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strangerz

THE STRANGERZ LIVE IN MANCHESTER – WHAT HAPPENED?

t’s been a busy week already this week with an unexpected first trip to Canvas to see K.Flay and WEATHERS on Monday night and if it’s Thursday, it has to be The Strangerz (at whose kind invitation I’m here tonight) and a group of their friends at that there Night and Day, with Scapegrace and The Information Highway at Retro tomorrow.

As I write, I’m sitting in the kitchen on a rare half day’s leave, listening to the new JOHN album, as its’s been so busy recently that this is the first chance I’ve had to pay any serious attention to it (and it’s rather good, to be fair), as I prepare yet ANOTHER skipfull of my mental meanderings. It’s going to be a busy night tonight with four bands to tog and review, so best crack on…

Here’s  what I currently know about Cinder (although considering this is going to be only their second gig tonight, I think it’s quite a lot!) They’re fronted by producer Lewis Dean who produced Pyncher’s recent “Steely Dan” single, as well as The Strangerz’ track “Hit the Ground”. He’s ably complemented tonight by Zach (drums), Jake (bass) and Dan (guitar) and describe themselves as somewhere in the middle of Alt-rock, shoegaze and industrial, inspired by the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age and My Bloody Valentine, so earplugs at the ready, methinks!

Lewis tells me that they have four new songs recorded, but are waiting to announce which of these will be their next single, so eyes peeled, good people!

Cinder open their set with “Boscobel”, and its opening riff and mournful vocals put me in mind of DAMEFRISOR a little. There are certainly NO signs that this is gig No.2 tonight – the four of them play with a confidence that belies the age of their fledgling band. Dan’s guitar has a hint of Foo Fighters about it and Lewis’s delivery has more than a little of The Murder Capital’s James McGovern.

“Echoes” slows the pace slightly, but neither the intensity or the emotion – there are lots of interesting sounds emitting from the pedal boards tonight, but they’re complementary, rather than intrusive and the crowd are most appreciative of what’s going on, even though all tonight’s songs will be new to most, if not all of them.

“Sines” has undertones of Fontaines D.C. at their most thoughtful and it’s nice to hear most of the folk who have turned up at 8.00 p.m. stiving to hear what’s happening on stage. Dan’s guitarwork stage left is delicate and clever. Lewis whips up the crowd when he considers that out response to, “Who’s long forward to Strangerz?” doesn’t meet with an appropriate level of enthusiasm. He thanks us for coming, telling us that this is, indeed, their second ever gig as a band, which started as a solo project “Well over a year ago” and that it’s taken way too long to get a band together, so gives a shout out to everyone who’s helped him out.

“Impermanence” should be their next single, according to Lewis, and is a lively, bass-driven number, with Jake working hard stage right and Zach keeping everything going from behind his kit. Bit by bit, you can sense their confidence build as the set progresses.

Next is a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” which is a fine, dreamy, shoegaze-y tribute to the original. “Breathing” was released a month ago again employs some splendid effects that sound like they should be coming from a bank of synths as against a guitar pedal and again sounds like something that could have drifted from the pencil of one Mr. K. Cobain, before we drift straight into the anguish of, “Hum”, which is, according to Lewis is his favourite song of all those he’s written – well, so far, anyway.

As it drifts to a conclusion, I can just about pick out a few similarities to New Order’s “Ceremony”, too, which, in my book, can never be a bad thing. You can catch Cinder next at their first headline gig at Fuel Café Bar on the 24th of November, and, on the basis of tonight’s performance, this would seem like a most constructive way in which to pass three quarters of an hour or so.

Cinder played: Boscobel, Echoes, Sines, Impermanence, Black Hole Sun, Breathing and Hum.

Comprising Kel (vocals/bass), Giz (guitar) and Mel (drums), The Empty Page describe themselves thus: “An anxious, angular post-punk band from Manchester, England, The Empty Page do not write love songs. Instead, you’ll find subjects like bed rot, victim blaming, and the end of the world set to hook-laden tunes layered over fuzzy riffs and the occasional urgent synth”. Well – that’s intriguing, to say the least.

Their debut album “Unfolding” was recorded with Gggarth Richardson (of RATM/Biffy Clyro/Skunk Anansie fame) which did them absolutely NO harm at all. Off the back of three 7” of singles in 2019, they returned in 2022 with “Dry Ice” which they describe as a “Goth disco banger” and delivered Level Sedentary in March 2023, again self-described as, “A slacker anthem about staying in”. Two months later, came “Big Nasty Palpitations”, a song about nuclear anxiety and we wait for The Empty Page’s second album “Imploding” to explode into life in January 2024.

Kel wastes no time in launching into an energetic, grunge-y set whilst Giz engages in all manner of runs, jumps, and general guitar tomfoolery, all of which complement the fine noise he squeezes from his instrument, although it’ll be a close-run thing as to which will give out first, the set or his energy levels.

Kel has a mightily powerful voice displayed to great effect in set opener “You’re Tame”, and we have no time to take a rest before it merges into, “Big Wheel” which tells the tale of dealing with one particularly challenging inner demon – “Anxiety has jagged teeth but prise them open, ‘cos you gotta grow, despite the confusion and desperation, it’s cool, you’ll be alright”, as the auld ears of The Humble Reviewer swear they can pick out bits of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” lurking in there somewhere.

Next up, Kel introduces “Cracks in the surface” as being about, “Anything you want it to be about, but it’s about someone who makes your life more difficult – and there’re a lot of them, aren’t there?” You wouldn’t want to be the person who’s described as, “Garbage in garbage out, shut your mouth, shut your mouth, you’re one sham handshake Over the red line” “Level Sedentary”, which takes its name from a less-than-energetic status in a fitness tracking app is introduced by Kel as being about, “Wanting to stay in bed, and never get out ever again!”, a sentiment which is met with much approval from the crowd.

Whereas, “Dry Ice”, which appears next in the set, which is about going out and, “Getting sweaty with other people”, this one is firmly about staying in!

Kel is a powerful and visually striking frontwoman with alarmingly powerful vocals, but Giz is certainly not about to let her hog the limelight as the pair of them stut around the stage, presenting endless photographic opportunities. “Dry Ice” is driven by a simple but incessant bassline as Kel pounds out that, “We’re moving down, the crush of the warm crowd, twitch in the strobe light, we’re spinning, we’re spinning, we’re spinning in the dry ice”.

There may not be much in the way of dry ice here tonight (Good thing too), but the “Disco convulsions” are clearly starting to be felt in the crowd who are starting to sway appreciatively. Before “Big Nasty Palpitations”, Kel steers us in the direction of the merch table which has, “Some nice t-shirts with cats on – everyone wants a t-shirt with a cat on, don’t they?” and it’s hard to argue with that statement. “We slide into dystopia, clawing at the tilting glass” is a little more worrying, but sadly quite true nowadays.

The Empty page close of their set with the up-tempo, “When the Cloud Explodes” and it’s easy to see where the My Bloody Valentine and Yeah Yeah Yeahs comparisons start their lives. This has been a thumping, energetic and entertaining set, delivered by two frontpeople of equal  skill and enthusiasm. The Empty page have a lot to say and it might just be time for you to get out there and give them a listen.

Empty Page played: You’re Tame, Big Wheel, Cracks in the Surface, Level Sedentary, Dry Ice, Big Nasty Palpitations and When the Cloud Explodes.

The last time I caught up with Otala was back in April and they tell me that they’ve only been playing with the current lineup of Oscar (guitar + vocals), Rory (bass + vocals), Jack (synth), Charlotte (sax) and Fin (drums) for around a year, but they’re really enjoying all the opportunities they’re getting to gig at the moment, and are particularly looking forward to a slot at Left of the Dial later this month.

In the meantime, they’ve got a couple of headline gigs lined up in Nottingham and Manchester in mid-November – they remind me that it’s almost a year since they put out their first single, “Tell the Bees”, and they’ve now got a lot of material that they’ve been shaping and polishing during that time, seeing what goes down well live. Sounds like tonight should be pretty interesting.

There’s a very obvious (well, at least to me) comparison to be made as Otala launch into their sax-driven and somewhat discordant set opener “Guatavita”, and this has to with be Manchester’s own Maruja. There’s a jazz punk feel to the goings on as Oscar’s spoken/shouted vocals burst out over Fin’s intricate drumbeats.

They’ve been described as, “A punk quintet like no other, feeling new to our ears, but with a haunting sense of familiarity”, which makes perfect sense, and it’s this uniqueness that is their selling point – they’re a bit like Maruja for sure, but softer somehow at the same time and it’s easy to see why they include Eola Gay amongst their fans.

The set trips uneasily between gentle wanderings with and angry shouting, all backed up with deft guitar with synths that are sometimes dreamy and sometimes downright unsettling, with Rory doubling up on bass and vocal duties. Otala are definitely another group who fall into my category of, “You can listen to them or photograph them, but not both, I’m afraid” category. They don’t deserve anything less than your full attention, which sadly, they don’t receive from some sections of the chattering audience. I’ve banged on about this enough in previous reviews, but sadly, Otala’s music is a gentle thing that is all too often drowned out by the unappreciative.

Otala don’t perform songs as such, rather they’re pieces that flow into one another so that you’re not really sure where one ends and the next begins, but it doesn’t really matter too much, as long as you’re there to witness it.

“Tell The Bees”, is a treatise to the futility of living a minimum wage existence with no sign of escape and Oscar’s anger is mixed with horror at the knowledge that there will likely be no escape – his resentment is palpable as Charlotte’s sax honks mournfully in agreement – it’s as though the human condition is laid bare in the space of three or four minutes, but it’s not all bleak, thankfully, as we move further into the set.

Oscar trips through questioning and quizzical through to insistence and affirmation – “Something has to change”, he insists. Maybe Otala will be the band to change things, who knows? Give them half an hour of your time and leave your preconceptions at the door. Jazz punk is going nowhere, mes amis.

Otala played: Guatavita, Tell the Bees, Patchwork, Mill Grain Throat, Untitled and Daisy.

And so, to tonight’s headliners – “A shouty, feminist punk and indie rock band formed in Doncaster over lunchtime Pot Noodles, but now shouting (and sometimes screaming) in Manchester” is as good a start as any in my mission to tell you a bit about The Strangerz.

Twins Martha (vocals) and Tom (guitar) Kelly and friends Shannon Gebbie (drums)  Will Darracot (bass) with occasional appearances by producer Lewis Dean, delivered their third single “Hit the Ground” earlier this year off the back of debut single “Shut Up” and follow up “Straight Gay Brother” and are, by all accounts a must for fans of Bikini Kill, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Buzzcocks, Wire, The Slits and the like. They’re also, by all accounts, a fan of a short, sharp song, so let’s see what they’ve got.

Martha and her cohorts take to the stage and it’s pleasing to see that she’s carrying by a cowbell, and you know what, dear reader, “They” (whoever they are), are absolutely right – you can NEVER have enough cowbell. As guitarist Tom yells at us to, “Move fcuking forward”, it really seems rude not to. So, we do, to join in with what already promises to be the aural equivalent of a shaken up can of Monster.

As set opener “Twice 2 The Soul” draws to a close, Martha encourages us to show our appreciation for the other bands on the bill, before they launch into “Alphonso”, with whose chorus we eagerly join in. The fuzzy grunginess puts me in mind of North Eastern garage grungemeisters, Pit Pony, especially in terms of Martha’s vocal delivery.

Tom and Martha take it in turns to dole out fast-paced shouting and antics, with bass man Will trying to keep out of trouble and not be sucked into the melee of madness, and in this he mostly succeeds. Mostly. You can’t realty see much of drummer Shannon, hidden behind a hedgerow of cymbals, but by heck do you know she’s there.

The Strangerz are definitely not a band who take themselves too seriously (although this absolutely does NOT mean that they’re not serious about delivering well-crafted three-minute slices of punk) – they’re here to have fun and are more than happy to drag us all along for the ride. “Hit The Ground” is met with a whoop of approval from the crowd.

Going back in time, “Lockets” could easily have been delivered by X-Ray Spex’ Poly Styrene and Martha’s easy-natured delivery also puts me in mind of The Primitives’ Tracey Tracey, or, dragging myself into the present, the likes of Piss Kitti or Duvet. We’re only going to get thirty-four minutes of The Strangerz, but by crikey, they’re going to make every one count.

“New City New Car” is introduced as being about the “Sheffield to Doncaster night train”, as Martha reminds us that they’re from Yorkshire – cue a round of good-natured boos. All is fine though, they’re now honorary Mancs and we’ve already taken them under our collective wing as Tom and Will get a turn on vocal duties too. The cowbell makes a welcome return to accompany, “Plastic Man Wrapped in Margarine”

Marta asks us if we’ve ever met a man that doesn’t stop talking?”, to which one wag in the crowd immediately retorts, “Shut Up!”, but not to worry, Dear Reader, this is merely the title of the next song in tonight’s set, but it would be a brave man who tried to speak over Martha’s Martha and the crowd the scream furiously, echoing the internal groan all women do when someone starts mansplaining.

I think that somebody called Wet Leg might do something similar, but there’s a lot more pent-up anger in THIS particular outburst – “Listen mate I know you think you’re everything, but in reality, your opinions mean nothing, you’re a little man on the internet, so cool, go Spoons do so much ket”. Wow. Serious shizzle indeed.

“Do Nothing” is introduced as tonight’s last song, but there’s a sneaking suspicion that it won’t be – I mean, how could we walk off into Thursday night with a rousing rendition of fan favourite “Straight Gay Brother”, a splendid ode to the curse of toxic masculinity and a plea to just be comfortable however you want: “I’ve got straight gay brother, and he’s not really gay – don’t tell mother, he swings the other way!” Ans so it is that the inevitable pleas for, “One more song” appear to have done the job as the Strangerz return to the stage to deliver both this and the happy, jangly, almost Wedding Present-like “Stranger resolutions”.

Whilst the Strangers and The Empty Page are both are clearly much more than just their singers, both Martha and Kel continue a tradition of powerful women who aren’t going to be shouted down, patronized or mansplained any time soon, so you’d better get used to it. You can catch Strangerz next at BitchFest in Liverpool on the 28th of October btw – get yerselves down there, if you know what’s good for ya.

Strangerz played: Twice 2 The Soul, Alphonso, Hometown Holiday, Hit the Ground, Lockets, New City, New Car, Plastic Man Wrapped in Margarine, Shut Up! Do Nothing, Straight Gay Brother, Stranger Resolutions.

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