Sounds From The Other City

April 26, 2015

7 DAYS TIL SFTOC – Interview with Simon Catling of Grey Lantern

Grey Lantern are now veterans of Sounds From the Other City. Since their birth in 2010, they have made a name for themselves as a tour-de-force of a promotions team around Manchester, taking over many of Manchester’s finest venues in Soup Kitchen, Big Hands, Gullivers, Kraak and First Chop Brewing Arm.

The team are used to taking over interesting and out of the norm spaces and in 2015 alone they have brought the likes of Spectres, Hookworms, Vision Fortune and Hartheim (their debut headline show) to the city. Now the team turn their attentions to Sounds From the Other City, and their very special collaboration with Faux Discx at The Angel Centre, we caught up with main man Simon Catling to see what we can expect come May 3rd.

Grey Lantern is now a distinguished and well respected curator of events in Manchester and further afield, how does having and curating a stage for sounds differ from a normal Grey Lantern showcase?

SC – I think – and I mean this in the best possible way – that having the financial stress being lifted off you by being handed a budget certainly allows a certain freedom in what you book that isn’t always there on your own shows. It’s not just that though, it’s being given that budget to use with total trust and openness from the organisers — I’d say that all they want from you is a line-up that reflects who you are as a promoter and also provides some level of unique interest that may not be possible at other similarly-sized multi-venue city festivals.

It’s not about just booking whatever’s being touted about by various agents or who you think are going to blow up to be the next whoever, but something that really just represents something you’re really into. For them to be so open to me having Faux Discx involved is great, because they’re one of my favourite labels and I think the context of doing it for a Sounds crowd’s really what it’ll make it work – it’s a festival that’s all about discovery and really all Grey Lantern was set up for is to share music in a way more engaging than just writing about it (which is what I do by daylight) so if folks stumble across my line-up and dig it that’s pretty much goal achieved.

SFTOC is now in its 11th year, what makes ‘Sounds’ stand out from the crowd in terms of festivals for you?

SC – I touched on it before really but I think the total freedom for promoters to book whatever they want often means you get a line-up that’s brilliant in its total lack of uniformity in a way, it means you can stumble into any number of different environments, discover any number of new bands and artists – or just opt out of that all together and get yourself caught up in all the art and spectacle that goes on up and down Chapel Street.

I think for me, the first time coming down was definitely all about the different space, seeing promoters whose gigs I’d got used to going to in the city centre trying to make it work in somewhere like the Pint Pot or The Crescent. It’s a great leveller in the sense that you see really well-established promoters like Hey! Manchester and Now Wave trying to make it work with the same constrictions as smaller promoters like myself or Bad Uncle or whoever; it forces all of us to be creative and try to get the most out of the resources we’ve been given, and that creates line-ups that ultimately are a lot more diverse and enjoyable than your average booking agent-led festival bill.

You’ve been involved with SFTOC for a few years now, what has been a highlight for you?

SC – Chrome Hoof at Islington Mill in 2010 sticks out a mile for me still. I’ve never seen them again and in a way I don’t want to; I was relatively unaware of them when I stumbled in on them playing and I left feeling totally electrified. I’m not sure that feeling could be replicated.

As a promoter putting on the mighty Walls in 2012 while in their Kompakt-signed, dreamy shoegazed-influenced techno pomp was a high. Also seeing Queer’d Science destroy the ceiling at the Angel in what would be their final gig in 2013 was fucking great – they did enough in just two years to become one of Manchester’s best live bands of the past decade, before they all decided real life was a thing they should think about. Gutted.

This year, you take over the Angel Centre with the help of Faux Discx. What’s it like trying to put on events in spaces, like the Angel Centre, that are not usually used as a music venue?

SC – Last year went pretty smoothly at the Pint Pot but certainly the first year I did it in 2012 at the Black Lion was a challenge! Remembering to ask for things like lighting when you’re in the upstairs of a pub that’s never had to cater for such things was something I learnt was good to do pretty early on.

Regal Safari played that year and by the time they got on it was pitch black and they were playing with only the glow of their laptop screens for company. Also only being able to load in and out gear down a two-flight fire escape stair way inbetween acts to avoid noise complaints was pretty fun, and we ended up running way over by foolishly thinking eight acts could fit into eight hours with full changeovers. It’s a wonder we were asked back really…

Saying that, the flip side is that often you find the reaction you get from crowds in such spaces is a lot different than if they were at a normal gig venue. The context of the space is really important to a performance and, however small that change from the norm is, it’ll often ignite something in an audience you might not get anywhere else. The Pint Pot was a non-stop party last year and we’re hoping for the same at the Angel this year – as are the Angel staff apparently!

Why did you want to do a stage with Faux Discx?

SC – Because they’re the best! I really like the band Women from Calgary, Dan who essentially is Faux Discx fucking loves them and I think (without wanting to talk too much for him) shares an ethos that they had in trying to get maximum results from minimalist means, be that in terms of resources or style.

I first came across Faux Discx by getting really into a self-titled EP that Dan had put out as a split with Gringo Records by Hookworms in 2010 and that just opened up a total treasure trove of all these brilliant, inventive guitar-based bands like Cold Pumas and Sauna Youth who refused to let this idea of a lo-fi aesthetic be a barrier for musical ambition or as a cloak to hide a lack of any real songwriting nous. Minimalism will always be relevant in music because there’s always a bloat somewhere to react against, and that’s why so much of the stuff Dan puts out sounds so fresh, even within an orthodox band structure. That’d be all academic if they didn’t rock the shit out mind. Which they do.

What can we expect from the collaboration?

SC – Loads of fuzzy distortion, taut guitar hooks, krautrock-inspired repetition, snarling punk and songs about the popular television comedy series, Friends. The total focus of our stage is on the bands themselves and what they can do; although we’re delighted that Chris Tomsett will be bringing his Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow up from Brighton as well. Anyone who’s been to Liverpool Psych Fest will have seen Chris’ suitably tripped-out visuals adorning the walls of the Camp + Furnace; he’s going to transform the Angel. We’ve also persuaded some of the Hookworms chaps to cross the Pennines, drink prosecco and play some tunes inbetween. Just going to be a right big love-in basically.

Who should we watch out for?

SC – All of ’em! Tense Men deal in tightly-locked motorik, Housewives in minimalist deconstructed post-punk composition, Sealings in snotty, snarling garage rock, Sauna Youth in super sweet punk hookery and Cold Pumas in infectious, driving grooves.

There’s also Sex Hands, for too long the first-on fall back of promoters needing garage band supports filled; it’s amazing how many bands from out of town will specifically ask for Sex Hands to play with them if they’re coming to Manchester. They’re definitely a band that are taken for granted, so we say no more! And are giving them the sort of right nice high-up slot that that they deserve.

Come the day, when all the hard work is done and you’ve got a spare hour, who or what will you be making sure you don’t miss out on seeing elsewhere at the festival?

SC – Too much to mention! I reckon everyone involved’s utterly nailed their stages this year. Shit and Shine’s new record’s brilliant though so I’m going to pick them, with pretty much all the rest of the bill running them a close second.

Interview by Sam Fawcett

SFTOC Tickets are available priced at £20 from Skiddle here: as well as in person from Piccadilly Records, and booking fee free from North Tea Power, Font Bars Manchester and the Kings Arm.