PINS in Berlin

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Middle Eastern migrants have flooded into the German capital in their thousands, slightly more modern than we might have expected in their Adidas tracksuits, football shirts and baseball caps, wielding iPhones and digital cameras, their tents stretching for miles down the Unter den Linden, a dirty, grungy city of tarpaulin sheets and ragged Arabic fabrics that’s turned the whole area around the Brandenburg Gate into a kind of Taliban Glastonbury. The situation is clearly untenable and I can’t help but think Angela Merkel must have some kind of solution in mind. I know that technically I’m one of them myself — the pollutants, the undesirable Others — having found myself caught up in the great leak of humanity that washed up on western shores after Disaster Zero all those years ago. But every living space has its limits. Natural limits. I got here first — ahead of the curve of history, once again — and enough is enough. The Germans don’t let any old fool serve as Chancellor and my guess is that this is all just Angela’s way of rounding up the filth before she shunts them all off to the Hauptbahnhof, their backpacks piling up on the concourse, the cattle cars waiting.

I’ve been hiding out here in my spiritual home for a while now, leaving my companion and Mistress of Photography to hold fort at the White Hotel as I lust after teenage actresses and drink away the pain of existence with the shady remnants of the cold war underworld. Tonight Manchester girl gang PINS have rolled into town on their never-ending world tour and I’m heading over to Kreuzberg to write a review for old time’s sake.

I get to the small club just in time to order a large white wine and a tequila, aka an LA Ladyboy. I hand over my euros, down the tequila, ask the barman to put some ice in my wine then head over to the stage as it fills with black PVC, hot pants, glitter and blonde bobs. It’s a strong look and from the crunchy opening track it’s clear that tonight the PINS sound is going to be equally powerful, driven by Sophie Galpin’s galloping drums and Anna Donigan’s imposing bass, her calm authority accentuated by her characteristically statuesque stance — eyes glazed, challenging — all washed over with surfy melodies and Lois Macdonald’s breezy riffs. ‘What I do to him, he does to me,’ sings Faith Vernon God Little, wearing a long, shiny black mac like a sexy 1980s regional mass murderer.

Tonight PINS somehow seem both jaded and fresh, experienced and winningly naïve, reminding me of what might have happened had the Spice Girls come of age in New York a few decades ago, their punchy ‘girl power’ polemic packaged with the art school cool of Blondie or Patti Smith. Big enough to have built a European fan base yet still small enough to connect to the audience on a personal level, they’re living the dream and the dream is brilliantly dingy. For recent videos they’ve been styled by high fashion labels such as Yves Saint Laurent but tonight they seem more like a bunch of council estate girls hitting the town with barely enough cash to get pissed in the taxi but not caring because they feel like this night is all for them, a twenty first birthday party that’ll never end.

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Like most of the great bands of the last half century, PINS are as much a fashion and political project as a music project, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — their ethos is pure punk, a form which has always challenged the boundaries of, say, gender and sexuality as much as it has those of music. The risk in dealing in such longstanding political, lyrical and stylistic reference points is that you can end up operating in a series of performative clichés; but with their growing confidence PINS seem to be drawing on a well-worn musical grammar in a way that is defiantly celebratory, self-conscious and knowing — without being as po-faced and earnest as this is making them sound — as when they reference the chorus of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, which is the engaging, pop side of PINS in a nutshell. Some gestures fall a little flat — the stage invasion during the encore is not the impulsive moment of madness it probably was the first time it happened — but the band as a whole are possessed of a stylishness, charm and exuberance born of hard work and the confidence that comes from turning up in foreign cities where a smattering of locals lovingly wear your t-shirts and mouth the words to songs you wrote in your bedroom.

Over the past couple of years PINS have surpassed pretty much all of their Manchester contemporaries, certainly in terms of wider recognition and productivity, and as they presumably set about writing what will be their third album in about as many years, intriguing new directions and possibilities suggest themselves, not least thanks to the recent addition of Kyoko Swan to their live line-up. Formerly the lead singer and guitarist of the Louche and now devoting her considerable creative energies to a new solo project, Kyōgen, Swan adds an artfulness and soulfulness that could be key to the band’s future creative direction. The highlight of the show, for me, comes when she steps out from behind her keyboard and starts playing a Telecaster for set closer ‘House of Love’, turning her back on the crowd and stalking the gap between Faith Vernon God Little and Galpin, nodding her head, a compelling, magnetic presence, before joining Macdonald on her mic, the word PINS tattooed over her throat like a nut job escapee from San Quentin. It’ll be intriguing to hear what the band sounds like with Swan contributing to the song-writing and recording process, her slightly more off-beat sensibility meandering freely in the poppy ether of their sound. Perhaps PINS could go from being a good Manchester band to being the city’s first truly great girl band, which remains a glaring and slightly shameful void in its musical heritage. It feels like the time is right as the band continue to strut confidently forward, leaving the cynics in the gutters as they light up another Vogue. Let lad rock burn. The future is female.

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As the girls graciously deal with post-show flattery before hitting the road to embark on the next phase of their great European adventure, I cross the Oberbaum Bridge, buy a beer from the kiosk at the Warschauer Straẞe U-Bahn and head back to the eastern suburbs, thinking nostalgically of the best date of my life — how I waited nervously for a German girl on that bridge, smoking, staring out at the forking train-lines and sprawling industrial city below.

The U-Bahn carriage is full of young people drinking bottles of beer while being pestered by begging refugees in varying states of desperation. One of them approaches each passenger in turn, presenting a hand-written message scrawled on a piece of cardboard. We all ignore him. When he leaves, the blonde Aryan teenager sitting opposite me rolls her eyes. This is the best time of the week, hitting the Berlin streets in the early hours with nowhere specific to go, wandering through estates created by sixties planners who dreamt in concrete, inventing the future of the past — weathered modernity, relentless realism — the walls thick with graffiti, semi-opened doors promising Latino girls: Mein Leib – mein Ware — seedy men with long ponytails and leather jackets smoking cigarettes, peering in, yellow taxis speeding by. Der modern Vorhang für moderne Menschen. Ghosts circling the night sky. I walk past a basement bar with music playing inside. A small plaque by the door has the words Hotel zur Oper on it. This will do nicely. I down my pilsner, descend a short flight of steps and go in.

It feels like the only words I’ve said today are ‘Bier’ and ‘danke’. I take a seat in the corner. Three girls are making an electro-pop racket at the far end of the room and I immediately register the fact that they’re all incredibly hot, as boys are prone to do. At least this one … The tables are mostly empty, save for a few desolate, solitary figures. As my pupils dilate and my eyes grow accustomed to the dark, I notice an elderly man sitting at the table next to me. He’s clean-shaven, soft-faced and subtly perfumed, his thinning grey hair neatly parted. He’s wearing a suit and tie and a long black overcoat, holding a cigarette between delicate, manicured fingers. He turns and looks at me unsmilingly. We make eye contact for a brief, disconcerting second then each go back to staring at girls.

When the show is over the band disappear into a back room, one by one. Just as I’m accepting that it might be time for me to drink up and find some other corner to lose myself in, they return to the small stage and start dismantling their equipment and I find myself weaving my way over and bombarding them with words, platitudes, telling them how much I enjoyed their set, asking if they have any records I could buy. They smile and nod. Just as they think they’re free, I offer to help them take their kit out the back. Without waiting for an answer I grab a keyboard and hold the door open. We walk down a hallway draped with large leopard skin rugs, propping the gear against a wall by a black velvet curtain.

‘Are you the person who is also taking the photos of us?’ asks the one with black hair and a peach-coloured vest. She reminds me of the young Penélope Cruz in Jamon, Jamon. I confess that yes: that was me. ‘Could you maybe take a photo for us? We are needing one for our Myspace.’

Of course I oblige, whipping out my phone.

‘And could you maybe do one other favour for us too?’ asks the blonde singer who is dressed all in white, rising from her simmering pose. I’m all ears. ‘Since we come here a man says we can make film. Will you help us with film?’

‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Don’t worry, just follow us,’ Penelope says, pulling back the heavy black curtain.

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Next thing I know I’m naked and tied to a chair in the middle of an empty dancefloor. The room is lit by strobing disco lights. There’s a television camera pointing at me and Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ is booming through the sound system. As the doey intro builds to the first chorus the girls come bounding in wearing long black leather boots, suspenders and Nazi officers’ caps, their bare breasts bobbing as they skip around the room, violins chopping — ignite the light and let it shine — the multi-coloured strobes confusing my senses. I feel a hand running down the back of my neck, the faintest touch of flesh. The Russian one with the short hair, please … I am priapic, woozy, wanton. Baby you’re a firework! Katy wails. Come on show them what you’re worth … The girls pout and gyrate, caressing my thighs, draping their arms round each other’s necks, kissing, holding their breasts, aware of their perfection. Something seems familiar but memory has no place here, thoughts shoot across the sky, when suddenly the spell is broken by a crazed animal yapping and a fiendish presence enters the room: a bundle of demonic energy that darts this way and that. A black and straw-coloured blur of violence.

Waspish laughter from the corner, where the elderly man with the grey hair is drinking a flute of champagne. The slathering German Shepherd recognises the laugh and goes bounding up to him, lapping at his face. You don’t have to feel like a waste of space.

Blondi! Ah my Blondi!’ the old man exclaims. ‘Are you hungry?’

One of the girls is behind me, mechanically rubbing her breasts against my back. Unsurprisingly, I’ve lost my lust. The loopy German Shepherd is leaping up and down and chomping on air. Boom, boom, boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon … Something large and soft is placed on my lap and two of the girls continue to dance as the Russian pulls leather straps tightly round my back. It’s always been inside of you, you, you, and now it’s time to let it through-ooh-ooh … A length of raw uncooked meat rises up in front of me. Penélope Cruz leans forward and throws her long dark hair from side to side. ’Cos baby you’re a firework! Blondi has stopped bounding and is staring at me intently from the far side of the room, his eyes bulging as he sizes up my blood sausage.

‘Attacke,’ screams the old warmonger, releasing the dog.

Come on let your colours burst

Jesus, I think, as the animal bounds towards me: this time I’m really done for.

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MONEY

Leaf, Liverpool, 11 June 2013

Money, Manchester 04/08/12

We’re in the fast lane all the way with a dashing sculptor at the wheel, his Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned, his hair swept back by the summer breeze. ‘Two Tribes’ blazes from the car stereo: mandatory listening for the drive along the M62 from Manchester to Liverpool. I sit in the back seat with the teenage prodigy Lucy Holt, writer of this sickeningly good review of the forthcoming Ghost Outfit album, I Want You to Destroy Me. We drink cold cans of Polish lager and shout at each other over the music, getting to the bottom of things like exams and betrayal. As we cruise through the hinterland of Liverpool we pass something called the Liverpool Innovation Park that hardly inspires much hope for the future of this desperate city. A soul-destroying wasteland of a place, the centrepiece is a derelict, white-painted monstrosity that resembles an industrial power station designed by Albert Speer. The Führer would no doubt approve. If SWAYS ever takes on Liverpool, this will surely be its home venue.

At some point, I realise, I’m going to have to let the world know that I’m Lucy Holt. Why carry on with this childish charade, this ruse of anonymity, this cowardly device? Why put up with all the frustrating misreadings and misogyny taunts, when I’m XX all the way, sisters? I should just get it out there once and for all: I’m a precocious teenage music reviewer and future Orange Prize winner for the lesbo romp that will be the magnum opus of my twenties. Now that you know this fact, it makes it far more respectable to be writing what is essentially a doe-eyed love letter to a bunch of boys and their errant leader, Jamie Lee, no? Because for once, incredibly, I find myself writing a review that’s motivated solely by the music, born of a show that’s as exciting as any I can remember since, well, probably since seeing MONEY play for the first time at Sacred Trinity Church in the winter of 2011. Or the Marder in Berlin. I’m bereft of the photographic art that I usually enjoy as I wasn’t planning to write a review. But as I casually make it back home at 5.08pm the next day, I find myself drawn straight to my laptop with an urgent need to get this down, to remember what happened, to bear witness. Somebody needs to write a review of this gig and this is not a responsibility I’m prepared to entrust to the people of Liverpool.

I missed the start. I was down an alley being led astray by myself, Lucy Holt, slugging from a bottle of cheap Rosé wine with the charming, baby-faced songwriter Sam Price-Salisbury who’s wearing a yellow jumper that’s brighter than the sun. As we walk back upstairs, flushed and hopefully heading to heaven, we can already hear Jamie Lee yelping, unaccompanied. We get to the top and almost bump into the singer on his hands and knees amongst the crowd, completing the opening song. He looks like he’s lost his mind. I help him to his feet and we kiss on the lips. He smiles like a new-born child. There’s a feint glimmer of recognition but this is a man who is elsewhere.

The band then launch into ‘Solong (God is Dead)’ and I immediately realise that this is going to be a MONEY show unlike any other I’ve seen before. Gone is the usual poise, the quasi-religious aura. I remember the days when Jamie would stand on a chair at the back of the stage and there was something of the sermon about his delivery. Tonight though, he seems either drunk or deranged. He’s all over the place. As he awkwardly pulls his guitar strap over his shoulder like he’s never seen one before in his life, I wonder whether he’s going to be able to play the thing at all. For a minute, I think we might be about to watch a total car crash of a gig. Thankfully, the body, or the musical instinct, seems to have survived whatever devastation has been wrought on his brain, and the song is played tightly; impossibly perfect, in fact. He still sounds angelic, with his vocal swathed in warm reverb, but the performance is like some kind of exorcism. There’s something totally unhinged about him as he writhes about the stage, wiggling his body like there’s not a bone in it, yelling every word as though his life depends on it. It’s utterly demented — but in a powerful and spontaneous way. There’s nothing contrived about it. He’s lost in the moment and it’s spellbinding. As the band runs through an extended, jammy version of their latest single ‘Bluebell Fields’ he sits on the floor and wrestles with his guitar while new member Sam Denniston comes to the fore with eerie samples and synths. Scott Beaman and Charlie Cocksedge are more animated than I’ve ever seen them, feeding off the weird energy that’s in the air, and Billy Byron holds everything together with soft drum rolls and marching beats on the snare, his earphones on, hunched and attentive like a praying mantis.

The set closes with Jamie wobbling off the stage with the microphone stand, plonking it down in front of the spectators at the front, knocking it over, gradually untangling his guitar lead so that it reaches out to his new position, then performing a heart-rending version of ‘Who’s Going To Love You Now’ while continually fucking about with the stand so that the microphone is either absurdly high or absurdly low. He finishes the song and marches off through the crowd and into the night, followed by the band. I wonder if any of them realise quite how special this performance has been.

You’ll notice that this review has been pretty much free of the usual literary pretension, instead fired by a spirit of public-spiritedness; because you need to know that MONEY are playing a show in London tomorrow then another for the sandal-wearing hippies of Hebden Bridge on Friday night and it looks like half of Manchester will be joining them. You should too. Something is happening with this band and it’s happening now. They might never be this good again. It’s certainly hard to see how they can get much better. So come along. We can pay our respects to Sylvia then watch a group who seem possessed of something of her spirit, lost in a certain darkness of the soul but producing the most incredible poetry in the void.

Photograph (of another night, but it kind of works!) © Natalie Curtis at http://www.16apr79.com/

Esben and the Witch + Embers

The Führer Bunker, Salford, 9 February 2013

SwaysRecords: Alice and Faustus 09/02/13

The Bunker is under siege. As night slips its black hood over the condemned city, a long queue of middle-aged music fans steadily fills the short front corridor, stretching out into the street where two shifty touts are selling tickets for £60 each: a healthy 1000% mark up on their face value. Tonight’s guests are well-dressed, well-fed and way out of their comfort zone. Wrapped up in their branded fleeces and scarves, they look like they’ve got lost on the way to the Debenhams sale. The poor guy on the door does his best to apologise for the delay but the bourgeoisie are getting restless. Why are they still waiting in a gloomy concrete tunnel, when the internet said that the event would begin at 8pm? Why aren’t they experiencing things like entertainment or pleasure? They don’t understand. This isn’t part of the deal they made with life. Part of me wants to explain that this place is called the Führer Bunker for a reason: the stained walls, iron gates and dimly-lit halls seem to echo the architectonics of mass extermination. They should be thankful that nobody’s handing out soap and asking them to undress. Instead, my companion and his idiotic, hat-wearing hipster friends are selling them warm cans of lager and cider out of multipacks from the cash and carry: a slightly feeble gesture that seems to lie somewhere in-between hospitality and out and out extortion. The SWAYS salesmen shuttle back and forth, getting berated for not having any premium brands, clearly out of their depth with these consumers.

Something is rotten in the state of Salford. Heaven will direct us.

I’ve not been myself of late. I feel distracted, not quite with it. Whenever I see friends, they say things like, ‘I almost ran you over yesterday.’ Of course, it’s about a girl. It always is. And this particular one has got under my skin. I don’t really feel like being here, but at least it’s a chance to escape the psychosomatic dragnet of bitterness and regret and forget about things for a while, so I resolve to throw myself into a night that’s bursting at the seams after weeks of anticipation that’s for the most part been fuelled by the meteoric rise to prominence of opening band Embers. Before Christmas they posted videos of two songs, ‘Hollow Cage’ and ‘Part of the Echoes’, performed live at Gorton Monastery. It was impressive stuff and ever since the internet has been awash with blogs and websites talking about Embers. And members of Embers talking about Embers and their members. It’s been difficult to look at a computer screen without stumbling across one of these delicate flowers telling the world how ‘overwhelmed’ they are by the public response, just in case you were unsure quite how well they were doing.

Their prolonged Gwyneth Paltrow moment has steadily come to focus on tonight’s gig, which many of us had assumed was going to be headlined by Brighton’s Esben and the Witch. Apparently not. This is Embers’ show and the truth is we could have another Hillsborough on our hands, with one of them even worrying about crowd members collapsing in the inevitable crush, warning them to take care and look after each other ahead of their trip to the shitty away ground that is the Bunker. Like their fans, Embers have clearly never been here before. If they had, they’d have realised that of the numerous likely causes of death — machete gangs, rock wool fire, gas leaks — being physically crushed isn’t one of them. The stage is, after all, a wooden cage that you could just step into if things got a bit tight. There’s no perimeter fencing.

But who’s laughing here? Because it transpires that the vast majority of the crowd that’s slowly filtering into the main Exhibition Room really is here for Embers, not Esben and the Witch. Give them a chance, I think. Pull yourself together. After all, they’re nice guys. The only reason I follow all the online hyperbole is because I’m friends with them — or at least I was, before I slipped this nasty dagger into their unsuspecting backs, this essay on pain and transference.

I first met their guitarist at a gig that changed my life forever, when M O N E Y played their ‘comeback’ show at Salford’s Sacred Trinity church and I rediscovered how music can transfigure the human soul. I described our meeting in my review: he was the one who staggered into the toilets singing ‘God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You’. The next time I met him was when Now Wave put on Alt-J, M O N E Y, G R E A T W A V E S and PINS in a disused office block as part of the FutureEverything festival. He was splayed on the tiled floor in a drunken heap next to a plastic yellow sign that carried the warning, ‘Caution: Slippery Surface’. How could you fail to love such a guy?

Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that tonight isn’t destined to end in this kind of gloury. It just isn’t happening for them. Beset by technical problems apparently caused by Esben and the Witch turning up late and conducting a rather starry and protracted sound-check — clearly no-one had told them who was really headlining this sold out Now Wave show — which left them with little time to prepare, Embers fail to reach the heights of Gorton monastery or previous live performances where they’ve filled venues with their epic, cinematic post-rock. Tetchiness and barely-veiled aggravation emanate from the band. They never relax into their set or really engage with the crowd, instead moaning about the sound and scratching their heads inside what really does turn out to be a hollow cage. I get the sense that their time will come when they do their own show in their own space on their own terms. This is not that moment. With mournful violins now prominent in the mix, backed by a bit of discordant wailing and punctuated by some burly drum rolls, this reminds me too much of the ex-girlfriend’s whinging so I decide to go outside and smoke cigarettes with the rest of the misanthropes.

There are only two of them: clearly indifference to Embers represents a minority opinion. One is my friend Alice — a very special musician in the making — and she’s with someone in a Gram Parsons t-shirt and leather jacket who I’m pretty sure introduces himself as Faustus. He reminds me of Vincent Gallo in Buffalo 66. Drunkenly, I enthuse about the opening sequence in which Gallo gets out of jail needing a piss and meets Christina Ricci at her dance class: it’s one of my favourite scenes in the history of cinema.

Dr Faustus hasn’t enjoyed Embers either. I don’t know what darker matters worm away at his soul, but he describes them as ‘a blank sheet of A4’ and draws comparisons with Elbow, a band whom he regards as unfit for human consumption: ‘Greggs is a massive institution. It doesn’t mean that it’s good.’ The next time I meet him, it will be as he leaves the SWAYS-curated night at Fuel early, accusing opening band B L O O M of giving him bad vibes. I feel like I’ve found a brother in adversity.

It upsets me that there’s no music going on inside that’s more for them, for us. Standing out here is like crying in your bedroom at your own birthday party while the more popular boys, who secretly bully you, kiss the girls and eat all your cake. Now older and wiser, drinking wine out the bottle and smoking cigarettes on the street instead, we pour forth the vitriol that’s the only succour for those of us who find ourselves to be permanent outsiders in the disappointing party that is life. Fuxk the Bunker. ‘There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn’ (Camus). That place was starting to feel too much like somewhere we belonged. That sort of feeling never lasts. We should’ve learned that by now. I’m reminded of that Woody Allen line in Annie Hall, where Alvy Singer paraphrases Groucho Marx: ‘I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member.’

Things don’t improve much with Esben and the Witch. It’s just nowhere near the classic Bunker performances of M O N E Y, G R E A T W A V E S and Savages. Back then my skin tingled but tonight it crawls. I try to shake myself out of it, reminding myself that on those nights I felt that nothing better was happening anywhere in the world at that specific moment in time, that I was truly living in an earthly paradise. Perhaps my expectations for these shows have been set unfeasibly high. Surely there will be other nights when I’ll feel myself touched like that once again, our flying souls united in ecstasy? Maybe I haven’t been entirely forsaken …

Dr Faustus leaves with Alice, complaining that Esben and the Witch have drained him of his life force. Half-heartedly trying to chat up a solitary girl on the edge of the pack, I get hushed by a well-heeled member of the Debenhams gang. She gives me a look of utter disgust and that’s the final straw. I’ve had enough of this shit. Now’s the time for me to leave too, time to find some place where I can scream and shout and drink until I drop, safe in the knowledge that the rest is silence, my dear; you’ll have an eternity of that soon enough.

Image © Natalie Curtis at www.16apr79.com.

G R E A T W A V E S + Regal Safari + Bernard and Edith

The Führer Bunker, Salford, 19 October 2012

FŸuhrer Bunker, Salford 19/10/12

SWAYS don’t really do summer. It’s hard to imagine the pasty, black jean-wearing inhabitants of the Führer Bunker taking holidays in the sun; they’re much happier sat in the dark sipping cocktails and watching Béla Tarr films. But come September-time, the machine cranks back into gear; when the autumn chill starts to bite this organisation (I use that word in the loosest possible sense) suddenly springs back into life and dark fruits fatten on their vines. First, there was news of a new single and video by a band who I will forever insist on calling Naked on Drugs, no matter how much they try to contract their brilliantly fuxked-up and imagistic name. ‘Death Dance’ is a hypnotic, deranged work of avant-garde experimentalism that will divide listeners into those who have good music taste and those who do not.

Then there was the Human Beast event at Islington Mill, described by one reviewer as a mixture of ‘explosive psychopath pop’, ‘alien philosophy’ and ‘violent jazz’, culminating in a sea of sprawling bodies. Guess you had to be there … And now the Führer Bunker has opened its iron gates for the autumn/winter season and the difficult second series begins …

A bit like its inhabitants, the building doesn’t suit the sun. In daylight, it shrivels into thin air, like a vampire outside its coffin. But under cover of darkness, the old bag factory has an aura that combines menace and mystique in equal measure. Getting there is not for the faint-hearted. The walk from Manchester city centre to the venue even prompted one of the city’s most venerable music websites to produce a kind of SWAYS survival kit, a bit like concerned parents looking out for their wide-eyed children as they prepare to embark on a slightly risqué gap year. I say: Throw away the Lonely Planet! That walk is a bit like being raped in the dorm at public school: it breeds character in those who most need it.

With previous gigs being cancelled due to warnings about local machete gangs roaming the streets and neighbours such as Dale Cregan for company — the one-eyed cop killer is currently locked up and awaiting trial over the road in Strangeways — tonight there has been a general heightening of security, with two undercover police officers sat outside in an unmarked squad car eating chips and listening to a CD of ‘Death Dance’ that’s been eagerly pressed on them through the open passenger window. A group of silent Somalians are huddled up in the back of the bunker with baseball bats, just in case things get really nasty.

Mothers of England, fear not. Tonight is no Altamont, and it should be said that SWAYS have also gone to great lengths to soften the image of the bunker. The interior is lit by candles and joss sticks that line the beams of the notorious wooden cage and huge posters of an avuncular-looking Ernest Hemmingway stare down from the corridor walls. This is SWAYS Redux, complete with a fully licensed bar doing a special promotion on Red Stripe and a savvy commercial strategy. You will be aware of the HMV Ritz, the O2 Apollo and the Manchester Carling Cathedral. Well, now you can add the Kangol Führer Bunker to this illustrious set of venues: they’ve got the style, the Louche have got the Samuel L. Jackson looks, time for everyone to make lots of money, non?

The first of tonight’s bands, the duo Bernard and Edith, complete the feeling of inner warmth. With a few impressive songs now available online, nobody quite knows what to expect in terms of a live performance from these newcomers, because they haven’t done one yet. The male half, sitting cross-legged on a crumpled Afghan rug in front of his synthesiser and drum machine, is Nicholas Delap of much-hyped Manchester group Egyptian Hip Hop — a band who have just released their first album, which is widely being regarded as a kind of rebirth, a second chance to deliver on their unfulfilled potential, which seems incredible, given their tender years. They’re barely out their teens, for fuxksake! When did the timeframes of popular culture contract and become so unforgiving? The world is full of greying, embarrassing 80s bands on breakfast TV talking about reunion tours and bland new albums that no one wants to buy, recorded in expensive studios. When did bands of this younger generation get so fairly and squarely shafted? … And it’s not just record deals, it’s everything, fundamental things that apply to everyone, like jobs, houses and a University education, all suddenly just vanished. It doesn’t seem fair. And it’s not! Youth seems to be bearing all the pain, while the wealth and opportunities remain heaped on the pot-bellied middle-aged generation that least deserves it.

Edith and Bernard, FŸuhrer Bunker, Salford 19/10/12

Fortunately, tonight evidences the continually flowering creativity of a group who will go on to make great music whatever the circumstances, with Delap hidden away behind his Puma baseball cap controlling a wide template of beats, tones and samples. Yet it’s vocalist Greta Carroll who takes centre stage, clutching a vintage wartime microphone and gyrating to the rise and fall of the music, lost in her own world, delivering a performance that is heartfelt and introspective, bringing to mind the minimalism and naked emotion of early Portishead. As church bells peal round the bunker projections of flickering faces beam onto a white sheet draped over the back of the cage. Swigging from a bottle of red wine, Carroll sings every word like she passionately means it. When she sings of heartbreak, it’s like her heart is breaking right now. The growing crowd seem entranced by a captivating debut performance that promises special things to come.

Edith and Bernard, FŸuhrer Bunker, Salford 19/10/12

‘We should probably get rid of some of this rock wool,’ says my companion, looking over his shoulder at the stacks of flammable material behind us. Nobody told Bernard and Edith not to fill the place with candles and joss sticks … ‘Have you got any poppers?’ he asks.

‘No,’ I reply. ‘Why?’

‘No reason.’

But as the second band, Regal Safari, finish setting up their synths and start swaying backwards and forwards without any great fanfare, absorbed in the growing soundscape of their layered, unstructured electronica, I think I understand that rather than wanting to rape me, my companion is searching for the best way to bend his hardened mind to this eclectic occasion. It’s suddenly become a bit more like what the Warehouse Project would be like if it took place in an actual warehouse.

The one problem with this line-up is that it presents a world of confusion for the recreational drug user. If Bernard and Edith make you want to smoke a joint, then this Brighton duo leave you wanting to scratch someone’s eye out for a pill. That is, if you haven’t come prepared … It’s not the kind of band that we’ve become accustomed to at this place and the night is all the better for it, with the accomplished two-piece delivering a set that uses sophisticated dramatic structures — the development of tension, the delivery of release — much of which seems to be improvised, based on their reading of the moment, the way the bass loops and vocal samples weave together and are then undone, waiting to let the beat kick in just when for a moment things seem to be without an anchor in space and time.

Regal Safari, FŸuhrer Bunker, Salford 19/10/12

As an old-school rave atmosphere starts to develop in the main room, I withdraw to the back rooms in search of a drink, hoping to hell they’ve got some Red Stripe because I’m parched.

In a corridor I find the President leaning against the wall in his charity shop suit, smoking a Lambert and Butler. He seems unusually thoughtful.

‘I’ve got a theory,’ he says, looking like a parent in a hospital waiting room who has visibly aged overnight. ‘I think I might’ve been molested by a doctor at school.’

I don’t know what to say. Is he being serious? He’s one of those where you never know. I get where he’s coming from though. Since the news broke, I think we all feel somehow tarnished. Most nights the pantomime villain makes an appearance in my dreams, stalking me back to my childhood in his white track suit, jangling his gold jewellery, the crazy night porter pushing the hospital trolley, his wild white hair framing his cartoonish face and jutting chin. His flashing eyes peer at me through Ali G glasses as he paces up and down, flicking his cigar like one of the Marx brothers, smiling, asking me strange questions, beseeching. I’m terrified and alone, sometimes I’m writing notes on a piece of paper that I crumple up and throw into a bin, crying my eyes out … These dreams are brief and it’s never long before I’m startled awake by the bright light of panic.

‘I always wanted a “Jim’ll Fix It” badge,’ mutters my companion, joining us in the corridor.

‘What did you want fixing?’ I ask.

‘Anything really …’

‘But there’s the problem,’ says the President, looking disconsolate, like all the light in the world has gone out and he doesn’t know where to look. ‘Jim might’ve fixed it. But what if you weren’t broken?’

He stubs his cigarette out on the concrete floor. ‘Cunt,’ he says, and walks off.

We watch him disappear down the corridor. Who could say anything more? My companion grabs me by the collar. ‘Fuxk it, he says. Let’s have a Red Stripe.’

As we squeeze our way back through the sea of bodies packed round the cage and try to find somewhere where we can see into the glowing interior, the DJ fades out and the night’s final twosome enter through the sheets at the back. People are perched on ledges and the stacks of rock wool.

Words don’t do justice to G R E A T W A V E S, or at least mine don’t. With their simple, repeated lyrics spilling forth from singer David De Lacy’s wide, aquatic mouth, full of soul, and the layers of synthesiser, samples and plucked electric guitar chords, their songs are always suggestive of another state of being, a state beyond language, and beyond the petty encumbrances and frustrations of day-to-day life, of the body and its imperfections, of jobs and unemployment, of memories, resentments, arguments, telephone calls and aggravation, of bills and governments, of wasted days that we will never remember again, when a day unremembered is worse than if it never had been, as Laurie Lee once wrote, or something like it, Lee being the poet-novelist who also wrote so beautifully about the childhood discovery of sexuality as a lyrical and innocent journey spent under the apple cart with Rosie, untouched by the adult world, a poet-novelist who also shares bloodlines with Jamie Lee, the poet-leader of MONEY, lately in exile, whose vision first brought the Führer Bunker to life and who first took me to a house in a Withington council estate nearly a year ago, early one Sunday morning, the sun almost rising, church bells ringing, so we could listen to a spur of the moment gig in a living room, promising me that I was about to discover the best new band in the city …

G R E A T W A V E S, FŸuhrer Bunker, Salford 19/10/12

And look at them now, true to his word, playing their first headline show to a growing crowd of believers. People mouth the words and yelp rapturously between songs, wanting to return a little of the love that G R E A T W A V E S exude in every detuned chord and drone. Sweat catches the light on De Lacy’s lips as he moans into the microphone, finally stepping back and meekly smiling, nodding appreciatively. There is an incredible intimacy to such moments, as though these songs are still being played in a front room, to friends. And in a way they are.

As the set draws to an end smoke fills the bunker, eventually folding back and giving way to the opening bass notes of ‘Into the Blue’. The synthesised Twin Peaks atmospherics are underpinned by shifting tones and beats and De Lacy and Oliver Ocean momentarily seem god-like, with the clouds at their feet. White flowers bloom in quick time on the white sheets behind them — projections emanating from the multi-talented Delap and his laptop by the corner of the cage. With mystical lyrical refrains such as ‘golden waves’ resounding in swathes of reverb, the songs describe voyages into unknown states of being and are drenched with intimations of mortality. Yet there is no fear hear, only love, the peace which passeth understanding, and if G R E A T W A V E S take us to the edge, the shore, the boundary that separates us from the other side, it is not to evoke the fear of not-being, but to remind us of all the beauty that surrounds us in the land of the living.

All photography © Natalie Curtis at http://www.16apr79.com/.

Next bunker gig: Saturday 17 November. Machete gangs not welcome.

Savages + PINS

The Führer Bunker, Salford, 1 May 2012

I lower my bitten and bruised body into a warm bath that’s slowly filling to the brim. The water comes close to overflowing, lapping against the undulating rings of scum that signal the high tide mark. Lying back and resting my weary head against the side, I turn off the hot tap with my big toe. This is where I come to clip my nails and preen my sentences. I take a sip of red wine then light a cigarette, inhaling deeply. This ritual always reminds me of being a teenager and reading J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey for the first time. The introduction to Zooey Glass was also an introduction to the kind of adult I wanted to be, which is to say one who would read typewritten letters on yellowing paper while sitting in a bath in Manhattan, with his cigarette ash tumbling onto the pages and into the tub.

Usually any act of naked hedonism is enough to cheer me up, but right now that’s not easy. I feel out of sorts, depressed. So much so that I hardly even notice the video of ‘Eleventh Hour’ by PINS that’s beaming onto the bathroom wall through a dusty projector propped up on a pile of hardbacks. I have it playing on a constant loop for my entertainment and arousal. If anything should lift my spirits then it’s bath-smoking while perving on this noir footage. I simply never get bored of it. My companion has even suggested that I might be the individual best placed to direct the next PINS video, such is my appreciation of the aesthetic possibilities that this band have to offer. He has a point. I’ve already settled on a concept. It would be a loving homage to the car wash scene in Wild Things, with me playing the part of Mr Lombardo, of course, and it would end up being displayed in fuxking MOMA alongside ‘Fight the Power’ and ‘Sabotage’.

But not even this, my favourite thought, can shake me from my malaise. The black dog is well and truly on my shoulder; despondency has sunken in and taken hold of my body like rising damp. For a start, the shark bite girl who’s responsible for all these velvet bruises has gone — she fled to a monastery after our third night together, claiming that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her in a vision, warning her off. What a bitch! The Virgin Mary, that is. The things I’d do if I ever got my hands on that teasing whore … Now I can’t stop thinking of the waste of sensuality that’s hived away in those ascetic cells. The way she devoured me, biting each other black and blue through all the shades of pain … Memory is for girls, as my companion is so fond of saying, with subtle and probably unintentional mastery of the double entendre. Geoffrey Hill would be proud of the way that phrase works against itself, with its feigned indifference lapsing into actual obsession …

Then there’s been the whole sorry fürore over Führergate as well. I feel sort of responsible. Everything got out of hand … The Führer Bunker was just a nickname for the place that SWAYS records calls home. The President is a tyrant; it’s in the middle of a war zone where fires burn like funeral pyres; and the place is a fuxking concrete bunker! It didn’t seem unreasonable … Now the internet is awash with indignation, everyone clambering to get on our case like rats in a ditch fighting over some piss. People think we’re Nazis or worse, hipsters!

If memory is for girls, then tonight all this boy wants is a bit of forgetfulness. Fuxk memory and fuxk girls (Hill again). Pass me the wine, Dimitri … I put my head under the water and think of the billows of blood in MONEY’S video for ‘SOLONG (GODISDEAD)’. I just want to slip under all this reality like a ghostly body under the wheels of a bullet train, or else to be washed away like the dirty water that will soon drain through this plughole, along with the thin blood, down through the stinking sewers that channel our bodily waste to the sea, winding through the writhing intestines of this gormandising city, drenched in shit and sick and expelled from the world like the memory of a bad dream, eventually finding myself delivered to the very bottom of the lowest circle, collapsed in a fetid, soaking heap on the floor of the bunker just in time to catch the opening salvos of Kristallnacht or whatever the hell SWAYS, Now Wave and co. are calling this night now.

My companion stares down at me. ‘Get up,’ he says. ‘PINS are on in a moment.’

He reaches for my slimy hand and hauls me to my feet. I feel like I’ve been recently lobotomised.  Have I forgotten something important? I look my companion in the eye, swiping his fringe to the side so that he seems more realistic.

‘Eight girls, two bands, one cage,’ he says, nodding at the sturdy wooden structure in front of us and ignoring my dishevelment. ‘I wanted you to call it “the birdcage” in your review.’

‘Right …’

‘Because, for one night only, it’s a cage full of birds.’

‘I get it.’

‘Then I thought we could call it “the sexy menagerie”.’

‘Nice.’

‘But that doesn’t work. I looked it up and apparently a menagerie is a cage full of animals. Not just birds … And these are just birds.’ He pauses. ‘The animals are all on the outside.’

As my brain tries to catch up with what he’s going on about Jamie Lee from MONEY walks up, looking slightly askance. There’s a dripping pool of water and soggy tissues gathering by my feet. He shakes his head and hands me a leaflet that’s blazoned with the words NEW HEAVEN WITHIN AN ANTI-WORLD – APHORISMS ON A SELF-DEFINED UTOPIA. But before I’ve had the opportunity to read any more of his freewheeling philosophy the black-clad belladonnas of PINS have taken to the cage and tonight’s entertainment has begun.

Having seen them play live a couple of times recently, I know what I’m in for tonight and what backtracking this review is going to involve. I know it’s going to be good — much better than they were six months ago and certainly a galactic leap forward from that night when they supported Iceage and then did despicable things to me. I’m not really sure if I got it completely wrong that time or if they really have improved beyond all recognition, or whether it’s a bit of both. What I do know is that since then, PINS seem to have metamorphosed into a darker, more confident and brooding musical force, with the screeching single note spikes and thick discordant drones made by guitarists Faith Holgate and Lois McDonald forming a textured noise that writhes over Anna Donigan’s no bullshit basslines and Lara Williams’s tribal toms.

Beyond the fact that the band consists of girls who can sing and make good music, the standard comparison with Warpaint now seems quite wide of the mark, rendering the second-hand contribution of middle-aged, overpaid hacks like those at the Guardian who are too lazy to form their own opinions utterly irrelevant. The band are exploring a much wider palette of sound — the uncertain copyists have blossomed into noise experimentalists who probably stay up late listening to the Velvet Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain while pissing off their neighbours.

As always, they look incredible. Whenever I see lead singer Holgate, I have the impression that I’m looking at archival film of a Hollywood actress or a punk icon from a previous era, rather than encountering an actual human being in reality. Tonight she’s wearing a wide-brimmed pilgrim hat and a silver glittery dress that catches fragments of light as she gyrates her hips and curves whispy, ethereal shapes with her guitar like plumes of smoke. Donigan is just unflappable, not in any way bothered by occasional slips or equipment malfunctions, exuding the calm of someone who evidently doesn’t give a fuxk, while McDonald stands with her back to the crowd, flashing a light bulb tattoo on the back of her right arm. I feel a tug at the inky flesh wound on my own right arm — a big old red heart with an anchor stuck through.

There’s something slightly anomalous about Williams’s drumming style and tonight it finally dawns on me that it’s to do with her facial expressions — or rather the lack of them. Resolutely rejecting the rock drummer cliché of mindless gurning and idiotic over-expression, she instead adopts a slightly haughty, headmistressy demeanour as she sharply raps her sticks against the snare like a wooden ruler on a naughty child’s hand. Her lips tighten to suppress the glimmer of a smile.

‘These pictures could be dead good,’ says my enthused photographer sidekick who is using up her last roll of a now discontinued line of film, which seems kind of poetic.

‘Is it going to be bright enough though?’ I ask. ‘Won’t you need a flash?’

‘Don’t be daft,’ she replies in her matter-of-fact Macclesfield tone. ‘I’ve done a few shoots where people have said there’s not enough light. But even in darkness, there’s always enough light.’ With that she’s gone, ducking under arms and creeping between legs to get to the front of the cage.

Behind the compelling foursome, arty projections flicker against a white sheet, including gnomic quotations such as ‘You can be so heavenly minded you are no earthly use,’ courtesy of socialist preacher Donald Soper. I’m particularly pleased to see that the hall of mirrors scene from The Lady from Shanghai has made it into the montage, forming the perfect backdrop to their catchy B-side ‘Shoot You’ — a song that my companion and I love so much that we often find ourselves standing around and harmonising to the chorus in a slightly gay way, just to stop us from getting bored. It’d be nice to think that in the minds of PINS, Rita Hayworth’s gun was still aiming at me; but I think not. They no longer give me those stares, to be honest. The only looks I get from PINS these days are looks of pity.

There’s a palpable air of expectation surrounding the Manchester-Salford début of tonight’s headliners, Savages. With their online presence limited to a black and white video of them playing in a pub (admittedly a fuxking great video), people have come from far and wide to see what all the fuss is about. Every side of the bunker cage is tightly packed with souls pressing against the wooden bars like moths round a gas lamp.

They launch into a high-octane set that owes much, both visually and musically, to post-punk luminaries such as the Slits, Joy Division and Public Image Ltd, yet it’s also infused with more contemporary kinetics, the propulsive high-hat rhythms bringing to mind bands such as Foals. During set-opener ‘City’s Full’ Jamie Lee immediately escapes the parental attentions of Now Wave and scales the cage with a video camera to capture what now unfolds — it’s about the only way anyone can get a clear view.

Waifish lead singer Jehnny Beth is a captivating front woman, dressed in a tight black top and black trousers, with her short cropped nouvelle vague hair and (I’m told) expensive red-soled high-heeled shoes bringing an air of sophisticated Gallic chic to the standard riot grrrl persona. At the base of her microphone stand there are plastic cups containing alcoholic beverages and also a carton of cranberry juice. Throughout the set she yelps and whoops as she circles her arms and casts expressive shapes with her svelte body, clinging to herself and winding her hips like she’s thinking dirty thoughts to keep herself warm while lying in a freezing ditch.

Bass player Ayse Hassan drives the songs in true post-punk style with guitarist Gemma Thompson alternating between swathes of distortion and clean, choppy chords. One of my favourite moments is the introduction of a new song called ‘Shut Up’ that’s being played live for the first time. Claiming they don’t know how it goes, Beth stands with her notebook in hand to read the lyrics and, as a heavy four to the floor beat kicks in Hassan looks momentarily terrified, like a rabbit in the headlights. She gives the impression that she’s just going to have to wing it … then right on cue she comes out with the kind of down and dirty, body-grabbing bassline that’d make Jah Wobble proud — something she does quite often, actually.

Throughout the set I stick fast to my spot by the drummer, entranced by the way she bounces on her seat as she pelts her kick drum pedal and goes ballistic on the snare during endless hypnotic charges of rhythmic shuffling, her CND chain flailing over her shoulder, bathed in sweat, her eyes closed, shaking her head from side to side.

‘I thought I’d find you here,’ says Andy from SWAYS nearly-men Irk the River as he passes to go to the toilet. ‘There’s a man over there with a microphone and I think he might have just recorded me saying obscene things about that drummer.’

Unlike Andy Irk, Beth generally says very little between songs, but at one point she seizes the microphone to address the crowd. ‘It’s very nice to play The Führer Bunker,’ she says in a lilting French accent. ‘When we were asked we were really scared …’ She then embarks on a slightly odd rant about the Nazi invasion of France that seems to take issue with the Allies for their intervention (or lack thereof) and leaves the crowd slightly unsure how to respond … ‘But we won!’ she reminds us, presumably talking about the French and neglecting to thank the English for saving their bacon. Vichy France leaves very little room for the moral high ground … But nobody else is quisling tonight as Savages launch into what is quite possibly one of the best songs about war ever written, ranging from the furious euphoria of a battle charge to wistful introspection.

This set makes a clear agenda-setting statement: music as high art delivered by a group who seem to attend to the finer details of everything they do. This includes their carefully cultivated sense of mysteriousness. As a buzz band who seem to have come from nowhere, some might be forgiven for dismissing this as the triumph of style over substance. But it’s not a question of either/or. Savages have both. They remind me of LoneLady in the way that their reference points are flaunted but then distorted and updated in intelligent and idiosyncratic ways. This is not clumsy postmodern pastiche but an art form in development through the all-encompassing anxiety of influence, or rather the angels of influence, as I prefer to see them — all the dead dears hovering over our shoulders in the libraries, spelling out our futures … Savages plunder the past for what it’s worth and, a bit like CND, they come out with something that feels a bit time-worn but at the same time urgently relevant. This is also music to dance to and that’s how it ends, with an impromptu mosh-pit forming at the back of the cage (the only place where there’s any room) like the deranged, wine-soaked brains behind the beautiful mask of poise and composure that’s on display out the front.

Heart-beating in quick time with excitement at this, the first date with my new favourite band, I kiss my lipstick-wearing companion good night, lift open a heavy iron drain cover on the street outside the bunker and lower myself back into the sewers, down into the thousand darknesses of history and sleep. When will we meet again? May 30th to be precise: Salford, take note. I feel that this really has been a night that will be remembered in the future by those of us who were lucky enough to be able to say that we were there. It seems significant in some way that no-one will fully understand for some time to come — part of a New History. For now though, we must be content simply to celebrate what has happened here in the heart of doom and to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of Savages and PINS.

Images © Natalie Curtis at http://www.16apr79.com/.

The Führer Bunker Exhibition 002

Unknown location, Salford, 17 March 2012

PROLOGUE

A battered, creaking Volkswagen van sluggishly lurches through the darkened streets of Salford. It’s the witching hour; barely a living soul stirs. The city’s drinkers and drug addicts have long since passed out in the long, dreamless sleep of the damned. The devil’s work, this. The vehicle is on the cusp of total collapse as well, like a post-coital pensioner. It turns off the main road at Strangeways prison and grinds to a halt in front of SWAYS HQ, practically on its knees.

The doors are hauled open and husks of male human beings emerge onto the pavement pulling guitars, amps and dusty bags full of bulky hardware. Their eyes are heavy and lifeless. They haven’t washed or slept for days. Nobody talks. These are the survivors of MONEY’s tour of France, the remnants of a glourious but gruelling chapter in SWAYS history. They made it to the end but now they’re pretty birds with broken wings. Everyone, that is, except the President, who is focussed and alert. He strides to the boot to unload the final items. But as he yanks it open he suddenly jumps back with a start and quickly slams it shut again, as though realising that he’s just opened Pandora’s Box.

‘What’s up?’ asks my barely sentient companion. ‘Have we forgotten something?’

‘The opposite,’ replies the President. ‘There … there’s something alive in that boot.’

‘Something alive?’ chuckles my companion.

‘Yes! Alive! I saw it move.’

‘You’re kidding?’

‘Have a look yourself if you don’t believe me …’

My companion shrugs and does nothing. Overhearing the commotion, the zombies gather round the back of the van. The President marches to the passenger seat, takes a torch out the glove compartment, then returns to the boot and opens it for a second time. He shines the full-beamed light inside.

There’s a shuffling sound.

Something definitely moves.

A guitar case clatters onto the street and slowly a thin, raggedy human form inches into sight. A stubbly face peeks out, its wide eyes straining for light like a nocturnal tree-climber. What the fuck? He must’ve been in that boot for hours. Deciding to brave the inquisition, the stowaway hauls himself out into the world. He’s carrying a plastic bag stuffed full of stale clothes and wearing a tatty black jumper. He seems battered but not completely unnerved, apologetically holding his hands aloft as if to say, ‘Don’t shoot’.

‘I … I’m sorry,’ says the stowaway, with traces of an Arabic accent. ‘My name is Yousif. I’m so grateful for this great deed that you have done for me today!’ He flashes a broad, winning smile and opens his arms.  ‘Please … I’m at your service.’

It takes a while for everyone to register what’s happened. Then Jamie Lee of MONEY breaks into peals of hysterical laughter and holds out his arms to greet the newcomer.

At my service?’ roars the President, who has recovered himself and is now foaming at the mouth. ‘How the hell do you work that one out pal? I run a record label here, not a cockle-picking business.’

‘Aha! Then it’s your lucky day, I’m a musician!’ beams Yousif, turning to the boot and pulling out an old guitar. He strums a few chords. ‘I’ll play in a band!’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ says the President, shaking his head, his bloodshot eyes bulging.

‘No, wait,’ intervenes my companion. ‘What if he’s good?’ My companion instinctively believes that SWAYS bands will be delivered to him in the strangest of ways. He’s not one for emails. ‘This could be great. We need another band for the Führer Bunker gig, don’t we? Well, think about it … Let’s stick him on. It’ll be subversive!’

The President looks over at the crumbling warehouse on the far side of the street: a massive, gothic form of sliding shadows and blacks. ‘So, that’s what it’s come to has it?’ he asks finally, still shaking his head.

‘Let him,’ pleads Jamie Lee, fluttering his puppy dog eyes. ‘Please let him.’

‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’ says the President, relenting. He turns to Yousif, pointing his index finger in his face. ‘Right sunshine, you’ve got two weeks to sort yourself out with a decent band and give the performance of your life.’ He grabs his suitcase and heads off to the bunker. ‘Otherwise,’ he says, turning to face the smiling stowaway, ‘all you’ll be getting from me is a one way ticket to Sangatte.’

ACT I

It’s the night of the second show at the SWAYS Führer Bunker and, as always, chaos reigns. People are arriving and bands are still sound-checking. Nothing is ready. I haven’t seen my companion this stressed since the night the Volkswagen van ran out of petrol on the Mancunian Way. The problem is that the vehicle lacks basic instrumentation, including a functioning petrol gauge. It spluttered to a halt halfway across the iconic flyover. My companion had experienced administration issues with taxation documentation and this exacerbated the general sense of crisis. It’s a night none of us will ever forget — we nearly died out there. The adrenaline quickly kicked in. Fight or flight. We honestly contemplated the latter but pushing won out as the slightly less illegal option. Luke Louche hasn’t been the same since …

That night my companion kept yelling ‘this is bad, bad, bad’ and tonight he’s similarly strung out. Someone seems to have spiked the stowaway’s drink, or intoxicated him in some other fashion, because he’s gibbering away like a madman too, telling anyone who’ll listen that’s he’s written 180 songs and doesn’t know which ones to play, maybe he should play them all? The President orders him to go on a jog round the local industrial estate to expend some of his nervous energy.

To cap it all off, Jamie Lee has gone AWOL and it’s just minutes before MONEY are due onstage. Having agreed to play the opening slot in a night that they’ve created, the lead singer is nowhere to be seen and the President is once again apoplectic.

‘You know what?’ he barks. ‘Someone should get that band a fucking manager.’

‘They’ve got a manager,’ I reply.

‘I mean one who knows what he’s doing.’

‘I just overheard the current one telling a load of girls that he’s the Robin Hood of SWAYS.’

‘The Robin Hood of SWAYS? exclaims the President with disgust. ‘The anti-Robin Hood more like! That man fucking robs from the poor to give to the rich. He hates poor people. He won’t even talk to you if you earn less than eighteen grand.’

At the eleventh hour Lee casually strolls in, sporting a straight-fringed choirboy haircut and distributing photocopied pages from a metaphysical tract on the poetry of William Blake that he’s been busy finishing. He’s ushered into the bunker’s wooden cage by the President and an apologetic Robin Hood.

Having got his first taste of speaking to a crowd during their gig at Silencio in Paris, it now seems that Lee can’t get enough of this whole audience interaction business. MONEY’s set begins with him giving a short speech about Blake’s search for spiritual enlightenment in an age of experience, before he proceeds to sing ‘Jerusalem’ unaccompanied. With his eyes closed and his neck stretched to the microphone like Tantalus reaching for the forbidden fruit, it’s a bold and hair-raising moment, the naked vocal seemingly trying to inhabit a state of completeness that will always, always just elude it … And therein lies its beauty.

Don’t let his whole angelic exterior fool you though. While on the surface Lee might come across as a fresh-faced preacher on a search for higher truths, readers should know that this man is a deviant. An immoralist. His main hobby is posting compromising pornographic images on the social network pages of leading beauty product manufacturers. This is how he gets his kicks. Just in case you haven’t seen it – which is highly unlikely, seeing as he’s posted it everywhere – here’s the evidence. Judge for yourselves. It’s also worth noting, as the band’s eagle-eyed French van driver and chauffeur to the not-yet-stars pointed out, that perhaps the best thing about this image is the open tab entitled ‘Taking Screenshots in Mac OS’.

Tonight sees MONEY in a relaxed mood, playing new material, swigging from bottles of red wine in between songs and generally seeming to enjoy themselves. Their set is as tight as ever but they seem more worried about creating the right atmosphere than self-consciously striving for clinical precision. Lee and fellow guitarist Charlie Cocksedge bob back and forth in unison at the front of the Führer Bunker cage like horse riders on a demented charge to heaven.

The highlight of their short set is a tie between bassist Scott Beaman’s jumper and forthcoming single ‘SOLONG (GODISDEAD)’, to be released on 7” by French record label Almost Musique in May and available for pre-order now. As they play it – and this is in no way meant to diminish the achievements of any of the other bands – I know it’s going to be the most beautiful music I hear all night. Probably because it’s the most beautiful piece of music I’ve heard for a very long time. I know when I truly fall in love with a song because it becomes the default setting for my idle brain. And right now, if I’m not listening to music, then Charlie Cocksedge’s guitar refrain and Billy Byron’s heart-beating drums are on loop. Jamie Lee’s reverby vocal shivers my timbers. I always need a song to obsess over and right now I wake in the morning with an almost physical need to listen to ‘SOLONG’ — the elegiac soundtrack to what happens when young love dies away and you find yourself all alone and aching in this empty world, absolutely overflowing with love for the thing that you’ve lost.

If you could cut me, this is how I’d bleed.

ACT II

MONEY are followed by their SWAYS label-mates and partners in crime Great Waves. Mesmeric lead singer David De Lacy takes to the cage all bloodied and black, with his ruby red guitar and jumper topped off with a dark, dastardly scarf. This two-piece deal in swathes of electric guitar and keyboards layered over synthesised basslines and their music transforms the wooden cage into a brimming field of electronic sound that seems almost supernatural, somehow alive. It’s hard to understand how two people can create such rich textures. The vocal is ethereal and winds round the rafters of the old factory. De Lacy’s mouth seems to create beautiful noise even when he’s nowhere near the microphone. The air within the cage is electrified, fizzing with melodies born of spinning atoms. The visuals of the bunker add to the paranormal splendour of the occasion. Weird white planets are projected onto white sheets at the back of the cage while De Lacy howls at the moon, his lips quivering.

De Lacey’s trademark moans and languorous whoops deserve a detailed taxonomy of their own, such is there emotional articulacy. They range from the damaged wail of a lioness calling her lost cub on a windswept savannah to the ennui of a bored French aristocrat tumbling out of bed and buttoning up his shirt after another meaningless conquest. With their debut double-A side single, ‘The Shore’/ ‘Into the Blue’, set for release by SWAYS in May, this is music for bedrooms and nights that you never want to end.

After they complete their hallucinogenic set, I make my way to the back rooms to grab more of the wine that’s been stashed away. Finding myself in the deepest bowels of the Bunker, I overhear MONEY bassist Scott Beaman in an adjoining room drunkenly laying into the President for the lack of rock ‘n’ roll provision that’s been made for the band, whose diva-like rider requirements are becoming notorious.

‘If Alan McGee was here, he’d be embarrassed for you now,’ says a truculent Beaman. ‘There’d be a mile of cocaine, strippers, blowjobs … But what do we get? A bottle of Tesco wine!

‘The President would like to point out,’ says the President calmly, referring to himself in the third person in a way that’s become worryingly common of late, ‘that Alan McGee did sign Oasis.’

‘True,’ concedes Beaman.

‘The President would also like to point out that if Prince was here, instead of MONEY, then things would be different.’

He marches back into the main room with a flourish and we follow, clutching our Tesco wine.

ACT III

It’s the moment that everyone who’s heard his remarkable story has been waiting for: the live debut of stowaway Yousif and his new band, Kult Cøuntry. Formed in just two weeks from what can only be described as a manic sweep of the Manchester music scene and a dubious array of promises and favours, everyone has crammed round the cage to see what the young upstart will come up with. The President stands at the back with a slight smile on his face — the smile of a man utterly convinced that he’s about to be proved right. The smile of a man who really can’t wait to tell absolutely everyone, I told you so.

Yousif is clearly hammered.

His long, straggly black hair dangles over his face in a way that is partly like a fledgling rock God, partly like the girl in The Ring.

He stands in the middle of the cage with all the band members facing inwards towards him, like predators closing in on their encircled prey.

Boy, does he fight for his life. Performances like this are what the cage was built for.

Kult Cøuntry’s sound is heavy and scuzzy, recalling 90s alternative rock groups like Dinosaur Jr, while at times easing into a less frantic brand of psychedelia that’s closer to the likes of the Black Angels. Sometimes Yousif crouches over his guitar and sings his heart out, at other times he dispenses of his instrument and twists and contracts, yelling into the microphone, the crazed, deranged centre point of the turning world.

I’m drunk and loving it. A small mosh pit develops round the front, led by Jamie Lee who’s going wild, hammering on the bars of the wooden cage like a hyperactive child at the zoo who’s just seen an alligator and wants to be friends.

I write in my notebook, ‘You dirty fuckers.’

The set is an absolute triumph. At the end, Yousif collapses onto the floor in a sweaty heap and is hauled from the cage onto the shoulders of MONEY and their friends. They parade him round the bunker like an exhausted gladiator and then out into the clear black night, through the throngs of drinkers and smokers who’ve gathered outside on the glass-flecked street, utterly victorious.

ACT IV

It’s a hard act to follow, even for an established and revered Manchester guitar band like Young British Artists, but they go about their set like a group utterly determined to uphold their hard-won credentials. Having flirted with the mainstream following the success of their recent single ‘Everything in Front of You’, they seem to have found a place that feels closer to home in the crumbling warehouses of this dirty old town.

I’ve always liked their name — aesthetically it works and it speaks to the hopefulness and sadness of a generation that promised so much and yet perhaps failed to deliver, losing itself in money, fires and other conflagrations. If fate has something similarly New Labour in store for Young British Artists — whose time is surely now or never — then they don’t seem set on sliding away quietly. With driving basslines, abrasive guitars and hyperactive drums that punctuate the songs with volleys of bullet-quick rolls, they push the sound of the venue as far as it can possibly go before it vanishes into white noise. The performance is equally intense. Singer and bassist Leo Scott just fucking goes for it, the veins on his forehead quickened and pulsing, leading the way with a sense of urgency and abandonment to the darker forces that control him — in fact, all of us — forces that tonight send Scott climbing up the wooden frame of the cage, cat-like, prowling the rafters as the band thunders on below him, returning to the floor to spit out some lyrics only to take himself up to the top of the cage again, stare into the eyeballs of the gobsmacked crowd and jump.

Everything pauses for a second while time catches up with what just happened.

Then the film rolls in double speed. Way too late, people reel backwards in shock or go to catch him. Men remove their broken glasses. Girls check that other girls are alright. Scott is scraped from the floor. It’s OK, he’s not dead. It’s an incredible moment and an unbelievable way to bring the set to a close — a split-second of instinctive madness that deserves to go down in Manchester music history just because it was totally and utterly berserk on every level.

ACT V

You always know that when SWAYS are involved, you’re going to get a final act.

It all begins innocently enough, with Egyptian Hip Hop on DJ duty in the back room. Everyone’s loving it, with the manic energy of the Young British Artists set propelling us into the night. The music is loud and celebratory. The President has a paternal arm round Yousif as he incites him to sign a contract on top of the washing machine that decorates the bunker entrance hall. Luke Louche is naked on drugs but nobody seems to care or even notice his increasingly erratic behaviour. Here this kind of thing is considered normal. The only thing he’s wearing is a fake moustache in an attempt to look more like his idol Nick Cave, who has been a theme of the night. The multi-skilled SWAYS intern has even turned one of the toilets into a kind of shrine to the great man, complete with candles, photos and free contraception. It’s christened the Cave Cave.

There’s an amazing girl who I stalk round the building. She looks like Princess Leia out of Star Wars. My first love. I keep trying to touch her and she doesn’t stop me. Things are looking good. We talk, we dance, we lose our heads. I don’t really know what happens for a long time. I’m simply not there. It’s called fun.

Then suddenly, disaster strikes.

Who the fuck did this?’ yells the President, who has returned to the packed back room. He points to some blue graffiti that’s been scrawled on a wall near one of the speakers. ‘Come on,’ he shouts. ‘Own up.’

This is not good.

He yanks a cable out of Egyptian Hip Hop’s laptop and then everyone really listens. When he gets angry, the President’s lower jaw juts and his teeth are bared like a nasty trout.

‘It’s all over the place,’ he says to the stunned room, with his hands on his head in shock. ‘In the toilets, on the garage next door … fucking everywhere!’ He pulls the door shut behind him. ‘And I tell you what, none of you lot are going anywhere until I find out who did this. One of you must know.’

I grab Princess Leia and make a bolt for the door. My companion stands next to the President with a weird look in his eye. There’s a total absence of recognition as I stand in front of him, trying to leave.

‘Move out the way,’ I say. ‘Obviously it wasn’t me.’

He says nothing and stands aside. Holding hands with Princess Leia, I leave the room. I glance back as the door is closing and see another girl beseeching the President to let her out, holding her arms in front of her in earnest supplication. As the door slams shut, it reminds me of the scene where the women are ushered into the shower room in Schindler’s List.

The President isn’t lying: there’s blue graffiti everywhere. It daubs the walls of the main rooms and corridors. Blue squiggles, blue lines, blue emblems, like some kind of Sanskrit — an impenetrable mystical text. There’s satanic scrawl in the toilets. They’ve even desecrated the Cave Cave. Vandals!

I walk with Princess Leia to the main road and flag down a taxi. I try to make light of the situation but the moment’s gone. She’s shaken and won’t be persuaded to accompany me back to my hovel. My attempts to persuade her become increasingly pathetic. I won’t try it on or anything, I just don’t want to be alone … As we sweep beneath the city’s streetlights I catch the taxi driver smirking in his rear view mirror.

No epiphanies tonight. No French girls or naked rampages; just myself and my own stagnant company as I turn the key, kick off my shoes and slump onto the sofa. I switch on the television and flick through the channels. There’s nothing much on. Lolling with my head against the arm of the sofa and starting to drool, I scroll through the list of recordings. My flatmate has an addiction to Take Me Out. With my heavy eyelids drooping shut, I press play.

A stream of painted girls dance their way across the studio floor, slipping round the camera that sits in the middle of it all like a rock in a gaudy river, then waving at the audience as they take their places behind the bright neon podiums. They jump up and down and clap their hands in excitement, shaking their hips to the music. Who will it be tonight? Will they find their Mr Darcy, their Mr Right, to whisk them off to the limited paradise that is the Isle of Fernando’s?

‘Single man, reveal yourself!’ beams ebullient northern lad-man Paddy McGuiness.

Smoke pours from beneath the lift shaft that stands bold and erect in the centre of the set, bisecting the two parted rows of single girls. But rather than the normal crude house anthem or disco classic, a sense of puzzlement greets a far more tranquil entrance than these good time girls are used to. The lilting strains of Jamie Lee’s opening vocal to ‘SOLONG (GODISDEAD)’ gently peal through the ITV studio air.

I’m a parasite sent from god, you’re the strange, you’re the odd and I’m war …

As the lift slowly descends, I am revealed, wearing my best black keikogi. I’ve fallen to my knees, with my eyes closed and my chin pressed to my half-naked chest, lost in the hypnotic refrain of Charlie Cocksedge’s evocative guitar. The girls crane their necks and turn to each other with scrunched up faces. What the fuck? Where’s the usual overly-cocky and subtly desperate man about town?

The lift touches down and I hold forth a beating human heart in my bloodied hands.

Initially, there’s just one lone cry of horror — a high-pitched squawking like a seagull — but pretty soon the whole line starts screaming. I jump to my feet and lurch over to the girls on the left, holding forth my horrific trophy and mouthing the words ‘take me’.

It’s a shame God is dead, it’s a shame you could come down …

The single girls huddle together to protect themselves, cowering in fear. Some of them have started to cry. Makeup runs down their pretty, pouting faces.

‘No likey no lighty!’ yells a frantic McGuiness, wielding his catchphrase like a lightsaber. ‘If you’re turned off, then turn off!’

Who’d have thought we’d die young?

This seems to bring the girls to their senses and a first lone, heart-breaking light-going-out noise is followed by the cascading sound of mass dismissal. Even tattooed dirty girl Merlisa switches off. I shoot the interfering bastard McGuiness a look that says I’ll sort you out later mate and run over to the girls on the right, hoping that at least one of them will sense the honesty of my metaphors, the heat of my passion, the intensity of my longing …

And I feel and I feel and I feel, like the one …

‘NO LIKEY NO LIGHTY!’ screams McGuiness, beside himself with worry, his head in his hands — not man enough to approach the lunatic though, instead continuing to proffer his pathetic advice from afar.

It’s not going very well but as each light goes out and the screams multiply, weirdly I find myself getting more and more turned on. A towering passion rises from the darkest depths of my being. I abandon myself to the dark gods that marshal my odious desires. Parting my keikogi, I caress the mother of all erections and latch my attentions onto a group of three strays who have broken from the pack and are clinging to each other in the far corner of the studio in wide-eyed disbelief, their lips pursed, flushed with blood.

Something doesn’t feel right though. There’s a weird dampness down below — more dampness than would normally be expected in this situation. A thick sticky substance is coating my palms and my ugly rigid manhood. The blood! Of course! That’ll be the blood from my severed human heart.

But I’m wrong. As I open my eyes and peer down at my unbuttoned black jeans, I see that my hands aren’t stained blood red at all. With a dawning realisation of all that this implies, I hold my graffiti-blue palms aloft before my eyes.

The horror, the horror. What was I thinking?

I’m done for.

Photography © Magnus Aske Blikeng at www.mabvision.com and Tommy Peacock.

MONEY EN PARIS

Silencio, Paris, 22 February 2012

‘Rita! Rita, wake up.’

‘No, no …’

‘It’s OK, it’s OK.’

‘No, it’s not OK.’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Go with me somewhere.’

‘It’s 2 o’clock. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning.’

‘Go with me somewhere.’

‘Sure. Now?’

‘Right now.’

Mulholland Drive

I sit with my companion in Le Café Noir on the Rue de Montmartre, sipping continental lager and discussing the finer points of Being and Nothingness. It’s a tiny, shabby bar preserved from a bygone era — a better, more louche era, back when things like smoking bans did not exist — and the perfect location for this late afternoon Gallic rendez-vous. The walls are lined with mirrors that stretch to the ceiling, overhung with framed slogans and pictures. We’ve taken a table in front of a portrait of one of my idols, Serge Gainsbourg, a cigarette drooping from his big moody lips, and a quotation from Verlaine, ‘De la musique avant toute chose.’

Tonight we’re keeping it unreal, having headed over the Channel to watch Manchestaire enfants terribles MONEY step out at David Lynch’s ultra-chic new Paris nightclub, Silencio. The venue is named after that strange, regal theatre that emerges from Rita’s disturbed dreams in Mulholland Drive. A place where the music is born of desire and the band is all in your mind. No hay banda. No hay orquesta … The painted lady sings Orbison in Spanish and reduces us all to tears …

Having read about the nightclub and its exclusive door policy, we’re worried we might lower the tone.

‘Apparently,’ my companion says, ‘MONEY have been told that any of their guests have to dress “chic and elegant”. They got sent an email.’

‘Are we “chic and elegant”?’ I ask.

He splutters into his Leffe Brune.

The band’s elaborate rider is also said to have been given short shrift.

‘They told them there’s a shop round the corner,’ laments my companion.

After lingering over our first leisurely drinks, we head north to veteran rock bar Le Truskel, where MONEY have gathered with a small contingent of Manchestaire friends. Everyone is getting giddy on expectation and hazelnut vodka, which the kindly bar staff and affectionate locals press on us with relish.

It’s still early and the place is pretty empty, so when Fabrizio Moretti from the Strokes is beamed in from Planet Hollywood with his girlfriend, the actress and comedian Kristen Wiig of Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live fame, we recognise them and somehow get chatting. They’re warm and approachable. We invite them to the MONEY gig but it turns out that we needn’t have asked. They’re already going. God knows what we talk about. We take lots of photos and embarrass ourselves, like proper rock tourists. They seem to like us though. I ask if they mind me writing about them in this review. This, apparently, makes me the epitome of journalistic integrity and discretion. The next day I find that, according to my notebook, Fabrizio had said of me, ‘It’s nice to know there are still some good people working in the media.’ I fear I might have exaggerated my literary standing, just a little.

When they wave goodbye my companion grabs me. ‘Hollywood and musical royalty just walked past us and they didn’t ignore us. They said, “See you in there!”’

‘Nobody’s going to believe us,’ I say.

‘Sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction,’ he replies. ‘This is the best night of my life and it hasn’t even started yet.’

The door to Silencio is unmarked and unremarkable. A small queue of beautiful people has started to form. Two black-suited bouncers stand outside with a clipboard. They eye us suspiciously. My companion and I pass for chic and elegant by the skin of our teeth and head down a stylish wooden spiral staircase into the basement club.

It’s totally unlike the Silencio of the film. This is a labyrinth of low-ceilinged side rooms and cork walls that oozes, well, money, rather than fin de siècle faded glamour. Everything is black and gold. The stage itself is in a room at the back, with a bar running down one side where we’re already primed for the €10 beer prices. But by this point we don’t care. As my companion and I stand in the middle of the quickly-filling room and wait for the curtains to part we have a Stroke and an actress stood to our right, Now Wave and Jean Seberg from Breathless behind us and an incredible girl who looks exactly like Lana Del Rey stood on her own to our left. Surely not? Nobody’s talking to her but you can tell it’s not because they don’t want to … In fact, the room is full of Lana Del Reys. They’re everywhere. They’re so beautiful they don’t seem real. They look like they’ve just been copied from the pages of glossy fashion magazines and pasted into reality. Their hair is perfect. Their bodies are perfect. Their clothes are perfect. Their icy posture is sophisticated and alluring. They’re immaculate. They don’t seem to do a great deal in the way of talking. They’re here to look and be looked at.

‘Shall I touch one?’ I ask my companion.

‘Go on. I dares yer,’ he replies.

It’s almost as bad as the Pompidou Centre. My companion and I spent the afternoon ostensibly looking at modern art but mainly staring at girls, aghast, trying to hold our conversation together but lapsing into silence every time another beauty walked past.

‘I can’t cope,’ my companion complained at one point. ‘My brain’s just stopped working.’

The President is also putting in a rare public appearance. He stands at the bar in his leather jacket, sipping a cognac and looking non-plussed. A singular character, he owns one book and three records, although nobody knows what the book is. He’s not entirely of this world. The President is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost of SWAYS. Just as a priest is in constant contact with God, SWAYS is in constant contact with the President. Like God, people question his existence. But to understand such deities, it requires a leap of faith.

We tried to get him to come with us to the Pompidou Centre so he could have a taste of modern culture. However, this was dismissed when he satisfied himself that the collection was abstract, experimental and, essentially, the kind of art that I liked. For we do not see eye to eye, when it comes to questions of art. Or literature, for that matter. When I handed him my last review of the Führer Bunker gig his response was simply, ‘We always knew we might need some kind of writer but now all we get is this relentless stream of drivel.’ He’d also clocked the Pompidou Centre’s €13 entry fee. ‘I’d rather have a coffee and a baguette,’ he said. So he spent the day walking round the Marais and visiting Notre Dame. ‘I walked in and God was jealous,’ he’d later boast in one of his notorious cognac-fuelled rants.

The curtains slowly open and MONEY are revealed on the plush domed stage, bathed in deep red boudoir light. As seems to be the band’s preference, Billy Byron’s drum kit is set up at the front to the right, sideways on to the crowd and facing the bass and guitar duo of Scott Beaman and Charlie Cocksedge. Behind them, slightly aloft, stands the spectral figure of singer and guitarist Jamie Lee. They’re all dressed in white with slightly gone expressions, like a bunch of choirboys whose delinquent older brother has just got them into crystal meth.

This set is horizontal but MONEY songs are vertical — theirs is an art of ascension. Rising guitar riffs, rising vocals, rising samples and loops that seem particularly eerie and otherworldly in the reverential silence of this absorbed French crowd … Every time it seems as though Lee’s heart-rending voice or Cocksedge’s guitar might falter, Byron’s rumbling drums and Beaman’s warm bass stoop to catch them, like good Samaritans.

Tonight feels like the culmination of MONEY’s recent return to the public eye, the main difference from their Manchestaire appearances being that Fabrizio from the Strokes is whooping enthusiastically between each song. Gangly guitarist Cocksedge is perhaps more animated than usual too, rocking out to the heavier, cymbal-crashing climaxes of songs such as set-closer ‘Boredom’. And also, as they prepare to play this song, Jamie Lee says, ‘Thank you. This is our last song.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak during their set before and it takes me back a little. It doesn’t break the spell, exactly — it just makes me aware of quite what a spell has been cast. ‘I don’t wanna die, but it wouldn’t be so bad,’ he sings, penetrating my soul, his eyes closed, away with the perennial thought …

Silencio entertains quaint notions of exclusivity that went out of fashion several years ago in Manchestaire, with the notable exception of Deansgate. It’s quite odd that a place that aspires to be a refuge for artists employs austere image controllers whose main aim in life is to prevent people taking photographs or videos, suggesting a very un-Lynchian mindset: one that is radically closed. They patrol the dance floor in a strange game of cat and mouse in the age of the iPhone. Fortunately, my companion is, by nature, chillingly rebellious. He makes the members of the Baader-Meinhof gang look like pussies. He’s quite deranged. He’s also a perv with a heart of gold. He did this.*

When the set finishes to a rapturous ovation from the charmed audience I go to the bar, where a well-dressed but dishevelled young businessman — a slick-haired Patrick Bateman type — is shouting loudly into his mobile phone in an American accent, ‘If you’d been through the sort of shit that I’ve been through then you’d be getting fucked up in Paris too.’ At the end of the bar, the President is merrily chatting away to Kristen Wiig. This should be a disaster but, unbelievably, she’s laughing at the words he’s saying and tousling his curly grey hair. They keep giving each other high fives. I edge closer to find out what the hell is going on.

‘You know how snowmen don’t normally have legs?’ the gesticulating President asks the giggling actress. ‘Well, this one does. And he can fly. So he’s like walking in the air. You should watch it. Fuck Frosty the Snowman …’

I decide to leave them to it.

I find my way backstage to MONEY’s small dressing room where everyone is exuberant after the band’s performance. Lynch has even done a u-turn on the rider and there’s a bucket of beers and a bottle of vodka going round. I look for my companion, who’s been knocking back the Blue Velvets. Someone tells me he’s in the shower room at the back. I put my head round the door and find him with his top off, looking confused and uncomprehending, like a senile person who’s been told bad news. He’s being berated by Jamie Lee.

‘Why are you pissing on your shirt?’ he asks my companion.

‘Well, I’ll wash it, won’t I?’ says the infirm one.

He then proceeds to remove his shirt from the toilet bowl and dunk it under the shower. I stand in the corner with my notebook, writing it all down. Next thing I know, my companion is fully naked and wrestling with Jamie Lee on the wet room floor. My companion has the shower cable wrapped round his neck. I don’t intervene because it’s clearly an act of love.

There’s been a lot of nudity at SWAYS recently. We’ve learned much from it too. We’ve learned to love the poor human body in all its endless variety, vulnerability and imperfection. We’ve learned that full frontal nudity, hot wax and masks are not suitable for publication in the NME but firearms are absolutely fine.

At one point my soaking wet, tousled-haired companion goes out of the shower and into the dressing room in search of a towel. He soon scuttles back when he’s only greeted by howls of derision and French girl screams.

I wake the next morning in my small hotel room in the red light district alongside my companion and drummer-boy Billy Byron. We’re all three bedraggled, half-naked and sour-mouthed. I throw open the shutters and the bright Parisian morning light floods in from the Rue Saint Georges. I have cuts and bruises all down my left arm and there’s blood on the sheets.

‘I don’t know why I was pissing on my shirt,’ says my bare-chested companion, wiping the sleep from his eyes. I search in my opened notebook for clues but all I find is illegible scrawl and the words ‘Lana Del Rey came to watch MONEY because she was wet for Billy Byron’ in unfamiliar handwriting.

My companion and I spend the rest of the day recovering and getting disapproving looks from the Robert Mugabe lookalike behind the reception desk until eventually, seemingly on a whim, he cracks and decides to fine me €30 for last night’s ménage à trios. My protestations of innocence fall on deaf ears and it’s clear that my options are either to pay up or get chucked out. So eventually I relent, figuring that at €10 per body, it’s not such a bad deal.

Meanwhile, MONEY have gone off to do a photo shoot and record a session for French national radio — arriving just minutes before the programme goes on air and being sternly informed by a bespectacled mademoiselle that it’s the latest any performing band has arrived at the station, ever. When they casually ask how many listeners the show gets, they’re told it’s in the region of 8 million. They’re here to perform their masterful new song, ‘(SOLONG)GODISDEAD’, during a programme on current affairs where the topic of the day is the political situation in China. It’s a suitably surreal scene in which to unveil what is potentially their most significant work to date. The Nietzschean rhetoric of the title is weighted against the tone of fond familiarity locked away in parentheses; the utter beauty of the song is that it seems to lament the death of God like the passing away of an old friend. It must be watched, for it is fucking lovely.

We reconvene in the evening at a small bar near the notoriously sleazy Place Pigalle at the foot of Montmartre, where MONEY launch into a DJ set that begins sedately, as we test our bodies with the first beers of the day, and ends riotously, with the barmen throwing ice at drinkers and band alike, the whole place going crazy when they drop ‘Cassius’ by Foals.

The President is still talking of Kristen Wiig with misty eyes. Apparently, she loved MONEY, saying that ‘they sound quite quiet on the stage, but in your head they’re really loud’. No hay banda. No hay orquesta

He definitely told her that,’ blusters the President, Clarkson-style. ‘There’s no way she thought of that. It’s the sort of thing you say to a girl when you’re trying to hit on her and you want to make yourself sound more profound than you actually are.’

I grow suspicious of the grinning Jamie Lee, who’s sitting with French people and showing them something on his mobile phone. They keep looking over at me and smirking. I suspect he might be showing them compromising images. I watch him out the corner of my eye as the President outlines his plan for SWAYS originals the Marder to embark on a tour of Iraq and other war-torn countries of the Middle East, adopting the lyrics to ‘If the West Apologised to the East’ so that they reference the main battle zones in each particular country. I ask him if his plan doesn’t somehow detract from the integrity of the original lyrics, perhaps even constituting another form of Western exploitation. He tells me to shut up and that I have no understanding of cash flow or the commercial realities of the music industry.

My stomach swells with beer, like seawater filling the hold of a sinking ship, and shots of some destructive spirit are going round too. Suddenly, I go wrong internally. I feel hot and dizzy and stagger out of the bar, finding my way to a deserted side street away from the takeaway and weed smells of the noisy, red-lit, sex show strip. There I fall into the gutter and am violently sick. Vomit flows from me in torrents, like a burst dam; it seems like it will never stop; but weirdly, I enjoy this moment of total degradation. To find myself down and out in the gutters of Paris feels kind of romantic. My companion can be heard somewhere in the spinning distance, laughing with the President. When I look up and the world finally comes into focus through my streaming eyes they’re standing above me, filming the moment. Aw …

‘Come on, you have to see this,’ says my companion, helping me up to my feet and then running back to the bar like a mad prince, the President and I scampering behind him. When we arrive we merge with MONEY and everyone else from the bar who are all hanging around on the pavement, the street teeming with the young French people whose imaginations and dreams we have captured and shared, and we find that we’re all running downhill together towards the Seine like a human tributary, a hysterical rampage of naked bodies, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night … Locals line the streets, pointing and laughing at us. We dash past beggars and elegant old ladies carrying pets in their handbags. We dodge fallen bodies and smashed up television sets that have been thrown from high buildings. We get cheered by drunks. Prostitutes come to their windows, waving at us. We beckon them and they join us, old and young, fat and thin, removing their tasseled gowns and their underwear and screaming for joy in this, their liberation, their bodies now completely and unreservedly returned unto them. Fabrizio and Kristen have joined us and so has Lana Del Rey, all of them naked and howling in the milky light of Paris at dawn as we press on to the river through the grand boulevards of Baron Haussmann.

My companion is by my side. ‘What if we forget about all this?’ I ask, without breaking stride. ‘What happens if we can’t remember it when we wake up?’

‘Memory is for girls,’ he replies.

After a few minutes or hours we find ourselves in the Jardin des Tuileries, wheeling round the fountain, winding our way between the skeletal metal chairs that lie scattered about the park’s tree-lined avenues. Classical white statues look on, smiling tenderly. The Eiffel tower and the Musée d’Orsay are visible over the river, the pale city now emerging in layers of whiteness, as though Paris is forever aghast at its own beauty. We don’t want to die but it wouldn’t be so bad …

What is happening to us? What is this knowledge? And after such knowledge, what more can life bring? Holy sparks burn in the husks of our being as we dance, sparks that seek to return to their primal source. We understand that the holy kingdom will be revealed only when the last spark is returned whence it came. Our bodies will become pure spirit and from the Throne of Glory new souls will descend. There will be no more eating and drinking. No more being fruitful or multiplying for us. Instead, we will unite in combinations of holy letters. Each day will last a year. Angels will sing and our delight will be boundless.

Tears fill my eyes. I wonder where all this beauty has come from, for it is too much.

‘This is from heaven,’ a disembodied voice replies.

My heart floods with thankfulness for this vision of completeness, this perfect moment. Neither dream nor reality, just a feeling — the sort of feeling that doesn’t come along too often in life. This city is not of this Earth. It makes me weak at the knees. Ghosts whisper in my ears. Poets chatter in the ether. Memory mixes with desire, stirring the sacred ache for things past. I could read Proust in the Jardin du Luxembourg forever … Oh Paris, je t’aime.

* WARNING: This video contains adult themes. Do not watch it at work or when your parents are in the room.

Photography © SWAYS records, Now Wave and Julien Bourgeois

The Führer Bunker Exhibit C: M O N E Y

Unknown location, Salford, 4 February 2012

My companion slaps me hard round the face.

‘Stay with us,’ he commands, the sudden jolt reminding me of a night at home in the Nagasaki slums when I was a small child. My mother was in my room, shaking me. I’d been having evil dreams and woke up screaming. She caressed me and kissed me on the cheek. ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ she said. Then she told me that my grandmother was dead.

I’m slumped in the corner of some bar or other. My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my senses, as though I’ve been drinking a blood-thinning poison rather than red wine. As I come round, I survey the scene. There are familiar faces. On the far side of the room, Jamie from M O N E Y is sat at a chintzy bar flirting with a giant, burly bruiser dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Boys in black jeans and bobble hats stand side by side with gruff, middle-aged northern men wearing sparkly gold dresses and sipping pints of bitter. Do I wake or sleep? It’s like we’ve landed on the set of a David Lynch film. The musical dream world of Great Waves has been replaced by 80s electro pop. There’s a half empty neon dance floor that reminds me of Pulp’s Disco 2000 video and the Friday night hedonism of the bored laundrette girl … I look for my girl in gold dancing round her handbag on her own, but she’s not here. Instead, I’ve got a trashy Grayson Perry character wearing a blonde wig with a red bow and an I would beat you look in his eye.

Other men in bright dresses and makeup are dotted round the bar, drinking away the weariness, the fever, the fret of their weekday lives, stilling the shakes and cutting free from their troubles for a while, the reality of those few, sad, last grey hairs for the time being hidden by bright wigs. Here they can forget about youth growing pale, spectre-thin, finally dying, how beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes … Thought gives way to stupor as they flaunt the dying of the light. They don’t give a shit. These men are beautiful, like derelict buildings.

I long for a sip of the warm South though, some potent Mediterranean spirit to bring heat back to my bones. Manchester is freezing tonight. Reading my thoughts, my companion hands me a glass.

‘You have to stay with us,’ he repeats. ‘This night needs documenting. It might never happen again.’

‘What happened?’ I ask.

‘What do you mean, what happened?’ he replies.

THE TRUE HISTORY OF A WASTED GENERATION

Two or three years ago Manchester had lost its way. Being in a new band must have been a pretty soul-destroying experience, back then. Everything felt so tired. Gigs took place in characterless venues ran by grubby hucksters who were only out to make as much cash as they possibly could from dewy-eyed musicians and their friends. The music itself was a secondary consideration. Promoters were renowned for their blatant villainy. Yes you can play my gig … the tickets are in the post. Manchester music also had an Anthony Wilson-sized albatross round its neck and nobody seemed all that bothered about doing anything about it.

And your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be consumed in the wilderness. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die. …

Then on 6 May 2010 David Cameron was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and almost overnight everything started to change for the better. All of a sudden, young people found they no longer had jobs or prospects or even the possibility of a decent education, so they set about creating an underworld in their own image. A wasted generation was born. Wasted as far as society is concerned, in the normal senses of the word, but hungry for other states of mind and experiences … The attitude was nothing new — rip it up and start again — but the end product was. There was a slow, steady, drawn-out eruption of creativity … Suddenly there were new promoters, venues, filmmakers, writers, artists, producers, photographers and bands, so many fucking amazing new bands. There was no template. No Manchester sound, this time round. The only thing holding it all together was its endless diversity. For this was immigrant music. Music made not just by those from Manchester and Salford but also those who’d been drawn to these cities because of those bands we all love who shaped an image for these places in the eyes of the world … The new bands didn’t want to replicate this music, having learnt well enough that they had to kick out against their fallen idols. As Serge Gainsbourg put it, ‘if your parents like what you do, then it’s shit’. Who wants to style themselves after their Mums and Dads? Well, quite a few of these charity-shoppers, as it happens, but that’s beside the point … The point being that these bands understood that the thing that first made Manchester great for music and which can make it great again was not trying to repeat what had gone before but experimenting, pushing boundaries, exploring new musical territories and opening doors … Where Manchester leads, the world will follow.

Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

These bands aren’t making a penny from this but they’re in it for the ride and in it together. They were at the bunker tonight because they had to be there. Just obeying their instincts. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower … It’s not even just the three bands who were playing but all the others who were watching and part of it, bands who we love like Ghost Outfit and Les Brogues Bruns and sexy sadists PINS — fuck, that would be a good line up, wouldn’t it? Here’s a collection of people who are defining the times and the city, bands who will play in the Führer Bunker and elsewhere, places we haven’t even discovered yet, singing songs they haven’t written yet, and there’s a sense that there’s nowhere we’d rather be than here and now — certainly not in the HMV Ritz or even the Carling Cathedral … Tonight everyone was where they needed to be, passionate and breathless in the long, Orwellian shadows of the Manchester Evening News Arena.

Tender is the night and haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne.

At the epicentre of all this lies M O N E Y, a band that encapsulates the romance and poetry of the wasted generation. When they’re not singing songs they’re singing hymns. They radiate passion and lust for the writing of a new chapter. There’s an elemental honesty in everything they do, moving with the spheres and answering only to their muse. Stripping it back we find the fragile Voice unadorned, rising to find its God then swooning, as though overcome by the blinding light, cracking and falling back into the embrace of rhythms and beats that cradle it tenderly, like pale-skinned lovers in a Renaissance masterpiece.

Apparently, SWAYS discovered them on Oldham Street one night and drunkenly berated them for not doing anything for a year. ‘We’re putting out a digital single,’ they pleaded. SWAYS said: ‘You could have it so much better.’ Heady words were exchanged and they fell in love through ideas.

Tonight lead singer Jamie Lee sports a fetching patterned bobble hat and stands with his eyes closed, lovingly easing his way through each song with languorous strokes of his red Stratocaster, wailing into the microphone. The sound is so perfect in here you can almost feel the air well in his lungs before it seers through his throat and out into the cold night air … The band look incredible in the wooden cage, which is the perfect stage for them. Bass player Scott Beaman has his hood up like a pleasant kind of thug and stands next to Lee with an urgent, expectant look in his eye, as though waiting to catch the wave of songs that haven’t been played before but which have rather been delivered to them on this night. Drummer Billy Byron crouches low and attentive over his kit and channels the undertow, his soft-tipped mallets poised, waiting for the current to take hold before smashing his way free in great crescendos, while guitarist Charlie Cocksedge is the master of noise, creating the band’s distinctive soundscapes through a combination of guitars, synths and samples.

M O N E Y always remind me of Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk with their organs and church music and in the way that they veer between minimalism and layered walls of sound, collapsing time and expanding the senses. The ultimate objective for other bands might be fame, music awards or appearing on the Letterman show, but M O N EY seem to transcend these distractions in the all-encompassing interests of being true to their art. Thus far, they seem completely authentic and real in everything that they do.

The band’s intensity is captured on their new single ‘Who’s Going to Love You Now’ — the lack of a question mark perhaps suggesting that the title itself implies an answer, but that’s maybe reading too much into it … The video distils modern history and culture into four minutes — pop icons, riots, porn, Vietnam and, of course, crazy Kinski …

‘So, that’s what happened,’ says my companion, holding me by the lapels of my coat as he tends to do when he wants to make a point. ‘Have you got that? Because you have to document this. It’s important. Very important.’

Right on cue, we’re joined by Jamie Money who has extracted himself from the attentions of his transvestite admirers. He’s dressed like an aristocratic rake from the nineteenth century, wearing a white frilled shirt that’s ruffled and unbuttoned and hanging limply from his shoulders like the clutches of a drowning lover. He has man lipstick smeared over his cheeks. He laughs at me and asks if I’m feeling better. I don’t know what he’s referring to. Something must’ve happened. I tell him that I feel fine.

‘Do you even know where you are?’ he asks. I consider this question. Isn’t this what doctors ask people when they’ve taken leave of their senses? Or if they suspect you’re suffering from dementia? They ask you where you are and who the Prime Minister is …

‘David Cameron,’ I reply.

He tilts his head. ‘We’re in Manchester,’ he says, pityingly. The lights from the turning glitter ball casts twinkling colours over his pretty face. ‘And what you need to understand is that Manchester is not just anywhere. Manchester is here to deliver you from evil, Atrocity Boy. There is nowhere better than this. Don’t you get it? Manchester is paradise.’

Photography © Magnus Aske Blikeng at www.mabvision.com and Pat Hill.

The Führer Bunker Exhibit B: Great Waves

Unknown location, Salford, 4 February 2012

Great Waves are calling and as the duo take to the cage I can sense that there is something at the window — a thickening of the air, a darker darkness … I look up at and there seems to be thin black smoke wafting in through the cracked panes of sooty glass like a Salford Vatican. Nobody else seems to notice. I think I’d better warn my companion but he’s vanished.

I try and regain some equilibrium by focussing on the band as they ease into a set that is a seamless, drifting, mystical whole … Great Waves are another of the growing breed of Manchester two-pieces who seem able to create a fullness of sound that few more populous bands achieve. But in contrast to the brain-smashing guitar frenzy of Ghost Outfit or Brown Brogues, for example, this pair makes blissful, metaphysical music that calls forth distant shores and altered states of mind …

Lead singer David De Lacy is a mesmeric presence on electric guitar and vocals; with his pre-Raphaelite good looks and an air of effortlessness, he slowly strums his way through each song in a distracted manner, as though he is not with us, occasionally throwing his head back to give a lazy, jaded, stretched-out ‘whoop’ that is full of ennui, lambasting every rock and roll cliché in the book, while his partner Oli Ocean rocks back and forth at his keyboard, layering beats and swathes of sampled synths.

I don’t know where I got this Pilgrim hat from but in my mind I’m the Phantom of the Opera — more Leroux than Lloyd Webber — up from the catacombs to preside over the music-making with a sinister sort of justice. Beware my Punjab lasso … The SWAYS intern has been on the gin again and she’s stood next to me making mischief, having discovered the location of the smoke machine. There’s a button just to the side of the stage and she gets carried away.

I turn round to see if the black smoke is still leaking into the SWAYS gas chamber but it seems to have stopped. What I hadn’t noticed are all the dusky ravens that got in at some point and which are now perched on top of the stacks of rock wool, watching Great Waves, silently cawing.

I can’t find my companion anywhere. The intern has been dragged away from the smoke machine and I wonder where everyone has got to. I don’t recognise any of these strange souls peering in at the cage, drinking and grinning. In fact, they don’t seem entirely real, more like the empty husks of human beings. It’s a bit like the Night of the Living Dead or something … If I cut them, would they bleed?

Just as I’m beginning to feel totally alone, I see a familiar face over to my left. It’s my Grandmother, who’s dancing away and flickering with strange jerky movements that repeat themselves over and over again. I’m not sure what she’s doing here. I didn’t know she liked Great Waves. She’s wearing a white kimono and a sugegasa. She’s only about three feet tall which is smaller than I remembered her, but on reflection that was about two decades ago, back in Japan when she was lying on her death bed, and I’m a lot bigger now, so it’s quite likely that she’d be smaller than I remembered. Things change. Whenever you revisit your childhood, you wonder at what point the world shrank.

The fact that she’s dead seems strange but not unreasonable. Part of me wants to go and speak to her but I think that might ruin the spell. It’d be better if she could just come over and join me in this wooden sailing boat that’s riding the waves of this music quite calmly now, rising and falling about the still point of the turning world. The sea is inky black. In the distance I can see the White Cliffs of Dover, haunting in this half light. On the top of the cliffs, pale white souls wheel and turn in their spirit-state, blurred and emitting holy light like a William Blake painting. They follow the ship along the shore, urging us to land, but the movements of the tide will not allow it. The need to land grows more and more urgent, however, and I start to panic, taking quick sharp breaths, because I need to go and see my brother and sister who are living on the island in a fisherman’s cottage with at least twenty other children who are also my brothers and sisters. They’re all wearing traditional Japanese costumes as though they’re getting ready for a dancing festival.

The terrible truth is that there’s some sort of plague that’s causing everyone very slowly, one by one, to turn into devils. The children are all at different stages of a hideous transformation, with their skin going damp and greenish, their nostrils widening, their voices deepening … I’m the one who has to cure them. I don’t quite know where our parents are but I do know that the whole responsibility for their well-being lies with me because I’m carrying an old battered leather suitcase with medicine bottles rattling round inside it. I’m the doctor. I’m meant to do something.

Wearing my black Pilgrim hat, I lead the children along a deserted beach in the drizzly rain. I’m holding hands with my youngest sister and the rest of them, who are all at fairly advanced stages of the metamorphosis, follow in a row behind. As we walk along the shoreline, the heavens are full of the most beautiful music. We stop and listen, transported by the light of his voice and the revolving of the spheres … Some local fishermen catch sight of us. They ask if we want to go with them to see some geysers which are meant to have special healing properties so we all get into their boats, which are loaded with nets and piles of dead fish, and they take us round the coast to a bay where warm jets of water shoot skywards in huge towering columns, like they’re spurting from the blowholes of ginormous whales. When the jets reach their peaks they crash back down, showering us with spray and making surging waves that lift the boats high into the air. But it does no good.

A book I’ve been reading falls to the floor and I’m getting more and more worried, because the medicines haven’t worked either. Being near water only sees to make the children worse and I’m starting to suspect that it’s having so much contact with water that’s making them change into devils in the first place. Whenever they drink they get sores all round their mouths. They refuse to have baths. Just to add to my problems, I’m getting the feeling that, because I’m not in any way changing myself, they all secretly blame me for what’s happening, as though they think I’ve brought the disease with me from Japan.

As I try to figure out some sort of solution, one of my little brothers skulks into the room. He’s in an absolutely terrible state. He smells vile, his eyes are yellowing and his skin has turned a dank boggy green colour. It’s covered in a thin film of slime. Worst of all, one of his arms is literally rotting away. It has sludgy brown patches on it like the flesh of a mouldy apple. I tell him to wait one moment while I go out the room. I rummage round in a wardrobe then return with an old rusty chain-saw. I turn it on so that I can cut off his bad arm off but as I lunge at him he lashes back at me with superhuman strength. The chain-saw falls to the floor, spinning round and round, and he shouts at me in a growling, menacing voice that comes from deep inside his gut, with no connection to his mouth and unrecognisable as his own, that he’ll be back to get me before running outside into a fierce storm. The front door slams shut, making the whole building tremble.

I walk down the garden and into an orchard, shouting ‘hello, hello’ over and over, until I reach the top of the White Cliffs of Dover where I see my sisters all lined up along the edge, holding hands and staring out to sea, listening to the electric music that seems to be drawing them towards the edge. They’re enraptured. They don’t even notice me. They’re all wearing white smocks that flutter round them madly and I’m scared that they’re about to be lifted up by the gale and flung out into the crashing ocean like helicopter seeds. Just as I’m about to run over and pull them back from the edge, a Shinto priest with crazy white hair spilling from beneath his kanmuri stalks up to me through the wind and rain. He raises one arm skyward and yells out furiously that there’s nothing more that can be done for any of these sinners, so why don’t I just turn the video off?

Someone taps me on the shoulder.

‘What?’ I say, turning round, confused.

‘Nice hat,’ says my companion.

I’m baffled by the sound of words.

He grabs me by the scruff of the neck. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

‘No, no, I’m fine’, I reply, coming to my senses. ‘What’s happening?’

‘I don’t know,’ he laughs. ‘I’ve got no idea. Nobody does. That’s why we’re here.’

Photography © Magnus Aske Blikeng at www.mabvision.com and Pat Hill.

Next time, the final instalment … The Führer Bunker Exhibit C: M O N E Y

The Führer Bunker Exhibit A: The Louche FC

Unknown location, Salford, 4 February 2012

Salford, England. On this winter’s night we find ourselves in a landscape sculpted by war, in a part of town that was ravaged by the Christmas Blitz of 1940 and that has never recovered. Hidden away from Lower Broughton’s commuters, M.E.N. arena-goers, prison-leavers, takeaway-eaters, broken-dreamers, street-wanderers, drug addicts, sari-shoppers, Jewish mothers and chanting Sikhs, in spitting distance of Strangeways Prison, this is a wasteland strewn with rubble and scraps of metal, pock-marked by bomb craters. You’d think that nothing ever happens here. A few derelict warehouses create a stark and jagged skyline, their roofs steaming like sleeping animals. Sheets of ice slicken the ground beneath our feet. It’s the sort of night where cats cry for hours on the broken slates … In the cold distance, people stand round a bonfire, swaying from foot to foot, drinking wine from the bottle and smoking cigarettes. The scene is like Glastonbury set against the backdrop of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

When SWAYS records rose from these ruins in 2011, one of the first projects was to create a video that would pay homage to this otherworldly place. The actor Steve Evets, best known for his lead role in Ken Loach’s film Looking for Eric, was an early convert and leant us his services. When he arrived at the SWAYS bunker in his battered Volkswagen, he stood outside smoking a roll-up and meditatively described this landscape as ‘beautifully desolate’. He told us about how he’d just got back from Hawaii where he’d been filming the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film with Johnny Depp. We asked him to lie down fully clothed in a puddle on the street. He didn’t bat an eyelid. We know where he felt most at home.

People file into a nondescript corridor lit by a single naked light bulb that might lead them to heaven or maybe to hell. At the end of the corridor a menacing barred door is propped wide open. A man wearing a bobble hat hands out hymn sheets, which is odd. We are then deposited into a large rectangular chamber in a disused bag factory where a wooden cage has been erected, with a canvas sheet spread across the back to receive images and projections from mind and machine. It is unclear what this cage is or why it was built. Maybe it’s some kind of Kafkaesque torture device designed to imprint music onto our naked skin, or meaning onto needy souls. It brings to mind Francis Bacon’s screaming pope paintings. The agony and the ecstasy of the human condition, the way we are all most artfully caged …

We walk past the wooden scaffold and are confronted by a barricade made from blocks of rock wool. This is as far as we go … There’s a jet engine in the corner blasting fire into the room. It’s the kind of machinery that’s normally used to heat hot air balloons, not people. The chances of carbon monoxide poisoning seem quite high. Nobody really knows what’s about to happen. Now Wave have had something to do with it so a gig seems to be on the cards but perhaps SWAYS has just created a gas chamber for hipsters. If you’ve ever seen Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film Biutiful you’ll know where I’m coming from. Dark.

It’s still bloody cold though, so we warm ourselves with cheap red wine and huddle into the night, the expectation palpably growing in the face of the unknown … It doesn’t feel like we’re in a real place, it feels like we’ve crept into a hole in someone’s head, Malkovich-style.

Welcome to the Führer Bunker.

Finally, the wait is over. The first band to be exhibited are SWAYS originals the Louche FC, who take to the cage wearing long overcoats. They mean business and immediately take the night by the scruff of the neck, launching into their particular brand of Phil Spector 1960s girl group pop as vandalised by Sonic Youth, with the fragments finally shorn against their ruin thanks to the rhythms of Wild Beasts.

When my companion first discovered the Louche FC practicing in the backroom of the bunker, there were just two of them, Luke and Kyoko, creating reverby dreamscapes to the cheap pulse of an 80s drum machine. My companion secretly recorded them on his mobile phone. He played it back to me one night but it was pretty much inaudible. I found it hard to share his excitement. But thank God he has better musical judgement than I do. He has a way of identifying the seeds of greatness even when a band is far from being the finished article. To be honest, the only SWAYS band that ever enthused me on first listen were Womb and look how that worked out …

In the Louche’s early gigs the drum machine was joined by some idiot on bass prancing about in a baseball cap. If anything, he was slightly less talented than the ZOOM MRT-3. He had to be liquidated and the drum machine was confiscated too. Eventually, new alliances were made and Kyoko and Luke were joined by Dave and Adam. The rest is history … The band before us now seem destined for elevation and in ‘Romantic’ they have created what will hopefully be the first in a stream of modern classics. Their sound has evolved into something more aggressive, pissed-off and fractured than before, the beautiful, psyched-out, shoe-gazy soundscapes now wrapped round a fistful of broken glass like a bandage … These are defining performances they’re giving, right now.

What more can we ask for? Where do we go from here? Everything is perfect … Kyoko sang like a sweet black angel and Luke set forth demons from his glowing amp, while we stood and listened to what the thunder said.

My companion overhears someone saying that of all the gigs happening anywhere in the world right now, this must surely be the best. Berlin, New York, Paris, Tokyo, step aside and make way for Salford. But he’s still disgruntled. ‘Why didn’t they say “of all the things happening”?’ he asks.

This is shaping up to be one of the best nights of my existence. I still have 1.5 bottles of wine in my rucksack and two of the best new bands in Manchester are about to play late night sets in an abandoned warehouse. In a wooden cage. PINS are here, accompanied by a good old-fashioned hard man who you wouldn’t mess with, and I’m still not dead … But something is rotten in the state of Denmark. All is not well. I have an uneasy feeling, a rising anxiety, as though I’ve been cut loose from the normal order of things. I’m wearing a wide-rimmed black Pilgrim hat and I’m more conscious of the way that my skin forms a thin, flimsy borderline separating my insides from the outside than I normally would be. All the lights turn low then suddenly get very bright and I’m pretty sure that there’s someone or something rattling at the windows …

Photography © Magnus Aske Blikeng at www.mabvision.com and Pat Hill. Bless them, for they are visionaries.

Next up … The Führer Bunker Exhibit B: Great Waves