Entertainment & Arts

New Order and Levelz: The continuing reinvention of Manchester music

New Order Image copyright Jon Super
Image caption New Order delved into their history and avoided playing the greatest hits

The glorious past and the promising future of Manchester music were on show at two gigs that helped kick off the city's arts festival on Thursday.

New Order reinvented their back catalogue on the first night of the Manchester International Festival.

They played the first of five concerts with a 12-strong synthesiser ensemble.

Meanwhile, the thrillingly anarchic 14-strong hip-hop crew Levelz showed why they're being talked up as part of the next wave of Manchester heroes.

Together, they showed off different sides of the city's scene to open the biennial city-wide festival.

New Order took over one of the old Granada TV studios and pushed their status as synth-pop idols to the extreme by recruiting a dozen synthesiser players from the Royal Northern College of Music.

Image copyright Jon Super
Image caption New Order's synthesiser ensemble were in cubicles behind the stage

Those synth players were installed behind the regular band members in booths in a double-decker structure created by artist Liam Gillick.

Each booth was fronted by Venetian blind-style slats that opened and closed in formation as visuals were projected onto them.

The gig was largely a hit-free zone, with the group preferring to delve into rarities from their 40 years as Joy Division and then New Order rather than play their best-known tracks Regret, True Faith and Blue Monday.

They did revisit singles like Shellshock, Subculture and Bizarre Love Triangle. But otherwise they mostly picked album tracks, many of which they haven't performed live for years.

Not 'that kind of gig'

They included a couple of Joy Division songs - Disorder, the opening track from their 1979 debut album Unknown Pleasures, and Decades, the final track from their second album Closer.

Their back catalogue is deep enough, and fan loyalty is strong enough, for the crowd to be more than willing to go on this trip through their history.

However, singer Bernard Sumner did have to tell one fan it wasn't "that kind of gig" in response to an early shouted request.

Image caption The 14 members of Levelz took it in turns in the limelight

Across town, Levelz were representing a different side of the city's scene to a smaller but no less ecstatic crowd at Gorilla.

They combine English grime-pop with the bounce and groove of West Coast hip-hop, heightened by the energy that comes from so many members spurring each other on and vying to be heard.

It all meant there was a melee of MCs jostling for space on the small square stage and taking turns or joining voices while a couple of their number supplied the booming, trembling bass from behind the decks.

That's not the end of their talents though. Speaking to BBC 6 Music earlier in the day, they said: "We've got all sorts in the crew. We've got producers, DJs, actors, we've got people that draw, we've got a seamstress.

"Anything we want to do we can do and no one's going to say anything."

Their energy didn't fade even after the power was cut to their equipment and the house lights were turned up when the curfew passed.

With some fans climbing on stage to make it even more chaotic, the band led the crowd in singing an a capella encore - the Home and Away theme tune.

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