Salford lives in the shadow of its bigger sibling, but its time for The Other City step out of the shadows and into the light.
Home to a widespread creative community, Salford hosts this weekend's immaculate all-day event Sounds From The Other City, a daring multi-venue exposition of fresh talent.
Here, co-founder Matthew Durrant writes for Clash about what makes Salford for special, and how Sounds From The Other City acts as both a platform and accelerator for the surrounding community.
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The trip into Salford is so short that you may not even notice you’ve made it. Most travelling bands who play, say, The Eagle Inn, still brand themselves as playing Manchester, and no fans who see a show at Islington Mill ever take to the comments section on Facebook to implore their favourite band to add a Manchester date.
Despite this, there’s very definitely a different flavour to Salford - and even to Chapel Street, the area just a few short steps across the River Irwell that has acted as the central hub of Sounds from the Other City (SFTOC) festival since 2004. Some of this is indescribable without going into the minutiae of each respective conurbation, but there are very definitely certain things about the Other City that have contributed to and inspired SFTOC to become the focal point of many thousand calendars.
An annual celebration of new music, art, and community, Sounds is celebrating its 15th anniversary this Sunday (5 May) with a Quindecennial celebration. Over the 10 years that I’ve been involved in the festival across various different roles (fan, volunteer, social media manager), I’ve seen the many ways in which the unique surrounds of Salford have instructed the festival, and how the character of this city has become a vital part of our success.
Redevelopment has happened quickly of late on Chapel Street - but even so, there’s still a lot of the same spirit that encapsulated the early days of our festival. The majority of SFTOC venues over the years have been slightly awkward spaces that don’t commonly hold gigs, but all with enormous amounts of character that shinier venues elsewhere don’t quite hold.
Many of these have been pubs, classic Salford boozers like The Salford Arms, The Old Pint Pot, The New Oxford, and The Kings Arms, where the festival sees art school students mix with the locals for at least thing one glorious day, but we’ve been fortunate enough to use venues both ridiculous (Andrew W.K. once called in a show to a single person in a phone box) and sublime (St. Philips Church has been a fixture, while we’ve been blessed with several BBC Philharmonic collaborations held in Salford Cathedral).
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This special edition of the festival has seen us condense the format down to one area that epitomises the constant re-growth and renewal that characterises Salford: Regent’s Trading Estate. Based just behind Islington Mill, the estate is a number of Warehouses that gradually fell into disuse, before now quickly being reclaimed and repurposed by creatives and used for a greater good.
Caustic Coastal have held their own gallery there for a number of years, while local institution Marc The Printers found a home in the complex when faced with issues by past landlords. We’ll be making the whole site our own again this year, a seemingly difficult to love space that feels like it could only be as cherished as it is in Salford.
To many people, SFTOC is Islington Mill - or, at least, it is the creative community who practice there. Many of the most out-there ideas that have made the festival what it is have been forged there, and the commitment to turning one corner of Salford into paradise for one day of a year always feels particularly poetic.
For each of the past five years, the festival has had an artistic director - responsible for setting the tone of the day, both metaphorically and aesthetically. Four of these have had some form of strong link with The Mill (as it is known), and their intrinsic understanding of the city (as well as the strength of their artistic visions) have been vital.
Sometimes bizarre, often surreal, these transformations have always been sensitive to their surroundings, and enthusiastically accepted by our venues. For this edition, we’re bringing each of the 5 back to decorate a stage each: a fitting way to cap off the first 15 years of a festival.
While I’ve personally always called SFTOC the best day of the year, and I know that Chris Horkan (of Hey! Manchester, one of our promoters responsible for picking each year’s acts - another aspect that, I believe, has always kept everything varied and fresh) describes it as being like everyone’s birthday on the same day. T
The most apt name I’ve heard given to the festival, though, is Salford Christmas: a special day that happens only once a year, that some people wish could be every day, and would not work anywhere other than the Other City.
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Sounds From The Other City takes place on May 5th.
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