Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Moments Of 2010: Finding Clubnight Utopia

You may not know this but – shock horror – North Wales isn't really known for its music scene. In fact, I can only think of: Super Furry Animals, Feeder, and the fact that Lemmy used to work in the Hotpoint plant at Llandudno (sadly now closed) in regard to what it's ever achieved.

This extends to ANYTHING related to music, be it good local gigs, or even clubnights. I could try and theorise as to why there isn't any form, but that's not what I'm here to do. The only 'alternative' music night that I had was the Student Union-organised one at Bangor University. The trouble with SU nights though is that it's inevitably – for want of a better word – diluted. This is especially true in Bangor where, owing to a lack of anything else to do at night, a lot of people would go purely for a night out and somewhere to go. The night would then have to cater for these audiences, playing Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian rather than what a big city alternative night in a decent venue would play. I still can't listen to 'Deceptacon' by Le Tigre (a rare highlight) without thinking of standing in an SU with sticky floors that stank of spilt cider and black while looking at my watch wondering if I could realistically leave yet.

I should stress that while it would be easy to shoulder the blame for my dissatisfaction on the DJs, but ultimately they were only playing to their audience and having spoken to a couple of them, they seemed to enjoy playing Kaiser Chiefs' 'Ruby' on weekly rotation as much as I enjoyed hearing it. There is though the story of a friend who went up to request 'Ghost Town' by The Specials and the DJ hadn't heard of it, never mind brought it.

So, in all this, I must have had some utopian vision of what my ideal alternative clubnight experience should be like. During the bleak January of this year (I have a memory of the snow from my shoes melting onto a pub floor and re-freezing during a pre-drinks session) I found the nearest approximation to the aforementioned utopia in Underachievers Please Try Harder. Yes, it's named after a Camera Obscura song, no it isn't a twee night.

What it is, is instead a perfect combination of clubnight and place for discovering new bands. Even if you've never met Dave and Kirsty, you always get the impression when you attend that everything is done with genuine enthusiasm, not something cobbled together with a 'that'll do' type atmosphere that can sometimes happen at the more commercial clubnights. The band choices always feel like you're being let into someone's great new discoveries, not some cold and callous exercise in drawing an audience. In a way, it feels like you're at a giant listening party, with 200 other likeminded souls. After years of mediocre-at-best clubnights, what might sound quite normal for the average city clubnight attendee came as something of a revelation.

The same applied to the clubnight upstairs post-bands. 3 years of Peter Bjorn & John and Maximo Park (I'm not kidding. I went – for what I believe was the final time before I graduated – during fresher's week in 3rd year and found Young Folks and Apply Some Pressure still being played, as they were in first year) gave way to what amounted to hearing my record collection, plus a few forgotten gems and new finds, being played loudly over a PA. Let's face it, that's what most of us want from a night out. I still remember belting out The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Weezer et al at the top of my lungs, giddy at having finally found my calling. As an incidental aside, months later I still don't know what's more fun, being part of the mayhem that ensues when Motorhead's Ace Of Spades goes down at 3am, or standing back and watching the assembled rag-tag collective of the clientèle going absolutely bananas. I've done both, and each in their own way brings about a grin of shit-eating proportions.

Underachievers' determination to give Manchester a great alternative Saturday night out was underlined by persistent venue issues throughout the year. Spiritual home – the characterful but calamitous and chaotically-run Saki Bar in Rusholme – saw its licence revoked, with an appeal expected later in the year and the bar allowed to trade until that point. Underachievers stood by its venue throughout proceedings, urging people to sign petitions etc until the matter was resolved in, if memory serves, early October. Having won their appeal (to, it has to be said, some surprise), the alliance of Saki and Underachievers looked set to continue until barely a month later fate struck another cruel blow when bailiffs cleared it out for outstanding debts. This, understandably, was the last straw and after a couple of weeks of uncertainty it was with relief that a new permanent home has been found in the Northern Quarter.

I appreciate a number of you will read this and go 'oh look, small town boy goes to the city and discovers something that isn't shit and second-rate and raves about it', but I genuinely believe this is one of the finest nights out I've come across. Then enthusiasm of the organisers, and a sense of wordlessly being willed to have a good time (something other people have said, not just me) make it stand out in a year where I've experienced other nights in Leeds and at festivals. With a new location seeing it nestled snuggly amongst the celebrated pubs of the Northern Quarter ( not to mention the promise of an Underachievers ale at said venue, and promises of 'the gig booking being a step above' for the new year), perhaps it's time to brave the weather come the new year and find out for yourselves what it's about. I defy you not to leave with a smile on your face.

Underachievers Please Try Harder is held at Gullivers, in Manchester's Northern Quarter, every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. Further details can be found at )

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