Last weekend saw the great and good of our fair city turn out in significant numbers as the Red Bull Music Academy Tour hit Manchester. We were also there.
Everyone has their our own ideas as to what makes a great club night. For some, it’s the ability to swill champagne at a pre-booked table, aided by good looking waitresses. Others might prefer to walk into an excuse for a toilet and watch two blokes attempt to put the cubicle door back on its hinges whilst an omnipresent sub threatens to bring the building down to its foundations.
If previous experiences are much to go by, the latter is usually more fun.
Arriving at Antwerp Mansion on Saturday night after a day’s worth of serious fun in the sun and there can be few doubts as to which side of the divide we’ve opted for. It’s 1AM, or thereabouts, and there’s a sizeable queue to get in. Once through the doors one thought comes to mind: ‘When was the last time this place was so busy, or indeed filled with such tangible energy?’
Tonight could well be the pick of the Red Bull Music Academy Tour in Manchester, with Rusholme’s scruffiest and most debauched venue being put through its paces by a host of big name visitors and local heroes. With Zed Bias heading up the proceedings we all know the way things are going- kind of- although it has to be said the most significant props should be reserved for North West native Illum Sphere, whose pounding out the kind of inviting techno-leaning house, obscure broken rhythms and everything in between that makes you- and the guy standing on your right- automatically begin to clench fists and stomp feet. Call it a knee-jerk reaction.
In short then, things are going off, properly. And that’s before we even mention the (non-sexual) three way local boys Jonny Dub, Metrodome and Rich Reason decide to treat us to elsewhere. Quite the spectacle, covering a gamut of immediately danceable but far from throwaway beats, for all intents and purposes if this was the only thing we were doing all weekend it would satisfy and then some. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
24-hours before we’re in and amongst an educated but decadent crowd over at South. An event billed as Deep South, legendary U.S. jock Omar-S is doing what he does best, and that’s probably putting it mildly. After warming up ears and feet via some infectiously groovy four fours halfway between the rawer end of Chicago and the funkier side of Detroit, we’re already hooked and more than in the mood for some tougher tunes. To say he delivers would be an understatement, increasing both the momentum and weight of each kick with every drop.
In many ways it’s a shame we can’t stay the distance, not least given we’re not usually ones for jumping in and out of things that go bump, and demand a little commitment, in the night. On this occasion we can forgive ourselves, mind, because across town there’s another timeless face- and a few relative newcomers- vying for some attention. A quick cab ride later, and some tactful negotiations from our chaperone (it is, after all, about 2.30AM by now), and the doors of Sankeys are flung open to us for the first time since its resurrection and refurbishment.
For those who haven’t braved the risk of disappointment since the rebirth of this haunt, heed our advice. Although it would be impossible to recreate the sadly lost space that made Sankeys Soap arguably the UK’s most vital club in the immediate post-millennium years, the current situation is the closest Dave Vincent has come to achieving that goal (whether he meant it or not). Waiting for a drink, and even the wood panelling of the bar seems to have been taken straight from that Sasha night in 2001 when so-and-so met those guys from Blackburn and wound up being carried on their shoulders for the remainder of the set.
The deluge of memories is made all the more fitting considering tonight’s most-talked about headliner. After sadly missing the human Birmingham institution, Surgeon, due to those aforementioned commitments, we’re forced to ‘settle’ for one of techno’s bona fide pioneers, who comes in the shape of Derrick May. We can’t put our fingers on the last time he was in town, and to be honest, who really cares. What’s important is his talent not just for melding together tracks indicative of his Motor City hometown, but doing so in a physical and purposefully obtuse manner. Like a middle finger being raised alongside a smile, it’s all about stabs, cuts, beat juggles and, finally, a rolling, slamming chugger that brings you back into the solid momentum.
Hats off to the old schoolers then, of which there are plenty in here. From the generous chap in the courtyard handing out his own brand of medicine mid-speech about the role of brands in rave culture (spoken from the experience of Manchester’s rave scene-proper), to the facial contortionist, Mr. Hadn’t Been Out In 15 Years Till This, who became a silent partner to our small but well formed entourage, it’s the kind of turn out you only really get when esteemed members of the scene decide to make an appearance.
Of course it’s easy to get caught up in bleary eyed nostalgia when everything from the DJ to the building is taking you back, but such habits always prove folly in the long run. Especially as one of the more talented of Britain’s new breed is stepping up to the mark and making sure everyone knows it. Leeds-based enfant terrible Happa very rarely goes unnoticed, and this is no exception to that rule. If May was more about rolling, addictive classicism interspersed with displays of still-tight turntable abilities, then this is more about being hit in the face with a sledgehammer and coming back for another smack.
The beats are meaty, heavier than most articulated vehicles, and served with a kind of wide-eyed mania that calls into mind the likes of Objekt. Perhaps that’s a misdirection, though, given Happa’s approach to techno takes more inspiration from his obvious love for dubstep. We’re not left wanting for staccato moments of bass and empty silence, used to break up the industrial-edged, rave-infleced pounders that are rapidly coming to typify this young chap’s performances.
Enough praises sung, it’s probably time to move on to the remainder of this frenetic nocturnal odyssey. Although not without a quick reference to Saturday afternoon’s escapades, which involved flitting between the well-attended RBMA Radio session, broadcasting live from Soup Kitchen courtesy of Krystal Klear, Jon K, Chunky, Paleman and the Meat Free team (amongst a few other faces), and the non-Red Bull but still-worth-a-mention party at Eastern Bloc in celebration of both the shop’s 30th Birthday and Record Store Day. Like we said before, plenty of fun in (and out) of the sun.
Rounding up our after dark movements, though, is the bizarre idea of a good club night in the largely family-friendly entertainment complex of The Great Northern, realised on Sunday night. A destination that usually means you’re either going to the cinema or in the mood for a burger, we find the Friday Food Fight venue Beat Street giving RBMA one final shot at the title of Best Weekend in Manchester This Year (Thus Far).
When we arrive, our legs are tired, our minds weakened and our logic screaming “Mate, you’ve got work in the morning”, but despite the lack of places to sit down aside from the VIP area, and that impending Monday, a very good time is being had by all. Billed as a vinyl only soiree, after Krystal Klear’s surprisingly slamming showcase of techiness- ending on a suitably Mancunian disco high- the highlight is undoubtedly a Boom-free Jazzy Jeff, who delivers a decade-spanning hip hop party that climaxes, at least in terms of atmosphere, with Slick Rick’s Children’s Story. Followed by New York house honcho Todd Terry, who sends out the night with an array of big room vocal dance numbers some of which are at least 25 years old, any thoughts of those 500 emails waiting to be answered quickly disappear.
Quite the few days, then, to put things succinctly (too late?), the less said about how this week began the better, and the next time the drink with wings decides to set up shop in our city you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be first in line to get involved. Point hopefully proven, let’s leave it at that.