M.I.A., The Knocks

Holly Cruise 13/11/2010

There's something about warehouses. No frills, no fripperies, they are the ugly, functional and utilitarian counterpoint to the shiny and meticulously planned shop fronts which now clog our high streets. There's something slightly more honest about the way they store the products we have shoved down our throats day in, day out, lumping them in heaps until they're shipped out to be arranged on carefully planned shelves.

When seemingly every other ex-warehouse in Manchester is being turned into a fancy hotel or a big name brand shop, it's nice that one, down a dripping alley under Piccadilly station is being used for something more interesting - putting on large gig/raves as the Warehouse Project. So how disappointing it was to find that the M.I.A./Annie Mac night had been disrupted by behind the scenes drama about the lineup.

Mac dropped out two days beforehand, unhappy at not having had a big enough hand in picking the lineup and worried that to DJ at the night, and lend it her Annie Mac Presents branding, would reflect negatively on said brand. For a crowd who just wanted to hear one of the country's most interesting and forward looking DJs it was a bit of a kick in the face, not helped by the fact that it left most people who saw her complaints about the lineup wondering who exactly had upset her, considering that the likes of MIA and Rusko are hardly strangers to her show.

Not only that, but support act Sleigh Bells dropped out on the day, citing illness.

This left a fairly heavy responsibility on M.I.A. to pull off a show which would satisfy those in attendance. Maya Arulpragasam might be a darling of the music press and now potentially a popstar after the success of her contributions to the Slumdog Milliobnaire soundtrack, but she has a mixed track record live. For every barnstorming appearance whilst nine months pregnant, there is one where her indifference, tardiness and sometimes weak live vocals have left audiences unhappy.

Loitering in the second room beforehand would have helped the audience - The Knocks served up a gem of a DJ set. Never letting any song run for longer than ninety seconds is a risky venture unless you do it with such pizazz that it's hard to enjoy the fast-paced delights. Mashing up 'Barbara Streisand' and 'Beat It' certainly gets any party going.

And so to M.I.A. If there's a criticism of the Warehouse Project main room, it's that the sound system sometimes swallows up the vocals, but on this occasion it didn't matter an awful lot. M.I.A, resplendent in a canary yellow wig, and flanked by two dancers twitching along to the music, wasn't completely drowned out, but it was only her shoutier, louder moments which made it through. She might have been reading her shopping list during the verses of 'Born Free' for all that we could hear, although over more skeletal songs like 'Bamboo Banger' she was more audible, as she was on more shouty numbers like 'Boys'.

But it mattered not a jot. For all the artists M.I.A. gets compared to, it's actually one she rarely gets compared to who is probably the closest match. Whilst M.I.A's English accent has come from growing up here, rather than pretending to have done so after marrying Guy Ritchie, she shares with Madonna an ability to pick the cutting edge and cool of the producing world. The beats of Diplo, Rusko, Switch thundered around the room, sending the audience bonkers. Leaving out two of her three most poppy moments - 'XXXO' and 'Jimmy' - did nothing to cool their ardour, and Maya's invitation to the audience to join her on stage for 'Teqkilla' brought most of the front rows surging forward although mysteriously those who made it onto the stage were almost entirely female. Discerning bouncers? Who knows.

As rescue operations go it went as well as could have been hoped, at times pitch perfect, even if M.I.A. herself wasn't necessarily. When she can be bothered she's a definite star, and on a night marred by all manner of problems it was nice that she had decided to be the star who ensures the show goes on regardless.

Photo By Richard Pearson