Far Out Magazine was here, there and everywhere at the BBC 6 Music Festival in Manchester on Saturday. Before the doors to the main Arena in Victoria Warehouse opened to host performances from the likes of The National, James Blake, Franz Ferdinand, Wild Beasts and Jagwar Ma to name a few, there was a wealth of entertainment already on offer just around the corner at the Victoria Works hotel.
The venue played host to everything from acoustic sets, live radio broadcasts, photography exhibitions, vinyl fairs and a even gourmet pie stall as part of the Festival Fringe – adding an intriguing dimension to an event aiming to be much more than just a bill of bands in a warehouse.
Throughout the afternoon, 6 Music DJs were thrown out of their comfort zone and put back-to-back with some interesting choices of colleagues.
A highlight of Saturday afternoon comes when Craig Charles (armed with his self-proclaimed ‘trunk of funk’) joins Gilles Peterson to broadcast the godfather of world music’s show from the heart of the Festival Fringe. The equal measures of admiration and healthy competitiveness between the two only adds to the party spirit that is created by a roomful of excitable onlookers.
Just down the corridor the Talking Heads area is also kicking things off in fitting style with an acoustic set from I Am Kloot frontman and Manchester stalwart John Bramwell.
His performance is the perfect appetiser for what’s to come later in the evening and is surely a remedy for some of those who are nursing the effects of the night before – something that rings true for 6 Music breakfast host Shaun Keaveny, who can be seen rather gingerly taking in the sights of Saturday’s Fringe.
Sounding slightly fresher is Steve Lamacq, who arrives on stage at Talking Heads to chair an introspective look into the main stage’s headliners. In conversation with The National, the few who have been lucky enough to get their hands on Fringe tickets have a rare opportunity to hear the anthemic rockers just hours before they take to the Victoria Warehouse stage – and for those concerned, the band are even kind enough to read out the Premier League’s classified Saturday results.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Saturday’s Festival Fringe though is the Public Image Ltd space. Continuing the theme of naming features after some of the station’s favourite bands, PiL showcases snaps of the most iconic musicians to pass through the doors of the 6 Music studios since the station was launched in 2002.
Those depicted include Primal Scream, Queens of the Stone Age, New Order and Pixies. The area is also given something of a marketplace vibe – with independent sellers running pop-up stalls with band T-shirts, vintage clothing and even a vinyl fair by Sunderland band Frankie and the Heartstrings. Venturing to the far side of Public Image Ltd also unveils a small live area where earlier in the day frontman Frankie Francis duetted with Charlatans singer Tim Burgess.
Later on, the stage plays host to a short and sweet (but encapsulating nonetheless) performance from psychedelic pop prince Connan Mockasin. Taking to the stage in pyjama bottoms and a rather shabby looking pair of his namesake footwear – there’s nothing glossy about his appearance today, but it is inevitable his flawless second album Caramel will sound perfect when it arrives at the (hopefully) sunkissed setting of this summer’s festival season. Although it’s only a 20-minute set, the crowd are delighted and sent into a buzz of anticipation for the evening’s bill.
The 6 Music Festival
As evening arrives, so do the several thousand ticket holders who look intent on shaking the Salford venue to its very core. The BBC have pulled out all the stops and given the warehouse a makeover – dressing it up a little less industrially than when it hosts the infamous Warehouse Project programme during Autumn and building a brand new balcony at the back of Room 1.
A mock woodland theme has been installed, defined by two glowing trees at either side of the main stage – a touch that will no doubt compliment the intimacy of acts like The Staves and Bombay Bicycle Club to a greater extent than the pounding electronica that is more regularly heard in the room.
But that doesn’t mean to say the strong allegiance that Manchester has with the world of dance music is not represented at the festival. In contrast, the warehouse’s second room has been kept virtually identical and hosts a barnstorming performance from an Australian trio who straddle the lines between rock ‘n’ roll and electronics in a similar way to Manchester legends like New Order and Happy Mondays.
Fresh from giving an exclusive interview to Far Out Magazine earlier in the day, Jagwar Ma get the room bouncing with an energetic showcase of tracks from their debut album Howlin’. Their mixture of psychedelic rock, infectious pop hooks and beat-heavy production pulsates around the room, wetting the appetite for what will no doubt be a spectacular show when Stage 2 headliner James Blake performs later in the evening.
Meanwhile, Bombay Bicycle Club muster some of the biggest singalong moments of the festival on the main stage. Their new record So Long, See You Tomorrow has been met with acclaim from almost all quarters and there’s a feeling that – despite being relative youngsters – they are getting more and more accomplished at holding a crowd on a stage of this scale.
After the adulation that is radiated from the revellers in the main room, the impending arrival of oddball songstress Lykke Li has already caused a crush in the second. 6 Music DJ Nemone introduces the Swedish singer by professing “she’s feisty and I love her for it”, before she treats the swelling audience to tracks including ‘Silence is Blessing’ and ‘I Follow Rivers’ from 2011 album Wounded Rhymes.
The view of the stage is non-existent for many in the room given an unfortunate slope to the floor that is no doubt harmless during the more fluid set-up of a club night, but appears to spawn some dissatisfaction from the odd attendee in this case.
Although they’re no longer at the forefront of a chart-bothering indie invasion like they were amid the release of their self-titled debut, Franz Ferdinand can still put on a show and at their best get the main room frenzied in preparation for The National.
Inevitably, early single and biggest hit ‘Take Me Out’ gets the most animated reaction from the audience, but newer tracks like ‘Right Action’ and an electrically charged version of ‘Ulysses’ are also highlights.
The time then comes for arena rockers The National to bring proceedings to a close. After a slightly risky decision to have Damon Albarn headline with a virtually unheard set the evening before, the scene on Saturday couldn’t be more different as the main room comes to a close with thousands rejoicing in belting out every single lyric. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and lead single from latest record Trouble Will Find Me ‘Graceless’ are more than worthy curtain-closers.
But back in the more modest surroundings of Room 2, there has been a finale with equal elation taking place. After taking the time to chat with Far Out Magazine about their deep-seated love for Manchester audiences earlier on, Kendal four-piece Wild Beasts bring the new found electronic element of their new material to the festival, demonstrating they’re in the form of their life.
The night belongs to neo-soul wizard and 2013 Mercury Prize winner James Blake though. His headline set on the second stage peaks and troughs beautifully throughout, combining heartfelt balladry, downbeat dubstep and rave-infused house in a way that few others could make work.
It’s quite a coup for all those who have chosen Blake over the National, as his UK tours in the coming months and years are unlikely to touch down in venues with a capacity of less than 1,000.
The samples of Kelis and Aaliyah contained in 2010 single ‘CMYK’ are put to a higher tempo backdrop than on the original recording – and the euphoric reaction from the crowd proves this to be a fully justified decision. The vibrancy of Blake’s sound is something that encapsulates the spirit of 6 Music better than almost all his contemporaries.
The room shudders under strain of the all-conquering bass that defines the Londoner’s live show and the universal joy that fills the room during ‘Retrograde’ is a perfect way to call time on an event that has brought the sometimes underappreciated side of the River Irwell to life.