Gorilla is a modish industrial music venue located under the railway bridge by Manchester Oxford Road train station. It holds regular live music events and has hosted the likes of Blossoms, Frank Turner, Sam Fender and Foals.
This night was billed with a slick poster as the Now Wave Christmas Special (Now Wave being a group of Manchester-based promoters), and it sported an exciting line-up of The Bug Club, Freak Slug and The Goa Express.
The Bug Club
First on stage were The Bug Club, an energetic rock & roll trio from Wales. Talented entertainers and musicians, they had the audience jiving with their quirky riffs and impeccable technical skill. Tilly Harris, Sam Willmett and Dan Matthew describe themselves as “three groovy peas in a far out pod,” and they did not disappoint in bringing this joyful chemistry to Manchester’s Gorilla.
Their upbeat style was encapsulated by a recent lighthearted tweet in which they threatened to become “a heavy blues band filled with ‘experimental’ emotions” should they fail to fill all the venues on their current tour. Unfortunately, the threesome’s adorable magnetism was somewhat dampened by the stage lighting which often failed to illuminate Dan Matthew on drums.
The Bug Club are no strangers to the live music scene, but they’re at the beginning of their journey to commercial success. Recently signed to the hipster Bingo Records, their first single, released in February 2021, was immediately noticed by critics and added to the Radio 6 playlist. To gain further industry attention however, they need to move away from the heavy use of repetition in each chorus, as although fun for a live audience, this quickly becomes monotonous in their recordings. Their new album Pure Particles is out now and it has the cutest colourful cartoon vinyl.
Next to perform was Freak Slug, the stage name of Manchester musician Xenya Genovese. Dressed entirely in lilac from her knitted Tam cap to her boots, Xenya (who has been “kissing slugs since childhood”) creates psychedelic-inspired soft melody bedroom pop.
She played simplistically, but the sound was strengthened by Niquo, a talented guitarist and lo-fi beats creator, who accompanied her on stage. She endeared herself to the crowd by explaining how ever since she recovered from COVID everything tastes and smells like Quavers. Quite the curse.
The performance was let down in part by its placement between two high spirited rock groups. But Freak Slug delivered dreamy monologue lyrics about friendships and failed romance with charming sweet and sour vocals. With her voice set to the melancholy aesthetic imperfections of lo-fi beats, Freak Slug channeled the audible popping candy of shoegaze. Check out the beautiful singles ‘Friday’ and ‘Radio’ on streaming services.
The Goa Express
The Goa Express opened with ‘Be My Friend’, a tune destined to be a future indie classic and to be played at Liquid Rooms alongside MGMT and Tame Impala. The swagger of their performance instantly put the audience at ease. The boys barely broke a sweat, even under the blazing stage lights.
The band have known each other for over 11 years, and the tight bonds they formed in adolescence are evident. Hailing from Todmorden and Burley to the north-east of Manchester, they cite their small town upbringings as definitive to the development of their style. Frontman James Douglas Clarke told NME: “There’s not much to do and not many opportunities here, so we had to make our own fun.” The group camped together under the cliffs in Hebden Bridge and performed at The Golden Lion, stomping group of the critically acclaimed Working Men’s Club.
The boys brought with them the energy of their chaotic teenage years, which I assume were spent like mine – drinking cheap vodka in fields. ‘The Day’, a song they worked on with Nathan Saoudi from Fat White Family, tells the story of how Clarke became public enemy number 1 to his university hall’s security, his petty crime legacy landing him with a £400 fine and community service. Presumably, The Goa Express named themselves after a high speed train line in New Delhi to invoke this fast-living, rule-breaking mentality.
The Goa Express list The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Velvet Underground as influences to their sound. They have been simultaneously labelled as ’60s revitalisation, garage-rock and punk. Although they play on the psychedelic rock scene, they refuse to be categorised or limited by it. They bring a playful take on garage like the Stiff Dylans but cooler and modern psychedelica flavoured. They were recently signed to Rough Trade Management, the label that manages Black Midi, Jarvis Cocker and Parquet Courts.
Throughout the set, Clarke’s voice had almost the characteristic whine of Placebo frontman, Molko. The crowd cheered when he brought out a tambourine, which he played by quite violently, beating it against his chest. The set was short but this is forgivable when you consider that they have currently only released four singles. Keep your eyes out for The Goa Express and make sure to give a listen to their singles ‘Second Time’ and ‘Be My Friend’.