Tag Archive | Salford

Between past and present

Last night I was spellbound by something that happened in Church. Actually, a lot of us were. There were DJs, dancing-girls, a futuristic robot… all sorts of strange machinery. At one point, there was even talk of witchcraft – and then a riot broke out. Seriously! You should have been there. But unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the latest attempt at modernisation by the Church of England. In fact, it was all down to the strange but blissful union between a legend of German cinema (Fritz Lang) and a legend of German electronic music (Dieter Moebius). Definitely a contender for coolest 68-year-old on the planet, Moebius performed a live, synthesised, and largely improvised score to a brand new restoration of Lang’s silent sci-fi classic Metropolis, in an event organised as part of Manchester’s annual Future Everything festival. To add yet another layer of spectral atmosphere, the whole thing took place inside the beautiful and spacious chapel of St.Philips church in Salford.

Lighting up in church

Appropriately then, proceedings were watched over by a rather saintly icon – sadly, not Maria – high up on the stained glass window above the altar, while at the lectern, a majestic eagle spread its wings. Moebius, standing at the other side with only a little workspace, looked calmly up at the screen and then back at his sonic toolkit, feeling his way into the narrative. Somehow, regardless of its age, the film manages to remain timeless. Class, religion, delusion, scientific progress, desire, politics, dreams, technology; all are wrapped up in an easy-to-follow narrative which reveals itself as a sequence of ethereal yet starkly symbolic Expressionist “mindscapes”. Special effects which, decades later, were often still risibly executed (e.g. the use of miniature sets or the appearance and movement of cyborgs) seem effortless: beyond reproach to an audience half-hypnotised by the world that Lang, cinematographer Karl Freund, and special effects pioneer Eugen Schüfftan created. Included in this new version of the film are 25 precious minutes of lost footage, discovered only two years ago at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, in the archive of a private collector. This essentially brings Metropolis as close as it will get to the way it was when first released over 80 years ago.

The famous head of Hel

Watching in reverence

The film’s ultimate message, repeated more than once by Brigitte Helm‘s Maria, is that: “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” Of course there is a role for technology in the achievement of societal advances; but we should never let ourselves be enslaved because of it. The feelings and qualities which make us human must move in harmony with what we invent; in precisely the way illustrated yesterday (music and film technology, composer, audience and sentiment) at what was a truly memorable event.

Songs from a City

Giving local independent music promoters the chance to put on what they consider the best new acts, Greater Manchester’s second city – Salford – plays annual host to a one-day music festival called Sounds From The Other City, now in its 8th year. A dozen stages are located in venues that include churches, clubs, pubs, and even (for some lucky raffle winners) a phone box. Last night we went down to Islington Mill, a hugely atmospheric 6-storey venue which used to spin cotton but which now operates as an artists’ studio, Art Academy and club. I’ve been through Salford once or twice but have never really stopped to look around; so for me it was all the more exciting to go and take a peek (especially after getting into the mood with another afternoon band rehearsal. Update: we now have a drummer!). Anyway, the professionals we went along to hear were organised by promoters Now Wave and the stage was a decidedly female-dominated one with a line-up including Black Belles (US garage Goth and darlings of Jack White), Keep Shelly in Athens (down tempo but upbeat electronica from Greece), and the retro-sounding Manchester-based Pins, who combine simple sporadic guitar riffs with faded pop-punk vocals, strong insistent drumming, and tons of distorting effects.

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I guess it’s a shame that I only managed to make it along to one of the SFTOC venues; but at least most of the music I managed to catch was strongly delivered and really pulled me in – whether on the rock/post-punk side or the layered/dreamy soundscape side of things. Apologies: I’m not great at describing music. Whenever I try I find myself remembering Frank Zappa‘s immortal: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  Hey, at least it’s a good excuse for my poor reviewing skills! And yeah, I know that we can’t be sure it really was Frank Zappa who said that but it’s always nice to give a legend a name check. Check the bands out online if you don’t already know them. At least I am able to provide some decent photographs. 🙂 Black Belles and Keep Shelly in Athens are pictured above.