Festival Review: Off The Record 2019

Off The Record 2019

Various venues, Manchester, 15 November 2019

Words and Photos by Gary Lambert

Off The Record just gets better and better.  I would say that this year’s event was the best one I have been to, and I’ve been to all of them.  I know that is a bit of a spoiler on the rest of the review, but I promise you it’s worth reading in the hope of you finding a new band to love.  The entire event is a celebration of the love of music, of new music, and, importantly, of loving the people that we meet through music.  Apart from when you’re at a festival and everybody has imbibed on whatever the beer has paid the money to be there, I don’t think there is a better day for making new friends.  Everybody is interesting and interested as that love of music creates a kindred spirit.  Oh I played with that band on your t-shirt last week, do you know them?” was one way someone started talking with me at the conference.  FYI: the band on my top was Life At The Arcade and the person who started talking to me was Austin Miller, yet another member of the current Glaswegian music machine.

dsc_1000The highlight of the conference had to be the talk with friends of Popped Music Sundara Karma held by fellow friend of Popped Music, music journalist and DJ Shell Zenner which was just a celebration of how filled with love and hope that particular quartet are.  The vibe was infectious and shows how they haven’t changed much since we interviewed them.  But there were also very interesting talks on gender roles in the music industry, producing, and getting yourself noticed.  Considering that I was sat next to Gen Degenerate in a bright red suit matching the single her band had released that day, getting yourself noticed might not have been necessary for everybody.  I also found out an interesting tidbit of information during the talks.  No female producer has ever won the Grammy for Producer of the Year.  A couple of days later the Grammy nominations for 2019 were announced…. No women were included in the nominations.

dsc_1019The best part of Off The Record though has to have been the metropolitan music festival that takes place in the evening.  Once again, having so many venues close to each other at such an event is a massive bonus and enables you to squeeze in as many bands as possible.  And I did squeeze!

Opening up the events at Band on the Wall was Ellysse Mason.  With a great voice, and a wall of intricate music behind her, she was well worth the spot opening the night and definitely backed up the opinion of so many people who told me through the day to make sure I caught her set.  Following up on her set was Blanketman, a band I’m already a fan of.  The couple of songs I caught were good, but I felt a bit confused as to when the line check finished and the set properly started.  I had to bounce around the corner to get to Gulliver’s as I was struggling already with clashes.dsc_1055

Awaiting me at Gulliver’s was Springfield Elementary.  I had been sold on the name anyway, but the polite way they used their social media to invite us along to their set had made me make space for them.  It was a well used space as it turns out that Springfield Elementary are brilliant.  Imagine the Happy Mondays playing Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, and you’ll get somewhere to where Springfield Elementary is currently based.

I do like to catch a good WTF moment at an event like this, and Cardiff’s Esther provided that.  It was not surreal or left-field, but instead her voice just blew me away.  Ethereal, beautiful, and powerful, it felt like she had set her target on melting the hearts of everybody in the room.  Even thinking back on it, I feel shocked at how good this set was.  My only hope is that she has a really, really big hit otherwise Esther is going to be pretty hard to find on things like Spotify and social media.  There are a lot of Esthers if you have a search.

dsc_1223Kidsmoke are a band we have had our eyes on for a while, and were the first of three acts at Off The Record to have played in Liverpool for Popped Music.  Kidsmoke are a fantastic outfit who have already grown beyond their first potential.  Live, they have matured into a very strong band who layer wisps and whooshes onto whooshes and wisps in order to turn out great pop music.  And it really is pop music as their work could soundtrack almost any situation and entertain any ear.

Following Kidsmoke was another band we know pretty well here at Popped Towers, Scarlet, having had them play for us as well as allowing us to cheer them on.  It was over four years ago that we first interviewed the band, and whilst there are only two remaining from that line up, the band now feels new and fresh.  This was their first UK gig with their newly-added rhythm section, and their first gig since playing Seoul no less thanks to Sound City.  dsc_1344I’ve seen Scarlet play loads so the songs were not new, but there was a vibrance and fun in the band that I haven’t seen before.  This reflected in the atmosphere in the basement of Soup Kitchen which was buzzing for them.  As call centre managers are keen to say, you can hear a smile in a voice, and this set was a pure example for that.

In another basement around the corner, Nadia Sheikh performed in a way that seemed far too confident for a new music festival.  Even when she couldn’t get her acoustic guitar erm do what an acoustic guitar should (I’m not a musician, I’m a fan) so had to use her electric guitar, it sounded perfectly suitable for Break Free, which she had released that day.  Probably more than any other artist I saw at Off The Record, Nadia is the most suitable for a mainstream success given a bit of a luck here and there.
Definitely not a mainstream band are Bethlehem Casuals.  They were bizarre, took in a myriad of influences, and sounded like the kind of band you find playing in a tent you didn’t know existed at three in the morning at a bigger festival one year, but are opening the main stage two years later.  With band members running around the audience, and being so hypnotic that I started dancing to the music from a saxophone (my most hated of instruments), I can’t wait to reminisce over this night when seeing them on bigger stages.

dsc_1759The final act of the night was the last of the acts who had played previously for us, The Post Romantics.  If I had worried beforehand that the late slot (they finished just after midnight) would be to the detriment of the band, I needn’t have.  The backroom of The Castle was busier than most gigs I’ve seen in there, and everybody was ready to party which frontman Connor took to heart.  This was easily the best I’ve seen TPR perform as they mixed intense guitar play with the moody, sensual electro like a Long Island Iced Tea – and had everybody in the room bouncing fuelled on that concoction.

Off The Record 2019, ace.

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