Sounds From the Other City started as a small selection of bands being brought together to perform in some unique spaces in an area of Greater Manchester that has often been neglected given that it is just a stone’s throw from the city centre.
But after reaching its tenth birthday, the event has done more to raise Salford’s profile than anything else and brought a vibrancy that lights up the city every time the May bank holiday arrives. Audience numbers have swelled every year and one of the real beauties is that the organisers have a fluidity with the venues they choose, having never used the same selection twice in a row.
The spaces span everything from the intrigue of Islington Mill (a converted industrial facility that is now an arts space and registered charity), to pubs, community centres, old halls and even churches.
With those in charge keen on making the milestone addition the most spectacular yet, they put together a hugely diverse lineup, enlisting the help of a different Manchester promoter to curate each of the nine venues.
The result is a sensation of being able to wander back and forth, with many attendees exploring that side of the River Irwell in a way that they have never had the curiosity to do so in the past.
Upon arrival the scene up and down Salford’s Chapel street is already a surreal one as arts collective Volkov Commanders have been charged with the task of dressing the city up.
Hundreds of volunteering ticket holders have been given what can only be described as some striking, but rather impractical headwear, featuring a tube the recipient must place around their head with what looks like a giant plastic eyeball on top – one of the symbols that forms the festival’s logo.
Towards late afternoon, all those in fancy dress catch some funny looks from pedestrians not involved in the festival who happen to be passing, as they parade through the streets of Salford – a sight that can only really mean SFTOC has returned.
Meanwhile in The Angel Centre, a space that usually hosts the solace of yoga sessions and crafts workshops, the electro pop of Girl Friend could draw comparisons to acts like Wild Beasts or Manchester contemporaries Everything Everything, but there is something about the intensity and intimacy of their SFTOC set that brings with it an extra atmosphere.
A new fixture of the 2014 event is the First Chop Brewing Arm, a real ale and concert venue encased in industrial concrete, found underneath the lanmark of Salford’s railway arches. Inside, punters can be seen soaking up a bill that will be headlined by The Travelling Band giving their take on Neil Young’s On The Beach album, courtesy of stellar promoters Hey! Manchester.
There is also a large outdoor area covered by the arch, with stalls, an outdoor dancefloor, and DJs playing the finest in Motown and soul – something that will later ensure hundreds are out dancing until the early hours.
Back to the live music though, and one of the biggest attractions this year is the far-reaching selection of punk, psych and pop that has been laid on by the Grey Lantern promoters at the Old Pint Pot.
The bill mixes up some exciting local talent – including Kult Country and MiSTOA POLTSA – as well as attracting unexpected gems from further afield. The undoubted highlight on the specially designed stage at this riverside boozer has to be Las Kellies.
The band are a an all female punk trio from Argentina who have their audience eating out of the palms of their hand from the off. Versatile as they come, the set spans a host of genres that starts by touching on synth-pop and Talking Heads style bass hooks, before veering off in a cavalcade of other directions.
Frontwoman Ceci Kelly swaps between synth and guitar seamlessly, with the latter option providing some trips into grunge rock and punk that are the perfect remedy as night falls. Adding to the atmosphere is a projection of short films at the back of the stage – an intricate effort that really enhances the venue.
Meanwhile, across the road at The Crescent, one of Salford’s more traditional pubs, the Sunday ambience has been turned on its head, with the gig venue inside hosting a bill of avant garde electronica, disco-inspired pop and everything in between.
Although some of the regulars look disorientated by the barrage festival goers and otherworldly sounds coming from the next room, everyone seems to get on harmoniously. The biggest moment of the evening for the crescent is undoubtedly when headliners Golden Teacher pack the venue to breaking point and threaten to blow the roof off with an intense brand krautrock that has all those who can get through the door transfixed.
Perhaps the most prolific promoters involved are Now Wave, who can be seen putting on some of the biggest gigs in Manchester on an almost nightly basis. They take over Salford University’s Peel Hall and present a lineup that features Sways Records signees Bernard and Edith, who mesmerise their audience with a selection of downtempo electro pop pieces.
It’s time to speed things up for the headliners though, with all-female world beaters PINS returning home to pummel their audience with a raucous set of punk tunes that act as a celebration of what have been a magnificent few months for the four-piece – for many this set is probably worth the £18 ticket price alone.
Even after the bands are done though, there is still a wealth of entertainment to explore. If there is a venue that could be considered as the epicentre of SFTOC then it would have to be Islington Mill, and this is a heart that continues to beat well into the early hours.
Dub Smugglers Soundsystem is on hand to treat those who can last the distance to an onslaught of the heaviest reggae sounds, proving that you just never know what kind of music will be thrown at you from around the next corner at SFTOC.
As attendees begin to flag and eventually peel off, there is an atmosphere that makes it clear it is one again well done for the organisers of the festival and the promoters who work so hard to put it together.
In reality, it would take a squad of reviewers swelling to double figures to really be able to catch every nook and cranny of SFTOC, a factor that means no two ticket holders are ever likely to have the same experience. This is a concept that not only makes SFTOC currently one of north-west England’s greatest music events, but is also one that surely means it will have the longevity to stick around another decade.