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Sounds of my City / Manchester : Introducing Patterns

07 February 2012, 10:01 | Written by John Freeman

Like most Mancunians, I’m packed with civic pride. And, like a typically arrogant Manc, I will gleefully wallow in the glory of Manchester’s music scene. I’m not one for nostalgia (although it still rankles that King Of The Slums didn’t conquer the world in the late Eighties), but I am constantly thrilled by the gush of new bands coming out of Manchester.

The music scene in Manchester seems particularly fertile at present. There is a huge swathe of artists quietly gathering their respective followings across the city. Even a short list of my personal favourites couldn’t begin to do justice to the enviable blast of Northern creativity. But here goes – and I have missed loads, by way of an ass-covering, expectation-managing, pre-apology.

Janice Graham Band look like tiny tots and make snotty reggae-cum-funk-cum-fiery noise. City Reign are four lads making intelligent guitar music. Letters To Fiesta are honing their bouncing electronica and contain a lead singer who isn’t a million miles from Kate Bush territory. Blind Atlas sound like they would be more at home on the banks of the Mississippi river than the Mersey with their formidable brand of heavy Americana. Projectionists are a Manchester super-group of sorts, taking in members of The Earlies, The Pipettes and The Slowdown Family, to showcase their elegant Sixties pop, while The Narrows mix crunching guitars, drum loops and samples and seem to inhabit the underbelly of Manchester. On the visceral noise front, Young British Artists heart-stopping live show takes some beating.

The alternative folk genre is covered beautifully by both We Are Willow, who have released three excellent EPs, and the crystalline, pin-drop vocals of Kathryn Edwards, whose haunting campfire lullabies have melted many a Mancunian heart. Sadly, MAY68 – who wrote a fistful of shit-hot disco-pop tunes – split up days after I had chatted to them for this series. Apparently, my interview was their very last act as a band and I’m still worried it was something I said. They were hilarious; their in-jokes and sense of fun sit untranscribed on my digital recorder for posterity.

Unlike the sonically incestuous Madchester era, the current crop of bands doesn’t seem to be united by one particular sound or genre. What does bind them is a willingness to help each other out, to stew in the cross-fertilisation of ideas, to champion the collective cause and revel in anyone’s success. I may well be wrong, but there seems little in the way of bitchiness between bands and this enables a highly creative environment to flourish.

Last week, The Line Of Best Fit featured Ghost Outfit, who are good friends with Patterns, whose remix of Young British Artist’s ‘Bring The Sun’ was on our site last week. MAY68, (sniff), did their own remix of a Patterns track in the month before their demise. And so it goes on, bands helping each other out in the spirit on Northern pragmatism and kinship.

Patterns are a fledgling jewel in Manchester’s music crown. Formed less than two years ago, the four-piece have delicately melded guitars, evocative electronica and a powerful visual aesthetic to forge a set of deeply intelligent and beautifully-crafted songs. I met up with singer/keyboard player Ciaran McAuley and bassist/sampling guru Alex Hillhouse in a boutique beerhouse in the city’s hipper-than-thou Northern Quarter. After wading through the gloop of Mancunian nostalgia, the chaps gave me their insight into the city’s network of music makers.

I think of you as a band from Manchester, as opposed to a Manchester band. How aware are you of the weight of the city’s music history?

Ciaran: “I’m from London originally and came up here to go to university. I just stayed around doing various things and I do like the city. But, the history is there in the background. For example, there is a bar in Barcelona which is a Manchester-themed bar. They have Mega Rider tickets on the wall and it is all Manchester music. It’s funny how far the myth has carried.”

Do you feel part of a ‘scene’?

Alex: “Not really. It is not a scene, but it is a group of people who are sort of pushing in the same direction and everyone is helping each other out. The thing about Manchester is that whatever we have done in the past year, however far we have progressed, has been done with help from people in the city. Maybe it is not a scene as such, but there are a lot of people who have a sense they have something to prove.”

For me, it seems to be an incredibly buoyant place to make music at the moment, but there isn’t a defining image – like the laddish swagger of old. Do you agree?

Ciaran: “There is no image to it. There is no need for it to have an image like perhaps there was in the past. There doesn’t need to be a swagger. There is no set image to it or any need to pretend it is something that it is not. It is just bands playing – which is actually quite refreshing.”

Alex: “They happen to be good bands as well. Ghost Outfit are really good friends of ours, we’ve known Young British Artists for a while, and it is good to support each other.”

Ciaran: “It’s not about being tied into the Manchester thing. There are bands like Everything Everything who have been a big commercial success and have been involved in the Mercury awards, but other bands have had a more laddish stage presence as if it was almost expected for bands from Manchester. The only downside of the Manchester thing in that respect is when we started out as a band in the city, a lot of the nights used to be geared towards that kind of lad rock and there are certain people who always need to tell you that they are recording in Johnny Marr’s studio.”

Alex: “Also, the way music is made and distributed now is so detached from localities. We have fans across the world already; we played with Braids who are from Canada and they were telling us their friends back home liked our music.”

So, turning the discussion onto Patterns, did you have an initial vision for how you wanted your band to sound?

Ciaran: “At the start I was in a band at university playing standard indie music which I got really bored of. It was the indie scene of about five years ago, when Arctic Monkeys were big and The Libertines were around and it was a very swaggering male scene, which I liked, but never really felt a massive part of. When I started to listen to a lot of American bands like Deerhunter and Animal Collective I got really inspired. I sensed you could be different and still be a guitar band. Patterns was formed and we knew exactly what we wanted to do with it, and recent shows have been a culmination of a lot of things, including the use of visuals and making it a better experience to come and see us play.”

You’ve released a single and have signed to Melodic Records – is it too early to start talking about an album?

Ciaran: “Well, we are about seven or eight songs into writing an album. For me, when I started this I wasn’t even thinking of an album – it was in the distance. But now we are signed to Melodic who are a fantastic label and they would like us to do an album. We could just put out the last ten songs we’ve written but we want to write a cohesive piece. Bands like The Antlers and Deerhunter release complete pieces of work and we want an album that works as an entire piece. So, for us, it is about crafting that as opposed to knocking ten songs off.”

I suppose you only get one chance to make a debut album.

Ciaran: “Yeah, ha. A lot of people now are so much more interested in how you produce an album and it is much more in their control. We are really excited about not just putting together a piece of music but how creating a sound where we’ve owned every single detail. That’s very exciting.”

Do you have any ideas of where, with whom and when this all might happen? Or are you going to go coy on me?

Alex: “We are always going to be very picky. We know who we want to record it with, but we are going to do a lot of recording ourselves. We are going to do the drums somewhere expensive and then do the rest at home.”

But before your album will see the light of day, The Stone Roses will play to 225,000 people in Heaton Park. Does it frustrate you that the attention will revert back to the ‘glory days’ of Madchester?

Ciaran: “I don’t really care.”

Alex: “It will bring 30,000 drug-addled Mancs back together next to a coalmine or wherever it was.”

Ha. Close, Spike Island was actually a reclaimed toxic waste site

Alex: “Well, okay. Their shows may take the attention from all other bands in Manchester – so we don’t get the ‘wrong’ sort of people at our gigs.”

To see what else John has to say about Manchester, have a look at the other articles in this series:

Sounds of my City / Manchester : Introducing Ghost Outfit
Sounds of my City / Manchester : Manchester’s Best Venues

Catch Patterns at the following dates:

08 Feb ’12 – Salford – with Niki & The Dove, Islington Mill
10 Feb ’12 – Liverpool – Mello Mello
03 Mar ’12 – Preston – The Ark presents, Mad Ferret
06 Mar ’12 – London – with Youth Lagoon, Electrowerkz
28 Mar ’12 – Wakefield – Hepworth Gallery

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