warming one, with you, the crowd, stood aghast at the beautiful intricacies of what is happening on stage from Michael’s dimly lit tech, tapes looping and as Vitalija’s chorus laden vocals soar and weave throughout the rough electronics. Once again their set was a plateau of excellence and truly did not disappoint. However that plateau was quickly dismantled into confused wonderment as Donna (Bunny Hoova) pulled their guitar out the case and continued to walk on stage. A new -unheard- song began to groan into life as all on stage warmed themselves up to this "brand new track only perfected the night before" Vitalija stated in an interview after the gig. Donna blended right into the sound of Hyperdawn without a moment's notice, maybe even without sounding like their guitar and vocals were involved. Like I said earlier, I wasn't sure who was making which sounds throughout any of Hyperdawn's set and that didn't change with the addition of Donna on stage. The connection and appreciation on stage was palpable in the audience and a beautiful thing to see and experience. I learnt later that all musicians on Them There are actually in a group chat with each other and they share ideas and collaborate through there, a wonderfully modern way of making a group of friends and professional contemporaries.
Emotions were clear on the faces of the crowd as they filtered through the doorway sized gap between the gig space and bar space in TWH and another woman came towards me with tears in her eyes. I was stood at the merch table attempting to sell the wears of local label DYB and said woman approach exclaiming ‘that was incredible, I can’t believe it. I must have their album -sniffle- how much please?’
That reaction demonstrates the beautiful moments that Carl of Them There has been able to curate, package and then give to us moments of modern music that we have not yet experienced out there in the ether. I congratulate him for the tireless efforts that it takes to run a small tape based label in the north as the community and fan base are small. However selling out TWH says everything, the community is growing in size and stature, so please keep fighting.
What’s next from Them There and when can we see it all again? Check out their discography here…. https://themthere.bandcamp.com/