Live Review: Year’s End Festival

Year’s End Festival

Various venues, Manchester, 15th December 2018

Words and photography: Gary Lambert

Spector

In the modern age, there are all kinds of Christmas traditions that are invented in the blink of an eye. December 1st presents, Elf on a Shelf, and treating Christmas markets as a stag/hen do all come under that heading. All of them are equally frustrating, annoying, and hopefully will be replaced soon enough by the latest fad that people claim are traditional in order to plaster them all over Facebook.

However, Scruff of the Neck and Distiller getting together to put on their biggest ever production can happen every year, and it will be my Christmas tradition. I’ve been to plenty of festivals with bigger budgets, better weather, and without a busy road in the middle of the stages which have failed to compete with this event. Mixing local favourites with some of the best talents from around the country was better as Christmas parties go than the one where Janet from Accounts snogged Terry from Warehousing in the boardroom (and those ones are usually legendary).

Bloxx

There are not going to be many festivals in the future which have Bloxx playing as the second act on the biggest stage. This four-piece are growing in stature, confidence and power constantly. Even two months after the last time I watched them, they had improved.

 

There is definitely a strong connection between them and the Manchester audience who had brought along inflatables in response to a tweet from Bloxx the day before. And new release ‘Sea Blue’ caused such a singalong that you would think it had been out two years not two weeks. This is a band who even the biggest gig grinch could fail to find fault with.

And getting a moshpit going at half five on a Saturday evening when every time the door opens a blast of Arctic cold shoots through the room is evidence of the intensity they generate by their performance.

Ambiere

Well, whilst Bloxx had been rocking the winter blues away, Mancunian electronic three-piece Ambiere had removed the cold entirely by using the mystical power of their music to take a room full of people from Manchester and place them on a beach in Ibiza at sunset in the middle of summer. If anybody had directed me to listen to their music, I would have asked which DJ it was, expecting some famous name to be directed towards me with surprise. To see the music be produced live on stage which such ease and style was a rare treat. It was the sort of set that makes you text people about it in the hope of claiming Ambiere before your friends do. And they will try it, but I got there first. Ambiere are the sound of summer days all year round.

 

I only managed to catch a bit of The Ninth Wave due to the organisers splitting the fans of Scottish bands by clashing Vistas with them, but going into the basement bar room in The Ritz part of the way through their set meant that I was faced with the choice of looking through a gap in between the PA system or being stood behind a pillar next to a young group who were fully engaged in paying no attention to what was going on on stage shall we say…. I watched a couple of songs through the speakers obviously. The Ninth Wave were as exciting as you would expect. This is definitely a band I expect big things of over the next few years.

Vistas definitely feel like they should be bigger than they already are. As approachable and affable as they seem on stage, which for other bands could be to their detriment as we all love our music to be a bit edgy, they have such a songbook of instantly enjoyable tracks that they are like a trip to Gregg’s with a hangover. No matter what choice is made, it hits the spot.

One set that did not hit the spot for me was The Whip. It was not due to any lack of quality within their half hour on stage, but the inclusion of an indie-dance crossover band from the noughties did not connect enough with the young fans who had been moshing and dancing their way through the evening; nor did they bring in enough of their own fans to generate enough feeling within the audience to take the others on the journey with them. It was a bit disappointing to me as I love seeing a mixture of styles on any bill. I think it might have been better if they had been following the dance-centric Ambiere over at Gorilla to give a better flow.

Satyr Play

The band they were following was Satyr Play. Now I was told beforehand by a photographer friend to catch them as they are great to shoot. And I would agree with that statement entirely, but their entire set was a tremendous, stomping energetic runaway train of indie rock. I absolutely loved it!

 

They are the sort of band who are made for festivals with Fred their frontman bouncing around making sure that everybody is included in the fun, and a Michael Cera lookalike on lead guitar shredding like he’s in an AC/DC tribute band and his girlfriend has just turned up at the pub. The energy will grab you at first, but the songs will keep you there, and you will make a note to listen to them afterwards. I can imagine during the next (summer) festival season Satyr Play will be getting lots and lots of new fans.

Talking of new fans, I can say for certain that the headlining Spector gained at least one fan at this event. Me! I had not taken much notice of the career of Spector until two unconnected people who I tend to trust on music told me about how much they loved them. It made me intrigued enough to take in some of their releases on Spotify on the Friday afternoon as I prepped for the fun events of Year’s End Festival the next day. After watching them blow me away, make hundreds of people bounce around in celebration, and produce a late entry on my Favourite Gigs of 2018 list, I can admit that I regret my previous accidental apathy towards them. I want to have grown with the band to this point as they move further down the scales to a more bass-driven synth rock from their original indie pop. Live they manage to combine these two eras perfectly so that songs from their debut album sounded recorded by the same band as their dark and dirty tracks, the finest example of which being ‘Chevy Thunder’ which stayed true to the recorded version but with the moodiness turned right up to the roar of a Chevy with a broken muffler. I loved it – and I can’t wait for the next time I get to see Spector.

Christmas morning is really going to have a lot to live up to as Year’s End Festival was definitely a brilliant present. It’s already pencilled in for next year. After all, it’s tradition…

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