The third chapter of Inner City Records’ live events took place in a venue on the 2nd floor of Crusader mill in the Northern Quarter. Gritty, grainy, cool. A Blank Canvas is the name of the event, and the walls inside are doing just that, presenting the art work for the exhibition. It showcased the talent of their collective/label as-well as exploring fine art, photography, sculpture and much more all in one night.
Founded in April 2018 by Zac Melrose, Inner City Records & Radio is an independent Manchester based Record label/collective. They manage, promote and develop grass roots talent within the student community and further afield through events, press pieces, radio content and releases. After two successful gigs in the past year, the third returns with live music and an art exhibit. The music is a fusion of Jazz, Alternative, Hip-Hop and Electronic music. I sat down to have a chat with the acts to find out a bit more about them and their place in the Manchester music scene.
Ned Ludd are first on the bill. They are an experimental four piece pulling influences from 70s post punk, German music and New Wave – “We like all the late 90s post rock and post hardcore like Slint and stuff.” They’re also big fans of Black Midi – “The forefront of rock right now”. They take the use of repetition in their music from German 70s psychedelic music – “It’s not really about how many chords, it’s more about the rhythm and the feel.”
Something that makes this band interesting is the use of improvised lyrics. They’re never written, instead made up on the spot, always different. Frontman Isaacs claims, “One of my favourite bands is Deerhunter and he would always sing in a stream of consciousness so whenever he wrote lyrics he wouldn’t write it down. He would go into the studio and write the song and the lyrics on the spot as well. I always seem to get better lyrical content that way. When I write stuff it feels too contrived.” Drummer Oliver adds, “It’s the same rhythm every time, but the content could be vastly different depending on what day. It’s a more natural way of doing it, it’s how we write the songs too. We don’t think ‘oh we want the song to be like this’, we’ll just play and then it makes a song. We don’t decide, it just happens by jamming out.”
A running theme with Inner City Acts is the desire to step out of a mould, be different and unique. Isaac comments, “When people pick up a guitar and say they wanna learn other people’s songs, I never got that. We just wanted to write our own music and create our own thing. This sort of music just makes us feel good. I dislike any music that sounds contrived. I aspire to make stuff that isn’t contrived”. Oliver claims, “Everything been done in this day and age so why not be weird … we’re not doing it for the sake of it, but why not do stuff that’s not been done before.” Bassist Marco adds, “Every band our age does exactly the songs and exactly the same gigs and releases exactly the same stuff and does exactly the same cool band photos. Wall under a bridge. We’re not as easy on the ears. It’s a marmite thing – you either love or hate it.”
I hate Marmite but I kinda dig Nedd Ludd!
Sam Carpenter are another act on the bill. Sam fronts a band made up of himself on vocals and guitar, with members Mwanze on bass, Ben on keys and Marcos on drums. They met through a BIMM student jam night and found out that each other’s musical styles were quite similar. Their sound is “Jazz fusion, with drum and bass influences, hip-hop influences, soul and prog as well. Very fusion” Their songs include poetic lyrics, in one song ‘Rose’s intro’ – women are being compared to nature. It’s very empowering.
They don’t have a message or meaning to the madness, as cliche as it sounds, they claim “it’s all about bringing to people together and having a sound time.” Mwanze adds, “It’s about expressing ourselves and enjoying things.” Marcos chips in with, “We don’t really have a structure so our songs sound quite unusual sometimes but we don’t mind because it’s our sound, it’s our own unique thing”
They come from musical and artistic backgrounds. From drummer Marcos’ mum being a cellist and dad in the classical music industry, to Mwanze’s dad being in a steel-pot band. These influences come together to form their sound.
Sam: “My father is very musical but he never went into it and there’s a lot of creative artists in my family but no one really pursued it until my sister did it and then I was like ‘it would be sick if i went into something like that’ so it was either art or music. And then I went to a Loyle Carner concert and when I was was watching him I was like ‘that’s what i wanna do’ so just pursued music then.”
On Manchester, Ben claims “It’s not intimating, there’s an air that if you’re interested in something and passionate about it enough – if you put in the time and get stuff done, it’ll take off in it’s own way”.
Sam: “Manchester has a history for indie bands and it’s made us want to rebel more and try more experimental stuff. There’s not many bands making the music we wanna make so why not make it.”
Lewis Ross-Robson switches the vibe up with a more mellowed out set. His music could be described as “acoustic pop” with elements of “folk” but Lewis adds that “I’d like to think it floats about a few genres that makes it a bit more alternative.”
Again, there’s not particular message or political statement, for him it’s all about “picking out the ordinary things that everyone thinks about or goes through and romanticising them a bit, cause you can do that with pretty much anything.”
Lewis got into music through a Christmas present – “My auntie Jackie actually gave me the idea of getting a guitar for Christmas when I was 15 so that it would compliment my singing, cause I was decent at that, so my mum and Dad got me one. I started trying to write things probably about 8 months after that trying to sound like Oasis and the Verve and stuff like that, my songs were crap though.”
Playing live at first provided challenging for Lewis, “For a good while I really didn’t enjoy playing live but I realised I just had to relax into it and enjoy and not treat it as something negative and now it’s my favourite part of it all.”
On Manchester, Lewis says “I don’t know if I feel any pressure for that reason cause I’m not actually from Manchester, but I love a lot of music that’s come from this part of the world, it’s kinda the reason I do it to be honest and being in that environment it definitely inspires me.”
Arigato is another act on the label. His sound is “difficult to describe” – “One of the things I looked forward to when releasing music was that people that were better educated could tell me the genre and that but everybody I’ve heard so far doesn’t confirm to genre. I think it’s a weird mix of hip-hop influences with some electra and alt pop in there as well.” Who needs to conform to a genre these days anyway? He claims, “I just like to tell stories ambiguously and have an idea of what I want to say but also have people who listen to it interpret it differently.”
Arigato grew up in a very musical household, his dad being a DJ and now a music writer – being one of the main influences on him. Growing up around this energy, he claims, made him think, “I don’t wanna do anything normal, I just wanna do music for the rest of my life”. Finger’s crossed.
The songs that made him fall in love with music were songs his mother would use his name in tune to the song – “My name’s Jamie and my mum used to single David Bowie’s song ‘Change’s’ to the tune of Jamie […] It’s still one of my favourite songs to this day. That’s one of the first things I remember that I fell in love with – my mum being stupid and messing around.”
Like his mum, he doesn’t take himself too seriously with his music. Especially with the lyrics. “I’ve got a lyric in a song I’m releasing soon in a song called ‘Detroit’; and in the second verse it goes, “You’re nihilistic, reject religion, its just a business instead it’s inconsistent with your strong proletarian visions” I think I like that lyric because the following lyric kind of takes the piss out of myself – “Let me google some definitions” because it’s like stupidly wordy but quite concise but afterwards. I don’t like to take myself too seriously so if I’m gonna be really serious in a point, I like to afterwards take the piss out of myself a bit. I never take myself too seriously in my music.”
Arigato thinks about the visuals alongside the sound, this helps with the creative process he claims. “I’m really into the visual art side of music so when I’m doing my music I’ll always design the covers myself and do a lot of graphic design for that and I think if I’m having trouble creatively writing, if I do some graphic design or if I do some visual art like photography. When you get the visual imagery you start to associate what sounds would go with that.”
Diminutive Arthur headline the night. They’re a two piece consisting of Lewis on vox and Joel on the decs, describing themselves as “Lo-fi, jazz influenced alternative hip-hop. Down to earth hip hop”. They’re a pair consisting of a graphic designer and a poet-lover. They claim they don’t have a particular message to say through music but that “It’s more about expressing yourself isn’t it. Putting your feelings and emotions in that moment out there”. Their influences vary, inspired to get into music by “The Stone Roses, Frankie Stew, Evenings, so many people, just everything.” Lewis adds, “J Dilaa, Gil Scott-Heron. Earl Sweatshirt.” A song that stands out to Lewis is from childhood. He describes how Deacon Blue’s “Dignity” was a song his dad used to play all the time in the car – “that’s the first song I knew the lyrics to. That was the first song I proper vibed to.”
Being a musician in Manchester can come with pressure. To fit a mould. But the city itself is inspiring, and Diminutive Arthur seem to think so – “Manchester as a city inspires me. 100%. That’s where it all comes from I think. Everything you see, do in the city. I have a love/hate relationship. And that’s very well expressed in the music I think”. Music comes with challenges though, for example, “Trying to get into music and not having anyone around you to guide you or be into the same sort of stuff you’re into. Doing it all yourself and then finding people eventually through that.” Also, “Having no music knowledge whatsoever. Never done a music lesson in my life. Just teach myself.” Despite these challenges, they seem to have found their place amongst this collective.
To rejuvenate creativity to fuel their music they’re into graphic design, photography, and poetry – Joel: “I’m a graphic designer so that. Photography. I go out for a walk and take some pictures.” Lewis: “Reading, art. Charles Bukowski, that’s who I read when I’ve lost my creativity.”
Inner City Records are producing a scene of unique and fresh talent. Their events are inventive and cool, bringing a crowd of students, art lovers and fans of alternative hip-hop. Zac Melrose and his team are making shapes in the Manchester music scene. Factory Records who?
Words and Photographs by Betsy Bailie
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