Saturday 14 October 2023

Déjà Vega / Mewn / The Rolling People / Uninvited / Ether Mech / Ellen Beth Abdi - Manchester Beyond The Music Festival - 13th / 14th October 2023

As part of Beyond The Music, the new music conference taking place at Manchester Central and other venues across the city, a key element is a showcase of new and emerging talent from the city and further afield.  We caught up with some recommended acts across Friday afternoon and early Saturday evening - Déjà Vega, Mewn, The Rolling People, Uninvited, Ether Mech and Ellen Beth Abdi.
Déjà Vega could probably headline this stage in Band On The Wall in their own right but they’re on the opening slot at 4pm while the conference is still going on across town. The attendance is therefore more reminiscent of their earliest shows around this part of town than the packed out rooms of this size they command both here and across the country.

Their five song set kicks off with Personal Hell and it’s clear they don’t intend to hold back and the early birds are treated to an intimate intense set that has the Friday afternoon crowd reaching for the earplugs as the trio push the venue’s new system to its limit. Jack is a ferocious frontman, transformed from the polite gentleman he is off stage the minute he picks up his guitar. His band mates Mike (bass) and Tom (drums) might be static in comparison but they're equally as vital to the sound of the trio, particularly when they stretch out and flex their muscles on the wonderful fifteen minute The Test that fills half their allotted time with more ideas that most bands manage in a whole lifetime. Quite why they're playing to an almost empty room as delegates debate across town is something that the festival organisers need to consider for the next event.

Over at The Peer Hat the situation is even more dire in terms of numbers - and we get the same feedback from friends we bump into en route who are at other venues. At Mewn's allocated start time there's two of us in the room, a situation that improves by the time the set-up problems are sorted out and they finally start to play their wonderfully melodic widescreen songs that draw you in with their lack of bluster and waves of warm keyboards and guitars and Daniel's world-weary vocals. 

Unperturbed by the situation, they showcase some new songs that build on the positive impression they've left with their two EPs to date (2021's Landscapes Unchanged and last year's Such As This). They don't blow you away with power but they leave you with a warm feeling that their music has made the world a better place for the last twenty minutes while the world outside goes to shit. It's not hard to understand why they were invited to play with The National last year at Mayfield Depot. We head across to The Blinders show at The White Hotel hoping those playing later get audiences boosted by post-work and post-conference attendees.

We start Saturday in Band On The Wall. The band that’s on aren’t the one we’re expecting as The Rolling People have been added to the bill with little or no announcement. Their influences are as obvious as you’d expect from a band named after a Verve song but they’ve got a confident power and personality of their own that will create a buzz when they headline this room in their own right in December. Tonight they’ve got a few hardcore fans, friends and family, one who randomly shouts out United like a case of football tourettes, and a few curious festival goers to impress and they do just that across the course of half an hour. 

A slower song called Outer Space, a brand new untitled one and another new one called On My Way stand out - front man Kian has an aura and stage presence too that has already and will continue to serve them well. There may be a lot of four/five piece all male bands knocking around right now but they’re good enough to stand out from the crowd.

We head next door into Band On The Wall's intimate bar stage area for Uninvited who’ve come all the way from Glasgow to have their set pulled forward an hour into an empty slot with no festival comms about it - the website still showing their original time. They’ve got a handful of their hardcore down but the crowd for them is criminally sparse for such a genuinely great band. A panelist earlier in the day told a story of an Ed Sheeran gig at In The City with a crowd of nine and we wonder if he befell the same fate at that festival.

Their set takes heavily from their new EP I Feel A Bit Weird which was released on Friday. Their songs see Taylor and Gillian either alternate or share lead vocals to strong effect, but they're very much a gang of four. They’re tight and polished, more so than when we saw them supporting The Blinders last year, without losing any of the energy, passion and anger in the likes of Holly, Portrait Of A Femme and Snakecharmer before they finish with two songs from the EP, finishing on Here's Looking At You, Kid. They really deserved a much bigger crowd than they got but everyone in the room loved them.

We head over to The Peer Hat and by the time Ether Mech are due on stage there's us and photographer. Some of our friends turn up as do a group of drunk wristband-less women on a night out and Ethel Mech's set turns into a wonderful experience that the dozen or so of us share. The band - Vivien on guitar and vocals, Madeleine on synths, bass and vocals and Rami on drums - take us on a wild journey through genres. 

They start with the slow-fast technique that's served Pixies so well over the years, before veering into punk then spoken word where Vivien sits on the floor and laments being fired from being a woman in tech and failing in trying to be an arsonist and a revolutionary communist. They flip between Vivien and Madeleine on lead vocals and Rami's drumming style is primal and dictates the songs until they turn disco for a track. They finish on their double A side single - two short sharp blasts of Paxman Fever and Astral Parade. The joy of festivals is discovering something new, we're not sure why we ended up in there, their name piquing our curiosity probably, but we left beaming from cheek to cheek. Brilliant.

The room's filled up for Ellen Beth Abdi, word of mouth spreading rapidly across Manchester about one of the best vocal talents to come out of the city in a long time. Her set is interrupted multiple times by technical difficulties which stops any real momentum yet what ultimately shines through is the beauty of her voice, tender, emotional and expressive set to music, here four synths that cause most of the technical problems. Her personality also shines through as she keeps the audience entertained and charmed as they try and fix everything that goes wrong.

Whether she's using loops to layer her vocals to simple or no instrumental backing or whether it's more traditional song structures like Who Is The World Made For the audience are captivated when she sings about the trials and tribulations and fears of a young woman growing up in Manchester. Everytime the technical problems threaten to derail she pulls it back. She's brave enough to finish on a new song that's so new it's not on her as yet unreleased debut album, yet everything is new to most of the people in the room given she's still in the infancy of a career that could very well take off in the next twelve months.

There's been a lot of positive social media about this conference and festival over the course of the past few days and anything that shines a light on the city's music scene and draws investment and interest into it is a good thing. It may well be that we chose artists who clashed with those who packed out venues, but the attendances were worryingly low. Some of this may be down to artists being scheduled to play when the conference was still ongoing, which doesn't really work, and the fact the majority of the artists, other than a few, were left to promote their own appearances other than a mention on the festival website and last minute changes weren't announced either. Plenty of positives, but also plenty to work on would be our overriding take out from the first edition.

Déjà Vega are on Facebook and Twitter

Mewn are on Facebook and Twitter.

The Rolling People are on Facebook and Twitter.

Uninvited's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Ether Mech are on Facebook.

Ellen Beth Abdi is on Facebook and Twitter.


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