If you’re interested in attending the event next year, get your tickets sorted fast! It will definitely be another sell out.
With the dust settled and the carnage that was Manchester Punk Festival 2018 nought but a distant memory and warm tingle deep within, it’s time to finally get down to work. Unlike most write ups, this isn’t going to be an in-depth review of every act I managed to see during the three days of coordinated chaos – that would dangerously expose both my journalistic inadequacies and my alcoholic tendencies.
Sure, I could regale you with the technical intricacies of each shred-heavy band I caught over the weekend, the triumphant albeit temporary return of the mighty Egos at the Door that I somehow managed to completely miss, or how horns and death metal will probably never be blended as seamlessly as when Beat the Red Light do it… But what’s the point? If you were there, we probably didn’t see the same performances and if you weren’t, such a review will either incite jealousy or simply mean sweet fuck all to you. Instead, I’d rather consider the festival as a whole – a moment in time so glorious in its inception, delivery, and execution that countless will correctly question if it can ever be topped. Of course, they’ll be a few stops along the way to take in some personal highlights that I found simply too good to go without mention.
Let’s begin with some formalities. Manchester Punk Festival is a multi-venue event that draws over 90 acts from every conceivable sub-genre of what could loosely be called punk. It takes place across several independent venues in the heart of England’s formerly industrial north. Now in its fourth year, each instalment has seen the festival gradually mutate into the indomitable beast it is today. Despite expanding considerably from its quaint beginnings, MPF retains a truly homegrown feel. Every band booked espouses a certain spirit of the underground and none are too proud to bundle themselves into the back of a Caddy or Sprinter for a trip to the other side of the country or continent. The DIY spirit is further cultivated by the heroic efforts of the all-volunteer crew. Together they take care of everything from swapping tickets for wristbands or loading and unloading gear, right through to preparing mountains of home cooked food for road-weary musicians from around the globe.
The event kicks off on a Thursday evening towards the end of April and begins inauspiciously enough, across just two venues. Each year it seems the organisers force themselves to play an impossible guessing game of whether every ticket holder will show up on a school night and if each of the two rooms hosting that evening’s entertainment will be attended equally. Whilst limiting the number of venues on day one does practically guarantee that the bands will play to a crowded room, it also means that some guests could miss a performance that they were keen to see. Evidently, those composing the line-up haven’t yet come to terms with just how popular their event is since the later entertainment was ludicrously oversubscribed down at The Bread Shed. At one point, there was a queue around the block for Celtic punk troubadours Roughneck Riot and a “one in, one out” system was in force on the doors. With that in mind and the rather daunting mission to the second venue troubling me, I made the call early to stick with The Bread Shed. For me the line-up was stronger there and there’d be plenty of Rebellion throughout Friday anyhow.
One of the highlights from Thursday was without doubt the fierce onslaught of Arboricidio who provided some of the crustiest moments of the entire festival. They opened a beautifully balanced list of acts at The Bread Shed with the aforementioned bands being joined by tech-punk shred mongers Fair Do’s, melodious anthemic hardcore four-piece In Evil Hour, and to top it all was the triumphant return of UK ska punk legends Random Hand. Such a diverse array of groups playing in one venue is certainly one of the things that makes MPF special. Extra props also need extending to Efrem and Dan from Death by Stereo who’d joined the party the night before their festival appearance and continued it well into the not-so-small hours with us. Top work boys.
MPF finds its full stride on the Friday with several more venues opening their doors. This allows numbers to be diluted more evenly across additional spaces. The atmosphere changes subtly from that of an absolute banger of a gig to a city centre festival-proper. This year, acts started earlier on the second day with the first taking their respective stages around mid-afternoon. As well as the extra venues opening their doors for the first time, other festival features come to life on the Friday. Al Fresco dining is taken care of by local culinarians from the Teatime Collective outside the impromptu festival hub, The Thirsty Scholar. The classic Manchester boozer features rare outside seating making it ideal for a chin wag in the freakish yet glorious sunshine we were blessed with for the duration of the weekend. It also served as the venue for the comedy stage during Saturday.
Other additions included a pop-up record store and cinema, both of which find a worthy home inside the basement of The Font Bar – which coincidentally has the worst “punk” CD imaginable along with the cheapest cocktails around. During the weekend a diverse selection of movies and Q&A sessions were presented from the subterranean space. Highlights included the TNSrecords Tour Documentary, a question and answer session with legendary street punks The Restarts, and a showing of So, Which Band Is Your Boyfriend In?
Along with all those features that turn a weekend of gigs into a music festival, there were also one or two live performances to boot. Apart from milling around for some early slots by the likes of Rebuke and folk punk outfit The Lab Rats, the rest of Friday was spent over at Rebellion bar. Put simply, there wasn’t a weak performance at the venue between six o’clock and ten. Wolfbeast Destroyer, Fireapple Red, Waterweed, and Death by Stereo each took turns to rip the fucking ceiling off the place, and for me that portion of the line up was the strongest set of acts performing back-to-back. Particularly heart-warming was seeing Waterweed bassist Tomohiro Ohga deliver a pre-prepared message of thanks to promoters, bands, and the crowd alike. He read from a mobile phone which helped him overcome the obvious language barrier and was greeted by rapturous applause making it one of the more tender and magical moments of the entire festival.
Memories start to get hazy and there becomes a legitimate excuse for my rapidly dwindling professionalism after the headline performances at MPF. However, there’s still the carnage of the various after parties to attend. Through a chemically induced haze, I managed to take but one note about anything after Death by Stereo on Friday and it is this. “Pizza Tramp: ‘Mr Sound Guy…. Turn everything up as loud as it’ll go.’” Needless to say, shit got wild, fast.
Saturday for MPF’s 2018 edition started at a similar time to Friday with the same venues bearing the weight of numbers. If you’ve ever hung around the punk scene in Manchester, you’ll know that we hit it hard. Therefore, by this point everyone’s a little frayed around the edges. The decision to push the opening acts back a touch from previous years was a wise one and meant that folks could get together at a reasonable time and quaff whatever hangover cure the morning called for. Ours were strong to say the least.
By the time we showed up to the largest of the festival’s venues for the first time of the weekend, we were in the highest of spirits and perfectly tuned in to see old friends in Holiday perform their self-deprecating blend of sorrow-laden pop punk.
In all honesty, the daytime of Saturday seemed to run away from me and apart from an always hilarious set by the one and only Nanna-skanker that is Captain Hotknives and the impeccably delivered skate punk stylings of Darko, the rest of the day was spent catching up with friends from just about every corner of Europe and beyond. Before I knew it, it was time for headliners Propagandhi to take to Gorilla’s stage. Busy isn’t the word but we all managed to blag our way in even if one of our party had to borrow the artist pass from Darko’s drummer (cheers Borg!). It would be the first show by the legendary four-piece in Manchester for around 15 years. The old saying of about absence and fonder hearts couldn’t have rung with more truth as the crowd used just about everything left in the tank appreciating new and old songs the only way that a roomful of punks know how – by going batshit crazy.
Following Propagandhi, of course, were more after parties. I managed to catch the ska core Satan worshippers of Beat the Red Light who absolutely destroyed a highly intoxicated Bread Shed crowd. Unfortunately, they would be the last band I managed to see of the weekend. Like a dick, I somehow talked shit outside The Zombie Shack for the whole of Egos at The Door’s set. Having missed them before they first split up and additional shows anything but certain for the future, I am truly livid with myself.
That was it. That was MPF 2018. There was just time to band together whatever ramshackle crew was still standing and find a bar that would let us in. The festival had been yet another testament to the trio of promotions groups that conceived of the idea in the first place. To those in TNSrecords, Anarchistic Undertones, and Moving North, to the legions of volunteers, and to everyone who made the festival what it was, there are not words near worthy enough for the reverence and esteem you and every single attendee should feel for yourselves. Without doubt, Manchester Punk Festival this year was the pinnacle of what a DIY festival can be. How they will top it next year is anyone’s guess.
Many thanks extend to the wonderful photographers who’ve contributed pictures. Without you, reading my nonsense would be unbearable:
- Stu Wolfe @ Wolfepics
- Mark Richards @ Mark Richards Photography & Film
- Joshua Sumner @ Cold Front Photography
- Jim Taylor @ Jim Taylor Photos (those that aren’t watermarked)