Album Review: Wand – Laughing Matter

For a band that only formed six years ago, Wand haven’t wasted any time since their formation. We’ve had a release from the LA outfit every year since 2014 that has seen them progress from fuzz rock hopefuls to the fully fledged psych-pop voyagers they are today.

Laughing Matter‘ is most definitely Wand’s most ambitious project so far, clocking in well over an hour with 16 new tracks to get stuck into. Naturally, the five piece take us down many avenues across the track-listing but for the most part this is a continuation from the cosmic indie rock of previous LP ‘Plum‘. But with an album being at this length, it does flicker between straight forward pop moments to more drawn out, expansive pieces.

It’s quite a trick to be able to pull off writing a breezy little indie tune but also know how to captivate a listener through huge sprawling epics. ‘Airplane‘ is the nine minute centrepiece here that sees keys player Sofia take the lead through a laid back bass line. The melody locks you in but it’s the layers of guitars and synths that keep you there, fully engaged in this bewildering piece.

Although I do enjoy these more blissful yet widescreen moments, I tend to favour when the band trim the fat a little and it’s tracks like the fuzzed up ‘Walkie Talkie‘ and the beautiful ‘Thin Air‘ that really steal the show for me. I must admit, I miss the three minute howlers that were all over their earlier material, but there is no denying the beauty in the dreamy-psych tendencies they’ve developed; ‘Hare‘ and ‘Rio Grande‘ have come at a perfect time, acting as the most spot on sun basking soundtrack.

Something that came to me when listening to Plum was the little nods to 90’s era Radiohead, especially in the guitar melodies. On this record, frontman Cory does give quite a convincing latter day Thom Yorke impression in the vocals, which certainly suits some of the records dreamier moments. It’s pretty hard to pull off a Thom impression without sounding like you’re taking the piss, but Cory seems very comfortable in his vocals abilities and it seems like a very natural way of singing, subconsciously taking queues from King Yorke.

My thoughts on ‘Laughing Matter‘ are similar to what I thought of Ty Segall’s mammoth effort ‘Freedoms’ Goblin‘; when it’s good, it’s excellent and you can’t help but bathe in the brilliance of the songwriting and performances. But it’s the length of the album that puts me off a little with some of the experimental tracks stunting the flow of the albums prominent moments. But I understand that this is the sound of a band throwing it all in and discovering new sounds whilst adding on to their foundations. It’s this approach that makes me think their masterpiece is just around the corner, therefore meaning that ‘Laughing Matter‘ is a solid stepping stone into greatness.

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What’s On Michael Portillo’s iPod: POZI

Here at Birthday Cake For Breakfast, we like to get to the heart of what an artist is all about. We feel the music they listen to is just as important as the music they make. With that in mind, we’re delighted to have LDN outfit POZI in the hot seat, talking us through five releases that have helped shape and inspire their debut album.

Television Personalities’ album They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982)

Toby (Drums): “TVP’s are one of my favourite bands ever, if not my favourite. I got to know Dan Treacy very well when I was in Dustin’s Bar Mitzvah, we were in one of their videos and he recorded on our album. I was only about 17 and although my older band mates had such respect for them I had never fully delved into their music. Around 8 years ago I started digging a bit deeper and my love for them grew and grew. The variety and ambition in their songwriting is extremely courageous; yet they are able to deliver their vast vision with beauty, simplicity, charm and without pretence. From ‘14th Floor’ through ‘Anxiety Block’ to ‘Mysterious ways’, you travel a rollercoaster of feelings and emotions.”

Au Pairs – Headache For Michelle’ (Playing with a Different Sex, 1981)

Toby: Although just a single, this song is a huge inspiration for me and demonstrates how space within music can help you connect with it more deeply. I love the rest of the album, but this track eternally resonates with me. The complexity of the mood created is in my mind a much more realistic representation of human feeling than a lot of music. It’s a very simple track, yet the mood created is so complex and deep which is something I aspire to.”

The Fall’s album Extricate (1990)

Rosa (Violin): “The album’s first track ‘Sing! Harpy’ opens with a crazed heavily effected fiddle solo played by Kenny Brady. Atonal/jarring at points but then falling back into consonance with the rhythm section is something my playing in ‘PZ1‘ definitely has in common with the sound on this album. The listener gets a feeling of returning from a hazard-zone into (considerable) comfort, which is similar to tragedy and comedy coming side by side in theatre, it makes both more effective I think. In ‘Black Monk Theme – Part 1’, the fiddle also plays an important part in the harmonic bedrock of the song, droney with occasion higher and less controlled outbursts. It’s varied texturally which is something I tried to do in PZ1.”

Ibibio Sound Machine – ‘Give Me A Reason’ (Uyai, 2017)

Rosa:I remember hearing this single on 6 radio at the beginning of 2017, when we were all hoping things were going to get better after a shambolic 2016. It was powerful and busy whilst leaving a very clean and crisp imprint in my mind. Reminiscent while very of this time. The lyrics sung so brutally “Give me a reason! Why! Why! Why!” whether is it or not in the artist’s eyes, seemed to me very political/ how I was feeling about world affairs at that time, a confrontational/heartbroken shout to the powers that be. It’s also a great disco tune that I listened to as a morning boost for a good while afterwards.”

Go-Kart Mozart ‘When You’re Depressed’ (Mozart’s Mini-Mart, 2018)

Tom (bass): “I’m quite obsessed with Go-Kart Mozart at the moment. There’s nothing else that really sounds like them out there and I love the beautifully eccentric soundscapes Lawrence creates. There’s a nineties computer game quality to some of the songs and I mean that in the best possible way! One really striking thing about the music is the songs often deal with very sad and tragic themes yet there’s still this bouncy, happy feel and rhythm to the tunes. Take a track like ‘When You’re Depressed’ – you want to get out of your seat and dance even though the song literally documents the day to day pain of living with depression. After listening to it you’re left with a peculiar juxtaposition of emotions happy from the tempo yet saddened by the lyrics. To my shame I’m still yet to properly listen to his first band, Felt, but if Go-Kart Mozart’s anything to go by I’m sure it’s pretty special.”

PZ1‘ is out now! Bag a copy (or two) here – Or grab it from your local indie!

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Album Review: Trigger Cut – Buster

Buster‘, the debut LP from German noise rock band Trigger Cut, reminded me of how it felt to drive this piece of shit ’87 Mazda I drove in the late 90s. It stalled on me once when I was turning across a four lane road, leaving me staring at a lot of oncoming traffic, thinking I really might die. I never had any money so I only ever refuelled when the light came on, making my palms sweat. Even if I was driving on a sunny day with the windows down and a tape playing loud, or talking to a friend on the way to or from seeing some band play, I could never fully relax in that thing.

Trigger Cut reminded me of that tense feeling. That’s a compliment. Every feeling should have art that can accompany or express it. One way ‘Buster’ builds tension is that the guitar phrases are often played in the guitar’s low to middle range then end with a short high part for a moment, a sudden contrasting clang or shriek after a lot of thudding.

The songs start and stop, shuddering and stuttering along, usually building up to some clattering, crashing intensity, with the singer shouting loud. It’s not a macho tough guy hardcore shouting. It’s more like voice cracking, crazy guy on the bus shouting, like something might really be wrong. It’s unsettling. It fucking rules.

In terms of other bands that are sort of similar, I bet the Trigger Cut dudes own a lot of Shellac, Jesus Lizard and METZ records. Trigger Cut don’t sound like those bands, but they sound like they could tour with and would go well on a mixtape with those bands. If you like those bands, you’ll like Trigger Cut, and if you don’t like those bands then your tastes are garbage. Like those bands, the music on ‘Buster’ is repetitive in a minimalist sort of way – deliberately playing the same things for a while for effect, not because that’s all they know how to do. The guitar tends to have a fair amount of reverb on it, providing some more texture and taking up some more space.

Some noise rock that’s more hardcore influenced pummels you without letting up. I’m into that, but it can make you get a bit numb. Trigger Cut gives you some breathing room, and by doing so it gives the music more power. Some of the instruments cut out sometimes, or the guitar will ring some chords or play single notes to let some space open up. But then it rushes back into that space, often swelling high pitched scratch reverbed guitar and screeching, with the drums and bass banging loud and relentless underneath. The breathing room builds rather than releases tension. It’s like the crazy dude on the bus that sits right next to you then moves to the back of the bus, then sits by you then moves away again. You keep an eye on him and don’t feel calm with the momentary space he opened up, and the bus is rolling so you’re stuck in that space.

The songs don’t have especially quick tempos but I can tell that in some parts everybody’s playing their instrument really fast. That adds to the tension, like the crazy dude on the bus has quit screaming and sat down, but is tapping his feet and drumming on his lap real jittery, occasionally muttering and shouting and squawking, like he’s fighting so hard to keep it together, giving it everything he has trying to stay seated. The music feels like it might take off, fly off into the sky in a random direction or fall apart entirely without warning. I can relate to that, my life feels like that a lot. It’s nice for that uncertainty to have such a great soundtrack.

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Album Review: Memory of Elephants – Beachballin’

I’ve always thought there was something in the water down in Bristol. Not only is the scene there always thriving but every band seem to give it everything. Memory of Elephants are the city’s premier math-rock group and since their formation around 2013, they’ve given it both barrels, both through a series of well loved EP’s and an absolute shit-ton of blistering live shows.

Their ever increasing following has been eagerly awaiting an album from the three piece and after a successful funding campaign late last year, Memory of Elephants are finally ready to unveil ‘Beachballin‘.

The first thing I got when initially hearing this band is that all three members are total music nerds. It’s clear that they try to inject as many of their influences into their music as possible. In a scene where many bands seem to be rehashing well trodden avenues, Memory of Elephants blend everything together for something that comes across with genuine passion and excitement.

You can tell that guitarist Toby is a Shoegaze addict, as he brings dreamy and fuzzy together in perfect harmony on atmospheric opener ‘Psychological Extras’ and later on the climactic ‘Herb Is The Toothpaste Of The Soul’. I also love the jazzy, soulful stylings of bassist Ben with the precise yet muscular drum work of drummer Sam. It’s rare that you find three players with a unique personality gel so well together.

I feel like the record was mostly recorded live as you can feel the trio’s energy and passion come through in spades on twisting, riffed up epics like ‘Teflon Wombat’ and ‘I Just Karate Shit my Pants’. I can hear nods to so many incredible bands but it’s not duplicates, just pure homage with their own spin. Something I think a lot of mathy bands can take note from.

If you’ve witnessed the band play live you would have probably been hypnotised by the turbo-prog meets psych set closing madness that is ‘Tiles, You’re Dead’. To my absolute delight, this closes the record and sounds as mind melting and engaging as it does live, its 10 plus minutes keeping you locked in and fully captivated. Just wait for the end for pure stink-face results.

Experimental, brave and overflowing with great musicianship and forward thinking ideas, Beachballin’ is a really superb debut. This is one for the nerds make no mistake, dive in and swim around in all its glory.

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Album Review: Idlewild – Interview Music

There are some bands that grow old with grace and I feel like Idlewild are the definition of this. The Edinburgh formed outfit have never seemed to have lost their arsenal of fans since their early 90’s formation, partly thanks to their knack for writing indie-rock anthems. Sure there’s been a punk era, a stadium rock era and even a bit of a country era, but they’ve always wrapped it up with hooks that will stick in your head forever.

‘Interview Music‘ is their eighth studio effort and with it being four years in the making, it’s perhaps their most ambitious record to date. Featuring 13 tracks and clocking in at just under an hour, the now five piece weave through some sounds you’ll be very familiar with as well as moving into some fresh new territory.

Opening track ‘Dream Variations‘ bridges the gap perfectly between the huge alt rock prowess the band are known for while chucking in a dreamy, psychedelic centre. I’d say that this is probably the bands most exciting opener since ‘You Held The World In Your Arms‘ blew everyone’s minds on 2002 classic ‘The Remote Part‘. Those that thought that album is just everything (like me) will be pleased to know that tracks like ‘All These Words‘ and ‘Same Things Twice‘ hark back to the massive rock pop tones that helped make the band’s most triumphant release.

But of course, this is just one of many flavours this album has to offer, as we get proggy on the albums superb title track as well as letting the groove pop vibes sink in on ‘There’s a Place For Everything‘. When they get it right, they really get it right as this holds some of their catchiest and most sincere songs in years! However, there are a few many moments that just seem a little half baked, with some slightly over trodden melodical phrasing that is a little on the filler side. Personally, I feel like this album is a wee bit long and a more refined tracklisting might have made for a tighter set.

For the most part, ‘Interview Music‘ is a really charming record with some extremely memorable moments that go toe to toe with the classics. Ultimately, what is great about this record is that after over 20 years of being a band, Idlewild are still striving to experiment and explore new avenues and they sound confident and invigorated doing it.

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Live Review: Hot Chip at Gorilla in Manchester 3 April 2019

Ahead of releasing their seventh studio album ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy‘, electro-pop wizards Hot Chip announced a brief run of dates to mark their return. This included an intimate gig at Manchester’s Gorilla, following their triumphant closing of the 6 Music Festival in Liverpool. I was delighted to secure a ticket, to be honest I’d have given my right arm.

Long-time collaborator Leo Taylor (The Invisible) replaces Sarah Jones on the drum duties for this phase; the remainder of the 7-piece remaining static. I note the small stage is totally jam packed with a multitude of instruments, all needed to recreate new and familiar tunes (spanning almost 15 years) that the 500 strong crowd have the pleasure of hearing tonight.

There is no support band but we are treated to the fabulous Pete Fowler on DJ duties, nicely warming up the excited revellers and as the clock ticks towards the main act, it really doesn’t feel like a Wednesday. The well renowned artist, DJ and knowledgeable music aficionado belts out a steady mix of his fabulous discoveries, disco chuggers and cosmic nuggets.

Despite badly timed last-minute bar visits and loo breaks we (luckily) maintain a good spot, squashed in just a few places from the front. Hot Chip take the stage adorned in some rather fantastic matching jackets and t-shirts, resembling the pastel chalk bombing you may see at festivals. The band have always maintained a close link to their own album’s artwork, image and fashion, which I have always found rather appealing and something which tends to complement their accomplished productions. A crew-cutted Alexis sports the same colour scheme spray-painted over his hair. The lights dim and the band start with ‘Huarache Lights’, the bright flashing bulb lights synchronise perfectly with the crunching beats from the lead track of their 2015 album ‘Why Make Sense’. Shout out to Rob Smoughton for his impeccable vocodering!

What follows is a flawless run of Hot Chip favourites, seemingly a ‘best of’ or total bangers set. ‘One Life Stand’, ‘Flutes’ and an excellent rendition of ‘Night and Day’ concludes with a vocal segue from Chaz Jankel – “Glad to Know You”. Whilst the 12-song set was immaculate overall, I’d say it was the middle section that really sent me into my Hot Chip heaven. New release ‘Hungry Child’, with its amazing piano house stabs, goes down as well as the old favourites. A fresh rework of 2009’s ‘And I Was a Boy from School’ is just extraordinary. The band perfectly craft a significant pitched down/tempo change before building it back to a huge crescendo, many arms in the air sending a large percentage of the crowd into absolute frenzy.

New tune ‘Spell’ follows this, seeing longstanding LCD Soundsystem/Hot Chip member Al Doyle swapping his Telecaster for a synthesizer and providing some lovely supporting lead vocals. A rousing version of ‘I Feel Better‘ leads into the third new tune of the night, ‘Melody of Love’. The stalwart pots and pans stomper and crowd pleaser ‘Over and Over’ exhausts the crowd further until a ridiculously accurate version of Beastie BoysSabotage’ forces us all to delve deep into our memories, a rap singalong to a classic that most bands would be afraid to mimic.

A quick encore of ‘Ready for the Floor’ and the band slowly disappear from the stage, applause directed at a euphoric crowd and back to the band. I’d struck up conversation with a 19 year old in-between the songs, he was gushing about how much he’d enjoyed his first Hot Chip gig. He worked nightshifts but managed to get the day off after a risky ticket purchase from Facebook. Apparently, at school someone introduced them to him about six years back and they’ve been his favourite band since then. “And I Was a Boy from School”. Perfect.

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Live Review: BBC Radio 6 Music Festival in Liverpool – Sunday 31 March 2019

What better way to spend a brisk but sunny morning in Liverpool than in a stuffy, dark room listening to Cerys Matthews humorously engage Merseyside poet Roger McGough? Dark and stuffy it might’ve been, but Camp and Furnace – a short walk from Liverpool’s city centre and part of the rather splendid Baltic Triangle – is quite the setting, one that in recent years has hosted some wonderful events (in particular, the brilliant Liverpool Psych Fest).

This past weekend was devoted to everything 6 Music, with the BBC descending upon Greenland Street and the surrounding areas to host live music, in depth discussions and more, with all manner of stalls dotted throughout the venues selling screen prints, cakes and vinyl. It was whilst rooting through the various record boxes that made up the centre of the room that resident 6 Music DJ Chris Hawkins arrived on stage, introducing the final day of the weekend.

Pretty good for half past 11 on a Sunday morning…” He said in jest, running through what was scheduled throughout the day in both rooms of Camp and Furnace. Given this was all live for radio, it was slightly surreal to then hear the news blaring out across the room, with talk of what we expect these days – Brexit banality and violence statistics. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before our first hint of live music – appearing across the way at ‘Furnace’, Aussie singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin.

Having been bang into Australian entertainment this past year – TERRY and Cath & Kim, for starters – the discovery of Julia Jacklin has come just at the right time, with the release of ‘Crushing’, her second album. Whilst our definitive favourite ‘Pressure To Party’ didn’t end up in the setlist, the rest of the chosen few that did more than made up for it. From the hushed, pensive opener ‘Body’ to the equally subdued ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’, her voice came across enchanting in the wide open, much brighter room.

Thanks for coming to the breakfast show.” She says with a laugh, not long before tucking into a few from her 2016 debut ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’. ‘Leadlight’ is absolutely heart-racing, whilst the title track sees Jacklin go it alone, the rest of the band momentarily leaving her to it. A bloke in front puts his arm around his partner’s shoulder and suddenly it gets a bit dusty in the room… That or someone’s been chopping onions. Either way, ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ is stop you in your tracks beautiful. ‘Head Alone’, one of the lead singles from the new record, acts as her swansong for the day, resulting in raised fists for the anthemic call of “I had your back more than I had mine” and premature whoops from the crowd, ultimately leaving us with goose pimples and jelly legs.

Having heard great things about the mysterious Snapped Ankles, it was a treat to discover the oddball brilliance in the flesh (leaf). The complete opposite side of the coin to Jacklin, their wigging out and variety of tweaked noises could be heard throughout both venues. Getting stuck into it when I arrived, the quartet were all dressed in their Sunday best, save for crazy camo foliage that made up their appearance from the neck up. The two chaps (?) up front each had a drumstick in hand, beating bits of wood attached to their mic stands, generating synth sounds – very much making noises like your Dad tinkering about in the garage.

Whilst they’re all a delight to watch, it’s the enigmatic vocalist you’ve got to keep an eye on. When he’s not hanging his jacket up on a hanger off the 6 Music sign hovering behind them (hitting it with a drumstick of course, bringing out its synth potential), he’s out in the crowd, branch microphone in hand, bringing with him a tape measure at one point and journeying past punters and announcing that he’s “measuring the room”, ultimately leaving it in the hands of a fan and seemingly forgetting about it until the last note.

Recent single ‘Rechargeable’ sounds manic, purely life-altering – the pulsating speakers matching the rapid heartbeats of all and sundry. ‘Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’ has the crowd elevated, a super charged, mind-expanding, eye-melting hyperbole free-for-all, its last note ringing out as the frontman made his way back through the crowd, reeling in that forgotten measuring tape as a sea of smiling faces looked on.

(Photo Credit: Matt Martin)

A big Tom Robinson introduction preceded the arrival of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Robinson seemingly the most excited person in the room (his enthusiasm side-stage for Snapped Ankles didn’t go unnoticed either!) Opener ‘GNT’ is volatile – we expected it to be loud, but bloody hell! Frontman Matt Baty stands barefoot, shirt open, eyes open, howling to the back of the room. Guitarist Adam Ian Sykes stands tall, observing the crowd, with hair across face and wide-eyed, horror movie stare. He raises his pint in appreciation on occasion, but rarely shifts his 70’s horror demeanour.

How was the rest of it then? In a word: brutal. From their new LP ‘King Of Cowards’, the mammoth ‘Shockmaster’ is pulverising, the bass bursting through the speakers, so much so that a lad in front had his fingers firmly in his ears. So loud that confetti stuck in the rafters slowly came floating down bit by bit throughout. As I ‘woo’, I physically feel the sound and rumbling energy fly in and out of my mouth, unexpected and uninvited, the crushing noise defeating. I spy the light of someone’s phone and realise it’s only been about 10 minutes, but in the deafening yet glorious wall of noise, it feels like we’re an hour deep.

Baty tells us that 6 Music gives them the feeling of being “legitimate pop stars” and they’re thankful for being in the leagues of such contemporaries as “Bomfunk MC’s.” At their set’s end, they announce one more song – “…it’s a long one.” We’re told that through the release of ‘A66’, the road itself has become much safer, which we should be thankful for. No thanks required for the filling-loosening gnarliness that follows, with their raucous performance ending when the guitarist hands his guitar out to someone in the front row who, fair play, riffs like a bastard. Sykes sips his pint and looks on with *almost* a smile.

Over at Mountford Hall in the early evening, Irish outfit Fontaines D.C. opened up the festival ‘By Night’. Whilst there have been some doubts in our camp about these chaps – Yet another group of angry young white lads playing punk, dressed in smart casual clobber they’ve borrowed from their Dad’s – It starts to click into place about about three songs in. Frontman Grian Chatten stalks the stage, looking into the eyes of everyone in the first few rows, whilst drummer Tom Coll hurtles through the opening minute in earache fashion. You get the feeling something’s happening, you believe it. It’s nothing new and it fits the current crop of bands that are riding this particular wave of hype, but live – yeah, it definitely adds up. For a bit.

There’s a big crowd for it and I’m told on the door that everyone had been asking when they were due on. Not so sure about the advertisement behind the bar for two pint Guinness pots, mind – A touch insulting to the lads! That being said, I did duck out early – nipping down the road to play House of the Dead on the arcade at Font, with a pint of Director’s (actually some crafty ale) like Alan Partridge

Mark Radcliffe was on later to introduce Gang Of Four, suggesting that we were all in an illustrious room, played by the likes of The Beatles, Alvin Stardust and others. He then admitted that he’d made it all up for effect, but it was still likely to have seen its fair share! For Gang Of Four, he mentioned how their post-punk influence is everywhere and he’s bob on – There’s no denying the impact four lads from Leeds would end up having, the shape of post-punk to come. On Sunday night though? I’m not sure. Maybe it was a day of boozing and lack of sleep the night before creeping up on me, but with guitarist Andy Gill the only remaining member, it felt like a bit of a tribute act. A slowed down tribute act.

That’s not to say it’s not a bloody good tribute act though and certainly not to take away from the current roster, with assured performances from bassist Thomas McNeice and vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry. McNeice is a particular highlight to watch as he navigates his way around the stage, looking cucumber cool. Sterry does the same, picking up where he left off across each microphone at the front of stage throughout the night, putting on a real shift for opener ‘Not Great Men’. It doesn’t really get any better than this, Sterry and McNeice on the move throughout, perking everyone up, matching the jerky nature of the song. Sole original Gill kept his shades on throughout meanwhile, even though it was dark as anything…

New single ‘Change The Locks’ sounded pretty good, but unsurprisingly they came across best on cuts from ‘Entertainment!’ and ‘Songs Of The Free. ‘I Love A Man In A Uniform’ is proper earworm territory, with the vocal of Sterry actually sounding better than the original. ‘Damaged Goods’ had the pace knocked right down, but the bass sounded superb and again, Sterry had the vocal spot on. Set closer ‘I Found That Essence Rare’ was dedicated to Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading of Liverpool’s Her’s, which was a sweet moment and nice end to the evening.

The aforementioned late night, day of bevving and last train prospect meant I sacrificed a chance to see Charlotte Gainsbourg, but one I thought worthy for the option to be in bed before midnight. Whilst we only managed one day of it this year, the festival was a roaring success and as sure-fire a reason as any for the continuing vitality of BBC Radio 6 Music. It would be selfish to suggest 6 Music Festival should set up shop in Manchester next year (given it took place in Salford in 2014) – but we can hope!

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