Our reviewers Lee Morton and Kate Campbell headed up to Manchester at the end of April for this year’s Manchester Punk Festival. Over to you, guys! Lee takes up the story…
Building on the success of previous years, Manchester Punk Festival returned for its fourth instalment this year, bigger and better than before. With over 90 bands playing across seven venues you will have found yourself seeing old favourites, discovering new bands, seeing old friends as well as making new friends. With an uncharacteristic, especially for Manchester, forecast of sunshine over the MPF weekend, spirits were high.
Thursday 19th April
Having arrived in Manchester earlier in the afternoon there was time for a couple of drinks before collecting passes for the weekend from Gorilla, which was the de facto base of operations for the weekend. With just the two venues open today and the bands on at roughly the same time it was a straight choice between No Matter and Arboricidio but having had a recommendation at the previous night’s Wonk Unit album release show I decided to catch No Matter, and I was pretty glad I did. The Belfast quartet are heavily influenced by classic 90s punk (think anything on Fat Wreck) and quickly got the expectant crowd on side. The sharing of vocal duties between the band members kept it all sounding fresh whilst some great harmonies got people singing along. A pretty decent start.
Sticking at Rebellion, Captain Trips were up next and their technical melodic riffs hit some meaty grooves but there just wasn’t enough flow to the music with lots of time changes disrupting the energy. When it worked it packed a punch, it just didn’t work enough for me.
Crazy Arm followed but with hunger setting in as well as a twenty minute walk over to The Bread Shed I had to cut short their set, which is a shame as I’ve seen these guys a few times now and their rootsy, Americana rock’n’roll certainly gets the crowd rocking.
Arriving at The Bread Shed there was a sense of anticipation building, not just for the return of Random Hand but also for one of the best live acts on the scene at the moment, Roughneck Riot. Opening with a couple of new songs which continued the development of their folk-punk sound is a brave move but Roughneck are a band that ooze confidence in their sound. Although the new tracks were warmly received it wasn’t until third track, Animosity, that the touchpaper was lit as the front rows erupted and waves of crowd surfers started. Following that with Parasites just encouraged the crowd more, with the energy between band and crowd a site to behold as Matty Humphries violently attacked his mandolin with scary intensity. Other highlights of their incredible set were Ignorance Is Easy and All That We Know, both detonating the pit like a mini Hiroshima with frenzied accordion notes, Celtic tones and plenty of crowd reaction. A rousing set that stands as one of the highlights of the weekend: not bad for just the third full set on the first day.
The hero’s welcome that greeted returning ska-core legends Random Hand was almost deafening. Having gone on hiatus back in 2015 this is the first chance for many to hear live tracks from last album Hit Reset as well as classics from their discography. It was carnage from the off as the heavy ska of Tales Of Intervention incited mass skanking from the front rows. Newer tracks from Hit Reset fitted seamlessly into the set, with Pack It Up, After The Alarm and Day One all getting played early in the set and getting just as strong a response from the crowd as old favourites. Pack It Up especially sounded immense live as they set out to reclaim their rightful place at the top of the ska-core pile. Scum Triumphant represented quite literally the sound of an uprising, unifying the band and crowd in one voice. You’d never know they’d been away considering how tight they sounded on this night, with the hardcore breakdowns of Play Some Ska, with its pressure cooker build and release making the mosh pit a very dangerous place to be. The band seem relaxed and at ease, with Robin providing plenty of banter as well as some dietary advice between songs. If you didn’t know already, broccoli is good for you.
Perhaps the crowd were listening as energy levels remained high for the whole set with some impressive dancing during the heavier ska parts but the one-two climax of I, Human and Anger Management that closed the set could have drained the power from the National Grid. Anger Management is one of my all-time favourite songs and hearing it in front of such an appreciative crowd was truly spine-tingling. As the band departed the stage to an ovation it’s fair to say that the standard for the weekend had just been set, and it was going to be a tough ask to follow.
Friday 20th April
Of the days over the festival weekend it was Friday that I was looking forward to most, with plenty of bands that I was keen to see, starting with Eat Defeat at Rebellion. It may only have been 2.45pm when they started their set but there was already a sizable crowd eager to see the Leeds boys (and stand in girl, Hope) blow away any hangovers from the opening night with their breezy skate punk. Currently putting the finishing touches to a new album they took the opportunity to road test a new song, which whilst I didn’t catch the name, was as infectious and uplifting as anything they’ve released. It was however, tracks from their last EP Time & Tide that got the best response with the energetic Shortcuts and The North Remembers getting the crowd bouncing and singing along.
There’s been a bit of a buzz around local boys Aerial Salad for some time now, which has grown steadily louder since the release of their debut album Roach late last year so I thought I’d see if they could live up to the hype. With the fearless exuberance of youth they ploughed into their set with gusto, their songs bouncing around somewhere between bitter-sweet pop-punk and faster melodic hardcore, all delivered with typical energy. Singer Jamie Munro has a nasal quality to his voice which adds a bit of bite and attitude, giving the songs an extra edge but without sacrificing melody, of which there’s plenty. So, do they live up to the hype or not? Well, I grabbed a copy of the album from them as soon as they finished their set, so I think that’s a yes.
Having recently reviewed the excellent new album, Cheap Fame from The Raging Nathans I just had to hang around Rebellion. Opening with the first two songs from that album was a masterstroke, as they are two of the strongest songs in their armoury. Both Dayton and Teenage Amnesia are pure adrenaline, pumping up the crowd with their double bass attack, easy harmonies and singalong choruses. Their sound may hark back to the early Epitaph/Fat Wreck bands but it’s updated with plenty of attitude and emotion. Older songs from their Losing It debut have more of a hardcore aggression to them but it’s the newer songs with the catchy vocal melodies and harmonies that show the progression the band have made. Tracks like Bartending The Funeral, Florida Days and Good For You sound absolutely huge live and by the end of their set plenty more fans were converted.
Kate: Travelling up on the Friday morning, I unfortunately was well behind Lee on the band (and beers) tally, but I was determined to make up for the delay over the next two days. After picking up our wristbands at Gorilla, I made a beeline to the canal to see Lee and get the lowdown for what the vibe was for the weekend weekend. Having heard from Lee what a belter the first night had been, I was feeling pumped and ready.
Lee: Another band I was determined to see over the weekend were Aussie party animals The Bennies and as they were on over at The Bread Shed it necessitated a very brisk walk between the venues, which were the furthest apart. Arriving just in time to order a beer before they started I perched myself a safe distance from the stage as anyone familiar with The Bennies will testify, it gets a bit mental. As Cypress Hill’s Hits From The Bong came over the PA the band appeared on stage and dived in to the psychedelic funk out of Heavy Disco. Their musical melting pot is perfect for festivals, as they can deliver any flavour you want. Doom, check. Funk, check, Disco, check. You get the drift. My Bike and Anywhere You Wanna Go follow and the room transforms into a seething swirl of bodies, slam dancing, skanking, crowd surfing. Of the new tunes from the recent Natural Born Chillers, the laid-back reggae of Get High Like An Angel was an oasis of calm in the maelstrom of chaos whilst the Beach Boys surf punk of Ocean with its singalong melodies and crushing guitars both slayed. They ended the night with tracks from Wisdom Machine, the heavy bouncy dub of Legalise (But Don’t Tax), the crazy disco/funk mash up of Party Machine and Corruption, which had the room swaying in unison. The best live band around? Possibly. The best party starters? Definitely.
Kate: First up for me was also The Bennies. It has been an atrociously long time since I had been to a Bennies show. Don’t worry, faithful reader, my ‘Straya Card has already been revoked as a result. I was dead keen to catch the Melbourne boys and as their new bass player Nick is from one of my favourite Aussie bands Foxtrot, I was interested to see how the new line-up would sound. Well, it may have been some time since I caught a set, but The Bennies were rowdier, partier and better than ever. New Bassist Nick didn’t completely stave off the absent Craig pangs but he bloody well brought it, and it was a real privilege to see this new incarnation of Straya’s Party Machine. The crowd loved every damn minute, and I quickly found myself in one of the rowdiest Bennies pits I’ve ever been in. A kick to the head did not ruin the posi vibes, with new chilled-out tracks like Get High Like An Angel pumping up the energy just as much as wild classics like My Bike. It was absolutely beautiful to start my MPF experience off with the sound of home, and to see that no matter where my home is, the audience will always lose their collective shit for The Bennies.
Lee: Stand Out Riot followed and whilst I had never listened to them before I was impressed by their bouncy ska-core sound. With two horns there was plenty of brass kicking up a skank as well as heavy breakdowns. Highlights for me were the reggae-tinged The British Nazi Parade, which had heads nodding and bodies jumping and the bouncy ska of K’s For X’s, during which a large Viking-esque man came on stage and bear hugged the vocalist. Definitely a band I shall be keeping an eye on in future.
Kate: Having fallen hard and fast for Apologies, I Have None back in 2014, there was no other band that could compete for my attention on Friday night. I was pretty concerned about the capacity of the venues so I made sure I was inside and ready well before they started. As a result, I was able to catch the absolute and utter bedlam that is Milloy. To this day, I’m not 100% sure what I witnessed, so I’m just going to transcribe the notes I took at the time and you can piece it all together: “Pretty generic punk. Warming up to it. Pretty decent. Tight. Nice call and responses. Pretty fucking good actually – not much stage presence from band members but front person and content makes up for it. Strong fucking finish. Absolutely banging, completely won me over”. I was on a musical rollercoaster and I was HERE for it. I’m so glad that I was early for A,IHN and got to experience Milloy. If you ever get the chance, make sure you see them. They are well worth it.
It was then finally time for Apologies, I Have None and I was READY. I managed to catch them at the Montague Arms in London just before Christmas, supported by the incomparable Kamikaze Girls and I was so excited to see them for the first time in a festival setting. And you know what? They were FUCKING WONDERFUL. I’ve seen them a number of times and I think that their set at Manchester Punk Festival was the best I’ve been lucky enough to witness. The passion of the lyrics, the energy of the band and the entire crowd screaming along to every word was utterly magical. Bassist James was kicking his foot like a mad person and front person Josh looked absolutely chuffed at the reaction they were receiving. The entire band lived in every note, in every beat, in every phrase, and so did we. Everywhere you looked, mates were throwing their arms around each other, holding a tinnie in the air and screaming their lungs out. Apologies, I Have None played everything from Pharmacie bangers like Everybody Wants to Talk About Mental Health and Love and Medication to older tracks like my personal favourite Raging Through the Thick and Heavy Darkness of a Bloodlust, and I lived and died for every song. It was a truly special set and I count myself so lucky and fortunate to have witnessed it.
Lee: Another band that I had circled as having to see once the line-up was announced were DIY stewards Wonk Unit, and having heard the new record Terror at the album release show the night before MPF I was eager for more Wonk. If you’ve never heard them before then prepare yourself for weirdness as this is a band that are impossible to pigeonhole and even harder to explain. Opener Je M’Appelle Alex is a perfect introduction, featuring simple nursery rhyme lyrical stylings interspersed with hardcore shouty bits, thrashy punk and topped off with frontman Alex’s deliberately cringing Dad dancing. The crowd were singing along from the off and there was no let up as Donkey Of The Damned and the childish Horses followed in quick succession, with the singalong to Horses truly being something to behold. Go Easy is one of the first songs of the night that deal with addiction issues, Alex having been sober for many years now but it is still the equivalent of downing multiple shots as the guitars thrash away. New track Day Job Wanker follows a similar hardcore vein and along with Christmas In A Crackhouse is one of just a few tracks taken from Terror, with the rest of the set more of a greatest hits collection. But what a greatest hits, songs like We Are The England, Bin Him and Awful Jeans receiving rapturous receptions but it’s the final double whammy of classic cuts Kings Road Sporting Heroes and Rambo (during which Jamie Munro of Aerial Salad joins the Wonk boys on stage) that true carnage takes over with the front rows becoming almost no go areas as crowd surfers and moshers united, with bodies colliding and almost becoming a single mass organism. As the lights came up it’s obvious from the drained smiling faces that they have witnessed something very special.
I was in two minds as to who which of the headliners to see tonight so I left it up to my partner in crime for the weekend, Aaron, who was up for some more ska so we headed over to Gorilla to see the recently reformed Lightyear. Now when Lightyear first formed some twenty-plus years ago I was still listening to lots of nu-metal so missed them completely as they split for the first time in 2003, and even up to now I had never heard them so whether I was the best person to judge them or not I don’t know and apologies in advance if I offend anyone…but I failed to see what the big deal was. Yes, they were entertaining enough but it was more for the on-stage antics than the actual music, and although I can see how they have influenced ska-core their own sound now seems a little dated. Of the stage antics the human tombola, where guy with raffle tickets stuck to him crowd surfs as people grab tickets was humorous, but the drummer stage diving did hold things up as we waited for him to get back to his stool. With regards to the music, there were definitely moments where my feet were tapping and the reaction of the people around me, who were mostly going nuts, meant I was in the minority but I just felt a little indifferent to them. Kind of like a blind date: it’s not you, it’s me.
With the main sets played, the exultations of the day were taking its toll and in order to survive the aftershow cover sets party nourishment was in order. Feeling fully refreshed after a quick bite I made my way to Zombie, where the queue was snaking around the block. Perhaps people thought it was the real Green Day playing but it was in fact local upstarts Aerial Salad doing their best impression of the Berkeley trio, which were spot on and good entertainment with the overcrowded room singing along constantly. An Oasis cover set was up next but due to technical difficulties, two guitar heads were broken, there was quite a long delay and with the room packed I thought it apt to call it a night and come back strong tomorrow.
Saturday 21st April
At first glance I thought Saturday was going to be my relaxed day as there were only three artists I had circled to see but perhaps because of this there were a few bands I hadn’t seen or heard of before who surprised me and it made for an interesting day.
Whilst the Underdog acoustic stage opened at 1pm I decided on a lazy morning with my first band of the day on at 2.30pm at The Bread Shed. I had been looking forward to seeing Danish trio Forever Unclean since they were announced, as last years EP Float was one of my favourite short releases of the year and they didn’t disappoint, opening with Dinosaur and its deliberately chaotic noise which races along on a bouncy bassline, causing the crowd to move to the front. The band were clearly loving it from the looks on their faces. The chugging guitar of Worthless flowed well into a new track, which may or may not be called Beautiful or Fucking Liar? It built on the sound of the previous EP with huge harmonies and a singalong chorus. Float featured impassioned vocals and crashing instruments but there’s always an underlying sense of melody, which is also evident on another new track, which might be called Weird before they finished with the intense raging hyperactive punk of Waves, an intense track with some nice slower moments filled by gang vocals and singalongs. Keep an ear/eye open for these boys as I think they are only going to get better.
Over at the Underdog my pal Millie Manders was performing a solo punkelele set so we headed there to make sure we caught her. Arriving in time for a quick chat over a beer I was ready to be blown away by one of the most unique and demonstrative voices in punk. Her set started with Upside Down, which addresses depression countered by the upbeat ukulele strokes. On Nothing Matters her voice managed to be both fragile and fierce, which is then followed by the more up-tempo Little Big Mouth. One new song played was the spoken word, political bite of Poor Mans Show. Anyone familiar with Millie’s solo songs will know that anxiety is a big issue for her and sadly it reared its ugly head during the start of Paper Castles, which she was clearly struggling with but with the total support of the room she got back on track and whilst she may not have felt it at the time, it was a special heart-warming moment. Monster followed with the playful delivery of words seeing her confidence grow before she finished an emotional set with Hole In Your Chest. The set may have suffered a blip but in the end it was a triumph over adversity.
Kate: My first set of the day was one of my most anticipated. I’ve been a fan of Kamikaze Girls for a very long time, and I couldn’t wait to see one of today’s most powerful songwriters busting out some solo jams. Lucinda Livingstone writes from the heart and her discordant, twangy electric guitar complements her growly yet haunting vocals perfectly. She was in very fine form despite some pretty disrespectful behaviour from people in the audience distracting everyone at the acoustic venue by talking loudly right in front of the stage. Despite this, Lucinda absolutely nailed it, singing bangers about equality, mental health, addiction and the importance of mates. Kamikaze Girls consistently cover tough, important topics, and Lucinda’s solo set did not shy away from any of them. I could listen to Lucinda sing all day and her set was over far too soon for my liking. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to witness this amazing set from a human I respect immensely and for the experience to be as bloody good as it was.
Lee: Heading upstairs to Zombie I thought I’d check out PMX and their melodic punk. First thing you notice is that the floor was so sticky in the venue it feels like you’re walking on the moon, each step feeling heavier as you try to lift your feet, although that doesn’t seem to stop the fans towards the front from jumping around to the deep heavy breakdowns. It’s all very competent but felt a bit meat and potatoes to me, which to be fair acted as a perfect stomach-liner for the rest of the evenings entertainment.
Kate: I also headed upstairs to watch PMX. Unlike Lee, I completely dug this Scottish band’s vibe. They are definitely in the genre of “Heavy Riffery” (cheers Dividers). The licks and the harmonies were tight as fuck, and the whole set felt like a beautiful, loving homage to legendary A Wilhelm Scream: and who doesn’t love AWS? PMX were a lovely fun way to pass half an hour, that’s for sure.
Next up, I followed my crew to Rebellion for Dead Neck, who I was unfamiliar with but quickly fell in love HARD. The entire set I was fist pumping for my life. The bass riffs were tasty as and it was the perfect combination of thrashy and super melodic. The screams were on point and despite experiencing mic issues halfway through the set, these lads brought it the hell home. This is an over the top, fucking feel good, good-time band and they wowed me enough that my broke arse parted with some limited cash to get a sick t-shirt: also so I’d remember to check them out when I was in a more sober state. I definitely found a new favourite band that day.
Lee: Heading back over to the Bread Shed for what could have been one of the most emotional sets of the weekend: the last ever MPF set by Manchester locals Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man, who announced a farewell tour earlier this year. You knew what to expect, fast riffs, drinking songs and pit carnage. It didn’t disappoint. Kicking off with Drinking In The Van the crowd were up for it immediately, looking to give them the send of they deserve knowing it’s the last time they will see them live (unless you’ve tickets for the final show at Rebellion on the 8th December). With Look At Me, I’m A Fucking Tiger, I Am Absolutely Fuming and To Be Frank blitzing the audience with frenzied riffs it took some stamina to keep up but encouraged by the band there was absolutely no let-up in the crowd, who even attempted the now traditional human pyramid during Small-Minded NIMBY Prick. By the time Booze Time is played it’s complete chaos in the front rows. ROTPM have two speeds, fucking fast and even fucking faster, which is demonstrated on the raging Fuck The Sea. I Wanna Be A Spaceman did offer small respite before the final song Rose Selavy seeing the band offering heartfelt thanks to everyone for a night they won’t forget in a hurry.
Kate: I was completely torn between two heavyweights both starting with C. Do I go watch Counterpunch finally, after having missed them at so many festivals, or do I make sure I’m inside Gorilla for Propagandhi in plenty of time and catch the ever reliable Illinois favourite The Copyrights? Unfortunately for Counterpunch, The Copyrights won this round. I’ve seen these kids a bunch and they never fail to impress. Despite feeling that the set was a little all too familiar, the band was so tight it didn’t even matter I’d heard the songs live a bunch. The people around where I was standing in the venue did not appear to be feeling The Copyrights at all, which is a damn shame, because they were in fine form that night. Busting out classics like Shit’s Fucked and Worn Out Passport it was a real feel good time and I loved every minute.
Lee: It was from this point in the evening that I had no bands pencilled in to see so all that I did see were new to me, which was great as I had no expectations and they were certainly exceeded. Staying at The Bread Shed it was the intense thrashcore sound of Svetlanas up first and they were mesmerising, especially front woman Olga, who you cannot take your eyes off. From the off she was a ball of violent convulsions rampaging on and off the stage. The music itself was intense and confrontational that demanded your attention. There are angrier, faster, heavier bands than the Svetlanas but you’ll be hard pushed to find one that believes in their message as much or delivers it so passionately.
Kate: There was no way I was missing Propagandhi, so I propped myself up against a wall in Gorilla to wait. The band before the Winnipeg legends also hailed from Winnipeg. Mobina Galore are an act that overcomes the common challenge two pieces can face of sounding a tad thin: they absolutely delighted me and sounded amazingly heavy, thrashy and fresh. There was a bit of a Corpus vibe happening, mixed with a solid grungey dose of Skating Polly, but in all honestly, I don’t think there is a band out there you can properly compare to Mobina Galore. Each song sounded different yet kept in theme, wildly leaping from genre to genre. It was a true shame that they were opening for Propagandhi: I was worried they’d be lost in all the anticipation. Despite my concerns, there was a solid contingent of fans in the crowd losing their minds to each song, which warmed my cold jaded heart. Gateway tunes include Losing Time, Suffer and Going Out Alone. Get in on the ground floor of this Jam Wagon. You’re very welcome.
Next up, the main event for me: the almighty Propagandhi. I hadn’t seen them since Fest 15, which was almost an entire year before the absolute barnburner of an album Victory Lap was released so I was dead keen to hear their set. And let me tell you, faithful reader, it was a bonafide belter of a show. These legends held nothing back, and delivered a truly incredible set. They ramped the energy right up by opening with Failed Imagineer, a banger in every sense of the word, before scaling back just a little for crowd favourites Back to the Motor League and Dear Coach’s Corner. From there we got a great amount of Failed States songs, Todd songs, Anti-Manifesto and more Victory Lap tunes. I’ve been watching Propagandhi for a number of years, and while they never fail to impress me, this set felt a little bit more special than normal. It was a show I will never forget and I cannot wait for them to return to the UK in November for more party times. What a way to end my first UK festival.
After Propagandhi shredded my ears off, I left the festival in the capable hands of Lee and headed off to Satan’s Hollow to dance all night and make poor life choices. I love you, Manchester. You were one hell of a time.
Lee: Now, I’ve an admission to make which is going to lose me punk points. I’ve never listened to Propagandhi or Iron Chic (misspent youth listening to nu-metal to blame) and whilst I was open to either show, my very able colleague at The Punk Archive, Kate, is a bit of a fan as you can see above, so she was at the Propagandhi show. I decided to stick at The Bread Shed and catch Culture Shock instead, who again I hadn’t heard before. The band formed in the mid-eighties before splitting towards the end of that decade but have been active again since 2012 and whilst some songs are of their time, it’s strange how certain fears and thoughts come full circle. Their anarchy ska-punk deals in social and political issues which still seem very relevant now, with nuclear panic, meat farming and refugees all coming under their spotlight. It’s obvious that they still have a very dedicated following though as the room was packed and eager to dance. Tracks like Pressure and Twenty Questions showed different sides of their ska sound, from a more laid back two-tone reggae to heavier, almost ska-core with the crowd lapping it up. Despite their age, it was an energetic set that delivered a positive, empowering message.
With the headliners all done there were still two venues playing music and as I was already at The Bread Shed I decided to stay there for Beat The Red Light and I’m glad I did. On paper they shouldn’t work, blending as they do death metal, thrash, grind, metal and ska but live it absolutely slays. It’s so heavy one moment and then the brass kicks in for a skank before back to throat ripping roars, it really needs to be seen to be believed. The circle pits were mental, just pure chaos with the band encouraging mayhem at every turn, with one friend (Theo) somehow managing to mosh a hole through his shoes!
How exactly do you follow that? Good question, but one that Chewing On Tinfoil certainly had the answer to, as the Dublin band played an impressive set laden with energy and plenty of hooks. The sound was a bit wobbly to start with but they soon overcame that and the room, which was still packed, were singing along to their melodic punk-folk-ska. There were a couple more bands to go but my energy levels were depleted, Manchester Punk Festival had both enriched and destroyed my mind and body over the past few days.
This was my second Manchester Punk Festival and it just seems to be getter bigger and better, which is evident in the bands that they are able to attract, both national and international. My wholehearted thanks and admiration goes out to the whole MPF collective who help put such a great festival together.