It’s been a few weeks since the entire Oxford Road area succumbed to the now annual onslaught of orchestrated anarchy that is Manchester Punk Festival. Once again, the event saw a patchwork sea of freaks, fans, and fiends descend from far and wide for a three-day free-for-all; united by shared passions of punk rock and partying. The over eighty-strong line-up represents one of the largest celebrations of DIY music in the country, and attracts performers and audiences from every imaginable “hue” within the genre. A swarm of over 1,500 assorted vagabonds would make the pilgrimage for the 2017 edition; eager to witness heavy-weights Strike Anywhere, Paint It Black, and Inner Terrestrials, share stages with local and rising talent from across the globe. Nowhere else can you find quite the mix of musical stylings that Manchester Punk Festival offers, and rare is the spirit of comradery that sits heavy in the air during the weekend’s proceedings.
Like all punk rock gatherings seem to these days, a huge number of personal friends made up the line-up and audience alike. This made covering the festival in our usual play-by-play sense seem absurd. Simply walking from one side of MPF to the other to catch an artist perform was a task, owing to the sheer number of mates you’d have to blank on the way over. Thus, an overview, a feeling – a rekindling of the zeitgeist of the weekend – feels much more apt. Sure, I could wax lyrical about the ins and outs of every performance I managed to see during the three days (or could I?), but hell, I’m sure there are plenty more punctual bloggers and reviewers who already have those bases well covered. Plus, it’s a festival. You quickly come to terms with the fact you won’t watch all the bands you came to see. Sometimes, we all need those times sitting at the tents – be they metaphorical, or otherwise – getting fucked up with our mates.
As soon as the Retro bar opened on Thursday night, the full-force occupation of the city centre was in motion. Hordes of attendees crammed the venue to its absolute limits. Arriving to such a mob was unexpected. There was talk early on regarding the size of the venues chosen for the opening night but from the point of view of those organising MPF, the reluctance to hire larger rooms for the Thursday is understandable. How do you go about guessing the number of your full weekend festival ticket holders that will show up on a school night, when the Flatliners and Menzingers have a joint gig in town too? Not an enviable task.
Performances did become much less claustrophobic after the opening of venue two, The Zombie Shack. Despite the early crush, it was stunning to see such a strong turnout for the warmup entertainment. This would be a trend that would continue throughout the weekend with early doors acts like the folk duo ONSIND enjoying as dense crowds as many of the bigger draws on the bill.
Running the MPF show are Andy “Dead Old” Davies, Tim “Craft” Bevington, Kieran “Peg Leg” Kelly, Mikey “Greased Lightning” Wong, Ian “Rotten Oak” Robinson, Danny “If he dies, he dies” Cummings, and Tom “Rooster” Skinkis*. Between this admittedly dubious sounding team, the chaos that is Manchester Punk Festival is given a time-frame and running order. Hats off to them as well – the level of orchestration it must take to manage such a potentially shambolic grind show boggles the mind. They pull it off though. By god do they pull it off. There were few, if any, instances during the entire weekend of any sort of technical issue, or running order problem.
*Names provided by Anarchistic Undertones spokesperson.
It was as mystifying as it was refreshing to chat with the promoters at various points of the festival and hear that everyone was where they needed to be, and were on time, well fed, watered, and generally taken care of in true DIY punk rock style. It’s often commented how poorly British promoters treat the bands who travel to play for them, with the do-it-yourself attitude taken a little too literally – “need a bed? Go find one yourself then” – sort of thing. In this respect, MPF mirrors events on the continent more closely. Backstage in Sound Control was enough vegan food for all performers, along with plenty of hard and soft refreshments. Small hospitality touches like these may not seem huge, but to a band on the road, they’re massive. Such an appreciation of touring artists’ comfort requirements obviously has roots in many of the promoters’ experiences travelling with their own bands.
There was some small commotion during Strike Anywhere’s Friday night performance over venue capacities. A group had apparently showed up to watch only the headline act, and therefore not seen the signs everywhere urging people to arrive at stages early to avoid being turned away. If you ask me – which you didn’t, but this is my column after all – buying a ticket to a punk rock festival only to watch one band, especially if that band is Strike Anywhere, kind of feels like you’re missing the point a bit.
Make no mistake, music festivals can bring out the worst in some people. Irrespective of the genre, when the liquor flows freely, rose-tinted visions of some Woodstockian free-love-in can consume the thought processes of many in attendance. Liberties are often taken with those more vulnerable, be it a provocative “cat-call”, or perhaps worse. Unfortunately, even some punk rock festivals aren’t without their own incidences of harassment, and objectification – something which seems oxymoronic to me. To its absolute credit, MPF did appear free from this kind of crap. Mutual respect extended to all, and reports from female festival goers were ones of safety, inclusion, and equality. This is largely due to the line-up assembled. Those artists invited to perform all embody these ideals, and whether it was the venomous sermon of Petrol Girls, the inclusionary sing-a-longs of Strike Anywhere, or the painfully danceable, anti-fascist rhythms of Black Star Dub Collective that kept the bigots away mattered little. It’s still just as thrilling to see such a safe, welcoming environment actually exist outside of eighteenth century philosophy books.
All told, the riotous three-dayer that was Manchester Punk Festival 2017 was an unprecedented success. In the days that followed, the absolute outpouring of emotion on social media from festival goers, bands, and organisers alike highlighted how much the weekend had meant to the punk rock community. More than just an anarchic piss-up, events like MPF unite, and strengthen the bonds between our extended punk rock family, adding new members and delighting the old guard with each edition.
The memories of those three days, even those haziest, are some of the fondest I’ve gleaned from visiting gigs over the years. The buzz in the air intoxicating – with all in attendance clearly riding on some common cerebral high. Whilst not being one for singling out highlights, one incident will undoubtedly stay with me forever. It was during Strike Anywhere’s headline performance, stood side of stage. Sandwiched between mates watching the legendary band perform, I spotted a look between promoters Andy, and Ian. It was a disbelieving grin from ear to ear that was met with an equally unsure, yet proud beam. In my head, I could almost hear the exchange between the two of them. “We did this?” — “Yes, mate. We did this!”