I have said before, and I will lazily reiterate now, that my arrival in Manchester in the summer of 2003 very much felt like turning up at a night club just as the lights go up and the staff reach for their weathered, vomit-smeared mops. Factory Records had declared bankruptcy over ten years earlier and Happy Mondays had already completed their second break up in 2001. In 2002, the fabled Hacienda was demolished and replaced with a soulless apartment block. My fashionable late entrance could now be described as nothing more than late. The same cannot be said for Intastella, this month's first Uncharted Territory act.
Formed in 1990 as the phoenix from the ashes of Laugh, Intastella went on to record four top 75 tracks during the nineties, the most well-known of which is almost certainly their 1995 cover of Frankie Valli's northern soul classic The Night. Today (22nd September) sees the release of Intastella's fourth studio album – The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Dubstar which acts as a re-imagining of lead singer Stella Grundy's self-penned, self-performed stage production The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Star which is well worth being viewed in its entirety here:
The play tells a rags to relative riches to rehab to redemption tale of the fictional (or is she?) Tracy Star. Growing up in North Manchester idolizing legends like Bowie and Bob Dylan, Tracy's dream is to follow in the footsteps of her heroes and be and rock 'n' roll star. Taken in by a world of drugs, deception and betrayal, Tracy's dream slowly starts to slip through her fingers as the reality of the music business takes it toll on her. It is a powerful piece of theatre that is carried forward by the dynamic magnetism of Grundy, a beacon of poetic honesty for every individual that has a 'be there, do that, now where's my t-shirt?' mentality.
Opening track Lemons eases you in with fine-spun vocals over light guitar interjections and sets the tone on a track that touches upon themes of sacrifice and the extent to which we will hang the consequences when the dreams we have are in sight. Supersize Industrial takes that motif up numerous notches as thundering drums and robust guitars prelude a warts and all look at life as a band on tour where money and musical ambition seem uncomfortable bedfellows. Title track The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Dubstar is an anthemic masterpiece that basks in hedonistic idealism as tortured souls lose themselves in the aura of Manchester reborn – the 'pyscho-delic, techno-colour splat'.
It is at this point that the album takes a more experimental turn and the tracks begin to morph into collages of feeling as Tracy loses control of her dream and outside influences (both chemical and otherwise) begin to take hold. Acrimonious Frame Of Mind is the auditory equivalent of the dancing lights you see when you close your eyes too tight. Acting almost as an overture to what is to come, heady notes compete with darker undertones and the warped voice of Grundy only occasionally breaches the tumult. The epic Unzip Your Revolution utilises one of the play's most powerful moments as Tracy whirs through a destructive cycle of taking drugs she can't afford, wanting to write music to earn money but not being able to because she is too depressed from all the drugs she is taking. Setting this to a soundtrack that is part brooding saxophone, part heavy guitar and part carnivalesque is inspired.
Tracy's story comes to its inevitable conclusion in the heartbreaking Moondog. This is rock bottom and the juxtaposition of the magical moonlight and the far off words of an ambulance crew bring the ugly truth of Tracy's story home with a jolt. Where the surname Star was once a premonition of a bright future, it is now the rod with which she is beaten. It is a message laced with tragedy that will carry ever more weight with every step that modern society takes towards a 'famous at all costs' paradigm.
I have to admit to never having heard an album like this before. Whilst I have endured semi-autobiographical records in the past, I have never experienced one that places you in the moment so vividly. What Intastella have achieved, in an almost Being John Malkovich fashion, is music that thrusts you into the head of Tracy Star and bombards you with emotions. Stella Grundy's contribution is nothing short of remarkable and her encapsulation and projection of the loneliness of someone in Tracy's position is masterful.
Disembodied voices float ethereally through the album, representations of heroes like John Cooper Clarke and villains in the forms of record executives and media personalities. They come from all sides and are unrelenting. The basslines created by Jah Wobble (of PiL fame) entangle with these voices as a synaptic overload, twisting and turning in luminescent majesty before exploding into cacophonies of sensation. The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Dubstar is an album to get lost in, a rabbit hole into which to fall. It is a celebration of thirty years of Manchester music. It is two fingers up to the music industry as a whole. Most of all, it is a exquisitely-spun cautionary tale to the little Tracy Stars in all of us to, in the words of Stella Grundy, 'be careful what you wish for'.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“I am a shining torch of musical light//I can touch the abyss”
Unzip Your Revolution
Tracy's dreams are exposed as
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