19th & 20th October 2013
Now in its third year, Carefully Planned Festival has quickly become an essential date in the Manchester music calendar. With the demise of In The City and dissolution of other similar city-centre events, it's really the closest thing remaining to Liverpool's Sound City and Leeds' Live at Leeds. What perhaps sets it apart the most however is that it's not billed as an 'emerging bands event' in the same way; yes, these bands are for the most part smaller, but there's a notable absence of the crass 'music industry chasing its own tail' effect that the dedicated showcase events are prone to.
In any case, kicking the weekend off in fine form were Cleft, on first at the Castle, and presumably timed to get people out of bed and to the festival. Playing to a packed room, the two-piece 'turbo prog' outfit dazzled with a wilfully schizophrenic set of math-inflected heavy rock cut through with eccentric and atmospheric space rock.
Gizeh signings Shield Patterns at Kraak Gallery are another highlight of the early afternoon, creating the kind of lush shoe gaze you'd expect of School of Seven Bells, except with perhaps a slightly less percussive edge. It's the perfect counterpoint to Cleft's racket, and a far cry from Suffer Like G Did, who follow at Soup Kitchen. Drawing attention on the math and post-rock scene, the band take a more chordal approach than outfits like ASIWYFA but do manage to slip a few decent riffs in their tunes. It's not mind-blowing, but it's solid enough festival fare.
Vasquez, on the other hand, are mind-blowing. Off the back of awesome new release 'EP246' they play a blinding set composed of tight rhythms and head-banging riffs. They have a satisfying sense of when to let the rhythms lead and when there needs to be a clear melody, and as such each member gets his time in the spotlight as they nail one of the performances of the festival.
Lovecraft at Night and Day are an indie band very much in the post-Joy Division mould, and perhaps stand out a bit more at CP for that as math and post-rock bands broadly tend to be the order of the day. Afterward, Crash of Rhinos at Soup Kitchen score one of the biggest crowds of the weekend to showcase debut album 'Knots'.
Live their old-school post-hardcore is much more immediate and provocative than on record, and the band really throw everything they have into their set. It's breathless stuff, and after seeing them live you get a sense of why comparisons are made to luminaries like Rival Schools.
From the Kites of San Quentin close the Night and Day stage in style, drawing heavily on excellent new EP '7.73Hz: Earth Chorus' to deliver a stunning set of the best future electronica in the city right now.
Kicking off the Gulliver's stage on Sunday is local duo Bad Grammar. With a rising profile in part due to a superior live show, the boy-girl duo look poised to do great things if only they do not collapse under the weight of bullshit White Stripes comparisons. Though there is a noticeable blues twang at the edges of the guitar tone, cut from that cloth they are not. They're really more like a punk band masquerading as a grunge band that hangs around with math bands - if indeed that makes any sense at all. A melting pot of styles, they are at heart quite straightforward, and that's no bad thing.
Something completely different is found in the form of Base Ventura at Soup Kitchen. Fried psych rock in the vein of White Hills or perhaps Gnod, they make an arresting racket. There's a few giddily satisfying moments when all the elements coalesce into a perfect whole, but as is often the case with live psych, it's not clear if that's as a result of deft composition or serendipity. Next up are Sparrowhawks, whose poised folk stylings are a breath of fresh air after such an intense beginning to the day. There's a gentle intensity and drama to what they're forging under all the vocal harmonies, and it'll be interesting to see what their compositional efforts create when they turn to a debut album.
The Slaughterhouse 5 at Soup are completely baffling. The more cabaret-like parts of their live show suggest a group like The Flaming Lips but underneath it all their music is eclectic indie-rock with a pronounced post-rock twist. They sound like The Crimea might have sounded, in fact, had they not been so bloody-mindedly apocalyptic about everything and actually capable of smiling on stage.
After that, it's a prog double-bill with longtime stage-sharers Cyril Snear and Trojan Horse at Gulliver's. Debuting some new material after the release of this year's excellent 'Riot of Colour' album, Cyril Snear are best described as sounding a bit like Oceansize. That is, they don't really sound like Oceansize, but they have the same knack for pulling together disparate strands of experimental guitar music and presenting it like it was supposed to be played that way all along.
Trojan Horse, meanwhile, are very much further down the organs and capes spiral of nonsense. An absolutely brilliant live outfit, like their closest comparison The Mars Volta they're a hardcore band turned prog, and as the three Duke brothers interlace three-part harmonies with shredding punk riffs it comes as very welcome news that their second album is on the way.
Johnny Foreigner put in a solid set on the de facto main stage at Soup - which sounds markedly more punk rock than their records - before it's time for the final band of the weekend. Known for their occasional moonlighting performances as Well Weezer, local punks Well Wisher have drafted in some members of Alcopop! records buddies Doctrines for tonight's performance, and an awesome weekend is seen out in style with sing-alongs, crowd-surfing and the world's tiniest stage invasion. Brilliant.