North Atlas: South Of The Border
The grandiose dramatism of Roddy Bottom’s keyboards on Faith No More’s Be Aggressive floats through the chilled midnight air in the smoking area of The Salisbury. Above, a train rattles and screeches by towards Piccadilly station. But as bold and imposing as those rattling keyboards are, this isn't an evening of theatre and authority.
“North Atlas is a brand new band, we’ve been jamming together for about a year now,” states the Scottish band’s tall, broad and Thor like frontman, Leon Hunter. Travelling south of the border of their native Scotland for the first time for a headline show at Sound Control, tonight is more about taking baby steps; entering the unknown and trying to place the foundations for a fruitful future. “Everything took a long time to put it together. We've chucked away about three EPs because their sound wasn’t right for what we envisaged for North Atlas.”
The smoking area is quiet late Thursday night, the four band members, my partners in crime for tonight, Rosie and Alex and I circle around a table post-set. What greeted them was a small but open crowd who welcomed their electronicised rock n’ roll lovingly. A band still emerging from their infancy – and doing so with a wealth of songs, and with creativity flowing reverently – tonight was a key advancement in their band’s progression from upstarts to, they’ll hope, something more formidable. It wasn’t a set and a show that screamed ‘stop the press!’, it was a humble beginning to life outside their home city’s limits, but they played with passion and love – an emotion that filtered throughout the venue.
“We haven’t come down here expecting to sell out arenas, so long as people enjoy it. It’s not about egos and thinking we’re rock n’ roll stars, it’s not the 70s, but so long as people enjoy themselves we’re happy.”
With the release of their video single, Hal, still fresh, the band looked to capitalise on their online momentum by breaking out of a city whose thriving scene has helped project them forwards in such a short space of time.
“There’s a huge music scene in Glasgow that has a great community but it’s hard to break out of it. Not many bands venture South,” Hunter takes a gulp of his pint. “We feel like Manchester and the Northern people are akin to Glasgow people. There’s a connection between the two places and we feel we have a lot in common, so it made sense to play here.”
In their support, Lazlo, there was a band who shared a similar admiration for the acceptance of the Mancunian scene. Bringing their simplistic but flavoursome alt rock across down Snake’s Pass, with tracks like the grunge tinted Animosity, centred around Roy Williamson’s bright, as sweet as pudding vocal refrains, it’s easy to get on board with what these guys do. Another youthful band without too much gig experience, their performance side certainly lacked, the visual stillness of their members not doing much to entice and excite you the same way their generally pleasant music did – emphasised in comparison to the way Leon Hunter would go on to grab the audience by the scruff of the neck, a wry smile curling his lips as he did so. But as time elapses, there is definitely a spark within this band that could ignite with more experience and confidence.
“We’re a very DIY band, we don’t come from a rich background so you have to go out there and do things yourself,” Hunter explains as he lights a cigarette. He’s been plugging this show, along with the rest of the band, the good old fashioned way – through word of mouth – for the past week or so and so, come set time, it was time for the half Scottish, half Scandinavian band to put their money where their mouth is.
Before a dazzling lighting rig, they pulled all the punches they possibly could. Hunter may have been the visual centrepiece, the conductor of the crowd and the bellowing pipes which had the crowd singing, clapping and jumping along to groovy synth bass lines, adrenalised, drum n’ bass inspired drum work and fizzing guitars that weaved in an out of the sample pad’s omnipresence, but let those making the those noises be understated. A tight collective, they rely on each other replicate their densely populated recordings in the flesh.
“We have a rule of no backing tracks, with this kind of music you find too many bands come along and put everything to backing tracks. There’s a huge temptation for any band to do it but we wanna avoid that,” is something Hunter was keen to point out.
Orange, placed slap bang in the middle of their set, is by far their most potent cocktail of crunchy rock punch, piano pocked electronica and infectious vocal lines. And that use of piano is just one example of this band’s broad thinking; of looking at the bigger picture and how they can add new, exciting flavours and dimensions to their sound.
Says Hunter: “We wanted to bring in a lot of piano into our sounds because of band’s like The Prodigy who sample piano in their music. But we’ve left it raw and organic.”
Having worked with Mark Freegard (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson) to perfect their sound, utilising his rich recording experience, replicating that live was never going to be easy. The impressive thing then, is that they not only pull it off with zest, but they actually sound more wholesome, livelier on stage than on record. Even if their style isn’t your usual thirst quencher, they are far from boring to watch and such entertainment is something that can’t be bought.
On an evening – which considering it was Manchester meets Scotland, is not the moist, rain afflicted affair one would have predicted – they have done everything in their power to introduce themselves to our city in as much style as they can. No one in the venue tonight looks like they haven’t had fun, and that’s all they could ask for – it’s the first step into unfamiliar territory and the band can definitely deem it a success.
Here’s to many more.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin