ITC 2010 Clockwatch: Wednesday, October 13th
10.00: It's a new decade, and with it a new location for In The City. The conference location has been transferred from the beautiful Midland Hotel and an 'interesting' selection of Peter Street waterholes to a much more natural home - the stretch between Piccadilly and the Northern Quarter. The four hotels for the conference are really closely located to Piccadilly train station for the commuters amongst us, and all the key live venues are within walking (or running) distance from one another. This change of scene has created a great sense of anticipation about this year's event. Let the battle through registration commence... KG
10.30: Have been warned of possible queues at registration, but sail through the process with relative ease and warm greetings - most welcome after an evening (and morning) spent crying all over my television remote at rescued Chilean miners on BBC News. KG
11.20: Someone's just banged his head on the barely-there glass in the City Inn balcony. Poor chap. KG
12.00: It's time for the opening panel, and what a controversial affair it promises to be - a debate about the practice of pay-to-play (which the Motel despises). After some discussion about punctuation (was that misplaced question mark a Freudian slip to draw us all in and get us shouting? You have to wonder), Horace Trubridge of the Musician's Union, today's chair, opens proceedings with a personal anecdote of an unscrupulous promoter fiddling the number of tickets his band had sold to do them out of their money on a ticket deal. He's also clear to point out that the MU does still oppose any arrangement where musicans are not rewarded 'adequately' for their role in promoting a gig.
There's other horror stories too - as can be expected, Guy Garvey is too gentlemanly to name names, but he has bad memories of being ripped off by bad promoters too. He later goes on to say he does regret ever having to pay to play - and says the practice is "out of order, so cruel," preying on the hopes of aspiration young artists.
Time for debate is sadly limited - we could have (and, in the light of the delay to the following panel, should have) gone on for hours. There are considered questions, rants, and matter-of-fact statements that promoting a gig is the promoter's job, not exclusively that of the artist/s (hear hear to our very own Dan F, better known as half of Pull Yourself Together, for that point). Oh, and a light fitting plops out of the ceiling halfway through to add to the drama - the venue is literally collapsing around us. KG
13.20: Given time to sink in, that panel was an ultimately frustrating start - I would have liked to have seen more of a proactive, positive statement to kill off pay-to-play and root out bad promoters, and longer airtime for questions - a talking shop can be educational, fair enough, but it can also be very uninspiring
There were plenty of people in that room (and on the panel) who have obviously been screwed over, and the passion to eradicate unethical promotion was there in the early 1990s - why not fucking well work together to sort it out? Pay-to-play is crying out for an organisation with the clout of the MU or the Featured Artists Coalition to lead scrutiny of the practice.
A question I really wanted to ask the panel, in light of Helienne Lindevall's concerns that pay-to-play could become 'the norm' in a worst case scenario - was that in light of similar changes in society (unpaid internships, and even rumous of people 'buying on' to summer placements in the business sector), shouldn't we try and make an effort to change things and take a really positive stand? A lawyer sitting in front of Dan, Hannah and I reponds to a suggestion of a online directory with a 'kite mark' or barometer of quality for promoters with the reponse 'well, that should have been done five years ago'. Well done, that man. KG
15.30: After some delay, the Blogging the USA panel begins, sans Sean Adams from Drowned in Sound, who has delayed as a result of an accident on the M25 (which, he later informs us, left him listening to an especially bland radio station on the FM dial for 4 hours, poor chap). It suffers from a little bit of a slow start, and eventually goes back to that age-old argument of whether traditional print journalism is dead or dying, but the session really livens up with the Q&A.
The undisputed star of the panel is Ollie Russian, whose insightful and witty comments are a joy. Sean's interesting point about "transatlantic lust" also proved food for thought and it would have been nice for that to have received a more in-depth discussion. The grass is always greener on the other side after all, particularly in musical terms. KG
17.00: Work's out, and I'm off into the Northern Quarter. Before long, I'm installed in the charming Nexus Art Cafe to whet my appetite with Mogwai's excellent live DVD, Burning. SW
17.30: The credits roll, and I pick my way through the Northern Quarter to a chaotic Common (well, it has just been named Manchester's best bar). The Motel's own Dan and Hannah have three bands here for Pull Yourself Together's opening shindig - Patterns are soundchecking as I arrive. SW
18.30: Hannah's prediction of a prompt start is correct, and Advances In Mathematics kick off the live programme to a packed out bar. The band seem to thoroughly enjoy playing to a crowd of such size - from what I can see of the bassist's head bobbing up and down at the back of the room. Musically it's the kind of dreamy, thought-provoking post-rock that slips in nicely over the crowd ambience - with a twist at the end when a friend joins them onstage to add some morose sounding vocals to the mix. SW
19.00: A quick dash to The Castle Hotel, where I pass a very serious looking Christopher Eatough in the doorway. Shortly afterwards, Eatough gives a performance of typical heartfelt sincerity in the pub's lovely 'back room'. I've heard these songs played a few times now, but they never fail to move you, not with a voice that speaks for a thousand broken hearts. Can't stay long though...I've got an appointment six doors down. SW
19.30: Night and Day Cafe appear to be doing free soft drinks. How nice of them. There's chance to draw breath quickly before Nottingham trio Brontide take to the stage, jumping into a typically frenetic and earbashing 35 minutes of noisy math rock. This is one ferociously tight and scarily intense act, especially when bassist and guitarist stand side by side and stare menacingly into the crowd, as happens all too frequently. The drummer's amusing strop with the soundman right at the end is unecessary really - it's been a blast. SW
20.10: I'm standing outside the door to The Castle's back room. Why? Because local favourites Young British Artists have drawn a crowd way too big to pack inside it. We get in eventually though, and it's well worth it.
The band have developed in the past two years. They provide a fresh take on a whole bunch of North American influences, while the last ten minutes of an impressive show hark back to their postrock beginnings. All this makes it even more annoying when I hear a London accent proclaim " I didn't like them they were so derivative of Joy Division." Jesus. Really? SW
20:30: Decide to do something to remedy the insofar lack of bands I haven't seen before, and head over to The Roadhouse for a bit of hip-hop. On arrival, Manchester institution Murkage are in residence, with gut-wrenchingly loud bass beats underpinning three hyperactive MCs. Unfortunately, the running order seems to have been messed with as they depart after two songs. SW
20.40: Christ on a bike, D/R/U/G/S are seriously loud, to the point that if you stand too close to them, your stomach churns like a washing machine and you feel a bit dizzy. This is obviously a good thing - their relentless mish-mash of noise and samples will browbeat you into submission whether you like them or not. It's the kind of electronic assault that takes you to a new emotional plane (hence the name?)
Towards, the end, it gets a little too much, and there's a necessary diversion to the Ruby Lounge's recently-refurbished toilets to stem the ringing in your correspondent's ears. The verdict? Far better for you than actual drugs, obviously. KG
21.00: After a long spell with my head in the festival guide, I eventually plump for Stevenson Square's Soup Kitchen, and Big Deal from across the pond. An impossibly youthful boy/girl combination, they make resolutely lo-fi little pop tunes, which the cynic in me immediately sees possibilities for in future for soundtrack slots in American indie flicks, perhaps starring Michael Cera. It's twenty minutes of summery fun though, and it's impossible not to empathise with them despite their unassuming shyness. SW
21.20: Over the road at NOHO, 2:54's guitarist is wrapped up in the kind of fretboard gymnastics you can only get away with if it's backed up by a real racket. The couple of songs I get to hear are a fun and lively garage din - which is just as well when you have the total cliche of being fronted by a skinny blonde girl in a white t-shirt. SW
22.00: Foreign Office are playing to a reasonably-sized crowd (including a healthy dash of industry representatives) in NOHO, a relative newcomer to Stevenson Square. It's quite a nice little venue - lovely artwork on the walls and delightfully comfy sofas for resting weary feet - and a equally nice little set from the band follows.
Paul Cousins has a truly impressive voice, and the band's tight, catchy rhythms should have people up and down the land merrily grooving their way into 2011. If you were watching, and you liked them, and have the power to do so, then get them signed. Posthaste. KG
22.20: The longest walk this year's choice of venues can throw up takes me to the Ruby Lounge for O.Children, a band that bloggers and reviewers constantly tell me two things about. One is confirmed almost immediately, as the enormous Tobias follows his bandmates onto the stage with what looks like a tea towel draped over his head. Musically however, as the band rip through a terrific set, the endless comparisions to Ian Curtis or Nick Cave seem a bit daft. There are much more obvious references from various eyeliner wearing, black-clad eighties types - Tobias' baritone owes more to Jim Morrison than Mr Cave. It's really enjoyable, in any case. SW
22.30: "Don't leave when you find out who this song's by," says an exuberant Sophie Sveinsson of Sophie's Pigeons, just before her band launch into a rollicking cover of The Drugs Don't Work by The Verve. The Castle's beautiful new performance area is packed to capacity once again, and the band's anarchic blend of playful folk and pure pop encourages whoops and cheers aplenty from the audience. It's Gonna Bite's handclaps and killer bassline and the unrefined, madcap madness of Stars and Garters top off the evening in style. KG
23.10: A shortish wait spent crashed out in an armchair, I'm definitely flagging now. Still Corners are here to see my night out. They do so in style, with 30 minutes of positivly glacial dreampop backed by the first genuinely interesting visuals I've seen today. The band glide through an ultra smooth performance, while vocalist Olivia makes full use of a crystal clear voice that could soundtrack a ballet. Bedtime now, and I'll sleep well tonight. SW
words: Kate Goodacre and Steve Welch
live pictures: Kate Goodacre