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NARA LIVE IN MANCHESTER – WHAT HAPPENED?

Straight off the back of Gurriers at The Brude the night before, Tuesday sees your humble, but somewhat tired reviewer heading for the delights of 33 Oldham Street to see Nara, supported by Pleasure Centre and DieKaiDie. Three gigs in four days (if you include The Battery Farm and We Are One at the Star & Garter on Saturday) is a bit much, even for me, but with three bands to take in, we (wonderful other half, developing tog and all-round patient person) arrive in time for the advertised 20.00 start and hurtle upstairs at great speed, only to find that soundchecks are still taking place, so we hurtle ourselves back downstairs to grab something tall and fruity looking. With cocktails at 2 for £10, it would have been rude not to and now I know what rum tastes like too. Winner winner.

Tonight’s event is known as TPE2 – the idea behind ‘Trans Pennine Exchange’ is to pair up artists on either side of the Pennines for a run of co-headline shows, pairing up complementary artists and working to provide an inclusive platform for all genders, sexuality, ethnicity and culture. TPE1 took place the previous Saturday in Leeds also featuring Nara and Pleasure Centre, but with CAD instead of DieKaiDie. This idea, organized by Rowan Foster of Mindful Hand, as a sideline to his role as bass player in Autosuggestion might just well catch on…

DieKaiDie

They describe themselves on their bio as “Three drummers and an American”, which is a bit puzzling as, when they take to the stage, they don’t actually HAVE a drummer, but the mystery is eventually explained by the band themselves, the majority of who come from a drumming background, and it seems they thought it would be fun to form a band that didn’t have one. As you do. Or possibly don’t. The “American” is vocalist and keyboard noodler Emma Kirsch, who hails from San Diego. The other members of the band are Matthew Deakin on bass, Reuben Haycocks on guitar and Paddy Murphy, on vocals and guitar. They tell me that the band was born at a ceilidh over shared interests in lofi, hyper pop, shoegaze and freak folk (anyone who reads my reviews – and there MUST be some of you out there somewhere – know I LOVE a new genre and there are two here tonight!) and they try to incorporate elements of them all into their music.

All still at uni, they even have a mission statement, which is to make the most ear bleeding pop possible. Can’t argue with that. Tonight’s missing band member is the elusive Dianne Kaidie (hence the empty drum stool) – much as I press them as to her whereabouts, all I can get out of the others is something about her day job in the Ministry of Defence and that she’s been called away unexpectedly. All very James Bond, but that’s all I can get out of them – all tight lips and Official Secrets Act as they launch into their set – No Time to Di, as they say. Or don’t, in this case.

As they take to the stage to open their set with Kissing Other People, for the first minute, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the ear bleeding pop was – Emma’s voice is soft and plaintive, reminding me a little of Harriet Wheeler from The Sundays as she drags rhythms, beeps and boops from what to my uneducated eye looks like a VERY small amount of electronica on the stand in front of her. However, this soon explodes into a splendid din with Emma sharing vocal duties with Paddy, who is to the right (as you view them) of Reuben who hugs stage left. Swiss Army Knife bounds along on the back of some very basic but industrial sounding electronic rhythms.

Ted Booth commences with a simple mournful keyboard pattern sounding for all the world like a Cold War short wave code echoing out across the wilderness. Paddy takes vocal duties on this one – it’s mournful and angry all at the same time, but what is really stuck in my head is the plaintive “Beep de boop” as it fades into the night. I’ll take that. Cliodna may well be a love song, all played over a simple waltz beat from Emma’s electronic shenanigans, but it’s energetic and powerful. Pete Fact: Cliodna is also an Irish goddess of love and beauty – allegedly she owned three birds whose songs were set to heal the sick. These songs and Emma’s vocals are currently doing my ears NO harm at all, it must be said. Pink Pasadena starts off (at least to me) with a sound much favoured by the Chameleons, namely one of those flexible plastic tubes you used to swing around your head as a kid. You MUST have had one. It takes me to lots of places, a little reminiscent of Everything but The Girl’s Tracey Thorn. It’s winsome, thoughtful and absolutely lovely.

Reuben apologises for his guitar playing on Pink Pasadena, although it’s hard to spot what he considers went wrong. No God starts off at a breakneck pace, almost as though Emma had hit the Tempo Up button on her drum machine a few times too many with her elbow, especially when Paddy launches into a brave attempt to keep his vocals up to speed with it. “I always seem to try, I always seem to fail”, he cries, but he seems to be making a good job of things all the same. Set Closer My Lover takes shoegaze and adds a pinch of Amercana twang to it, all barrelling along at a fair old lick. 

The three drummers and an American have delivered a fine set tonight and there’s much to like about them. There’s lots to like about DieKaiDie and I look forward to listening to their songs again. And as for the mission statement of making the most ear bleeding pop possible, I only wish that my email footer was a tenth as interesting.

DieKaiDie played Kissing Other People, Swiss Army Knife, Ted Booth, Cliodna, Sorry Kai, Pink Passadena, No God and My Lover.

Pleasure Centre 

Describing their style of music as shoegaze/alternative rock and influenced by bands such as Slowdive, The Ninth Wave, The Stone Roses, Ride and Radiohead, Pleasure Centre consists of Aneela Siddiqui, Charlie Hunter on lead guitar and vocals, Fredi Dixon-Lenton on drums and vocals and Billy Bostanci on bass (love me a bit of alliteration). They’re occasionally complemented by David Beecher on synths and guitar, but he’s not here tonight. Growing up in Scarborough, North Yorkshire the group was originally formed by Aneela and Charlie 2019 to try to, in their words “Capture the themes of a youth culture within a seaside town”. Now relocated to Leeds and missing the sea, and having recently been added to the Glastonbury Emerging Talent longlist, they’ve also added themselves to the line-up at Hyde Park Book Club later this month in support of debut single ‘Disease Machine’ and their May’s debut EP  ‘The Weight of it All’. They’re a busy crew for sure, but as they take to the stage in race suits (they must be BOILING), I’m left wondering if Formula 1 have missed a trick here – musical pit stops – it’s the future. Maybe (Maybe not, Pete – Ed)

Set opener Opener (I see what THEY did there, for a change) from the Weight Of it All EP makes far more noise than you might expect as Pleasure Centre make it clear that combining sad, loud, shoegaze and dreampop was a fine idea. It’s also clear that the boilersuits aren’t going to last very long, and indeed they don’t. Aneela hands over vocal duties to Charlie for Caught and with some U2-ey influences in the guitarwork for sure, “Sad wall of noise” is the perfect description for this piece. Charlie asks us to move a little closer to the stage for TalkBoy, (also from the EP), for which he also takes vocal duties. This one’s a little quieter, but none the less powerful – I can hear some Jesus and Mary Chain influences in here too – Pleasure Centre are loud, but strangely easy on the ear, if that makes sense. I just wish that the crowd would hush their chatter and appreciate what’s going on in front of them, but as usual, that would be asking too much – their loss.

Vocals are shared between Aneela and Charlie on Whisper whilst Billy (stage right) and Fredi (strangely stage left for a drummer, but I suspect it’s not his decision) underpin the whole thing with rhythms that border on the psychedelic occasionally. As I write this review, I’m glad of my recording of the gig, as I can appreciate what was going on while I was focussing (yes, I KNOW) on taking pictures. There’s always a compromise when you’re trying to do both, but I’d definitely go and see them again. Aneela’s vocals are mournful and powerful as she makes a foray into the crowd to show her appreciation of those who have braved Manchester on a rainy Tuesday, holding her arms out at her sides, head down, whilst her colleagues carry the song in her absence. Tungsten is as beautiful and haunting a piece of shoegaze as you’re ever likely to hear – even the audience chatter diminishes slightly, thankfully.

Charlie announces set closer Torpor as being about where they come from – “A little shi**y seaside town” which brings an appreciative chant of “Scarborough, Scarborough” from the crowd. He thanks them, Rowan Foster, who put tonight’s event on and also openers DieKaiDae. He then shares vocals with Aneela one last time and Billy and Fredi get their time to shine as the four of them clatter away joyously to bring their 35 minutes in the sun to a close.

Pleasure Centre have a lot to offer and make a thoroughly splendid noise. Please go and see them and if you’re REALLY unlucky, you might even bump into ME.

Pleasure Centre played Opener, Caught, TalkBoy, Whisper, Blue (Bertha), Tungsten and Torpor

Nara

Having seen Manchester’s Nara in January at the Deaf Institute for the launch of their Me! single, and having been mightily impressed into the bargain, I was anxious to give them another earful. Sadly, although a new show had been promised for the three dates of this mini tour, technical difficulties prevented this from being played place tonight, so we can only wonder at what might have been. Of course, the majority of the crowd weren’t aware of this anyway, so expectations were still high as the quartet of Dan on vocals and rhythm guitar, Matt on lead guitar and backing vocals, Ethan on bass and Harry on drums take to the stage with set opener The Distance allowing Dan to demonstrate his impressive vocal range.

Nara’s released output to date comprises four singles, the one prior to Me! being Let the Light In, back in September which spawned a well-received gig at The Castle up in The Northern Quarter and they’ve also been spotted in the wild at Preston’s Ferret, YES, and Gullivers. They’re more than a little elusive from an online standpoint, so the best way to keep up with their activities, as well as to hear demos is to sign up to their newsletter which you can find in their Linktree at https://linktr.ee/NaraBanddUK  Prior to that first single Fashion was followed by Up The Walls, but only the two most recent releases feature in tonight’s set.

Me! reminds me of The Murder Capital’s More Is Less and Dan’s delivery of his vocals certainly matches James McGovern’s power and intensity. There’s an element of The Chameleons in here somewhere too, if you let your ears wander a little. “Thanks for having us, Manchester”, he shouts to the folk who can’t decide whether or not to push to the front, or if getting too close will somehow break the spell that this close-spun quartet are already starting to weave amongst the audience.

Marble slows the pace with Dan switching his intent gaze between the middle distance and the audience. You wouldn’t want drift into his eyeline for too long, that’s for sure. There’s an intensity in both his expression and the music that might easily grab you and never let go. Nara demand your attention from the outset and refuse to let go. Matt plays his guitar with a bow on a number of songs which provides a haunting and beautiful backdrop to everything else that’s going on. No Power sees Dan bearing his soul to the crowd in a beautiful and mournful number who stand transfixed, watching his every move. Despite the power, there’s also a fragility to Nara’s offering as their songs blend into each other effortlessly, combining elements of shoegaze, dream pop and straightforward post punk indie guitar, yet there’s something imperceptible that sets them apart from a lot of their contemporaries. Ballet Moves is another slow number where Dan and Matt’s harmonies blend seamlessly to deliver something vulnerable yet powerful at the same time.

Ethan on bass stage right and Harry on drums stage left never let the rhythm drop for a second and although it would be easy to let your eyes be drawn to frontmen Dan and Matt and let them stay there, it’s obvious that Nara operate as a tightly knit unit with nobody is more important than the other, as the four of them deliver layers of sound that all combine to deliver something very special indeed.

“Have we got time for one more?”, Dan asks the sound man, who signals in the affirmative, although the eleven o’clock curfew draws ominously near. “Does anyone want one more?”, he asks the crowd, who whoop happily as Nara launch into Have You Heard, a ten minute closing shoegaze and rock masterclass. It’s hard to convey the beauty of what Nara do with words alone – they’re something very special and they have to be experienced. Seek them out, watch and listen and let what they do cascade over you. You won’t come away disappointed.

Nara played: The Distance, Me!, Marble, Let the Light In, Deconstructed, In Everything, No Power, Ballet Moves and Have You Heard?

Special thanks to Rowan Foster of Mindful Hand.