May feels like quite some time ago now, but the memories of Transformer still burn fairly brightly in my mind. Like a candle half way through bright. A full day of music from musicians heavily influenced by Lou Reed, hence the name Transformer, and not a full day of music from musicians heavily influenced by robots in disguise. Though wouldn’t that be something?
Initially before the show, Transformer felt like an event too good to be true. Swans, The Fall, This Is Not This Heat and more classic noise rock legends for under thirty pounds? It wasn’t all that long ago since the Safe as Milk festival at Prestatyn Pontins met its fate through cancellation, and that had the best band in the world, Butthole Surfers, headlining. For those who don’t fall into the ‘noise annoys’ category, Transformer felt like another ill-fated dream, an All Tomorrow’s Parties shit show with a brand new Lou Reed name, but lo and behold sometimes dreams do come true.
Manchester Victoria Warehouse as a venue was another before the show concern. Reviews of past shows at the warehouse suggested over booking was a common occurrence, leading to stifling shows with little room to fidget, little room to see, too much noise to hear. Maybe more control was put in place here, or perhaps noise rock just doesn’t have the audience I like to think it does, but Transformer never felt too much.
In fact it was a rather calm affair, with food stalls outside, two stages for music, a room of interactive art (you could hold a rail to light up a heart), and a cinema somewhere I never found. It was an environment which felt safe with room to play, and the extra bump in security after the tragic events in Manchester the week prior was reassuring. All the attendee needed to worry about was choosing which bands to see between the two stages.
So here is what I saw:
About half an hour or so into the event I caught the back-end of This Is Not This Heat, which played what I like to call classical noise, utilising traditionally beautiful sounding instruments such as the violin, and pushing them as far as they can away from what would be seen at an actual classical show. The large piece set had two drum kits, a series of guitarists, a surprise extravagant guest for one number, and I even saw a kitchen sink in the back somewhere, over there. Which is such a cold joke.
The first full set I had the possibility to witness was Loop, a band which does that droning Spaceman 3 kind of thing (or Chapterhouse which was mentioned with a certain sense of bitterness), though the number of complaints about the lightning from the lead guitarist led me to venture into Stage 2, with Purling Hiss providing indie rock which was less noise, less drone, less complaints, and easily grasped lyrics. I was out of the loop, but no more.
Next up back on stage 1 was Royal Trux, a band which takes the 90’s noise rock template and roughs it up a little bit so it can’t be cleanly placed with the rest of them. The same could be said about the performance, with vocalist Jennifer Herrema feeling more concerned about the prosecco supply on stage than anything else. It was a loose performance which was a lot of fun for the band, a lot of fun for those at the front, but maybe not so much for those standing back, wondering why it all sounded so low. ‘Turn it up’ was a chant that wouldn’t die, but the band themselves were having too much fun to really give a fuck. The punkest moment of the night.
After the Trux, the venue had really begun to fill up. It was clear there was one band everybody was here to see, and it was the main reason I was here too. For those in the North of England, there is one band that everyone dreams of seeing. Yes, it’s The Sm- The Be- The Fall. And why wouldn’t people dream of seeing Mark E Smith shouting down the mic like a drunken angel? It was a beautiful moment, I must say that.
And as a live performance it was an onslaught of repetition, and they’re never gonna lose it, with Mark E Smith taking some time to vanish backstage or behind an amp as the band played, each time coming back with a new burst of energy, possibly due to a hidden stash of Boost bars out of the crowds sight or reach. Yes, let’s go with Boost bars.
The Fall don’t really care much for nostalgia, offering up the new Fall sound, and the New Facts that come with it. With new album releases every other year, the past can’t keep up with the present.
Swans were the final act, though most had already cleared off after the main event. But one thing I must mention is between the two key acts, a little band called Suuns was playing on Stage 2. They take those noisy notes and pump them full of psychedelic dance. Standing on my own, I watched the lights flash and throb, I didn’t complain, and tapped my feet to an infectious beat. I spilt my drink on the floor so I could lose myself to it all, but as the Suuns shone so damn bright, it was time for Swans. And you can’t miss the main players, you just can’t.
They should have been on Stage 1, they should have had room on the timetable to breath, so everyone could go, so everyone could stay. Sandwiches taste fine, but don’t squash a band in one. Please.
And then we have Swans. I’ve talked about them playing live before, right here in fact, and they played the same material from The Glowing Man once more. It was a little more refined, and with expectations in check, it was easier to enjoy such abrasive noise which fought to drive away those who weren’t prepared. Long stretches of drones slowly building to a brief release was the order of the night, and those releases had more power than lightning striking the ground (perhaps).
You could feel each moment in your ribs, and when The Glowing Man wrapped up the night, it felt like the whole day was building to such a moment. Imagine if Sonic Youth kept going thrashing and you can imagine the exhilaration of it all. My dancing was truly horrendous, but how could you not? Like the Lou Reed album the day was named after, I felt like a Transformer, ready to twist into a battle tank. Wait… that’s not quite right…
I had a lot of fun, the bands looked to be having a lot of fun, and I think everyone else must have had some fun, for a Transformer 2 is in the works, featuring the likes of Bardo Pond and Godspeed, You! Black Emperor. With a few tweaks to the two stage times, and ensuring everything else stays the same, I can see myself there.
In fact I can see myself there anyway, I already have the tickets…