Independent Venue Week unfolds across the north at the end of the month – it’s a chance to catch bands before the hype.
Have you ever seen a band before they became the thing on everybody’s lips? The small, raw, intimate gigs where the players invite people up on stage, or turn the lights and sound off and sing from amongst the crowd? Or, aside from performance tricks, the simple thrill of experiencing a set that’s so good, it feels historic? When bands make it onto the escalator of industry success, they mostly stop hanging around after the show, all the better for avoiding fans showing them their dedicated tattoos. So it’s as enticing now as it has ever been to dig about for the next best thing – but with groups sprouting from many a teenager’s bedroom, searching for the good stuff has become a hard task. So when someone else offers to do the sifting, it’s a relief. And what better way to showcase emerging acts – and the independent venues that foster them – than Independent Venue Week?
Here you have the “suck it and see” side of live music
Coming to 18 different locations at the end of January (28 Jan–2 Feb), Independent Venues Week is a celebration of the places that have offered a lifeline to up and coming artists, as well as uniting the fans that follow them. The Library in Leeds was regular host to Alt-J, who went on to win the Mercury Prize in 2012, before the four-piece were splashed across the country (though the Awesome Wave of their success has since eroded them to three). The venue, a former library, is a stately, Grade I-listed building with tiled walls and a vaulted ceiling. Reinvented as a performance space, it now has a capacity of above 200 people. But these are venues that have landed big fish, whilst also keeping swimming space aside for the minnows. The Leadmill in Sheffield has an alumni list that includes Muse, The Verve, Primal Scream and The Strokes, whilst Liverpool’s The Zanzibar has, in its 18-year history, presented Keane, Noel Gallagher and The Libertines. Soup Kitchen in Manchester is a relative newcomer, then: the twisted tones of Deafheaven played out in the venue’s basement last year, but Soup Kitchen is better known for bands still on the edge of public attention.
The acts that have been chosen mostly tally with the cities they will be performing in – although some are so new that finding anything out about them is like trying to make a rope out of sand. This, in a way, is part of the point: here you have the “suck it and see” side of live music. With tickets as little as £4 for five acts, it isn’t much of a risk if they’re not to your taste. Liverpool’s line-up looks particularly tempting, with winners of the Liverpool Sound City Youth Award, The Cheap Thrills, left-handed guitarist Dominic Dunn (who is only 16 and runs his own business), indie rock collective Go Fiasco and two others all squeezed into one evening. The Blackout will be playing at The Leadmill – the Welsh post-hardcore band formed in 2006 and share a record label with the Prodigy and Marilyn Manson. Soup Kitchen’s night is being co-curated by local arts collective Generic Greeting along with “cultural regenerator” and barometer of hype, SWAY Records. One of their picks is Naked (On Drugs), who identify their genre as “melodramatic porn”. What this means, it’s hard to say. Rather unusually, a is clarinet involved. The Library, meanwhile, will see the first play of a new single, “Suntrap” by Forever Cult, which is being released specially for Independent Venues Week.
If success in the music business isn’t to be wholly guided by corporate heft, the support of independent venues along with those bands not spawned by money-minded execs is more important now than ever. It’s an obvious point, but one that’s worth remembering. Or, high minded principles aside, just go along for a bloody good night.