A leftfield mix of art, technology, debate and music, Futuresonic is an intelligent, demanding festival. Since 1995 it has promoted a freeform mix of live events, exhibitions, workshops and talks in up to 30 different venues and spaces across Manchester. Recent years have provided were-you-there? performances from RZA, Faust, Matthew Herbert, Battles and Wolfgang Flur.
And this year's event, which took place between May 13-16, was as thought-provoking as ever. In between tech-focused debates at the cities Contact Theatre, I pinned down Drew Hemment, Futuresonic artistic director, to discuss his favourite musical acts.
Thursday’s musical action kicked off with an astounding performance by electronic wizard Murcof, featuring jaw-dropping live visuals by AntiVJ. Venturing over to Urbis, we found leftfield hip-hop legends Anti-Pop Consortium arriving late onstage and performing only new material. Hitting form as their set drew to a close, the Radiohead-endorsed mavericks fired out bouncing beats and cutting urban rhymes.
On Friday evening, the Bjork-like Soap&Skin enthralled a tiny crowd at a Unitarian church near trendy Deansgate. She delivered a mesmerising finale on the chapel’s grand piano before exiting through church doors and into the night. Hauntingly special.
Saturday brought an all American lo-fi indie showcase and post-Great Escape, the US entourage seemed a little worse for wear. Opening band Times New Viking, meanwhile, impressed both on and off stage. We caught them pre-soundcheck to discuss Manchester, electric toothbrushes and Joy Division.
On stage, they’re a rocket-fuelled trio, high on Sonic Youth fuzz and art-rock melody. Drummer/vocalist Adam dedicated songs to Henry Rollins and Heath Ledger before performing a fiery new track name-checking Martin Luther King. Unleashing a dozen tracks over a breakneck 30 minutes, TNV are our favourite band of Futuresonic.
Next up, Crystal Antlers begin sluggishly, their swampy rock struggling to pierce Urbis’ questionable sound system. They recover with closer ‘Parting Song For The Torn Sky’ which shows that underneath the grizzle, there’s a potentially great modern rock band itching to emerge.
Tonight’s line-up is so hip that the soundman sports a Hype Machine t-shirt and crowd haircuts veer from the comic to severe. Marnie Stern provides an intriguing live performance, but her stop-start artiness means it’s hard for momentum to be sustained.
Later, headliners Ariel Pink begin inauspiciously but quickly fire out a curious mix of surf-garage, 60s pop and crunchy punk. ’22 Eyes’ sounds like the Fall minus the Salford accent, while new single ‘Can’t Hear My Eyes’ sees wired frontman Pink croon to lounge soul. It shouldn’t work, but there’s method within Ariel Pink’s wayward madness.
Reverential and arty, Futuresonic is unlikely to appeal to a mass musical audience, but organisers should be commended for pushing eclectic, worldwide talent towards futuristic celebration.