Back in the late 70s, within the seismic-shifting environment of the Manchester music scene, there emerged a band as unique and futuristic as fellow Mancs Joy Division, and The Durutti Column, both of whom also ended up on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. A Certain Ratio were an avante-garde post-punk proposition who more than anyone from that rarefied world, dealt primarily at the time with soundscapes, grooves and moods, with traditional song structure a secondary consideration.
Steering an unusual career course through the years, they’ve in effect been a part time band since the mid 90s, releasing just the one studio album since 1997, and gigging only occassionally. However, with the recent re-release of their back catalogue, they’ve stepped up a gear or two for a small tour. Unsurprisingly, tonight is a sell out, full of long-term fans, post punkers, and early ravers, as well as a sprinkling of younger folk curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Tonight, ACR’s set can be divided into two parts, representing the two relatively distinct creative phases of their career; the early-to-mid 80s period of free-flowing, immensely atmospheric leftfield punk-funk, and the late 80s-early 90s period when they got caught up in the overwhelming balearic and house trends of the time.
Kicking off with the instrumental ‘Sounds Like Something Dirty’, from 1985, the band take on – with the sporadic help of singer Denise Johnson – a series of ACR classics, and lesser known offerings, including the whistle and percussion party vibes of ‘Do the Du’, a track that in particular has informed LCD Soundsystem; the deep and foreboding bass heavy ‘Flight’, and ‘… And Then Again’, the hand of producer Martin Hannett apparent here as elsewhere, ACR sounding like close brothers to Joy Division (whom Hannett also produced), as they also do on the dark and spooky ‘Forced Laugh’, which contains the repeated vocal line, “This is something that only ever happens to me in the night.’
Later on they get out their best known track, the raw pop-funk and brass embellished ‘Shack Up’, as well as Sextet‘s cacophonous ‘Rialto’, and ‘Knife Slits Water’, with drummer Donald Johnson (taking over from Jeremy Kerr, who curiously opts to sit in a chair when not singing) showing off his best popping and slapping four-string skills amidst the spatial darkness. And, via the repetitive percussion backbone, a nascent house beat can be discerned, which had by the late 80s flowered into tracks such as the acid-squelch meets balearic Primal Scream in the shape of ‘Good Together’, the Bernard Sumner inspired upbeat grooves of ‘Won’t Stop Loving You’, the housey ’27 Forever’, and the semi-trance uptempo beats of ‘Wonder Why’, from 1992.
As an encore they set the venue alight with an almost perfect marriage of the these two ACR threads, the percussion-led, carnivalesque vibes of 1986’s ‘Si Fermir O Grido’. By now, the party is in full swing. They may be the kings of post-punk dark atmospherics, but ACR are as full of the funk as they always were.