“I’d only been gone seven or eight months, and suddenly the scene in Manchester seemed to have exploded into life.”
For Kult Country’s Yousif Al-Karaghouli, the decision to move to London came at precisely the wrong time. He’d just served a musical apprenticeship in Manchester spanning six years - “I was there for university, officially, but only because I wanted to start a fucking band” - and, shortly after heading back down south a couple of years ago, a scene he’d watched simmer suddenly came to the boil in dramatic fashion. The catalyst was Sways Records, the DIY label operating out of an intriguingly offbeat venue on the outskirts of town.
“I actually met those guys in Paris,” he recalls. “They’d just signed MONEY and sent them on tour, and they told me they were going to start throwing these parties at this weird little converted industrial space they were calling the Fuhrerbunker. Twelve days later, I’d moved back to town, put a whole new Kult Country lineup together, and we were playing one of those parties.”
Having undergone a handful of makeovers at this point - the very first incarnation of the band was “really raw, really angry, really political” - Kult Country are now poised to become the latest Sways graduates to make a serious mark outside of their hometown, joining an already-impressive alumni that includes the aforementioned MONEY and their Bella Union labelmates PINS. “To be fair, we’re not a straight-up, lucid, acid-drenched psychedelic band or anything. I do love a lot of that stuff - from The Lucid Dream all the way back to The 13th Floor Elevators - but we’re only psych at some moments; at others, we’re punk, and there’s some alt-indie in there too.”
"There’s ripples of where we’re going, and echoes of where we’ve been."
— Yousif Al-Karaghouli
After a few years of relentless gigging - “I felt like we needed to do that; it’s the best way to become a better player” - the band are finally readying their debut record, which has been produced by MJ from Hookworms. “Half of it’s basically a collection of our early stuff, and the other half is newer songs that we’ve written more collectively. There’s ripples of where we’re going, and echoes of where we’ve been, I think. You can hear our sound progressing just on the album itself; some of the songs are a long way from traditional structures, but I think it’s going to surprise people in terms of how raw it is, too.”
Key to that unrefined sound is MJ’s production; he’s currently in the process of mixing the “ninety percent finished” record ahead of a winter release. “People said, “don’t you want to mix it yourself?”, but I really believe in collaboration. MJ’s from a gritty, gritty musical background, and where he was trying to drench stuff in effects, he was stripping that stuff away; he wouldn’t let me hide behind delays and reverb. I’ve got a lot of confidence in his vision.”
Their latest single on Sways, ‘Trembling Moon’, sums up their sound pretty neatly; there’s menace in the guitars, haze in the distortion, and bite to the vocals, but strip all of that away and the pop sensibilities are obvious - it’s a melodically gorgeous track. “It strikes a nice balance between the extremes in our sound, and you can hear everybody’s influence on it, too. I didn’t want to put out something super heavy; people think we’re this abrasive, noisy band, but at the minute I can only reflect my current mindset - and it’s a peaceful one.”
SWAYS’ THE ONE
At the heart of anything bubbling up from Salford streets and beyond, SWAYS has housed MONEY and Ghost Outfit in its time. And its ability to be at the centre of the conversation hasn't stopped short - below Joe Goggins highlights three bands on the SWAYS roster maintaining Manchester's rosy rep.
Bernard + Edith
With alluringly dark debut single ‘Poppy’ and a performance at the Bunker televised as part of March’s 6 Music festival, this Twin Peaks-obsessed duo - featuring Nick Delap of Egyptian Hip Hop - are readying an album for release later this year.
Naked (On Drugs)
Fronted by eccentric Frenchman Sebastien Perrin - who moved to Manchester to make music - the brilliantly-monikered five-piece released their first 7”, ‘Lee Ann’s Skin’ - think Nick Cave gone pure-pop - late last year.
This enigmatic outfit seemed to be popping up in support slots all over town for a while, peddling their intriguing band of psych-tinged chillwave; recently, though, they’ve gone quiet, which should hopefully mean their well-overdue debut record is nearing completion.