It’s been but a week, and yet it feels like a century. Manchester Punk Festival is exemplary. The level of organisation that it must take to produce an event that retains the level of pure bliss and relaxation as MPF (whilst spanning seven venues across the city) is a glorious feat. The flawless weather, intrinsically matched bands:venues and perfect harmony between festival attendees, performers and staff allowed each individual to have true immersion in the weekend. All smiles, all fun and all MPF.
Manchester Punk Festival 2023 kicked off for me on Friday afternoon. I had just returned from The Vive le Rock Awards in London. Gazing through the bus window, a bottle of Stella Unfiltered clutched in my hand, I saw a carpet of leather jackets and mohawks creating a patchwork across the green, dry grass of All Saints Park, studs glittering in the warmest rays of April sunshine.
After collecting my press pass, I found myself drawn to The Union. Crowds were gathering and milling around the food and merch stalls of this – the largest venue at MPF. Old and new friends shouted hellos, and I felt more at home in Manchester than I have in ages. Familiar Essex accents bounced through the throng, and I noticed friends from my hometown had arrived. My voice had only just about returned, I croaked my way through catch ups and cuddles before heading off to check out the first set of the weekend.
Comeback Clit were already on when we hastened the Zombie Shack stairs. People were leaving in droves exclaiming how packed it was. We lodged into an area just outside the men’s toilets to watch this all-female four-piece Hastings hardcore ensemble. There was a steady stream of people evacuating both the venue, and their bowels in the toilets, while more piled in from outside. Comeback Clit screamed, “This is insane – the most people we’ve played to by about 400% – this is crazy!” To an encore of ‘Clit! Clit! Clit!” from the ecstatic crowd.
The sunshine was still blaring across the city when we left the venue, buzzing and ready for the adventure that was set to be MPF. We grabbed a cold ginger beer and headed back to All Saints Park to calm down.
Burning Flag were up next. This was my first experience of the venue that I would later regard as the best of the festival and fail to leave. What a great gig. Burning Flag were on top form – their raw political hardcore sludge energy was infectious. My friend, James shouted of the drummer “Fucking hell, he’s hitting those cymbals like they owe him money!”. They played a lot of tracks from their Matador album which crescendoed into a happily violent circle pit.
The Bread Shed was the venue of choice for the next three bands after this – Going Off, Corrupt Moral Altar and, my favourite, The Restarts. I did duck out in the break to catch some of The Beltones who performed a wonderful set in The Union – their first UK gig in 20 years. I also met the singer from Pizza Tramp and gave him a diet plan before hopping off.
Going Off are a great five-piece two step hardcore band with a lot of range. My favourite track they played was Premium Dream. The crowd were absolutely going off – I wonder how many people have made this joke? They are such a great band to see live. Their music absorbs you, time feels like it jolts by between each track. I highly recommend.
Corrupt Moral Altar are a five-piece grindcore band. James messaged me while I was still over at The Union to say of them: ‘Listening to this band is like being stood on the precipice of a tectonic shift. Heart stopping sludge begotton on both sides by unadulterated grind of a piercing quality’. Safe to say I was on my way directly to The Bread Shed after that.
Something that was truly wonderful about the whole of MPF, were the number of pubs and bars that allowed you to sit outside on their benches whether you were buying booze from them or not. We were never without somewhere to go to chill between bands, they let us drink our own beer outside, eat food and generally hang out until closing time. At MPF you are never made to feel unwelcome in any aspect and that was something we all super appreciated. Oh, and the two security guards at The Bread Shed need a special mention – they illuminated the vibe of the whole festival with their constant jokes and cheery smiles each time we went inside.
After a lovely interlude with the vocalist of Corrupt Moral Alter and a few icy cold sunshine beers, we were back inside for my most anticipated gig of the weekend. The Restarts have been one of my all-time favourite bands since I first got into the punk scene. With them, any punk-points go out the window, and I might as well be fan-girling Justin Bieber. Intelligent Design helped me pass my philosophy AS level – so I have a lot to thank them for. Seeing them live again was exquisite. I was stood right up the front shouting all the lyrics, loving every minute. They played a whole roulette of songs. The crowd went absolutely bonkers for Outsider, it is still going round in my head. I papped a snap with them at the end, and lost the plot for 45 minutes.
After some of the Shooting Daggers set, we realised it was time for Luvdump at Rebellion. My notes tell me that this was an idyllic walk through Manchester. I wish it was possible to rewind through memories. Luvdump are East Anglian mash artists who combine political ska and melodic hardcore with reggae and dub. I made a note that it was ‘like The Specials meet Tony Hawk’, but I don’t think this suffices. The drummer of Luvdump was particularly good and the sound levels were absolutely excellent. The atmosphere in Rebellion for this gig stood out to me, it was such a nice feeling. Everyone in the crowd and band was hanging out, like an American film where a band plays in a basement full of people keeping the skank alive. It was a beautiful way to end the music of the day.
Back at The Bread Shed for the afterparty, MPF is Burning: The Snatch Game Takeover I met up with an old friend and had a dance before returning home, dressing up in animal outfits and taking Die Artwood-esq photographs till the sun came up.
Saturday started early-ish, the excitement was palpable and hearts were racing. We descended on Raj’s (the local corner shop) for more Stella Unfiltered (honestly – try it), before hopping on the bus and straight to All Saints Park for a picnic of watermelon and pastries backed by Britney Spears. Even the pigeons go punk for MPF. One was strutting its stuff across the grass with a giant white feathery mohawk.
Punks began to mill in, there were no hungover faces at this point. Fresh, bright and bubbly beings ascended the steps in the centre of the park – a skinhead bloke in a white vest bopped along to Vengaboys in the centre and it felt like we were all here to stay.
Casual Nausea were the first band of the day, we didn’t realise that Jodie Faster was playing right before them in The Union and have been educated by almost everyone I’ve spoken to that it was their highlight of the festival so I am gutted to have missed it that one.
Casual Nausea brought their big grins and authentic enthusiasm with them and were the best band I saw play in The Union all weekend. They also had the best sound levels for any band I heard in there which must have been tricky as the acoustics aren’t fantastic. Zoe on vocals was in tears of joy as another band member lovingly shouted ‘emotional bastard’ at her. Zoe and Ed have such a nice back and forth with their vocals. Their sound is a little like Leftover Crack meets Gogol Bordello, creating a bouncy and fun vibe to start the day ‘coz’ everyone’s hanging outta their arses!’.
Heathcliff were up next over at The Bread Shed, I hadn’t heard of them before. Skate punk with a bit of d-beat all the way from Munich. The drums were fast and mic’ed up to perfection. They went from pop-punk to crusty d-beat ‘as smooth as a peach in syrup glides down your throat’. Everyone was super loving them, it was a wonderful vibe with chill dancing and happy smiles all round. I made a note that Heathcliff were like the band from It’s Always Sunny if they played MPF. They also shouted ‘SIKE!’ out of nowhere, which got stuck in my head for the rest of the weekend and stemmed a lot of terrible ‘cyc-list’ jokes.
The park called again for a quick break, and the atmosphere had gone hilarious. Clothes were swapped, wrestling began and all of this was being captured by the wonderful punk photographer Michael Steff who I have to thank for most of the images and videos in this article!
Snuff were next on the itinerary. They were magnificent – even if I did spend have the time trying to take my boots off. The pit was so full of happiness, oomph and love. We were all in there, I had a skank with a pal that I hadn’t seen in ages. It felt like a lot of the festival had come together – but it still didn’t feel claustrophobic, or too packed. That was another thing about The Bread Shed, it kept changing and growing to fit the crowd it truly is the perfect venue. Snuff played all the classics, and more, with one song at the end called Boost(er?) which they said was new. It was a 10 second thrash song and it made the crowd laugh.
It was at Snuff that I met the brilliantly innovative creator of ‘One Way Ticket to Cubesville’. A punk zine full of interviews, reviews, reports, information and even – in this issue #25 ‘books about punx punx about books’, some paper statuettes of the one and only Spillage (see Sunday).
Next up were Lightyear and Death by Stereo, both great bands. Lightyear chatted with the crowd a lot, Death By Stereo were ‘amazing solid hardcore punk’. I missed Flatliners at this point, but as with all festivals, it’s impossible to catch every set because only Bernard has the watch.
Krupskaya were the band we’d been saving our energy for all day. I’d heard that they were an insanely good band, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how good. I thought they were a Slavic grindcore band – even after buying a shirt from the lead vocalist at the merch stall. It wasn’t until I was raving about their drummer outside with a cigarette that I found out they’re from Stoke. It was the best pit of the festival, fists were flying, my mate got on his hands and knees and body slammed everyone – the same person spirting water all over the sweaty mass from his mouth. The pit was messy, the band were anything but – if you get the chance, see them.
Next up was Irish crusty grindcore band, Subordinate. My mate had been trying to explain where they were playing all day and I wasn’t listening (sorry) so I was happily astonished to find myself in the right place at the right time for a change. Zombie Shack was an excellent venue for niche bands. When it was full to the rafters for Comeback Clit on day one I think it scared a few people off. These guys were incredible, they rebounded perfectly off Krupskaya and it was a beautiful set. They’re fast, they’re loud, and they’re skilled at what they do. Watching these two bands made me wish I’d spent more time at this venue. I’d have loved to have seen Dischord, Crutches, Distral, Sadaxe and probably a whole lot of other bands here across the weekend – MPFs best kept (hidden in plain view) secret.
The rest of the night was one big party at the Tokky Horror DJ Set. If anyone had walked in off the street and found themselves at that they would have been pretty weirded out, we loved it. The perfect balance of nakedly good vibes and disco-pop to spin the hands of time throughout the night and into the next day.
Sunday called for a big of time to gather ourselves. Gone were the fresh faces of Saturday and we wanted them back. In the park, a rouge dog called Alfie loped about, jowls wobbling as he rolled in the smells of a thousand butts. Vengaboys ‘We Like to Party’ was back on – the pop party track of the weekend. The sunshine was glittering through the trees and resurrecting our smiles. Before long, a discrete game of musical chairs began. Strangers were absorbed into friends. Our group grew and our stories were shared. The festival feel had taken full effect, there was no other existence.
Melonball were “a great way to start the day” (at 6pm). They are an upbeat female-fronted punk rock band from Nuremberg. Their skate punk sound reverberated across the room, boinging off the walls and into our minds and we loved it. They even had some upbeat poppy d-beat and guitar solos that would make the 80s boogie. They threw some folk-punk in there for good measure and played at least one song in German which was super nice to hear at a British festival. Melonball were just what we needed on a Sunday at a festival, their lead vocalist can go gritty but also dreamy and mellow. So many of their songs have the potential to be sing-along classics.
I need to also mention how great it was that almost every band at the festival had affordable merch and, if you just loved the band but couldn’t afford a shirt or a patch – they had free high-quality stickers &/or badges – nice touch!
Next up in The Bread Shed was a band that blew me away, Stone Leek came on almost out of nowhere. I forgot where I was for a minute and transcended to being under a bridge at the front of the crowd. Stone Leek are a melodic hardcore/skate punk band from Japan. The four-piece were super enthusiastic, and painted a feeling while they were on stage. Their bassist crowd surfed during the set, and their riffs were electrifying. It was a super good time, and appearing after Melonball was the perfect line up decision.
After a quick dash about trying to catch bands all at the same time, and buy Buckfast (which Spar had run out of) we settled back at the park for an angry kebab and a two-beer-at-once kind of moment. Squats were popped, and, as the sun went down, the moon rose, shining on our last night of Manchester Punk Festival.
“Discharge were Discharge” were all the notes I made for the next band. Discharge have been one of my favourite bands for years, and it was a particularly good set. Everyone was feeling cute and cuddly as Jeff Janiak sprayed beer from his mouth across the crowd of our sweaty bods. Michael Steff got this excellent video of ‘The Nightmare Continues’ from the front of the fluctuating pit. They played an everlasting set, each time I thought it was over another song came on and it was the first point all weekend that I felt truly, brilliantly exhausted. If you ever get the chance to witness Discharge, just do it.
It felt like the whole festival had started to mill in and out of The Bread Shed doors. Wonk Unit and Bad Nerves had just finished playing, and Glitchers were up next with their two-piece political hardcore. They played their version of ‘Fuck the Tories’ which they made in collaboration with the enigmatic Kunts’ annual attempt at the Christmas Number One slot.
We spent The Glitchers gig flopped on what may or may not have been a bin, at the back of the venue. Legs dangling and spirits high, it was like being in a twitchers’ hide. We were both inside, and outside of our surroundings. Immersed in the magnificent world Manchester Punk Festival organisers had created for us. This was the opportune moment that my MPF plus one took to ask me out. I said a big ‘yes’ to that. We both fainted in a blaze of glory, confetti fell from the ceiling, cannons were lit and saluted, and everyone did a dance number before the last band of the weekend started up.
The last band for us were Spillage at The Bread Shed (of course). An expressively ‘miserable’, emotive hardcore set from a Manchester-based band. Fran, the vocalist got passionate on the mic in the crowd. Sharing previous hardships in life, emotional stories, and thanking MPF for collocating every band they had found for the weekend with Manchester as the stage. The dejection was only half apparent as the guitarist and cowboy-garbed bassist grinned their way through extended riffs. One of them was in a Rudimentary Peni shirt – had to get that in there. It was an excellent choice of finale. Spillage tied a saintly knot in the end of the festival, like the flourish of a bow on a beautifully gift wrapped present.
Sat in a doorway outside, making jokes and sharing Rizlas, the time felt right to say goodbye. As the Pop Party intercity disco for Punks began, we made an executive decision, grappled in hugs with new and old friends and waved farewell to MPF 2023. Speeding away in our Uber, its wheels of steel turning, the traffic lights burning, I thought I heard a familiar sound etching its way through my brain…