In The City has always had it's detractors, or as So Solid put it so well - haters, and on picking up our delegate passes it's easy to see why. While there are dedicated A&R and journalists who will literally spend the whole weekend running across the city in search out the hottest unsigned talent, there are large percentage of "industry folks" who will simply spend the weekend locked up in the Midland with enough coke to see them through the sycophantic networking rituals of the daytime debates.

For Designer Magazine's first stop off it was perhaps unsurprising that we popped our heads into the ITC Opening Bash over at Urbis. Now when we say popped our heads in that's literally what we did. Why else would we want to hang around what essentially looks like a large glorified shop window and has all the personality of a day in white collar hell. Neither Malena or Elliot Eastwick could tempt us to stay so we made our way across town to the Twisted Nerve presents B Music night at Cord Bar. Again one of those nights that are two a penny in Manchester and as it didn't exactly blow us away, we had a quick pint and made our way to Gullivers for some live music.

We've been in Gullivers two seconds and we bump into the team from Northern Ambition and The Straps Ons, which was a life saver because the locals downstairs doing karaoke look the types that turn into vamps after midnight. First up were Street Regal who Bob Geldof had described as "the best live band i've seen since the Sex Pistols". Now it's either a case of senile dementia kicking in or he was paid a hell of a lot of money for that statement, the band simply don't demand overblown gestures like that. A case of great tunes marred by a band who fell out of the the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Ugly bands simply don't sell records and that applies to whether you're playing upstairs in a pub or a boy band with £1 million behind you.

After seeing Phoenix Down you realize just how hard it must be for the Phil Saxe and the A&R team at In The City. One of the bands we'd initially dismissed on the basis of the demo, live they seem to really bring everything together and launch a sonic onslaught. Mixing post-rock mantras with a real pop sensibility there are hints of Placebo, Muse and Hope Of The States, but Phoenix Down really do set themselves apart from just being the sum of their influences.

Wry are the band we'd tipped as "the band of In The City" and after seeing them live for the first time they confirmed everything we initially believed in. Back home they're Brazilian superstars who run their own mini-versions of Lollapalooza and the Big Day Out, but after living in the UK for a couple of years they're still cutting their teeth on the London scene. Notorious for causing havoc everywhere they go just two weeks prior to this ITC Showcase a promoter had grabbed frontman Mars off stage by the neck for fear the band would destroy the stage. Mars has the rock star poses down, Lou fills the heartthrob role perfectly, Chokito has dreads to die for and Bizar simply is bizarre and scares us. Wry are the band everyone wanted the Libertines to be and with tunes that take the energy of punk and the psychedelic riffs of shoegazing you couldn't ask for more.

Ending the night off at Life Cafe we hook up with Guigsy (ex-Oasis) for ITC's only reggae band, The Nazarites. The band launched themselves into the nations consciousness on Cornershop's "Handcream For A Generation" album and after Guigsy constant moaning they finally went into the studio in May to record an album. Being asked by the band before the gig when was the last decent reggae band we've seen all we could reply was the late Joe Strummer. With the Nazarites were talking old skool reggae, no modern dancehall touches ala Sean Paul or Wayne Wonder, just old skool reggae. "Open The Road", "Tower Hamlets" and "Isiah" all sound like modern classics and in true reggae tradition the band offered a glorious cover version in the form of The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby". Britain needs a reggae band and who'd have thought the saviours would come from an ex member of Oasis.


An early start at the Printworks finds us watching Wry again for the second time in two days. Not exactly the most rock & roll place in Manchester the venue sees bands playing in the central square with Cafe owners complaining at regular intervals to turn down the noise. Naturally Wry rise to the occasion, turn the amps up to 11 and leave the stage after 2 songs. This is the way rock & roll should operate - No Compromise and certainly not to scum in bars who play forgettable coffee table chill out music.

The next great Aussie band to break through after The Vines, Jet and The Sleep Jackson, Spencer Tracy kick of the official ITC Unsigned gigs at Ascension with cocksure confidence. Oasis are an obvious influence both in the vocals and the guitar riffs, but alongside that they have a playful way with harmonies which recall Blur and Supergrass at their most frivolous. "Ocean" is a classic single in the making recalling "Definitely Maybe" era Oasis and if we were judging ITC as we would the Eurovision Song Contest (politics aside) then "Ocean" would win hands down.

"We've had enough of cock rock. Now it's time for C*nt Rock" Countess Alex Zapek and the Bourgeoisie announce as they take to the stage. Pints are thrown, mike stands left destroyed, audience members are mounted and crotches are rubbed in a feminist display reminiscent of the Riot Grrl period. Surprisingly the highlight of ITC only got added to the Unsigned list at the last minute due to demands from producer Arthur Baker, but without the visual assault the tunes are far from memorable. Electro squelches and screaming somewhere between nails down a blackboard and opera singer are the order of the day, but if it can work for Peaches then Countess Alex Zapek has a flourishing career on her hands.

The first big A&R scrum of the weekend seemed to be for Sara Lowes downstairs at the Dry Bar. Very much in the mold of Beth Orton and Kathryn Williams, although she claims to listen to neither and has a preference for classic bands such as the Beatles rather than female artists, it looks as if Lowes could be in the running for next years Mercury Music Prize and rather than being the token acoustic touting female nomination she has the potential to go on and take the 20 grand. Beautiful tunes, beautiful melodies and a beautiful lady and already with the backing of Elvis Costello producer Gareth Cousins it looks like she's set to make it with or without the backing of a major label.

As we head over to the Return To New York event at Sankeys Soap word reaches us about those events we really should have been at. Apparently Leon Maya has well and truly shaken his tag off as Liam Gallagher wannabe in Northern Uproar by relaunching himself as some Spanish acoustic flamenco singer-songwriter. Denise Johnston also proved why everyone from Primal Scream and various others have enlisted her vocal talent over the years. It seems that in the eyes of the industry Aziz is not a viable proposition and that's why half the crowd left following Johnstons set, but having seen him several times before were still blown away by this guitar god. And last but not least Lisa Brown seem to be one of those bands that A&R are desperately trying to sign, another coup for Northern Ambition i'd say then.


Many people thought that Key 103's arrival at Stephenson Square with it's Key In The City event was against the ethos of the event. After all surely the original idea of ITC was to discover new talent rather than just be another showcase of local Manchester bands made good. The truth though is that many people enticed by the line-up on the Key 103 event simply wouldn't have trawled round the Northern Quarter after unsigned bands they hadn't heard of, but there could have been compromise on both sides with an alternating line-up of signed and unsigned bands.

First up for Key In The City were Tony Wilson's tips Machine Gun Fellatio. Comparisons are inevitably going to be made with Electric 6, but in my eyes it's more a pornographic B52's. Instead of "Love Shack" they have tunes like "Mutha Fukka On A Motorcycle", "Pussy Town" and "Butter My Ass With A Pigeon". It's hilarious to watch these ugly Aussie's get buck down naked, but by the end of it all I was thinking what are you going to do for an encore.

After Un-Cut's Jenna G does her best to win over a cynical audience, Nylon Pylon take to the stage. For me they've never recaptured the spirit of those early live performances a couple of summers ago and while they used to be a great dance band with a rock influence, the impact of Dave McKracken and Steve Osbourne producing the album has turned them into an average rock band with electro touches. Stubbsy is still the focus point of the band for us, but Bruce is coming out of his shell and more than holds his own. It's just a shame that now they're getting the live show's together the tunes seem to have gone out the window.

We backed Kinesis early on and way before last years ITC Unsigned showcases where they signed to Independiente. They came at a time where the New Wave Of New Angry was going strong and the likes of Miss Black America and The International Noise Conspiracy were spouting political polemics every chance they got. Now it seems like Kinesis really are out on their own and within the first song they've simply destroyed everything that went before them. "One Way Mirror", "Billboard Beauty", "Forever Reeling" are bigger than ever with Conor McGloin's effects-laden guitar riffs and Mike seems determined to cause chaos around him. As he jumps into the audience and makes that connection with the devotees dressed in "Shopping Is Not Creating" T's and old Manics gear it was clear that no band could ever compete after this.

If ever there was a band less suited to follow Kinesis it was The Stands. Howie and the guys have been listening to a none stop diet of Dylan and while they seem back on form following a strictly average show at the Night & Day two months previous there's just a feeling of boredom across the audience. Today it really was a case of wrong place / wrong time but the Stands aren't going to let one show stand in their way, no pun intended.

What follows this are a quintet of Manchester bands you and old. Puressence can always be relied on to give a great show and despite not currently having a deal they seem to have a dedicated fanbase which follows them round the country. With their current standing in the industry it wouldn't be hard to imagine the band signing to label of the moment Sanctuary, but rumours have it that the band will be playing oversees for the foreseeable future. Longview on the other hand are a band who seem to have toured constantly and and after being universally ignored for the past 12 months it all seems to be finally paying off with an ever-increasing fanbase and the dubious honour of having the song "When It's Over" bootlegged with Craig David's "Fill Me In". For Haven it's the first show the band have played since guitarist Nat was diagnosed with Bells Palsy, but to look at them you wouldn't guess. Old tracks "Still Tonight" and "Let It Live" return like old friends but on the newer raw material it just seems like their hearts aren't in it any more. Alfie seem to be perfectly at home just round the corner from the set where the remake of Alfie the movie is being filmed. With their first album proper after the constant struggles they had with Twisted Nerve it seems like Alfie have finally delivered on that early promise. New single "People" is possibly the best song they've ever written and Lee Gorton throughout the bands career has always had that look that suggests he'd f**k you given half the chance...but then he's so laid back you'd doubt he could even be arsed with the chat up lines in the first place.

We skip headliners 808 State for the obvious reasons - they're shite and they should have given up years ago. If it wouldn't have been for the fact that one of our tips for this years unsigned competition, October Motorcrash, were playing there's no way we'd have headed into a church. Looking at the band though it's immediately clear they're probably in the same situation. With songs that sound not dissimilar to the Stereophonics you'd expect to see very workman like real men in chequered shirts and blue denim, but what were faced with is an androgynous eyelinered goth by the name of Iain Beggs who clearly has been taking tips from Robert Smith and Brian Molko. Great Name, Great Band, Great Look - what more can we say?

Johnny Lives are one of those bands that are going to make it regardless of talent. Ex-flatmates of the Strokes and a demo recorded with NME hack Mark Beaumont providing handclaps is a clear indicator of success these days, but here at Designer Magazine we were split 50/50 on the love em / hate em ratio. Dogs Die In Hot Cars are a band who attract such degrees of separation. As the list for the Unsigned Competition was announced DDIHC's were thrown out for being talks with several majors before being begged to come back at the last minute under the facade of a secret gig. With so called alternative music becoming homogenized it makes a refreshing chance to witness a band who care so little of the workings of the music press and are prepared to go out on a limb and make glorious pop music which recalls the likes of Orange Juice, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", Belle And Sebastian and Dexys Midnight Runners. With our legs dropping off we retire to bed or otherwise it would have been a case of music journalists die in dark clubs.


With many music industry movers and shakers heading back to London for foot massages and spa's Monday was always going to be a quiet one, so we selected our gigs carefully and headed out for an easy one. First up were Welsh band Transposer who recently bought McLusky's drummer on the transfer market. With a healthy fanbase on display it seems like Transposer's slow-building epics scatter gunned with samples have their niche and the rasping vocals follow a grand tradition. Will they ever break through to the big league or cause an A&R scrum is what we have to ask and ultimately we had to say no. A good band and with development they could be a great band, but their time is not now.

Catching Delta Saint provided us with a relief from the music industry. Playing at Lake O Cakes on the outskirts of the Northern Quarter seemingly did the band no favours, but with their raw surf guitar punk experimentalism it's unlikely they were ever looking for that all important deal. In their early days Delta Saint are a band still trying to find themselves and with time they'll find both themselves and a fanbase waiting with open arms.

Payola are a band who have already played to 7500 people in Ireland supporting Audioslave and have already been featured in a documentary going out to 5 million people so the prospect of a gig at Band On The Wall is no big deal. Sounding like the Darkness fronted by Eddie Vedder their live set takes the demos to a totally different level and while they're possibly too many ballads in the set the band are certainly going places. Like the Darkness last year, Payola are a band who need a good fanbase rather than a multimillion pound record deal and with a few choice support slots with some veteran acts they could see themselves following in the footsteps of last years In The City success story


When it came to choosing between the official In The City Warp Party and the Boomselection @ ITC bash there wasn't much competition. Faced with the prospect of sets from James Holroyd and Rob Bright who we could see week in week out in Manchester, we went for a night of B*stard Pop and Bootleg Mash-ups. Not exactly turning people away at the door as we expected them to be it was a night full of IDC, Freelance Hellrasier and the Boomselection team throwing down the latest bootlegs alongside classics such as The Stokes Vs X-Tina. By the end of it all we were too out of our heads to remember the stand out tunes but you can bet your bottom dollar that Bootylicious Vs Superstition or Sean Paul Vs The Smiths were amongst them and Missy Elliott, Destiny's Child and Justin Timberlake all featured heavily throughout the night. A perfect end to a perfect night and word reaches us that bigger night is planned later in the year which some special guest appearance from chart topping producers.

Words by Alex McCann
All Live Photo's by Karen McBride -

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