Saturday morning and your humble reviewer sits staring at his keyboard looking for inspiration to recall (to quote Soft Cell) the memories of the night before. The evening was looking pretty grim with not much else to look forward to apart from a bottle of red and this week’s episode of Andor when the phone buzzed with the message that I’d managed to wangle my way in to the hottest ticket in Manchester, having foolishly forgotten to buy one until an hour after it sold out. A quick shower and out the door, destination Yes Basement and Marjuja’s first headline gig.

First up, though, Yang Sweeps. There’s precious little out there that I can find, info-wise, which is a bit surprising since these guys have been stalwarts of the Manchester gig scene since forming in 2016  but the five piece certainly put in a shift delivering a psychedelic-tinged set that has the appreciative crowd hooked. Similar to Maruja, it’s hard to put a label on them (which is probably no bad thing) – you can hear tinges of Tyler The Creator lurking in there, maybe even Supertramp, Prince and Ty Segall too, but they definitely have their own take on things. Definitely worth another look!

I’d already seen Maruja perform at Band on The Wall a few months back where we’d stayed on for a free gig after Just Mustard, so my interest was already piqued and I was keen to make sure my memory hadn’t failed me. Thankfully it hadn’t. Relative newcomers, Manchester-based Maruja have delivered but three singles, Blind Spot, The Tinker and most recently, Thunder, which concludes tonight’s set, but there are rumblings of an EP due in 2023 (vinyl, please!)

Google Maruja and once you’ve filtered out references to chocolate bars, Filipino comic book characters and Louis Tomlinson’s astounding gesture around their GoFundMe back in September when all their equipment was stolen, you’ll find a growing interest in the four piece, comprising Harry Wilkinson on lead guitar and vocals, Joe Carroll on alto sax and vocals, Matt Buonaccorsi on bass and Jacob Hayes on drums, brandishing the term “Jazz Punk”. It’s almost as though somebody had to invent a new genre just for them, which is a good thing as I’m left scratching my head to fit them in anywhere else.

Being of a certain age, whilst I could hear echoes of A Certain Ratio, Kalima 808 State and maybe even a bit of Underworld creeping in there too, Maruja definitely have their own sound and need to answer to no-one. You get the impression that whilst a setlist will change from time to time, the songs which have grown out of long jamming session will too – these fellas play with an absolute love of what they do that permeates every song and their young audience howl back the lyrics with equal enthusiasm. 

Maruja stare out at the crowd as if they can scarcely believe their luck, although they’ve more than paid their dues on the circuit supporting the likes of Enola Gay, The Lounge Society and LA Witch and more recently a set on the last night of Rotterdam’s Left Of the Dial festival. As is often the case, drums and bass (aha, see what I did there?) underpin the ferocious rhythm of their output, leaving Harry and Joe to whip up the crowd should the momentum dial slip below ”Frantic” for so much as a second.

The pace of the set is relentless and the energy crackels – one minute I’m feeling like I’m watching a movie where the end of the world approaches as something nuclear starts to overload, the next I’m transported to a middle Eastern bazaar with a sense of undefined yet impending danger – the songs, which defy any sort of categorization, just draw images from your subconscious and put them front and centre – you can absolutely lose yourself with these four, because you simply don’t know what’s going to come next. Whilst you’re sure you’re going to be safe, the possibity that you might not be is still lurks.

Predictable Maruja are not. If you’re looking for a standard verse, verse chorus verse sort of thing, go elsewhere, dear reader. They start their songs and finish them when they feel like it, with what comes between entirely unpredictable, although such flexibility belies a great deal of musicianship and skill without which you definitely can’t freeform in the way that they do. It’s clear that they all know exactly what they’re going to do at any point, but are comfortable to go off and do their own thing occasionally – Jacob’s bass riffs are ferocious and Joe’s sax permeates everything from angry staccato honks in some places to being right out there leading the way in others.

Last, but by no means Harry Wilkinson repeatedly crosses the line between the manic intensity of someone who wants to get everything perfect and someone just  out for a night with his mates, staring at the joyful crowd as they bounce around frantically, clearly loving every second, whilst delivering his vocals like a man possessed. Concluding their set with most recent single, Thunder, they hug each other with the sense of a job well done, not forgetting to thank the Maruja faithful too.

The future looks bright for Maruja. Please go to see them if they’re nearby and put the miles in if they’re a bit further away – you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and for those old enough to remember Louis Balfour from The Fast Show… “Jazz Punk – nice!”