Some weekends are better than others and if you’re lucky enough to have bank holidays away from the daily grind, Easter is one of the better, or at least longer, of these extended weekends. If you can spend three days watching the finest punk and punk adjacent music within the DIY scene bubble, full of support and kindness, you are probably having one of the best weekends of the year; and you’re almost certainly at Manchester Punk Festival. A weekend where Manchester’s thriving independent scene work together to bring an unrivalled audience experience together and amplify some of the best bands in the world across the best venues in the city.
WORDS: BEN ADSETT / IMAGES: DORY VALENTINE
Starting a weekend of back to back bands with a final show is a risky tactic. In a packed room, Cynics are either going to make or break the weekend. Emotions are high as the venue (YES) hits capacity and what follows is a thirty minute outpouring of love for a band who clearly mean a lot to the people in the room. Within moments, the audience are in full voice, intensifying what is already a melancholic set and creating a close sound which can be felt bouncing off the walls and bodies. The delicate moments hit hard and the rousing choruses are infectious, and as the penultimate song ends on the poignant line “we don’t want this to end”, this feeling hangs in the room for a moment. The set closes on a surprising cover of ‘Brimful of Asha’ with the accompaniment of the entire crowd. This finale cleverly diverts to a joyous moment and fittingly waves good bye to a band who some will forever hold dear.
The Human Project
The Human Project take the stage and have the audience entranced within seconds. The clever guitars and razor sharp harmonies contrast with their crushing rhythm section and create a sound that could be scaled up to fill any room. This set feels important to the band and is delivered with a ferocity which is returned by the people at the front who move like a snowball; always increasing in size. The final notes buzz around the room for a moment as breaths are caught before heading to the next musical adventure.
The deadly mix of expansive musicianship, deep political dissatisfaction and pure rage makes Petrol Girls set pass by in the blink of an eye. Ren Aldridge expresses concern about performing in jeans rather than the usual lucky sparkly shorts having an effect on the set, but this is forgotten within moments as the entire band are clearly at the top of their game. The vocal fury and sweeping guitars build to a climax which leaves the audience wanting more.
The Slow Death
In yet another full room, The Slow Death are cementing their status as legends of this scene. The expansive sound they create nods towards the decades their career has spanned and the birth and death of musical sub-genres, meaning almost every song in their set is different. This is the kind of live mastery that only exists after years of honing your craft and is appreciated by a core group of fans finger pointing and singing along to every word.
Never has a band had a more fitting name than Going Off. Within seconds of them taking the stage, the entire front of The Bread Shed is in motion. With the band hyping the audience up with words of encouragement and a perfectly executed set of beat down riffs, snarling vocals and drumbeats so tight they could be mechanised, the pit seems to be stuck in perpetual motion. This set wasn’t just for the people putting their bodies on the line though, there was plenty to get even the most reluctant heads nodding. With a deserved reputation that has grown over the last year and now puts them within lists of the hottest heavy acts, the pressure was on; yet its clear this is a band who perform best under pressure. By the end everyone leaving the room has a new favourite UK hardcore band, and what’s not to love about this vital and often brutal collection of songs.
Off With Their Heads
This festival likes to celebrate bands that have shaped the scene they work so hard to nurture, and Off With Their Heads and their seminal album ‘Home’ get that treatment today. The record is played in full and played with such infectious passion that the huge cramped crowd feels like a much smaller venue; The Union is vast but everyone is as close to stage as they can be. In a room filled with voices singing along, it’s hard to see ‘Home’ as anything other than a vital release. As the final few tracks ring out, you can hear voices start to crack after an hour of singing along and for a collection of relatively bleak songs, there are a surprising amount of smiles on faces. It’s touching to see a band clearly enjoying their headline set so much and sharing this moment with an adoring crowd.
Big D And The Kids Table
Catching the end of Big D And The Kids Table proved popular as we followed a group of people speed walking to Gorilla and packing in to the venue like sardines. Clearly warmed up after playing at least half a set, the band played a fast and loose selection from their large back catalogue and created a fun atmosphere but somehow fell short on the actual songs. This did not deter an entire crowd who bounced their way through the set and made the concrete floor feel like it was on water.
The night takes a completely different turn as the afterparty starts with Knife Club; it’s almost like we have been invited in to a completely different event. Gone are the smart venues and polished sets – instead there is a sticky floor, that unmistakable smell of a night club and a chaotic thirty minutes of double fronted DIY punk. With a stage packed full of musicians fronted by Andy Davies in heart shaped sunglasses and (briefly) a leopard print coat, it’s the crowd who instigate the chaos. Bodies fly around the room, from the stage and, on occasion from the top of the crowd, with a thud. This is like an invite to a local midweek basement show and it’s an absolutely fitting end to day one at Manchester Punk Festival.
Roll on Day Two.