It’s no secret that Manchester is a true musical hub. From the infamous stories that have emerged from inside the Hacienda, to the iconic mecca that now is the Salford Lads Club, it’s a city that’s certainly not short when it comes to pop culture history. But tonight, Manchester isn’t dwelling on past glories; it’s looking ahead to the musical future.
Returning for a second year, Off The Record sees MCR’s Northern Quarter come to life with new music. Taking over seven venues across the grid of streets, the discovery festival hopes to offer up a first taste of the next big thing. This evening, there are certainly a few gems on offer.
Kickings proceedings off for the live portion of the festival - the daytime has played host to an array of industry panels and talks over at the Methodist Central Hall - JW Ridley wastes little time in warming up punters down at Jimmy’s. A stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Square and clad in glowing neon lights, the basement venue plays a perfect host to the singer’s woozy, warm offerings. A tangle of melodies and intrinsic guitar chords, cuts like ‘Somewhere Else’, as taken from his recently-released self-titled EP, provide a perfect insight into his hazy but potent talent.
A few streets away, Bristol duo Meadowlark are performing against the fairy light-strewn backdrop of The Peer Hat, and are mesmerising those packed into the venue's tiny confines. Showcasing a set littered with offerings from their debut album, 'Postcards', their harmonies are rich and the instrumentation is luscious, with their record's title track standing as a real highlight.
Next up, DIY's own pick Mush are clearly ones to watch right now. Hidden away in the burrow of corridors and staircases that lead towards the live venue of Gullivers – a pub which opens out into a vast room, in true Mary-Poppins-bag style – the Manchester quintet are as enticing live as they are on record. A brilliant hybrid of Lou Reed-esque vocals against gritty guitars, there's a mesmeric rhythm to the band that's completely hypnotising; not even having their set cut short can dampen their appearance.
Down in the basement of Soup Kitchen, proceedings are getting rowdy as Queen Zee and the Sasstones bring their blistering brand of punk to a packed out room while Brooke Bentham's set over at The Peer Hat is a much more intricate affair.
Bewitching from the off, Brooke's performance feels perfectly suited for the subdued light of the venue. Cuts like 'Have To Be Around You' – which flickers with the vocal power of First Aid Kit – and 'I Need Your Body' seem to take on a different life live, with her tracks become simultaneously more intimate and striking. And whilst her performance may provide a more quiet close to this year's Off The Record, it's undoubtedly one of the most memorable.
Photos: Georgina Harrison.