When Salford’s Sounds from the Other City festival was conceived in 2004, it sought to celebrate the work of local independent promoters – who spend their time in the trenches exposing new music – and draw attention to the then-neglected charms of Manchester’s neighbouring ‘other’ city.
Since then, it’s turned an array of places along Salford’s Chapel Street corridor – including an ornate church and a railway station concourse – into a Narnia of art and music, and played host to early gigs by Alt-J, Sampha and Marina and the Diamonds, as well as the debut live from performance The Ting Tings (in The Rovers Return, but not the one off Corrie).
But when founding brothers Mark and Maurice Carlin (who had then recently moved to Manchester and were running a record label and recording studio at Salford’s creative hub, Islington Mill) devised Sounds…, if Manchester was the scrubbed-up perfect child, Salford was (unfairly) treated as its ungentrified, ugly twin.
Although only 10 minutes away from Manchester city centre, “nobody went to Chapel Street at that point,” remembers Riv Burns – Sounds From The Other City’s co-director. “It was seen as a forbidden place. You didn’t go across the River Irwell. Salford was seen as Manchester’s forgotten counterpart, and Sounds celebrated that this place does exist and it’s not that scary and you can do some exciting things there.”
While festivals can increasingly feel faceless or corporate, the SFTOC all-dayer is an idiosyncratic, anarchic, genuine labour of love – a haven for the twin city’s underground DIY-creatives. There’s no central booking; instead, it acts as an eclectic showcase for local promoters like Now Wave and Hey! Manchester, while its commitment to art means you’re never sure what’s around the corner.
“Salford was seen as a forbidden place. You didn’t cross the River Irwell”
– Riv Burns, Sounds From The Other City
“We’re a celebration of new music, performance and art,” says Riv. “It’s like a big day out in Salford. We’ve built a licence and trust with our audience that we do things differently and we’re a bit odd. People enjoy that because they never know what to expect – the joy is we’re a discovery festival. People stop to watch these bizarre incidental performances, then end up missing the band they were planning to see next – which starts them on this different journey.”
Previous years have witnessed gigs by emerging bands in an NHS walk-in centre (while actual patients queued), 2010’s Telephone Showbox featuring live performances phoned into Chapel Street’s only remaining telephone box from the likes of Andrew WK, and there was a Chatroulette disco where party-goers cheered every time a masturbating respondent was projected onscreen.
Walk one way and you can see a dog show where genuine mutts are competing against a taxidermy fox on a skateboard or a cartoon mayor is judging a hot-dog contest; walk the other and you can catch Belgium punks Cocaine Piss.
“What makes SFTOC special is it’s a true community festival run by the people of Manchester and Salford for the people of Manchester and Salford,” notes Riv. “It’s not about industry or people coming in from anywhere else. Our care towards the mix of music and art is key because it’s more of a party than a festival. People think it’s unlike anything else they’ve ever been to – which keeps them coming back.”
For its fifteenth year, SFTOC is throwing a “Quindecennial” (which – for everyone bar lexicographer Susie Dent from Countdown – is an event that occurs every fifteen years) celebration. “Everything is based around the numbers 15, one and five,” explains Riv. “So we’ve invited 15 promoters to curare the bands, we’re based around one site with five venues and we’ve got a capacity of 1,500. We’re working with five of our previous art directors who’ve each responded with five different themes – from outer-space, to fictional towns, countries and everything in between.”
Previously, SFTOC sprawled across a range of Chapel Street spaces; this year is an off-off Chapel Street event that concentrates the action on the unloved Regent’s Trading Estate. The line-up includes Black Midi, returning Heavenly Halifax trio The Orielles, self-styled ‘future-punks’ Black Futures, Manc slow-jam specialists Ménage à Trois, and erstwhile Factory Floor dance maestro Gabe Gurnsey (see Riv’s highlights below). “I feel like with Sounds, the acts play and then four years later, it happens for them. Sampha played in 2012 to around 30 people in Islington Mill in 2012; IAMDDB played to around 40 people two years ago,” notes Riv. As Islington Mill is undergoing renovation works, for one year only, the fabled afterparties will be split across two venues – one of which (at the pink hued Yes) will be taking place in Manchester city centre. Sacrilege! But the journey to Manchester will be fun. “We’re trying to turn the taxi stand into something theatrical and fun – so that the whole journey to the venue feels like a performance – it’s those little touches that makes Sounds… what it is,” says Riv.
Ask Riv her most treasured memories of Sounds… and she recalls ‘The Summoning’, a séance by art collective The Volkov Commanders, which paraded the distinctive characters of past SFTOC posters through the unsuspecting streets of Salford. “One artist was dressed as a creature called the Intergalactic Crab. A four year old saw it and his jaw hit the floor, and he ended up having a conversation with it. It was an amazing thing – a little boy who’d never seen anything like this just playing in the park and this group of outer-space nutters walk past and he gets involved. That to me encapsulates the spirit of Sounds…”
“But we rarely say no to anything – no matter how hard to pull off the idea might seem. In 2012, the Volkov Commanders had a performance takeover with an orchestra that was purely made out of costumed players – which paraded around the courtyard of Islington Mill. Everybody joined in. There was one costume made out of spoons and forks. Off the back of it, they made a track produced by Jonny Sture– who used to be in the band May68 – and it’s one of the best disco songs I’ve ever heard. Giorgio Moroder, eat your heart out.”
While Manchester’s creative community journeying across the river may no longer feel like it poses the same The Purge-style threat as before (and with spiralling rents, how soon before Manchester will start to seem like the Other City?), the annual festival has no plans to stop the fun and madness. “We’re already looking forward to Sounds…’ next Quindecennial, in 2034,” beams Riv.
Riv’s five acts not to miss at Sounds From The Other City
(Unit 3, Curated by Now Wave)
“They’ve obviously started their rise already. I think they’re a really exciting group and they’re performing on one of our biggest stages. They’re a band you have to see live – it’s pure energy. They’re a dream festival band because you can’t help but get lost on what they’re doing.”
(Unit 3, Curated by Heavenly Recordings)
“Two years ago, they performed in a small space and now they’re headlining which is an exciting transition for them. Their cover of Peggy Gou’s ‘It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)’ is one of the best tracks I’ve heard in the last six months. It’s almost better than the original.”
BBC Philharmonic and Young Identity
(Unit 3, Curated by SFOC)
“It’s a commission between the BBC Philharmonic and Young Identity, who are a local hip-hop, poetry and spoken word collective. They’re our opening performance for the day – at 2.30pm on the Unit 3 stage – so I’m excited to see what they come up with as it’s such a blending of genres.”
(Unit 4, Curated by Fat Out)
“They’re the most colourful band I’ve ever seen. They’re kind of a bit pop-slash-punky but their costumes are bright pink and yellow and they use a lot of visuals, and I think they’re an incredible live band. They’ve been booked by Far Out and you can always expect random things from those guys.”
(Unit 5, Curated by Bluedot)
“It’s the first time we’ve worked with Bluedot on the festival. Gabe Gurnsey was one of the founding members of Factory Floor – who are one of my favourite bands of all-time – so I’m excited to see his solo stuff. It’s on that dance level, but a little more stripped back.”
Sounds From The Other City takes place on Salford’s Regent Trading Estate on Sunday 5 May.