Victoria Warehouse, Old Trafford
Transformer is a new indoor festival event, with a pretty mind boggling line-up… reminiscent of those ill-fated ATP events in fact…hmmm. Sure enough the organisers posted a notice to the effect that one Barry Hogan was not involved in a financial capacity (presumably to avoid a long line of creditors turning up demanding cash, and to allay any concerns that the event might be a birrova a shambles or indeed be cancelled at very short notice). Reading a bit further, surprise surprise it turns out Barry is a ‘consultant’ to the event – well he does know how to put a great bill together. The price is right though, for just £25 which is what you’d pay to see just one of the headliners – it’s worth a punt.
First up, at the ungodly hour of 4pm I’m really pleased to see This Is Not This Heat again. It feels strange walking in from the Sunday afternoon sunshine straight into the ferocious ‘Horizontal Hold’ in full flight. It sounds immense. It’s a more compact band version of the band than their headline show at the Barbican back in February- no Chris Cutler or Thurston Moore this time but Charles Hayward and Charles Bullen are aided by an incredible 6 piece band including the great James Sedwards on guitar and Alexis ‘Hot Chip’ Taylor on keys and most importantly Ring Modulator for the proto-techno ’24 Track Loop’. They’re gripping to watch, and it’s all about rhythm – Hayward’s intense drumming is jaw dropping and when his co-pilot drummer joins it’s like watching a Squatney version of King Crimson. It’s full-on, Camberwell Art-rock and is by no means an easy listen but it’s hugely rewarding and the audience are hugely respectful and warm towards them- and Charles Hayward’s cheshire-cat grin lights up the whole room. I feel privileged to have seen this extraordinary and unique band.
There are 2 stages to flip between so I catch a bit of Mueran Humanos who plays decent, electro-trancey psych rock with a dash of Chris & Cosey. Back in the main room, Loop are on and true to form they are very very loud but the sound mix is excellent so while you can feel the bass in your rib cage it doesn’t hurt to listen to. The sound is clear and immersive. I’m somewhat distracted by the fact that Robert Hampson nowadays looks not unlike Paul Weller and sports a classic mod T-shirt – I half expect him to launch into Eton Rifles. Anyway it’s a cracking set (when Robert isn’t complaining about the lighting or the monitor mix or tuning up) and ‘Collision’ and ‘Arc-Lite’ cause an outbreak of dancing – not sure who Robert’s rhythm section are these days but for a drone-rock band they can groove.
Royal Trux are one of the big draws of the day – this being their first UK show in aeons. They’re a total shambles. The sound is dreadful, but given that it’s fine for all the other performances I suspect the blame lands with the musicians and no amount of polish could buff up this musical turd. If you were being charitable I suppose they have a certain sleazy charm but on the whole they’re a tedious bunch old Junkies with no tunes.
The Fall take to the stage and once the band have got up to speed Mark E.Smith makes an entrance to a huge ovation and a much needed injection of showmanship after Royal Trux. Never a picture of health, the old boy looks all 75 of his 60 years and he doesn’t look at all well – a bit off colour and also sporting a golf-ball sized lump on his forehead. This doesn’t stop him firing on all cylinders vocally – and as usual he’s pacing around the stage, breaking mics or tossing them into the crowd – and doing his usual shctick of fiddling with amps and doing his best to annoy the sound engineer. Strangely – his interventions with the backline more often than not pay off – he’s sort of randomly acting as FX pedals for the guitars and at one point he adds some more mics to the bass drum which works a treat. I also catch Sex Swing on the 2nd stage who are stunning – powerful post-punk sound with a bit of wailing Sax added and they sound like a logical extension of what This Heat were doing – and sure enough Charles Hayward appears next to me to check them out.
I’m not a huge Swans fan – so I skip the headliners as I’m spent and don’t fancy 2 hours of Swans and a very expensive taxi home – and Ive had my money’s worth.
Lovers of ‘eavy sounds from all over the globe, I suspect a lot to see a rare Royal Trux performance and one of the last Swans gigs – I hope the former didn’t have high expectations
It made me think..
I have to say this event was incredibly good value and any concerns about the ATP connection seem unfounded, the whole shebang seems well organised, everything runs to time, nice food, decent ale, little record stall to browse between performances, great sound (on the whole) so hats off to all concerned.