It’s just one week until a few thousand punks descend on the northern UK city of Manchester for what has fast become an absolute festival-calendar highlight. Returning for its fifth and biggest edition yet, Manchester Punk Festival will play host to more than 130 bands spanning just about every sub-genre of punk.
The festival is the product of three of Manchester’s most-active purveyors of underground sounds – Moving North, Anarchistic Undertones, and TNS Records. Helping them is a vast team of volunteers drafted directly from the UK punk scene. Essentially, it’s about 10 massive DIY gigs running simultaneously, with hundreds of bands, that span three days. It’s fucking great.
With just a few tickets remaining, we put some questions to long promoter Ian “Tree” Robinson (of Manchester’s Anarchistic Undertones and Oasis tribute band-fame) to find out what goes in to putting on an underground slobber-knocker as grand in scale as that occurring next weekend. Below is the result of just that.
An Interview With The Tree:
MPF is running for three full days this year, with entertainment on Sunday too. What influenced the decision to extend the programme?
It’s always been a possibility right from the first year. Friday to Sunday seems like the logical choice of days when doing a festival, I guess, but we like to hit it hard so having that Sunday to recover is pretty valuable.
We ask for feedback from punters each year too and it was a common request to drop Thursday and do Sunday. The usual weekend of MPF fell on Easter weekend this year where most are off Friday and Monday, so we thought we’d give it a go. Can’t please everyone though. Some people weren’t happy about the change. Some flights and accommodation cost more that weekend too but fuck it, we fancied giving it a go. It doesn’t necessarily mean next year will be the same, but we’ll see.
How has running MPF changed over the years?
There’re obvious changes with it getting bigger each year, it has just meant more jobs to do each time. No year has been the same so far, so it does still feel fresh for us.
We have a core team that plan and make decisions etc. but MPF would be impossible without the help we get from so many people. It’s heartwarming how many people want to be involved and enjoy being part of it. We are proper grateful for it. I can’t pin down any one thing to tell you, there’s just a lot to get to grips with. It’s become a yearlong job to do whereas first and second year it probably wasn’t.
What’s the biggest single challenge of putting on an event of this size?
Fuck your questions are specific. What the fuck, mate. I was hoping not to have to think. There’re probably too many challenges to just pick one. Staying on top of every little detail, planning for possible fuck ups or problems, getting it all done in a timely manner on top of working full time.
I don’t think we are all involved in every single aspect anymore. The jobs list has become that high that we have to just take charge of stuff and get it done. We all have strengths with things, so it does get done and give our opinions on what the others are doing where possible.
MPF is known for its respect for DIY, underground culture. Is it a challenge to keep the event from becoming a massive corporate affair as it grows?
I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge although there are hurdles and frustrations that come with it. We are very proud to be independent, free of sponsorship, inclusive, community driven, supportive of local sized groups/labels/businesses etc.
We don’t want it to be a corporate affair, that would be hollow and shit. It would be too easy to take money off someone external and go and book a huge band with it, where’s the fun in that? If other people want to take that shortcut then go for it but it’s not for us. Unique lineups, progressive attitudes, party until we die, that’s more us.
Where do you see MPF in another five years’ time? Could it ever move from the city and offer camping?
I’m not Mystic Meg, mate. Jesus. What’s your fucking problem?
No idea where it’ll be to be honest, but I feel confident in saying it won’t ever be a camping affair. Those festivals are so good but the stress and problems that come with it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.
I can only speak for me there too obviously. I’ve had friends who’ve done outdoor festivals and the challenges year on year seem crazy. We discussed it before our first one, but we opted for the current format. That way we could involve a lot more bands and artists. Outdoor events can swallow a lot of money, we’d rather know that money is going to good people.
You’ve already had Propagandhi and Strike Anywhere perform, two big bands for you personally, who else would be on your dream list of artists to play one day?
Haha. I am going to refrain from listing any names. I did that in your last interview, and it was a mistake!
Very proud of the bands who have played so far, particularly those two who are two of my all-time favourites and always will be. We want bands that actually want to play, support what we are doing and support the scene in general. I feel like we’ve had that so far.
It’s a busy weekend for the organisers. Do you manage to get to see most of the bands you want?
Yeh I think we do. We may not always see full sets of everyone we want to, but I’ve definitely had my fill over the years. I’ve missed some because of clashes or because something needs doing but generally, I think we probably all get to see most of what we want. There’s a lot going on, isn’t there. Would suck if it was just work. Saying hello to everyone you want to say hello to is harder than catching bands!
So, give us one band from each day that you’ll go through hell or highwater to see play.
Picking bands to talk about is well hard. I’ll give you a few though because you’re not the boss of me. There’s no way I’m missing The Penske File and Wolfrik on the Friday. Excited as fuck for Misantropic, Myteri and Adrenalized on the Sat. Sunday has Not On Tour, March and Actionmen. There’s tons mate, After The Fall are in town, Habits, Crywank, we are spoilt for choice. Just fuck off and make your own decision, Ricky.
As you mention, you ask for feedback from fans, volunteers, and bands each year. What, other than the change of days, have you incorporated to the festival from it?
We take a lot of it on board every year, mate. This year we’ve tried to address capacity and queues, improved the record store, added even more bands, opted for a Sunday, more comedy acts, that all came from feedback. You can read more about it in the programme or on our website.
With around a week to go, is this the calm before the storm, or is there still a million-and-one things to do and stress levels are maxed out?
Had our last group meeting last night. I feel like we are on top of everything but it’s easy to be in denial. Like I said, we get a lot of help and think we have a good group of people propping us up so yeh fuck it, we’ll kill it (I hope).
If you could change one thing about MPF that you think would make it instantly better or easier to organise, what would it be?
I would go back in time ask the rest of the crew at the first meeting if they really wanted to go ahead with this, like really, should we just leave it?
Finally, if you were a punter, would MPF be your favourite festival?
Of course it fucking would. What a stupid question.
Manchester Punk Festival kicks off next Friday at midday and there are still tickets left. Buy one.
Even if you can’t go, buy one, and help the team stay in champagne, cocaine, and limousines.