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Neighbourhood is a one day festival in Manchester, showcasing upcoming indie bands in the best venues that the city centre has to offer, and that there was so much going on was a great excuse to get out of the rain and into the warmth of the crowds.
One of the first acts of the day was Sam Fender, a Newcastle singer nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2018 poll. His haunting anthems, eschewing love for reflections on the surveillance state and the male suicide crisis, were a sobering but engrossing opening to the festival.
Next up at the oversized Student Union venue of the Manchester Academy were indie-pop headliners Sundara Karma. Crowd pleasers ‘Flame’ and ‘She Said’ quickly went from electrifying to repetitive, though less popular tracks off of their debut album like ‘Lakhey’ carried more than enough energy to make up for it. The band’s new track, ‘Illusions’, was played live for the first time, and represented a jarring, but welcome, break with the material they’ve built a huge fanbase on.
One disadvantage of the city centre setup is the inevitably of clashes. With up to half an hour of walking between venues, and with entrance limited by capacity, you were forced to make tough choices. The festival was also extremely dominated by men, with the exception of The Orielles sharing the top billing with ten all male acts, though this might well be an accurate representation of the industry.
A minor detour to The Deaf Institute saw Cabbage, a fiercely political Manchester punk rock band, playing to a packed Doc Marten store where the numbers of leather shoes on the walls were evenly matched by those on the feet of the attendees. The band weren’t really visible with no stage to speak of, making it one of the more surreal gigs of the day.
At the famous O2 Ritz were Blaenavon, a newly expanded four-piece specialising in somewhat maudlin songs. “Let’s pray for death” chanted lead singer Ben Gregory as the crowd bounced on the sprung wooden dance-floor. They were extremely engaging, polished and capable of whipping the crowd into a frenzy, into which the frontman leaped at the height of their signature song, ‘Prague ’99’.
Everything Everything headlined the evening in the packed amphitheatre of the Albert Hall. Having produced two critically acclaimed and Mercury-nominated albums trading on themes of terrorism and populism, the band are veteran and confident performers. This came through in their use of stage narratives, on the title track from their most recent album, ‘Fever Dream’, where a disco ball piano ballad was slowly subsumed into a nightmarish flickering yellow fog while frontman Jonathan Higgs sung of the neighbourhood fear and loathing revealed by the political cataclysms of the last few years.
They closed with a thunderous encore, the unsettling but extremely danceable ‘Distant Past’, the Muse-tinged epic ‘Desire’, and ‘No Reptiles’, which swept the crowd into a four minute all encompassing crescendo.
That performance alone was worth the £30 price of admission, and with Manchester only a cheap train ticket away, Neighbourhood offers a pretty great condensed festival experience if you don’t fancy paying £200 to go to a field in the south. I’ll be back for sure.