The criticism most often levelled at In The City is that it’s nothing more than an industry jolly – a three-day holiday for A&Rs, to a place where their expense accounts stretch twice as far as they would back home.
That may have been true once – but in 2009, post-recession, there’s obviously far less cash being splashed around.
Once the purse strings get tighter than Russell Brand’s leggings, and MP3s are easier for just about everyone to get hold of for free than what’s IN Russell Brand’s leggings, wasteful trips to the North on music industry expenses are simply not an option. This is why ITC 2009 was the best one I’ve been to so far, and the fact that it even happened at all is an encouraging sign that there is still support for new and unsigned artists, and an industry still willing to put their hands in their pockets, even if their pockets have holes in.
In The City is a two or three day event where the music industry uproots from London en masse and arrives in Manchester, confused, inappropriately dressed, and as excited as if they were on a school trip. There, they are given special passes that get them into gigs all over the city for free and into panels about various aspects of the job, and as far as unsigned bands are concerned, may as well have a big target on them.
This year, more than ever, In The City was as much a festival as it was an industry conference, with passes for a pittance that let punters into all the official gigs, and a hostel deal as well. 150 bands over three days is basically a festival, only instead of five stages there are 39, instead of tents there’s a hotel room with five people to a bed, and instead of horrible overpriced chips from a van when everything else is shut, there’s horrible overpriced Chinese food from a place with a bouncer on the door when everything else is shut.
150 bands is actually only the official bill, there are countless more playing fringe events, waiting for people with passes to stumble into the wrong venue by mistake, which happens often. Manchester is a magical musical place that smells of roses all year round, but it’s especially glorious at ITC time, when there’s music coming from absolutely every available orifice of the city at all hours of the day and night. Bands congregate in the street, thrusting flyers and CDs at people who already have 12 bands to see in the next hour and working their sales pitches to try and make it 13, it’s the most cosmopolitan flea market you’ve ever seen.
Working at ITC this year was an eye-opener. Part of a small team trying to film bits of the most interesting panels and the standout bands, what we thought would be a fairly easy ride with only a few hours work a day almost ended up sending a camera op into rehab and a video editor blind, there was just so much that was unmissable – the story of Creation Records, Gered Mankowitz talking about his ten favourite photos, making music videos on a shoestring, and the Pirate Party’s Rick Falkvinge talking about his views on copyright, and that was all before the first gigs.
Of the band tips we got, almost all of them were stunning. I wasn’t mad keen on Lost Knives or Dutch Uncles, but even then I couldn’t say they were rubbish. When a bill is being put together by a little office full of music obsessives in Manchester for a full year beforehand, at the very worst you can say some of the bands aren’t to your taste, but rarely that they’re crap.
Unicorn Kid was as talked about this year as Little Boots was last year, and played two official shows. He’ll be loved and hated in equal measure but he’ll undoubtedly be everywhere by next year with his headache-inducing extra sugary 8-bit joy. I loved it, but it’s right up my pixelated street. Crystal Fighters were the best showmen by far, and Gallops’ bleepy prog was right on the money, playing a couple of shows as well as representing ITC at Huw Stephens’ Swn Fest the same week – you’ll be hearing much more from them judging by the number of people they mesmerised this year.
But the most noteworthy achievement this year was that the lobby bar of the Midland Hotel – In The City HQ – was never particularly busy on an evening, where normally it’s a place delegates gather before heading off to see a band or two, or maybe even just stay and chat to people they could just meet up with back home and avoid all but the most essential gigs they have to go to. No, this year the delegates and the organisers were out around Manchester pretty much constantly.
The footage that was shot is still being edited even now, but if you want to see what happened and keep up with what the now (almost) completely recovered video editor is sifting through, keep an eye on theITC YouTube.