In The City 2006

So it's that time of year again when the whole of the UK (and beyond) music industry descends upon Manchester for four days of networking, seminars and hundreds of live performances from up and coming bands. Outside South By Southwest in Texas there is probably nowhere else where aspiring bands will get the chance to thrust a demo into the hands of the people that could give them their ticket to stardom.

Now it's fair enough to say that the Manchester music scene probably loves itself just a bit too much and there are a host of characters that are full of the brown stuff. Joint organiser of ITC Tony Wilson however isn't one of them, sure he may occasionally come across as arrogant but his track record speaks for itself and to watch him in conversation with such a revered man as Jac Holzman (founder of Electra Records and the guy who signed The Doors), you realise that he is just like the rest of us, a guy with a real interest and passion for music. For members of the industry the opportunity to engage in panel sessions with people of the calibre of Holzman, Wilson, Billy Bragg, Chuck D, Pete Jenner and Seymour Stein is a rare opportunity and one not to be missed. Everything to do with the music industry today is debated from the future of the digital record label to copyright issues and pricing. Fascinating stuff indeed but the real business of this long weekend is raw talent.

Saturday is the really interesting day for bands looking to make the breakthrough, as there is a whole day of events and sessions dedicated to unsigned bands including the opportunity for one on one sessions with representatives from all areas of the industry. They can also submit their demo to be critically appraised in front of an audience by a panel of experts, go into the hat to play live on the spot (Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly featured here last year) and best of all take a trip around Manchester in a stretch limo whilst yet more experts give constructive criticism or in many cases rip the shit out of your pride and joy. Also on hand are reps from the Musicians Union and the Performing Rights Society, all bases are covered!

With hundreds of bands playing over four days in a large number of the City's 71 live venues, ITC can be a double edged sword for those bands lucky enough to secure a spot on a showcase bill. Getting the headline slot is not necessarily a good thing, it's been a long day with bands and seminars to attend from early afternoon, so by the time your band takes the stage at 11.30pm many of the industry delegates have already left the scene. The most telling piece of advice I read over the festival was that it's better for a band to play to a room of four A&R people than 200 of their mates and 9 times out of ten that advice is spot on. Your mates won't get you signed, it's as simple as that and there are plenty of opportunities to make contact with A&R people here. That said you're never going to get anywhere without fans and although the crowds aren't huge in most cases you can be sure that they are made up of people who will make the effort to check a good band out further so no effort is wasted.

What's really useful and effective (and there were plenty doing it) is for bands to hang around outside the festival HQ (the Midland Hotel) and thrust a copy of their demo into the hands of anyone wearing a delegates pass. The majority of delegates here are just as interested in hearing new bands as you are in them hearing your band, over four days I didn't see a single demo refused, aspiring bands take note. Don't however expect them to turn up to your ITC gig, with so much going on it's impossible for delegates to be everywhere at once but if you'd made an impression and given them a physical product to listen to then you've made a start.

All in all ITC is an opportunity not to be missed and with many of the gigs free of charge there's plenty of opportunity for regular punters to catch some of the best up and coming bands. The only real problem with ITC is that the majority of them seem to be rather generic indie bands, sure they may be of high quality but after a whole day of it on the Saturday I was desperate for some rock, metal, punk or anything with a bit of bite to it! Alas the hard edged music was largely confined to one night at Jabez Clegg, which is too far to walk I suspect for many of the delegates to make the effort (I didn't see any others there!). With the metal and punk scene being popular than it has been since the late 70s and early 80s I can't understand why it isn't a major part of ITC (maybe they were looking the other way when Download was on?). Still, like any good car boot sale, amongst all the crap you find the odd gem and this years gems to watch out for included Preston based arty post-punkers 'Y'r Impossible', Manchester's own Pixies like 'Extinguish Her' and excellent metal outfit 'F.I.G.M.O'.